Buzzworthiness: Temporal Odyssey

Thanks to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of today’s game.

If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that I’d like to do
Is to save every day ’til eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you.
-Jim Croce, Time in a Bottle

image by BGG user W Eric Martin

Temporal Odyssey is a 2 or 4 player game by Chris Solis that was a joint production between CGC Games and Level 99 Games.  This is a fighting game in the tradition of other titles such as BattleCon and Pixel Tactics.  In this game, you are battling your opponent to banish them from the timeline.  Rather than dying every time you’re killed, however, you can rewind time to bring yourself back, but each time you do, the timeline gets more and more unstable.

The game comes with 8 Traveler decks, each one consisting of a Traveler, a Tower, a Scout, a Mercenary, an Artifact, and three Spells.  Additionally, there are 38 Past cards, 38 Present cards, and 38 Future cards – each set is divided into six classes of six cards each, as well as two Spells.  Other components include 18 Instability cards, 5 Token cards, 16 AP tokens, 24 damage tokens, 18 class reminder cards, and 4 player reference cards.

At the start of the game, you’ll choose three different classes for the three different time period and shuffle those (along with the two bonus spells for the time period) into their respective draw piles.  Also have the class cards for each chosen class nearby for easy reference.  Each player chooses a Traveler deck, setting their Traveler and Tower in front of them to begin.  Each player also gets 4 AP tokens, and the second player gets the Haste token card from the Token deck to put in their hand.

image by BGG user kalchio

On your turn, you have four Action Points (AP) to spend.  Sometimes, you’ll be able to get more, but in general, you start every turn with four.  These will be used to take one of four basic actions:

ENLIST: Place a card in your play area by spending the required amount of AP, which is shown in the upper right hand corner of the card.  If the card has an Enlisted ability, do it.  There’s no limit to the number of Enlisted cards you can have.

CAST A SPELL: Play a Spell card in your area, pay the AP cost, and take its effect.  Spells can be bolstered if you have the indicated sigils present on other cards also in your play area.  At the start of your next turn, any Spells played will be exhausted and placed under your Traveler, who can spend 1 AP to unexhaust all spells.

ATTACK: Put one AP token on the card, sword side up.  Then inflict as much damage on a target as is indicated on the card you used, taking into account any passive abilities on the target (such as Shield or Retaliate).  Note that any card with an Attack value can attack, but only the Leader (i.e. front of a group) can be attacked.  The first player cannot attack on their first turn.

USE AN AP ABILITY: Many of the cards have AP abilities.  Spend what is required and use it to activate an effect.  It’s worth noting at this point that you cannot use a card twice in a round.  If it has AP on it because it was Enlisted this round, or because you used it to attack, you can’t also use the AP ability.

If, at any point, one of your cards has as much or more damage than its health, it is defeated and placed immediately in the discard.  If you ever have two cards in your discard, banish them both and gain one Instability.  You also gain an Instability if your Traveler is defeated, but your Traveler is flipped over instead of discarded.  Instability will give you a small bonus – a one-time use AP effect and a sigil – but it’s also instrumental in leading towards your destruction.

At the end of your turn, you Regroup.  What happens here is that you put characters and structures into groups of no more than two.  One will be in front of the group (the Leader), anything behind will be Support.  Special effects can go after either, but only the Leader can be attacked.

The final thing you do on your turn is draw the top three cards of any time period deck.  Keep one, put another face up on top of the deck, and banish the third.

The game ends if one player’s Traveler is defeated after they have gained three Instability.  The other player is the winner.

image by BGG user The Innocent

COMPONENTS: This game is all about the cards, and they’re very nice.  Each one has its own illustration, and once you know the basic layout, they’re fairly easy to interpret.  Quality is good, and there are a lot of them.  With 18 factions in the game and 8 travelers, there was a lot of individual art to do.

The AP and damage tokens in the game are all fairly small.  This is good because they don’t obscure the cards when they sit on them, but for people with big fingers like me, it’s tough to sometimes handle them.

I’ll give my standard Level 99 critiques here – road map rules and a box that’s too big for what you get.  The rules are not terribly well written, but the road map style makes it really tough to find what you need when questions come up.  The insert that comes in the box is good for holding the cards in place when standing straight up (especially with the tokens holding them up on the side), but the box could have been 1/3 the size and not needed the insert.  Maybe it was made for expansions, but I can’t see a lot of expansions coming out for this game, especially with the amount you get just in the base game.

Overall, the components are good here -nice art, good quality.

THEME: Time travel is a tough theme in games.  In theory, I like the theme, though I can’t say I’ve ever really played a time travel game that has really grabbed me.  I had hoped Temporal Odyssey would work with the theme, but it unfortunately does not.  There are some interesting thematic ideas – instability and drafting from the past-present-future – but in the end, it feels more pasted on than integral to the gameplay.  Each faction and traveler has its own strengths that are nicely tied together thematically, but the overall time theme just doesn’t pop for me.  In the end, it feels like it’s just another fighting game, and that’s not the type of game I generally like.  It’s kind of disappointing, and I guess I’m still on the lookout for a great time travel game.

MECHANICS: The main driving mechanism behind a player’s turn is an action point system.  You have four AP to spend (sometimes more) to do the various actions available.  Of course, AP is also the abbreviation for Analysis Paralysis, and that’s certainly a danger here.  The more powerful an action is, the more AP it costs, which means you most likely won’t actually be doing four actions on a turn.  The AP contributes to a bit of clunkiness here, as players may take an action, then pause to try to figure out what the next one will be.  It can also be frustrating to spend AP to bring something out, then not being able to use it again until the next turn.

Combat is simple – just apply the damage from one card to another.  Of course, you also have to take into account modifiers like Shields, which adds another layer to the combat system.  But you can only attack Leaders, so putting your weaker defensive units in the back is a good plan.  And the Towers can attack with lots of HP and a modifier that makes your opponent use extra AP to attack, so they provide some good protection.

The Instability adds an interesting layer to this game.  Whenever you beat your opponent’s Traveler, or defeat enough of their enlisted cards, or play a card that allows you to cause it, they take Instability and are 1/4 of the way to losing.  However, Instability cards give bonuses, so it’s not all bad that you’re taking them.  They’re one shot things, but can be pretty helpful.  So, while you’re weakening your opponent, you’re also making them stronger.  I enjoy seeing that in the game.  However, you’re subject to a random draw of these Instability cards, and some of them seem more powerful than others.  This may be a Carl Chudyk situation, where some cards seem completely overpowered in one situation but not at all in others, but it doesn’t seem so to me at this point.

The game has a hand building element to it.  You’re not drawing cards from a deck – everything you have is either in your hand or in play in some form.  So you’re trying to acquire new cards, and these are taken from the Past-Present-Future decks.  It’s a nice part of the game that you can choose your deck, draft one of three cards, and then have to decide which of the other two might be available for your opponent and which gets banished.  Banished cards are not necessarily out of the game because there are effects that allow people to take them.  I like this whole idea of the hand building, and I think it’s one of the game mechanisms that works well.

Gameplay overall is pretty straightforward, but the whole thing feels kind of clunky thanks to the AP.

STRATEGY LEVEL: The decision of how to spend your AP is a key part of this game.  Do you bring out more cards, do you use the cards you have out, do you try to get more cards, do you refresh your spells, do you attack, and so on.  There’s also a good bit of randomness here with the card draws.  I talked about the Instability already, and there’s even randomness that is mitigated somewhat through the card draft.  You pretty much know what you’re getting once you have cards in play.  Knowing the different factions and travelers in the game is probably a big plus.

ACCESSIBILITY: While the gameplay is not terribly difficult, this is a fairly dense game that I think people unfamiliar with the style would have trouble playing.  It’s not something I would recommend to new gamers, and probably only something I’d suggest to people who want a slightly different take on fighting games.

SCALABILITY: This is primarily a two player game, with a four player 2v2 game.  I have not played the four player version, but the two player style seemed like it would be best.

REPLAYABILITY: If there’s one thing Level 99 excels it, it is packing replayability right into the box.  18 factions for the past-present-future decks and 8 Travelers means there are a ton of combinations for the game (I’m not doing the math).  So if you’re looking for variety, this game has definitely got it.

For me, though, the differences between the cards in the game seem fairly minimal.  There was nothing that excited me enough to say, “Ooh, I’m going to try to concentrate on this faction!”  A lot of the cards felt the same, and not that interesting to me.  I know there are differences, and each faction has its own special attributes.  But there wasn’t anything to make me want to explore more.

INTERACTION: It’s a two-player fighting game, of course there’s a high level of interaction.

TIME: The game box says it takes 30 minutes, and that may be so once you get to know the game.  Learning games, however, take a lot longer.  Again, Analysis Paralysis is definitely a concern here.  I feel the game tends to drag in the later stages as players are really concentrating on finding the optimal move with more choices available.

FOOTPRINT: The game doesn’t really take up a ton of space.  You need room for your play areas and the past-present-future decks, but the game doesn’t really sprawl too badly.  a smallish table will probably suffice.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I really wanted to like this game, but I just felt underwhelmed by the whole experience.  Honestly, I’m probably not the target audience for this type of game.  It’s not bad, but it’s not anything that grabbed me or made me eager to explore it more.  And that’s disappointing to me.  However, if you are a fan of fighting games, this one has some interesting ideas you might like to check out.

Thanks again to Level 99 Games for providing a review copy of Temporal Odyssey, and thanks to you for reading!

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