T.I.M.E. Stories

The best game that people in my group absolutely hated.

Rather than a strict review, I have an entire story about T.I.M.E. Stories. First thing's first: T.I.M.E. Stories is actually a game system, complete with save states. In T.I.M.E. Stories you play time travelers who are going back in time to solve mysteries, many of which are being caused by other time travelers. You are part of an agency cleaning up the mess. Because of this, you're  expected to fail once or twice and there are multiple plotlines you can go through. The T.I.M.E. Stories company regularly releases new modules to play. Basically, what I'm getting at, is it's a great system and it's a system that a lot of people love. 

So T.I.M.E. Stories is a great game, but it's also a very different game. It's  best played with four players, and in multiple sessions, and there's the problem. Because when I played Pandemic: Legacy, I got three months in before everyone quit on me. That's the problem with being "the board game person,"  most of your other friends aren't quite as invested as you are. Literally.

All of this is leading to the fact that  I bought T.I.M.E. Stories well over a year ago and it's been collecting dust on my shelf ever since.

"Let's play T.I.M.E. Stories!"

"Isn't that the one that's going to take multiple sessions?"

"Yeah but it's like, only an hour long."


Last night I finally convinced people at the board game cafe to play T.I.M.E. Stories and it led to something quite unexpected.

They all hated it.

This is a group that gets together two days out of the week to play games, and they hated it. Here's what happened:

  • They immediately hated the puzzles. The logic and puzzles guy of the group got so wrapped up in solving puzzles that the game couldn't progress. He got stuck on a four card maze for like, twenty minutes, because the problem is that if you get it wrong you lose time (you only have limited time until you have to restart). I looked at the puzzle and solved it in ten seconds; it was easy, he was just overthinking it.
  • They didn't like to lose. Because it's a TIME STORY, you're almost intended to lose once or twice. There are branching plotlines and red herrings designed to waste time, so you can complete tasks differently the next time around. But because losing feels bad (and most cooperative games are very, very hard to lose), they quit after they lost the first time.
  • They argued over everything. There are numerous red herrings; every time one popped up, rather than making a decision, they got spiteful and vengeful with each other. Why? Because time was running out! Since failure had already been labeled as "not an option," everything was that much more dire.

I hadn't expected that at all.

Not only do most people love T.I.M.E. Stories -- it's got fantastic ratings almost universally -- but I saw a lot of appeal and charm in the game. But it's such a different type of game that I realized later that most of the people who would like this type of game are the people who bought and sought it out; it isn't a game you can just throw at random gamers and expect them to enjoy.

The core problem was that I could not convince them that it was okay to lose. This was basically an adventure game in a board game; you lose a few times but ultimately you can't help but win. Regardless, time units became radically more important, and because of that, every situation turned into something all the more dire. I hadn't expected that they wouldn't be prepared to lose; that they would just feel that the idea of it was wrong. But then, I realized, I had instilled that myself.

When the board game group first started meeting, everyone was okay with fudging things. If we died in The Captain Is Dead, they would engage the Omega 13, and replay their last few turns. If we lost in the final round of Pandemic, they would roll back an outbreak, and continue playing like nothing had happened. And I hated that. I wanted us to live and die on our own merit. So in a sense, I actually trained them to hate the primary mechanic that T.I.M.E. Stories uses to keep its game fun.

And that means that it's all on me, absolutely. There's a whole lot of conditioning that I would have to break through and brainwashing that I would probably have to complete before I made T.I.M.E. Stories fun to them. As it stands, the game was failed in the first attempt, and it remains, wrapped in its dusty box. 

Well, I liked it.