Tuesday, January 7, 2014

If only you could change history


At the center of Chrononauts is a brilliant game mechanic: a grid of 32 cards representing significant events in 19th and 20th century history, starting with Lincoln's assassination in 1865 to the Columbine High School shootings in 1999. Events are divided into linchpins and ripplepoints; if you change a linchpin event, the card is flipped over to reveal an alternate version of the event, and certain ripplepoints are turned over to indicate the paradoxes created by changing that particular event in history. Patch cards can then be played to repair the paradoxes with alternate versions of history.

Unfortunately, the game that was built around this mechanic is a massive disappointment.

At the start of the game, each player is given an identity and a mission. The identity tells the player which alternate version of history they need to make happen in order to win the game, usually a combination of one unaltered and two altered historical events. The mission gives the player an alternate victory condition in the form of three artifact cards from among the 15 in the deck that need to be put into play.

Because the game allows players to discard and draw in place of a card play, it becomes a race to see who can draw either the patches or the artifacts they need, or one of a few cards that let you search the deck or discard pile, first. Since there is only one of each patch and artifact, if you see another player discard one you need, your only hope is to draw either a "search the discard pile" card or one that lets you switch your mission or identity. The game is too chaotic and relies entirely on luck of the draw, with little to no strategy.

There is a solitaire version of the game that is actually a lot more interesting to play. It is played with only the patch cards and the cards that allow you to turn over cards in the timeline. You deal out 10 face up identity cards, and you goal is to manipulate the timeline and see how many of the identities you can send home to their particular alternate universes before the deck runs out of cards. Unlike the main game, this variant involves a lot more strategic decision making as you are changing events in the timeline back and forth.

Rating: 2 (out of 5) A great idea for a game that unfortunately falls far short of its potential. This game would have a rating of 1 if not for the much more interesting solitaire variant.


Date played: December 21, 2013

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