T.I.M.E Stories: Under the Mask (Game Review by Chris Wray)

(A Spoiler Free Review)

  • Designer: Guillaume Montiage, Manuel Rozoy
  • Publisher:  Space Cowboys
  • Players:  2 – 4
  • Ages:  12 and Up
  • Time:  90 Minutes (Although our runs were closer to 45 minutes…)
  • Times Played:  4 (Number of plays required will vary.)

Under the Mask

Under the Mask is the fourth scenario for T.I.M.E stories.  In this adventure, you and your fellow agents travel back to ancient Egypt to solve a crime that threatens to destabilize the future.  

The scenario now has wide release, so we wanted to do a quick and spoiler-free review like we did for the other scenarios.  Given that we can’t go into detail, this will be short and necessarily vague regarding gameplay, but we still provide our thoughts on the scenario below.  

Additionally, a few of us have ranked the T.I.M.E Stories scenarios released thus far.  

What’s Under the Mask all about?

Under the Mask features 142 cards that come in two decks.  This scenario is set in the T.I.M.E Stories universe, but unlike the other scenarios, it refers to past events from real life.

Under the Mask takes place in Ancient Egypt, and Space Cowboys has done an excellent job of capturing the theme.  I’m nowhere close to being an Egyptologist, but the designers (and artists) appear to have gone out of their way to look up historical details.  The cards have Egyptian-themed artwork, and Egyptology has been built into the gameplay.  I spent some time on Wikipedia afterwards acknowledging the thought that went into some of the details.  

Each T.I.M.E Stories scenario has completely different gameplay elements, and the twist in Under the Mask is that you will switch vessels mid-scenario.  That’s right, you can — and will likely need to — switch the character you’re playing without going on another run.  Since each character has unique abilities, it offers an interesting twist on what we’ve already seen in the first three adventures.  

My Thoughts on the Scenario

Our group took four “runs” to complete the scenario.  The puzzles here seemed easier than in other scenarios, and we actually “solved” the majority of the case on our second run.  Unfortunately, it then took us two more trips due to a combination of poor dice rolls and a need to remember where we obtained certain items.  Memory seemed more important in Under the Mask than it did in other scenarios, and I felt there was a stronger need to “optimize your path” to make it to the end.  Nonetheless, the scenario was fascinating, and we felt immersed in the game.  

Our total time to beat the game came in just under three hours.  The box advertises 90 minutes per run, and while I suppose that’s possible, that seems to be too much.  My guess is that the average run will take about 60 minutes, slightly more for your first run, far less for later runs.  

The new mechanic — being able to switch vessels mid-run — offered an intriguing twist on gameplay.  I don’t know that it was executed to its full potential, but it was certainly worked into the puzzles in clever ways.  I look forward to seeing how the designers can use this in the future.  

The artwork is stunning, easily my favorite of the series.  You can feel the hot Egyptian sun beating down on you, and the attention to detail was exceptional.  On the plus side, I think this is the most family-friendly scenario developed, so if you want to try T.I.M.E stories with your younger ones, I think this is the scenario to play.  

I’ve criticized the endings of Asylum and Under the Mask for being either anticlimactic or frustrating, but the designers got the ending right here.  The final puzzles were interesting, and I found the last few minutes of the game incredibly fun and satisfying.  

I enjoyed Under the Mask, but it is my least favorite of the four.  Two of the four players in my group were neutral on it, and one disliked it.  The need to “optimize” the path is normally part of the fun, but for members of my group, it veered into frustration with Under the Mask.  Nonetheless, the scenarios is certainly worth giving a try, and if you’re a fan of T.I.M.E Stories, I bet you’ll like it.  Like the other scenarios, Under the Mask shows just how brilliant the T.I.M.E Stories system can be.  

Thoughts from Other Opinionated Gamers

Dale Yu:  I remain a huge fan of the series.  This scenario represents the final one which I was privileged enough to help play  test over the years with the Space Cowboys.  I agree that this particular story feels a bit different than the others – but, to me, that only exemplifies the beauty of the system.  I love the fact that you can have completely different stories, themes, mechanics, etc. while remaining within the same overall T.I.M.E Stories system.

We made it through the game in two and a half hours, and like the previous official scenarios, I felt immersed in the story for the entire time.  This was the first scenario where we took notes down (where we found things, sketching out strategies for future runs, etc), and we felt that it enriched our experience of the overall story because we concentrated on trying to solve the puzzles in the scenario rather than arguing with each other about where we thought we saw something…  We did not take comprehensive notes as that seems both very un-fun as well as against the spirit of the game, but just jotted down big things that we felt we needed to remember.

We played this scenario soon after we had finished Prophecy of Dragons as well as two fan-made scenarios (we needed a fix after Marcy, and we went online to find a few scenarios to whet our appetite while we were waiting for #3 and #4), and I think that my local group has finally reached the saturation point where we’re T.I.M.E Storied out for now; but I’m sure that we’ll be ready to go in a few months whenever the next official scenario is ready!

I prefer my scenarios to be more on the puzzle-y side than the optimizing side, but our group still had a very enjoyable evening playing this one.

Craig V:  T.I.M.E Stories: Under the Mask has a good balance of optimization and puzzle-solving, but the vessel-switching mechanism felt forced.  The mechanism seemed to be an attempt to immerse the players in the story more and provide additional optimization paths, but utilizing it is more or less a requirement that ends up becoming no different than general item collection or exploring additional and sometimes useless locations.  Taking high level notes along the way helped reduce the manontany and increase the enjoyment as the group played through the various runs of the scenario.  Overall, I really enjoy the T.I.M.E Stories experience with my gaming group and liked Under the Mask in general, but the scenarios are feeling rushed and just more of the same with each subsequent release.  The themes are appealing, but the stories within each scenario released after Asylum and The Marcy Case are lacking depth and feel really disjointed with unrelated and anti-climatic endings.  The overarching story is thin at best and seems to be an afterthought, so we just play each scenario as if it were its own game and don’t keep anything between them.  My fear is that the system itself might be too limiting in its current form, but I am optimistic that somebody will find a way to be really innovative and create a truly unique and unforgettable T.I.M.E Stories scenario.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!  
  • I like it.  Chris Wray, Dale Y, Craig V
  • Neutral.
  • Not for me…  

Ranking the T.I.M.E Stories Scenarios (Most Favored to Least Favored)

  • Chris Wray: Prophecy of Dragons, The Marcy Case, Asylum, Under the Mask
  • Dale Yu: Asylum, Marcy, Mask, Prophecy
  • Craig V: The Marcy Case, Asylum, Under the Mask, Prophecy of Dragons
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