Thank you for checking review #68 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.
**Note: a review copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review.
An Overview of Temporal Odyssey
Temporal Odyssey is a game designed by Chris Solis and was published by Level 99 Games & CGC Games in 2018. The box states that it can play 2-4 players and has a 20-45 minute play time and a BGG Weight Rating of 2.50.
Temporal Odyssey is a drafting battle card game about dueling time travelers for 2 and 4 players. Draft from the past, present, or future, and enlist legendary heroes and creatures to fight by your side. Group your characters to get them to share their abilities, using this both offensively and defensively. Regroup often to adapt to the situation. Rewind time to prevent your own death but be careful — each time you must suffer judgement from Lovox the god of time. Destroy your opponent’s stability and deliver the final blow to banish them from the timeline and win the game!
Gameplay differences for 2 Players
There are no differences, as the 2-player experience is the core experience packaged in the game.
Overall, this was not a difficult game to learn and teach. The rules are straightforward enough to grasp after two readings with minimal questions. There are some areas in the rules that are contradictory and/or needed clarification, and there is an official FAQ with those corrections; thankfully, many of those are very minor involving setup. However, I really dislike the format of the large sheet folded up, as it is a hassle to unfold it and find the space to look at it and try to find what you’re looking for. A small 4-8 page rule booklet would have been much better, allowed more examples, an index to help find specific concepts, and more. That is the biggest detriment is trying to find what you need when searching to answer a question: there is a lot of space to look through to try and discover that answer. 7/10 rating on the rules, as it can be taught from with relative ease but isn’t great for referencing on-the-go and for the errors in the rulebook.
This game does something so wonderful that I rarely see in this style of game: it gives you access to wildly powerful cards and you can play any of them on the next turn after you acquire them. There is no holding a card until you get X lands out, or have a resource match, or whatever blocks a game naturally places on power cards. You can draft a card on your first turn that makes you do a double take before laughing manically at what is about to hit your unsuspecting opponent. The game skips over the slow build-up to power and lets you dive right in, letting the crazy cards and combos fly.
There is a common thread among all six travelers, as they have identical powers, they each have a tower, an ally that has some HP and attack, an ally with shield that can pull a card from a timeline deck, an artifact, and three spells. Those spells are the difference between them, apart from the element on the artifact, and that is a good thing. Each traveler is different due to their spells, yet similar enough that you aren’t at a disadvantage when playing a new traveler. This provides enough asymmetry to give flavor without making that asymmetry a barrier to learning for players.
I love that there are effects on units that can spread to the unit they regroup with. This opens up ways to mitigate damage, retaliate when attacked, and much more. A lot of times the Regroup phase provides the most important decisions you can make in terms of what units to pair together and which should be in the front and which in the back. It adds a layer of tactical strategy to the experience that would otherwise be missing from a game like this.
Adding into the Regrouping phase, there are units you obviously want to have behind another unit so they cannot be targeted with attacks. However, any unit you attack with has to be at the front of a grouping, meaning you need to weigh the decision to attack against whether you need to defend that unit. A miscalculation here, as I discovered this week, can be very costly in the end. It wasn’t the power of his cards that cost me the game, but my own decision to attack with my traveler rather than trying to use my other units to take out his threat.
Turns are simple. You have four AP to spend (there are a few exceptions) on your turn. Spells, Artifacts, and units have an AP cost to bring them into play. Cards brought into play cannot be used to attack. Some cards have an ability that can be triggered by spending AP. You use the other side of the AP token to indicate attacks. Most turns will be playing a card and doing 1-2 attacks or abilities. Then you regroup the units and draft three cards from a single time period deck (more on that next!) Simple turns, which keep the action flowing fast and help make it streamlined to play cards and resolve attacks.
There is drafting in the game. Oh, how I love me some card drafting. In this one, you do that at the end of your turn, choosing one of the three decks (Past, Present, or Future) and take the top three cards. One you select to place in your hand, one you discard permanently from the game (Banish it), and the other returns face-up to the top of the deck. Yep, face-up. Excellent decisions to be had here, as you are considering what you want, what needs to be removed, and what you want your opponent to see is available on their turn. Such a clever decision here, and it is probably my favorite part of the game.
I love the artwork and the graphical layout in this game. The team behind this did a fantastic job overall, and I was pleased to hear that a good number of the characters in here are also in Chris Solis’ first game: Terrene Odyssey. Added to that, the theme of this game is incredible, and is the hook I’ve used at the start every time to raise my opponent’s interest before diving into how to play the game.
I almost “finished” this review without mentioning one of the other interesting and important things in this game: Instability. If your traveler gets knocked out while you have 3 Instability, you lose the game. So Instability is a bad thing, inherently. However, they have actions on there which you can use (I think they are all one-time use) to gain an edge during the battle, allowing you to lean into the damaging effect and capitalize upon it. You also gain a symbol on that Instability card, helping you to boost your spells and abilities until the point where you use that card for its effect. This is a clever thing to add into the game, and one I really enjoy.
Anyone who has been reading my reviews for a while will know what comes next: replayability. Six travelers to choose from, each of them containing unique spells and an artifact in their unique element. Three different time periods of cards, each of those containing only three out of six factions. This means you could, without any extra work, play two games in a row and have a completely new setup of factions in every time period deck to play with. Learning the cards in those decks so that you know what to try and find during a game will take several plays, at which point a lot of strategy layers can open up for players.
Which leads into the fact that this game really rewards the experienced player. Sure, a new player can compete against a skilled one. Heck, I played this against the designer and it was down to the wire with me losing the turn before I would have finished him off. It has layers of strategy and tactics that take many games, and a knowledge of what cards are in which factions, to unlock and use effectively. This is a good thing, and also a bad thing. If you want to be great, you need to play it. A lot. But you also need to play it a lot to be great at it. Yes, I meant to say it that way. It is a lifestyle game, just like several others that Level 99 Games has in their catalog (BattleCON, Exceed, Pixel Tactics) so that should come as no surprise. If you have a group of people willing to play regularly, this is a great game for that group. But if you want to pull it out for a game every 6-9 months and want to do well…that may be difficult.
The card stock on this leaves something to be desired. I am not a habitual sleever of games, but this one may need to be the exception in my collection. For a game I want to play dozens of times in the coming months, I would hate for these cards to wear out quickly. Thankfully, there is ample space in the box for sleeved cards and, presumably, future expansion content.
The player aids…they have the same information on both sides. I don’t understand the reasoning for this, but it is a disappointment. The other side should honestly contain the various keywords that appear on cards, such as Stunned, and what they do. Especially those keywords that do not get defined on the bottom of a card. Also, they leave off the start of turn phase where you resolve Start of Turn effects, discard AP tokens off cards and regain a pool of 4 AP, and exhaust all spell cards in play.
There are only two spells for each of the three time period decks, and they are always mixed in there. In a game with this much replay and variability, that aspect is slightly disappointing to me. I’m sure there is a reasoning behind it, as maybe having more spells unbalanced the game (a tongue-in-cheek statement for sure about a game that makes players so powerful from the start that they can feel like the game is unbalanced…even though I would argue it is pretty well balanced overall since both players typically achieve that feeling).
This game’s greatest weakness is also its greatest strength: things ramp up quickly via unapologeticly powerful cards and combos. This is the game that skips over the slow build-up that most card-driven games (whether dueling games like Magic: The Gathering or deckbuilding games like Dominion) start players off at and jumps feet-first into the depths of madness. And whoa, that is FUN. There are few games where, after drawing the first three cards off a deck, your opponent’s eyes get wide and they giggle with glee at the sheer magnitude of the card they select. And while that may signal bad things for me as a player, I know that I can get the same kind of power with my next draw, too. In a game where so much feels powerful, nothing truly ends up being that overpowered.
Except maybe Zane the Ender, who finally ended me in a game where he appeared because I focused too much on the thrill of my own newfound power instead of realizing I could get taken down in a turn. And that was on me.
There is a solid amount of variety in the box, as you will use only one of the six travelers and only 3 of the 6 factions for each time period with each game. I wish there was more variety in the spells for each period, but I imagine that is something that could come in a future expansion. And this game is definitely primed for some future expansions in the form of new travelers, new spells, new instability cards, and new factions for each time period. And, honestly, I’ll probably buy them all.
It is fun to find a game that unashamedly lets players feel powerful from the start. I absolutely love that about this one, and find it to be the most charming aspect of Temporal Odyssey. It could have followed a more traditional approach with a slow burn to power, making the game stretch out longer and taking the teeth away from cards. I’m glad it didn’t. I have enough of those kinds of games, and sometimes you just want to throw power around like you’re Thanos and you’ve collected all of the Infinity Stones. There aren’t enough games like that on the market right now, and this one is a refreshing change from the norm.
That approach won’t appeal to everyone, of course. Some people prefer the slow burn where they forge together a long-term strategy to outplay their opponent over time. This game absolutely has the potential for wild swings, but overall there is still a lot of room for tactical movement and interesting decisions to give players control over how things unfold. Most of the time it will be the better player who wins, not the one with the luckiest draw, but it also allows everyone involved to be having fun as they see what mind-blowing power they can unleash next.
If you enjoy games where you duel against an opponent, this is definitely one you should check out because it strips away the fat and serves a healthy dose of powerful fun. Games are fast and furious, and are quick enough to set up and reset for the next duel. And you’ll want to move into that next match, making a best of three or a best of five bout with your friend. At a time where I’m ruthlessly culling my collection and questioning the value of every game on my shelf, this one will survive on the merit of the gameplay it provides and the memories it will inevitably form as it gets played over and over again with my friends.