Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Chrononauts- time travel gaming

Chrononauts is a game that will either click with a given player or not. Most people can instantly understand the rationale behind a racing game like Formula D or Candyland. They can quickly appreciate the themes behind Monopoly a Clue, which simulate an occupation or real life event. Games like Scrabble basically simulate school, in this case a spelling test. So what do you do with Chrononauts? In this game you play a time traveller who is changing past events in order to shape the present. That's a theme which is going to fly with some people and leave others cold. For the gamers who think time travel, alternative history and paradoxes are exciting, however, Chrononauts is The time travel game.

Chrononauts is a card based game. Players set up a timeline of important events. Each event is represented by a card. One card may say "JFK Assassinated." One card may say "Apollo 11 lands on the Moon." The cards are placed in order from events occurring long ago up to the present day. Some cards are linked to other, previous cards. For example, Apollo 11 only lands on the moon if Kennedy is assassinated.

The linking of historical events provides the mechanism for game play. Each player is given a set of events that they need to set into motion in order to win. One player, for example, may have to save the Titanic and make sure the moon landing fails. The game then proceeds in turns. In a player's turn they may attempt to change some historical event. In the above example you may flip the "JFK Assassinated" card over. On it's back is a different event- "JFK Injured in Motorcade Shooting." On the bottom of the card are listed all the other events that now change because JFK survived, one of them being the Apollo landing in 1969.

Players quickly discover that one small change can cause a ripple of secondary events across history. The game becomes a scramble to change history in the way that suits you while preventing your opponents from doing the same. Players can use special cards and abilities to achieve their goals. They can also try to collect historical artifacts like dinosaurs. Collect enough artifacts and you win the game as well.

One gets the impression that Chrononauts could be a dry game. Our trials showed that it actually flows quickly and is pretty engaging even for non-historians. Fans of science fiction and time travel stories love the game of course but I was surprised to see how fun it was for casual gamers. Part of this may be because the rules are quite simple and each game card is packed with information as to how to use the card and when. Some of the appeal may also be the speed of play. Finally, I think some of the appeal is that each turn you are changing human history. In one sense this is an insanely geeky theme, but it's also an exciting and powerful one.

Chrononauts is certainly for older players and it will certainly sit best with people with find time travel at least remotely interesting. I think for the right players it's a great game and an insanely great value for the price. You can find it at Pandemonium Books in Central Square.

Pros: Great game design, simple rules, intellectually a blast

Cons: Theme may appeal more to some than others

Beyond the Basics: Expansions are available and the game has good replay value

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