The first time we heard about T.I.M.E Stories was at Essen SPIEL 2015, where the publisher had a fairly impressive booth, all white, closed from the exterior as to avoid spoilers, and that seemed to have a fair amount of success. We didn’t get to play there, but it was definitely enough to put the game on the “I’m intrigued” list (marketing ploy: successful).
The base of the game is that the players are part of a time travelling agency, and they get sent to various missions as characters of the situation that they need to fix. As far as I can tell, the probability of finishing a given scenario on the first try is very low – and would probably require a lot of luck. But what T.I.M.E Stories does really well is that, since we’re within the framework of time travelling, all the information that the players have can be re-used in the subsequent runs of the scenarios. Consequently, a game of T.I.M.E Stories consists of one or several runs of a scenario, until the players figure out the whole story and achieve the scenario’s goal – how to achieve the “perfect run” that allows them to unlock the victory conditions. A scenario that is played through does not have any replayability, but there’s around 10 official scenarios, with more to come.
T.I.M.E Stories is more of a “framework” than a game: the base box provides a generic board, tokens, pawns, and base mechanics, as well as a single scenario, Asylum. Scenarios are essentially a deck of cards that player explore according to the framework rules, and define the use of the tokens, as well as any additional rule. The base box also provides a way to “save” the state of a game between two runs. Since we’ve always played through all the runs of a scenario in one afternoon, we haven’t used that feature at all, but I really like the idea!
We’ve played four scenarios (Asylum, The Marcy Case, Prophecy of Dragons, and Under the Mask) and I’m happy to report it’s always been an enjoyable experience. To me, it’s actually fairly close to an investigative game-master-less RPG. There’s obviously little to no leeway for crazy shenanigans and weird plans that are doomed from the beginning, but the whole feeling of solving a narrative puzzle as a team is definitely there. If that makes sense, I also get the same kind of “fatigue” after playing T.I.M.E Stories than I get from an RPG session (as a player), which makes me think that it probably scratches the same kind of itch.
The only point that could be improved in my view is that the rules feel sometimes slightly too fiddly when it comes to handling the time limit of a mission. We’ve had to check them multiple times in the last session because we were not sure if we had to spend a unit of time or not to make certain actions, and that’s a bit annoying. There’s also the feeling that the expansions differ with one another when it comes to the clarity of the extra/specific rules.
But all in all, it’s a solid experience and a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon with friends.