PuzzleNation Product Review: Star Trek Chrono-Trek

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[Image courtesy of Trekcore.]

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that.]

Some of the most important moments in the Star Trek franchise center around altering the past through time travel. Choosing to save Edith Keeler in the original series, the Enterprise-C sacrificing itself to bring peace to the Klingons and the Federation in Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Sisko preventing a Tribble bomb from killing Kirk in Deep Space Nine… iconic scenes both humorous and galaxy-changing involved rending the fabric of time and space. (Heck, the new film franchise was based entirely on changing the timeline from what we knew previously!)

So when I heard that Looney Labs updated their time-jumping strategy card game Chrononauts to include elements from the Star Trek universe, it seemed like a perfect fit. How did they do? Find out today as we review the new Star Trek Chrono-Trek card game.

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[A sample of each of the 11 different types of cards in the game.]

Much like its inspiration Chrononauts, Chrono-Trek is all about the cards. You’ve got assignment cards, ID cards, timeline cards that make up the playing space, artifact cards, cards that change history (and others that change it back), as well as cards that can help or hinder your fellow time travelers.

At the beginning of the game, the timeline cards are laid out in a 4×9 grid that represents the historical timeline from the Star Trek shows and films. Each player then draws an ID card representing a Star Trek character. Each character has certain victory conditions — some combination of events that must be preserved or changed in the timeline and artifacts to be acquired during play — that must be met for you to win the game. The ID cards are ranked by difficulty, indicating how complex the victory conditions are.

As for the other cards available to the player, they allow you to manipulate time, find artifacts, or manipulate the cards in your opponents’ hands. (For Fluxx players, some of these Action cards will seem very similar, as will the artifact cards, which are played just like keepers in Fluxx.)

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[A small glimpse of the timeline.]

The history-changing aspect is the puzzliest part of the game, as you determine what moments to change (and which to protect from your opponents) in order for your timeline to come to pass. But you must be careful, because you also need to ensure that you don’t accidentally end the game by allowing the anomaly from the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation — the Anti-Time Devron Anomaly — from preventing life on Earth. (In nearly every scenario, that’s a game over for all players. Pretty daunting, to say the least!)

And although bending time to your will and winning is certainly fun, watching the effect ripple down through the cards after making a bold history-altering move is arguably the best part of the game.

It will take one or two playthroughs — with easier ID cards only — to get used to the game mechanics, but after that, it’s a quick and easy deep-dive into the more complex victory conditions and a much more immersive and challenging play experience. (The game can go a bit too rapidly if you’re only using two players, so I’d recommend playing with four or more players to get the most out of the game.)

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[A comparison of a one-pip (easy) ID card and a four-pip (complex) ID card. Kirk simply requires you to protect one moment, invert another, and collect an artifact. Meanwhile, Evil Spock requires you to find the Fracture card, manipulate two events just to place the Fracture, and still maintain another moment AND acquire an artifact. That’s a much taller order.]

The designers did an impressive job figuring out which moments from the 50 years of Star Trek history to include in the timeline, which characters to offer as ID cards, and so on. For a Star Trek enthusiast, there are great references and little callbacks galore to favorite moments from the series. Not only that, but the game ups the ante from the original Chrononauts formula, keeping all of the best aspects of that game while making this one feel unique.

I posed the question in the intro asking how Looney Labs did marrying Star Trek and Chrononauts. The answer? They boldly went where no Star Trek card game had gone before, and created one heck of a fun adventure.

[Star Trek Chrono-Trek is available from Looney Labs and other participating retailers.]


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PuzzleNation Product Review: Time Breaker

[Note: I received a free copy of this game in exchange for a fair, unbiased review. Due diligence, full disclosure, and all that. Yada yada disclaimer.]

Criminals are bad enough as it is, but time criminals… they’re the worst. Not only can they screw up the present, but they can screw up the past AND the future as well. As a member of the Time Repair Agency, it’s your job to travel through time to apprehend these miscreants — these time breakers — and set things right.

But be careful. You’re not the only TRA agent on the hunt, and every criminal captured is a feather in that agent’s cap, so don’t be surprised if other TRA agents try to interfere with your efforts.

Whether you’re searching the dawn of time or the year 3000, the life of a TRA agent isn’t easy.

[The intrepid agents of the Time Repair Agency and the dastardly Time Breaker.]

That’s the concept behind Time Breaker, the newest card game from the inventive crew at Looney Labs, and honestly, I think it’s their best game yet.

Time Breaker not only improves upon some of the ideas behind Chrononauts, but incorporates strong elements from the Fluxx games in order to add more choice and more excitement to the game play.

The game board consists of 25 tiles arranged randomly in a 5×5 grid pattern. 24 of these tiles represent specific moments in time. The 25th is the Time Repair Agency, and it’s always the center tile. It’s your job to navigate the board, capture the Time Breaker, and return to the Time Repair Agency with your quarry.

You do so by playing various cards that dictate your movements. (Players experienced with Fluxx will recognize the idea of Action cards, as well as some of the actions you can perform.)

There are move cards that allow you to move from tile to tile, regardless of where those moments are in time. There are jump cards that allow you to move to a specific tile. And there are action cards that allow you to perform different tasks, including playing extra cards from your hand, or traveling backwards in time. There are also Stop Time cards, which cancel other players’ actions, and Breaker cards that alter the game board or affect how the criminal moves.

Since the game is a race to see who reaches the Time Breaker first, it’s clever to allow the players multiple ways to navigate the board. You can move your piece across tiles (like any normal board game), you can jump to certain times with the cards, and you can navigate time itself by moving either backward or forward in time.

You see, since each tile is a moment in time, there are two arrows on the tile — one going forward, one going back. Those arrows can help you jump around the board. For instance, if you’re on the tile 13,800,000,000 BCE (the start of the universe), following the green arrow forward takes you to 4,500,000,000 BCE (the formation of the sun), which due to the random nature of the game board’s layout, could be anywhere, not just the next tile over.

Or you could follow the red arrow backward in time, if you have the proper card for it. (Since we’re talking about the first card in our timeline, it turns out time is cyclical, and going backward takes you to the future, the year 3069 (the colonization of Alpha Centauri).

Time Breakers manages to pack a lot of strategy and choice into a small package, ensuring that the game has major replay value. That’s no surprise, of course, since replayability is a hallmark of the Looney Labs brand.

But by combining a playing space that’s different every time (similar to Fluxx: The Board Game or Forbidden Island), the randomness of the cards you draw, and the ability to manipulate the board by closing access to certain time tiles, you have a dynamic game that always feels fresh.

All those elements could make for an uneven playing experience, but the cards are perfectly balanced, meaning no matter what cards you draw, you’re going to have a fair shot of winning the game. Luck is always a factor, but strong strategy and an ability to adapt on the fly will take you far.

And Andrew Looney makes juggling all of these elements look easy.

Complimented by a jovial art style, rich in bright colors and whimsy — not to mention a prediction of world peace only a few centuries away! — Time Breaker continues the innovative, enjoyable tradition long established by games like Fluxx, Just Desserts, and Get the MacGuffin. This game is great fun.

Time Breaker is available from Looney Labs and participating retailers on February 28, but you can preorder it by clicking here!


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It’s Follow-Up Friday: Subway Time Travel edition!

Welcome to Follow-Up Friday!

By this time, you know the drill. Follow-Up Friday is a chance for us to revisit the subjects of previous posts and bring the PuzzleNation audience up to speed on all things puzzly.

And today, I’d like to return to the subject of puzzly events!

I’m a huge fan of events where puzzly-minded people get together and create something new. Whether it’s a festival of indie games or a Rube Goldberg machine about Passover, a prom-themed puzzle tournament or a crossword contest about a crossword contest, anything is possible when folks with a mind for puzzle fun collaborate.

The team at Improv Everywhere know this better than most, as they’ve put together some terrific live experiences to entertain unsuspecting strangers.

In the past, they’ve staged a repeating time loop at a coffee shop, recreated the opening of Star Wars on a subway, and (my personal favorite) made a cabbie the hero of a reunion right out of a romantic comedy.

This time around, they faked time travel with four sets of twins. Check it out!

You can explore the full details of the prank/performance here, as well as many other “missions” from their past, but sufficed to say, it took a fair amount of puzzly skills and improvisational style to pull this off!

I wonder what delightful trickery they’ll attempt next.


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