Monday, August 23, 2010


I enjoy board games quite a lot. There are some truly interesting games out there that are unique in many different ways. The actual mechanics of many of these games aren't all that disparate but there are a lot of innovative themes and story behind some of these games. Tonight I played a game that had a fascinating twist on a somewhat average concept and an inventive theme with which to rationalize your game plan: Chrononauts.

Chrononauts is a game about manipulating time. It's played with cards that are split up between action cards and a 8x4 grid of events that have happened between the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Columbine shootings. Your job, as a chrononaut, is to manipulate time in a variety of ways to achieve one of several goals. You can be the good solider and just fix everything that goes wrong, manipulate time in order to achieve a certain combination of events that satisfies your characters MO, or collect a series of historical artifacts to sell on the black time market to get rich. The time events are separated between lynchpin events and dependent events. If you change time so Hitler is assassinated a whole series of dependent events occur like the 1936 worlds fair is never held in Germany, WWII never happens, and a whole bunch of other stuff. If you're playing the "good" chrononaut you'll want to fix all the paradoxes that occur because of the altered time stream. This might, however, give your opponent an altered event they need to satisfy their character MO success. One of the characters I played wanted to ensure that the Russian Space Program was the first to get to the moon. There are a whole lot of different characters and artifact sets you can collect to win.

So the gameplay isn't all that new. You draw cards in the hope of getting actions that let you change time or alter the other players game in the manner of interrupts or stealing cards they've played. It's the theme that makes this work for me. I like that you've got a selection of motivations for your character so if you're getting a lot time changing actions you can choose to play towards either manipulating the time-stream or setting up your MO. Likewise for artifacts. I did find the actual gameplay to be largely based on luck. There are several "search the deck" or "search the discard pile" or those kind of actions but getting them depends on what cards you draw and while there are also ways of accelerating the cards you draw it always seems like all your work could be in vain at any moment by someone stealing something you spend many turns acquiring or reversing something you spend a long time looking for a way to change. It's hard to say whether playing more games will make it easier to anticipate or plan for the actions of your opponents but I get the feeling that there will always be someone ready to pounce on your last action to their own advantage.

Regardless of how it plays i really enjoy the inventiveness of what you're doing. You're an agent of time, out to use your skills to manipulate the 20th century for good or for personal gain. There's a really smart series of lynchpins and dependencies as well. If you make sure the right presidents never get the opportunity to be impeached then you can keep Richard Nixon in office because there's no longer precedence for it. There's even a timeline where John Lennon becomes a senator and abolishes gun ownership, effectively preventing Columbine from happening. It's extremely entertaining to see the crazy timelines that come out of everyone scrambling to make the perfect series of events. Lincoln might have survived assassination and Tokyo was nuked instead of Hiroshima but John Lennon still abolishes gun ownership. I like the stories Chrononauts tells and I like the way you can control your own story but I'm not sure if the gameplay will hold up like Catan or Puerto Rico.

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