TIME Stories Revolution: The Hadal Project
- Designers: Kevin Delp, Melissa Delp, Manuel Rozoy
- Publisher: Space Cowboys
- Players: 2-4
- Age: 10+
- Time: 60-180 minutes on box; our game took about 180 minutes
- Times played: 1, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA
“In TIME Stories Revolution: The Hadal Project, a standalone scenario in the “blue cycle” of TIME Stories, you and your fellow agents journey to the year 2099. Rediscover the TIME Stories universe with TIME Stories Revolution, a new cycle of missions. The rules have changed but the Agency’s commitment to preserving humanity and the space-time continuum hasn’t. As all the TIME Stories Revolution scenarios, The Hadal Project is a complete, standalone game. The scenarios can be played in any order. In 2099 NT: While a terrifying virus is devastating the world’s population, a scientific base immersed in an oceanic abyss makes a strange discovery that could decide the future of humanity. Conduct an in-depth investigation and crack the secret of the HADAL project.”
I was fairly excited to get this from Asmodee NA, as I was a fairly big fan of the first TIME Stories cycle, having played all nine missions in the original format. I’ll admit that the stories were getting a bit harder to believe near the end of the cycle, and our group had made our own protocols for playing through the games in a way that we enjoyed a little bit more than the rules as written. See this review for more details: https://opinionatedgamers.com/2019/05/14/dale-yu-review-of-t-i-m-e-stories-madame/
It appears that we weren’t the only ones who were frustrated by the original setup; I have had discussions with some of the Space Cowboys from time to time, and one of their goals with the new cycle of missions was to make the game a little less fiddly. The changes made in the Blue cycle certainly are streamlined, and interestingly, this has occurred by getting rid of the timer. That’s right, TIME stories no longer really tracks the time!
Now, it has come to light that TIME Stories agents have a chemical named Azrak injected into their bloodstreams, and it is this substance that allows them to travel in time. This Azrak take on a physical form of blue plastic gems, and at the start of the game, each players gets their own supply. Now, Azrak is spent by the time captain when moving from location to location, and Azrak is spent when looking at certain location cards and starting challenges, but all the costs are known up front; no longer will your success or failure ride on a providential time die roll!
In general, the group will have a map of locations available to them. The Time Captain chooses the next location and pays a single Azrak crystal to do this. Then, the cards are found in the deck and laid out on the table. The time captain reads card A of this location which spells out the scene and what is seen on the cards. Then, each player can recon a location card immediately, by picking it up without cost and reading it themselves.
Then, in a change from the original cycle, play is freeform within this location. Players are free to take actions at any time. They can initiate a test on a card by spending an Azrak gem and doing the test. It is possible to increase your chances at passing a test by spending additional gems. A player can explore a new card by returning the one they currently have and then paying a gem to pick up a new card. Players can also stand-by and not look at any cards; leaving them available to assist teammates doing challenges – any player standing by can spend one Azrak gem per challenge to assist another teammate.
When the team has done all that they wish to do at the current location, they pack up the cards and put them away. There is now the option of performing an Update – this is a way to return most of the spent Azrak gems to the players, though one will be set aside to keep track of the number of Updates (this will be important when judging your overall success in the scenario). Then, the Time Captain switches, and the new Captain can choose the next destination – for which they will spend an Azrak crystal from their own supply! No more random die!
But, before you get too excited, there is a new random-ish event to replace it. Challenges are fairly similar in this Blue cycle. Like in the other games, each adventure here has a set of three attributes (color coded) which are found throughout the story. Certain challenges require you to use one of these three attributes. As I mentioned above, you must spend one Azrak to use your base value for this attribute. You can also spend additional Azrak to increase your value by one. Furthermore, each of your teammates that is standing by can each contribute one Azrak to further increase your value by one. Once you have calculated your value for the challenge, you must then flip up a card from the Destiny deck (6 cards total) – and the value on this card will modify your attribute total for this challenge. You will shuffle the deck whenever you reveal the one card which includes a re-shuffle icon; but until this comes up, you can try to calculate the odds of getting a desirable result.
I find this uncertainty much more appealing that that of the time die in the white cycle. Mostly because it feels like you have more agency over how to deal with it. If you really want to make sure you succeed, your team can simply choose to exceed the success threshold by 2 so that the cards cannot change the overall result. However, there is a cost in doing this as it will likely deplete your team of Azrak crystals; and each time that you have to conduct an Update to replenish your crystals, this will count against your final score. Sure, lady luck can still screw you over with a unlucky card draw; but unlike the time die, you at least have a chance to try to mitigate the negative outcomes.
Overall, I think that the changes are positive. The game plays a bit smoother, and I think that it actually generates a lot more conversation between the players; at least in my group… With each location being a free space for actions, it really helps to have players discuss what they want to do, and what order we should do them in. No longer do we have to coordinate who is rolling and who is moving on the same time unit expenditure; now each player pays for their actions as they take them. It is definitely possible though for players to miss what others are doing because they are so focused on their own actions; I would definitely recommend pausing and listening/watching to what other players are doing. To do this, we end up talking a lot more.
Despite the increased talking, the game plays faster – well at least this first scenario did. We finished the entire Hadal Project in just under three hours, including a cold rules read, which is half of what some of the White Cycle adventures took. For my group, this is a big improvement, as we can start and finish in a single game session. I didn’t feel as if this story was any less developed than the first cycle; but there was definitely less time spent jumping back and forth between locations trying to find that one place that we missed on the last pass through. This was the part which frustrated us in the past, and why we developed our system of leaving out all the locations so we could quickly glance at the locations we’d already seen. We played the Hadal Project by the rules, and we found it much less fiddly in that regard. Sure, you still had to go back and forth between locations, but it didn’t feel clunky and strained.
OK – so a little bit about the story. In 2099 NT, there is apparently a plague that could destroy the world. You have to explore the ocean to find a cure to save the world. Your team jumps into shells of characters on an island, and away you go. The overall story of the Hadal Project is told well, and it was fun watching it unfold through the different cards. As is often the case, there were a few things which we wished were a bit better explained when they happened, but we managed to muddle through with some house rulings on what we thought the game was telling us to do. None of the experience was lessened because of this, but we probably spent about ten minutes total trying to figure out what to do when we were confused by the game. This ten minutes was made up when we took an unintentional short cut later in the game due to another confusing place. A little frustrating, but not game breaking. But, seeing as the first series of the game has a 21-page long FAQ on BGG; it’s par for the course here. I’d recommend not getting too worked up about them and just go along for the ride.
The puzzle here was interesting to solve, and amongst one of my favorites, right up there with the Marcy Case and Lumen Fidei. It’s a good start to the next series, and I am looking forward to the next installment. The overall backstory is continued here from the original cycle – and I’ll admit that this still does absolutely nothing for me. I’m sure that there are plenty of people that will continue to dissect the ongoing battle between the forces of good and evil through time; but I could care less. Thankfully, knowledge or familiarity with the story seems to have no bearing on playing the individual scenarios, so for now, I will just continue ignoring it. There is also an interesting “legacy” aspect to the game provided by TIME Stories Revolution: Experience – which I will review separately. We really haven’t seen enough to know if/how this will change things, but I like what I have seen so far with the legacy stuff.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor
TIME Stories Revolution: Experience
- Designer: Manuel Rozoy
- Publisher: Space Cowboys
TIME Stories Revolution: Experience is being sold as an expansion to the Blue Cycle of Time Stories Revolution. It is not required to have this in order to play the individual scenarios, but if you choose to include this expansion, it will provide an overarching story and framework to play through the scenarios of the Blue cycle. Interestingly, you will be able to play the Blue cycle scenarios in any order; and the Experience will morph along with it.
Essentially, TSR:E gives a legacy feel to TIME Stories. In this box, you will get 4 Agent boards. At the start of the cycle, each of the players in your group will choose a Agent, and they will play this agent throughout the rest of the cycle. The character card from each scenario will be played on this board meaning that you are now a human player who has taken on the role of a TIME Stories agent as seen on your agent board who has then stepped into the timestream as a different character as seen on the character card. Phew.
Each Agent has their own tech tree of abilities, and as you progress through the game, you will hopefully get a chance to use some of your new skills. Each agent has a deck of skill cards, and two slots to the left of their board to equip those skills. Each player also has an individualized (well at least we think they are individualized- we haven’t been instructed to look at them yet!) set of weakness cards which can affect the abilities of your agent. Finally, each leader board has a set of proficiencies; there are seven different types – and you really don’t need them until the end of a scenario.
At the start of each TIME Stories Revolution scenario, there is a bit of setup done with your agents. If you have access to any, you can choose to equip any of your learned skills. However, the team will have to confer on this as there is a limit of no more than 4 skill cards allowed to be in play for any scenario. Additionally, if you have a weakness, you must place a weakness card in one of your skill slots; not only does it occupy the slot, it supposedly also hampers you.
Once you have set things up, you then play the particular scenario as normal. As you have been exploring time, you may have encountered other characters – that have an octagonal XP icon on them. Any of these cards are immediately added to your team. You write down their name and their attributes on your Time Agent Roster card. Your team will have access to their skills going forward.
When you reach the end of the scenario, there should be a scoring rubric at the end to tell your team how many Azrak Crystals were earned as a result of your play. Now your team deals with a Threat card. There is a circular wheel thingy that shows the current threat level – a series of six spaces ranging from green to red and then black! Based on the current location of the wheel, you draw a Threat card of matching color.
This threat card may have a Sustainable threat which can have ongoing effects or cause you to move the threat wheel. Threat cards may also have demands – which names a proficiency and then gives you a range of values that your team must come up with to meet the demand. The team first looks at their overall proficiency in that skill (by adding up the total stats of all the team members for that proficiency) and then draws up to that number of cards from the demand deck. Then, there is a convoluted system to add cards or remove cards from this tableau – each step costing you more and more Azrak crystals from the amount earned in the mission.
If the sum of Demand cards is in the required range, the threat wheel moves backwards one space. If the team either has too much or too few points, the wheel moves forward and the team gains Weaknesses (which can be distributed amongst the team members in any way that they agree upon).
Once you get through this fairly fiddly system – which seems to be there just to get you to spend your Azrak crystals – players can use the remaining gems to either heal their weaknesses or to buy new skills. Healing a weakness costs crystals equal to the number of the weakness (1 to 5). Skills always cost 5 gems each. If you buy a skill, you mark the appropriate box on the tech tree on your agent board. As you might expect, you must start by buying the lowest skill on a branch in the tech tree before you can move forward to get the more advanced skills. The team decides together how to allocate the gems; it is likely that not all players will be able to buy things.
Though we haven’t explored it enough yet, there looks to be an interesting decision to be made in later scenarios. Will our team spend their gems to meet the Threat and not have to move the Threat wheel forward? Or will we save our gems and risk a higher threat (and some weaknesses) in order to give ourselves enough gems to buy more skills? Which will help us more? Right now, we don’t know! On first glance, it feels familiar – in that teams that do well will be rewarded with more advantages and do better on future scenarios. For me, it would be more interesting if teams got more skills if they did poorly – because they’re the team that need help with better skills and abilities! As it is set up, it looks like the opposite will happen.
It remains to be seen how this will affect play down the road; in your first scenario with Experience, you really get no changes as you will not have any skills nor weaknesses to start off. As it stands now, I don’t have much to comment other than on the potential it could have. I suppose it did make us consider how we explored a little bit as we already knew that we might score better if we used fewer Updates in the course of the scenario. It has certainly given us a lot to think about, and at least for now, it’s interesting, and something I’m looking forward to at least exploring. The rules state that you can easily play TIME Stories Revolution with or without this expansion, so if it becomes too cumbersome, we can always abandon it.
Until your next appointment
The Gaming Doctor