Thank you for checking review #32 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Disclaimer: I was provided with a copy of this game in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Chrononauts
Chrononauts is a game designed by Andrew Looney and is published by Looney Labs. The box states that it can play 1-6 players and has a 30 minute play time.
In Chrononauts, each player becomes a time traveler, with a unique identity and a secret mission. During the game, players travel backwards and forwards through history, doing all those things people have always dreamed of using a time machine to do: Visiting the great moments of the past, peeking into the future, collecting up impossible artifacts and priceless works of art (at the moment just before history records their destruction), coming to grips with the paradoxes of time travel, and of course, changing pivotal events and altering the course of history itself. How would the timeline be different if Lincoln and JFK had not been assassinated? And is that the version of reality that you came from originally… the one you must return to in order to win? It’s all packed into a fast and easy Fluxx-style card game that will take you to the beginning of time and back again.
Setup and gameplay for 1 Player
The game’s TimeLine remains the same, with four rows of eight cards being dealt out into chronological order. The big change is that you do not use any Artifacts, Gadgets, Actions, Timewarps, or Missions in the solo game. That equates to about half of the cards in the box being unused. Shuffle the ID cards and deal out eight of them – these form your objective in trying to get all eight of the travelers to their home. Shuffle the remaining cards to form your play deck, which will be Patches and Inverters. The Inverters are used to change history by flipping one of the 13 “Linchpin” events to its alternate side. This will cause a ripple effect, having 1-5 other cards in the timeline potentially flip to their other side as well. When those are flipped, they form Paradoxes, which need to be Patched into an alternate history.
Each traveler has three years shown on their timeline: one being black (indicating that year needs to be unflipped) and two red (indicating those years need to first be flipped to their Paradox side and then Patched over with the appropriate Patch). There are going to be IDs that share some of these years, you’ll find Patches not needed on any of your cards, and there may also be the unfortunate situation where you have a card needing a specific year to be black and another to be red…meaning you’ll either need to get the one in black completed first or else you’ll have to find a way to reverse history back on the red after that one is completed.
The game ends when you either get all eight travelers home or when you are out of cards that can be played. You get one run through the deck, which means you’ll see every Patch you need at some point but you may not see them when you need them.
The time it takes to set this up, play it, and tear it back down is relatively small. I can usually do that all in under half an hour, especially since I already have the cards pre-sorted in the box. The cards used for the solo game fit perfectly in one half of the box. When considering solo games, time is often an obstacle that can prevent a game from hitting the table. That isn’t the case with this one.
What seems like a simple game is really a challenge. Even when you feel like you’re doing really well and setting it all up perfectly, that deck runs out several rounds before you want it to. That one patch you need is too far down, or the Inverter you have to have isn’t coming up. The game forces you to make and act upon decisions without perfect information, but you are still the one making those decisions. Every once in a while it’ll make that decision for you, as some of those Inverters are very specific in usage, but most of the time you’ll feel like you are in control.
Tying in with that above point, this game never feels like you lose because of luck. Yes, it is involved like any game where you draw from a shuffled deck of cards. And yes, there are times where a really bad hand early could compound into a bad situation. But most of the time you are able to make decisions based on what you’ve seen and what you need to accomplish. You won’t know what is coming out next, but you can set yourself up or, at the least, make moves that will interfere the least with what you need to accomplish. Every time I’ve gotten into that no-win situation, I’ve been able to reflect on a card usage a few turns back and see how a different choice there could have enabled me to take advantage of the current situation.
The Travelers are all unique and contain a fun “backstory” on each card. This is fun to read and helps them to all feel different as well as provide explanations as to why their timeline requires the sequence of events listed on their card. This is a small and unnecessary touch, but an important once that is fun at least the first time you encounter each card.
Seeing some of the events that happen as the result of a changed Linchpin is another fun thing. This game is not only educational in seeing the standard timeline and learning when those events happened, but it could provide some interesting contemplation on whether or not a change in event X would realistically have lead to Y happening.
The cards themselves are really uninteresting visually. Yes, there are small graphics on there and the colors to help indicate things, but this won’t wow anyone while it is on the table. The good thing, though, is that the coloring of things does make sense and help you to see what you need. But man, this one won’t win any contests for prettiest game.
I’m not going to call this a fiddly game by any means, but there is a lot of flipping and unflipping of cards as you play. If this is something that bothers you, then buyer beware. The worst is when you get that card that just won’t detach itself from the table no matter how hard you try. Yeah, it’ll probably happen at some point with as much flipping as you’ll be doing.
I really like the solo game as it stands. I’m not saying anything about it needs to change. But there is a part of me that is sad using just half of what comes in that box for the solo play. It is like I’m only playing half a game, which I suppose is true in a sense. The multiplayer game is similar in some ways, but wildly different in other ways compared to the solo game.
This isn’t a critique of the game itself, but a personal preference. I think American history is dull. I have no interest in it, which is why I never could be a serious wargamer. I’d have no interest in 90% of the products out there. There is so much material out there that Looney Labs could tap into. I know I wouldn’t be the only one signing up for a European history version. Or even by eras, like Ancient history and a Medieval history. There is so much out there, I’d love to see them explore something different.
The solo version of this game is the least Fluxx-like experience I have ever had from a Looney Labs game, and that is a positive endorsement. Fluxx has one of those divisive reputations in the hobby, much like Munchkin, where some gamers really hate the game while others enjoy it either with the right group or the right circumstances. I tend to enjoy the occasional Fluxx game, but it certainly isn’t a game I’d want to go to a game day to play.
The solo game, instead, offers a tricky puzzle. You get one run through the deck and you don’t know what cards will appear at which points in time. Yet there will come a time when you need to start making decisions because you’ve got Patches but none of them enough to get a Traveler home by themselves. Don’t be like me and have a hand of five Patches you need to win the game and have to discard one because you can’t play any cards. I’ve gotten as few as four and as many as seven Travelers home, but the victory has so far eluded me. Which is something I really respect about the game – it presents a great challenge without feeling swingy and luck-driven like a Fluxx game. Even when you get into that situation where you have to toss a card you need, you can trace your steps back a few turns and realize what you could have done to prevent that situation. Usually because you were either playing too conservative and holding those cards, or being aggressive and trying to set up for a different Traveler without leaving any method to reverse things back.
I didn’t really know what to expect going into my first game of Chrononauts, but I had heard it was a worthwhile solo game. It took about half of that first game to really grasp how the mechanics all worked together, but once that happened the game appealed to me. It has stood up over multiple attempts and left me wanting to reset and try again every time.
I don’t know if they plan to do anything more with this game system, but I would love to see them explore further back in the world history. A medieval-centered version would be an insta-buy for me if it maintained the solo play. I wanted this game to feel like Doctor Who, and it does accomplish that to an extent. With their upcoming Doctor Who Fluxx, maybe they can get a chance to revisit this and bring Doctor Who Chrononauts to us all. That would be the other insta-buy for me.
But as it stands, if you are looking for a small, portable, card-driven solo game that will offer a fast puzzle without an insane amount of shuffling, this one will deliver. You need some table space for the TimeLine, but barring that one factor this would be a great on-the-go solo game. It would also be great to have for when you only have 20-30 minutes and want to get a solo game in. If you are a solo gamer, I would definitely recommend this one. It isn’t my favorite solo game, but it is strong enough to earn a spot in my collection even if it never gets played at a higher player count.
Check out more of our reviews at the following Geeklist and be sure to let me know what you thought of this game.