T.I.M.E Stories is a game that is both applauded and reviled. On the one hand it is applauded for its innovative game system and the excitement of discovering a scenario together. And on the other hand, the game is vilified because it is very expensive for a game with limited replayability. There doesn’t seem to be a compromise. So the question is: top or flop!
In T.I.M.E Stories you experience an adventure together with three other players. Officially you can also play the game with 2 or 3 people (by playing with multiple characters per player), but actually this game is made for exactly 4 players and it doesn’t look as good with less players. The four players work for the T.I.M.E agency (and no, it is not a typing error that there is no dot behind the E) at a time when time travel has become possible. Everyone who has seen Back to the Future knows that time travel is a dangerous activity, before you know it you change something small in the past and the future completely changes. The T.I.M.E Agency is the organisation that monitors the timelines and, if necessary, repairs them. And that is exactly what you are going to do in T.I.M.E Stories.
At the beginning of the game, players choose a character to go back to a moment in time when something went wrong. You don’t know exactly what that something was, but you have to find out. The box of T.I.M.E Stories contains one scenario (Asylum) and next to that you can buy new individual scenarios. The goal of this game is to discover the story and solve a problem, so I can’t tell too much about this scenario in this review.
Broadly speaking, the game works as follows. You are sent to a starting location by the T.I.M.E agency. In Asylum this is a room in a psychiatric hospital in 1921. Each location consists of a set of cards that you place next to each other and which together form a panorama. The players then decide which card from the panorama they want to go to. Each player may look at the back of the card he has chosen. Sometimes you get to see a more detailed picture of where you are, you find an object here (it says: take item number x from the stack) or you get to read what the person you see says to you (although it can also be that someone attacks you and you have to fight). The hints you get help you to discover what is going on. There are several locations you can visit to get more information. But be warned: not all information is equally useful. Sometimes you will be put on the wrong track.
Visiting and studying the locations takes time and unfortunately the amount of time per time travel is limited. After you have spent the maximum number of time units you will be retracted to your own time period. If you have not succeeded in finding and solving the problem, you can try again at a later time. You will have to start all over again, although of course you already know a bit more (don’t talk to this person or that person because they only want to fight, but do go to this room or that room to get the key to open the cupboard, etc.).
So is it T.I.M.E Stories top or a flop?
I really like the idea of T.I.M.E Stories and I really liked my first game. But at the second attempt I found the game less fun and my enthusiasm dropped even further on the third game. Luckily I managed to finish the game then. There are a number of reasons why I didn’t like T.I.M.E Stories in the end.
First of all, the story we discovered was rather superficial and sometimes not even entirely logical, but that wasn’t even the worst thing for me. What’s fun about this game is discovering new locations, especially because it looks really great. It’s not possible to finish the game at once, so there’s always a moment when you have to go back and start over again. In every new attempt, however, you have to do a little bit more. You can skip the non useful locations and focus on what you know is useful, but there you see and learn nothing new. It’s a repetition that feels like finishing a task list (especially because you have to spend some time looking up the cards of the location in the stack, then lay them out and clean them up afterwards). It is also important to remember what can be seen and what is happening at the different locations (especially if there is some time between different attempts). That’s why I made notes about the locations and that really felt too much as work and too little as fun.
During the game, we also had to solve some kind of puzzle-like thing a few times to move forward (I can’t be clearer without giving spoilers and I don’t want that). For us, the game fell a bit dead at those moments.
So it’s really a matter of taste. This game is fun if you enjoy optimising something and don’t mind doing the same thing a few times, but better every time. Furthermore, you have to like puzzle-like tasks, otherwise it’s not your thing. And it’s important that you like storytelling games because every scenario tells a kind of story. By the way, you can only play each scenario once, because once you know the solution, the fun is over (by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the game itself, so another group can play it again).