Time travel tales delight us for a reason; it’s exciting to consider the ways history could be different, or imagine the ways that the ability to leap back or forward in time might work. As a game design concept, time travel is a big challenge. How do you reflect the paradoxes and problems of time travel within a design framework? 

Several games over the years have tackled the concept, but here are five of my favorites, each of which uses time in an intriguing way, and leads to great times with friends and family around the table.

T.I.M.E. Stories
Publisher: Space Cowboys, Asmodee

This stellar cooperative story game casts players in the role of agents working for a futuristic agency that monitors the integrity of the timeline. When things go wrong, you jump back in time into the bodies of hosts, and navigate through a narrative scenario filled with puzzles, branching story choices, and unusual twists. T.I.M.E. Stories constantly manages to surprise with the flexibility of its system, and the way each scenario differs from the last, and offers plenty of opportunities for role-playing and emergent storytelling. Players confront the current dilemma and try to solve the paradox, and then return for subsequent attempts after the initial runthrough goes awry. The base game includes all the rules and major components, as well as the “Asylum” scenario, but you can purchase several separate expansions that offer dramatic new variations and expeditions. One expansion takes you to a version of the Middle Ages where magic has somehow taken hold, leading to fantasy elements. Another takes players to a lost expedition beneath the ice of Antarctica. T.I.M.E. Stories is also unique in its ability to offer a “save game” state, allowing players to carry over their experiences from one play session to the next. 

Escape From 100 Million B.C.
Publisher: IDW Games

You’ve been marooned in the prehistoric past, and you must repair your time machine ship before a volcano explodes and wipes out all evidence of your existence. This recent release from IDW is a cooperative adventure with plenty of dinosaur fighting, time-rift closing, and other excitement. Players work together to gather equipment and ensure an escape, even as strange time-themed dilemmas begin to mount on the board, like the arrival of other time castaways into the equation. The game’s extensive card art and hex-based board look great, and the game is an ideal choice for players who don’t mind tense dice-based encounters where the results are left up to some element of chance. The time travel themes echo through every aspect of the game, and the balanced gameplay often leads to a pretty harrowing finale as the whole team rushes to survive. 

Chrononauts
Publisher: Looney Labs

Chrononauts has been around for a long time, and for good reason. The clever card game casts each player as a time traveler on a secret mission, traveling back and forth to pivotal moments in the past. As the game progresses, events change in profound ways, which results in ripples further down the line that might dramatically change history as we understand it. Perhaps Sputnik explodes on the pad before getting into space, leading to a different unfolding of the space race. Or maybe John Lennon survives an assassination attempt in 1980, leading to his peace activism changing the world in the years to come. The game’s accessible card-based mechanics are simple to learn, and the game rarely veers into deep strategy or complexity. Instead, the appeal is in watching history slowly warp into a new reality, and laughing at the unforeseen consequences that connect one historical turning point with another. 

Tragedy Looper
Publisher: Z-Man Games

This unusual anime and manga inspired board game demands deduction and informed guesswork, while tapping into the idea of time loops in a fascinating way. Multiple players work together as they play through a scenario, while an opponent mastermind attempts to defeat them. The mastermind sets out a day’s events that might include a profound tragedy, such as one of the characters being killed. The story then loops back to the beginning, and the cooperating team tries to figure out what events led to the tragedy, and prevent it. Not only does Tragedy Looper offer an innovative gameplay loop, but its tone, art, and storytelling makes you feel just like you’re playing through a quirky and creative Japanese animated tale.

Timeline Challenge
Publisher: Asmodee

Looking for a family-friendly option that still plays with the idea of history and travel through time? Timeline Challenge is a board game evolution of the excellent Timline card games, in which players must place historical events (represented by individual cards) in their correct order. The board game variation adds a few additional twists in the form of trials you must complete. Players progress along the periphery of a clock by facing individual challenges that involve the Timeline cards. Each trial has different gameplay, from making you guess the correct order of four random cards, to estimating the approximate time between two historical events. While there’s little in the way of narrative framework to Timeline Challenge, the evocative art and educational history help players feel like they’re traveling through time on a quest to fully grasp the scope of history. And while the game can be played standalone with its own set of cards, it is also completely cross-compatible with the many, many versions of the original card game.

 

Time travel not your thing? No worries. Click on the banner below to hop over to our Top of the Table hub, where you can find any number of other tabletop games that are worth checking out. If you’d like a personalized recommendation, drop me a line via email or Twitter from the links below, let me know what you’re looking for, and I’ll do my best to pull together some recommendations. Happy gaming!