*Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for Asylum, the first scenario of TIME Stories. None of these are anything beyond the introduction, but if you do not want ANY spoilers at all, please stop reading here*

Being your first job, it was all a bit daunting. Travelling through time? Taking over bodies in the time period and using them as a host? It seemed like the kind of stuff from many a sci-fi novel. Yet there you were, ready to become a TIME Agent and prevent temporal distortions. What a time to be alive!

Bob, the stern guide and instructor for your team, went over all the details of the mission. You were bound for a French Asylum, where something…or someone…was causing distortions and unbalance the universe! Your task? To find what (or who) was causing the distortion, and correct the situation…by any means necessary. Not quite sure what to expect, but also excited at the prospect of travelling through time, you headed into the machines and let your consciousness be sent to a far, far away place. You could hear Bob murmuring something that sounded like a warning, but he was drowned out by the whirring of the machine and the fuzz that overtook you.

Opening up your eyes, this place looked like the picturesque French home that everyone thinks of. For an asylum, it wasn’t entirely unwelcoming. As you got your bearings and began heading to the Day Room, you couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed and alone. Not the sense of just being by yourself either, but a resounding and deafening scream at your loneliness. What was going on?

Thankfully, your friends from the TIME Agency also arrived, and it was only then you realised it. Looking at the unmistakable white marks on the face of one of the “hosts”, listening to the quiet whimpering of another, whose face was marred with injury, and watching the other immediately be overcome with the desire to flirt with everyone, it finally hit you that this was an asylum for the mentally unstable…and you had just inherited all of their “quirks”.

This is the start of your adventure in TIME Stories, an incredibly unique game from Space Cowboys. All throughout 2016, I’d heard talk of this game from many different reputable reviewers, all of them spouting unanimous praise for it. After having a lot of fun playing Pandemic: Legacy, I had no aversions to trying out yet another “single play” game. After finally taking the plunge and grabbing the game recently, I played through the first scenario with my lovely girlfriend. Did it live up to the hype? Well, join me now as I talk you through my journey through time and space.

What I Expected Coming In

In short, a lot. I expected my mind to be blown. As far as gaming experiences go, I had been told that TIME Stories was wholly unique and entirely enthralling. I’ve been on sort of a mystery solving high recently, and Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective certainly scratched that itch rather well. Would TIME Stories be as multilayered and deep? Would it be purely mystery solving, or would there be some actual mechanical gameplay as well?

I was also really curious in how the game would handle its “rerun” approach.  I’d heard that the game was “practically” impossible to beat in a single run, and that because each run took around and hour to an  hour and a half, it was likely that you’d have to put the game away and resume it later. This also made me rather intrigued by the premise of “saving” the game, which had also been discussed by many. All in all, I went into TIME Stories, anticipating a truly memorable experience like no other.

What I Got Coming Out

Let me start by saying that I played TIME Stories with two players both controlling two “receptacles” (characters) each. The rulebook suggests that you should control a third “neutral” receptacle in two player, but after trying that out in our first run, we decided that it was pretty poor and moved onto two each.

The other issue that came to us was this idea of not fully sharing information. The game encourages roleplaying by only allowing certain players to view certain cards; basically, if you look at something, only you look at it. It *sometimes* makes thematic sense and invites you into the world a bit more, but sometimes it feels a bit “forced”, especially when you must effectively manage a hidden game state (which happens with skill checks, for example).

Those small hiccups aside, TIME Stories managed the amazing feat of living up to the hype. From the very first room, I found myself making notes of everything, and putting on my thinking cap and trying to work out what exactly was going on in the facility. After we discovered that [REDACTED] was [REDACTED] and we needed to [REDACTED], I was hooked.

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The box is so well prepared that saving games is a breeze…even though we never needed to.

So hooked, in fact, that we ended up powering through the game in just over three hours. While we were originally planning on just doing a single run, we just couldn’t help but formulate plans for our future runs and try to do things differently. What if we [REDACTED] instead of [REDACTED]? As we plotted and mapped out our plan of attack, I really felt like I was living through Groundhog Day or the Edge of Tomorrow.

The gameplay itself is quite light and simple, which makes it approachable for gamers and non-gamers alike. There’s enough there that some minor tactical choices may be needed, but ultimately the story and mystery is at the forefront.

Speaking of the mystery, I was surprised by the amount of creativity in the puzzles of the game. There’s not quite the level of pure deduction that there is in Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, but there was a very enjoyable mix of all sorts of…”challenges” in the box.

Conclusion

TIME Stories is instantly among the best board games I’ve ever played. While I’m disappointed that I can’t play the Asylum mission again, I now look forward to The Marcy Case and the other stories that are going to be told through this system. This is an interactive experience that has few, if any, direct rivals on the market at the moment. Even if you’re not a fan of games that aren’t replayable, I’d heavily recommend you reconsider and give TIME Stories a try. Find some friends and split the cost if you need to, it will cost you less than an average movie, and you’ll have an unbelievably engaging journey together that you won’t soon forget.

The Aficionado ADORES this game.

Grade: A+