Sunday, 4 September 2016

T.I.M.E Stories: Asylum

T.I.M.E Stories is not a book or a comic or even a short story. It's a board game. More specifically, it's a choose your own adventure story with pretty pictures, a couple of puzzles to solve and a selection of characters for two to four players to control. Or, if you prefer a computer game metaphor, it's a point and click adventure translated to cards and a board. In any case, I'm reviewing it here because it's primarily a story and something I expect many SFFH people will enjoy.

The T.I.M.E Agency protects humanity by preventing temporal faults and paradoxes from threatening the fabric of our universe. As temporal agents, you and your team will be sent into the bodies of beings from different worlds or realities to successfully complete the missions given to you. Failure is impossible, as you will be able to go back in time as many times as required.

T.I.M.E Stories is a narrative board game. Players will live adventures in various worlds, through the eyes and characteristics of their character. They will have to fight, search, discuss, and be clever and convincing to the characters they meet… and sometimes even the other agents.

Each player will be able to include the dose of “roleplay” they want into the character they’ll have chosen. But they will also need to optimize their actions.

Each scenario contains a new world, new characters, new rules, and new surprises.

The basic box contains the T.I.M.E Stories system and the Asylum scenario.

T.I.M.E Stories is the series and, I suppose, architecture for the game. The basic premise is that you are a team of new recruits that the T.I.M.E Agency is sending on missions to prevent temporal faults. When you are sent back in time, you basically possess a contemporaneous character (a bit creepy) and use them to explore the past and fulfil your mission. The game presents you with scenic images and narrative text that guides you through the world and presents you with choices and occasionally puzzles to solve.

Asylum is the story/scenario that comes with the base game of T.I.M.E Stories (and you need the base game to play other scenarios). It's set in 1921 Paris, in an asylum, as the name suggests. The characters you play as are all patients with different abilities and strengths depending on their personality and condition. The other characters you interact with are staff (doctors, nurses, orderlies) and other patients. You finish/win the game by going to enough places, finding clues and hence preventing the creation of a temporal fault. Because there's time travel on the one hand, and a limited amount of time in the past to get things done, you can (or, basically, need to) go back in time more than once to complete the mission. This allows you to try mutually exclusive options on subsequent run-throughs, which I enjoyed.

The theme of Asylum is, of course, inherently ableist, and I was a little apprehensive going into what I knew was a horror scenario set in a psychiatric facility in a time period when mental health care wasn't exactly great. But really it could've been worse. The horror elements weren't based in being afraid of the patients, but rather various non-human creatures and the non-patients behind the evil plot.

It took me and my husband three runs to finish the game, which took about two and a half hours. But that was with us solving the puzzles pretty quickly and your mileage may vary (there are only two puzzles though). We then went back and played through from scratch (not keeping the items you're allowed to keep between runs) to test some of the actions we didn't take the first time, but that only took about half an hour because we didn't to reread or think too much about the places we'd already visited.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience of T.I.M.E Stories: Asylum and I look forward to playing other scenarios. From some of the minor details in Asylum, I gather there will be some more of the overarching story revealed in future scenarios, which I am particularly looking forward to. The only really disappointing thing, for me, was how quickly it was over. We are hoping that the future scenarios are longer or more complex, but the internet is unclear on this point (without clicking on the spoilers, anyway).

4 / 5 stars

First published: 2015, Space Cowboys / Asmodee
Series: T.I.M.E Stories, the first scenario in an ongoing series (3 more currently out, one more about to be released)
Format read: Er, board game
Source: An online tabletop game shop

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