Thanks to Button Shy Games for providing a preproduction review copy of this game.
Antinomy is a two-player, 18-card game from designer John Baluci that is to be published soon by Button Shy Games (pending the results of the upcoming Kickstarter campaign). The definition of Antinomy is essentially a paradox, or a contradiction between two truths. In the game, both players are sorcerers running around the time stream attempting to collect five Paradox Crystals. The first one to do so will have complete control over time and space. So yeah…the stakes are kind of high.
In the game, you’ll get 16 element cards and 2 sorcerer cards. You’ll also need 10 markers to serve as the
Infinity Stones Paradox Crystals. To start the game, you’ll shuffle up the 16 element cards and deal each player three. Nine more will be dealt face up into a row called the Continuum between the players. At the end of this line, place the final card face down. This is the Codex, and one of the Paradox Crystals should be placed on the color symbol that matches the card at the other end of the line. Players then place their sorcerer cards next to one card that matches the color covered up on the Codex. Your fully set up game should look something like this:
As mentioned previously, the object of the game is gain five Paradox Crystals. There are two ways to accomplish this – by creating Paradoxes, or by winning Clashes. Paradoxes are created when the three cards in your hand all have the same number, the same Relic, or the same color. The 16 element cards all have a number of 1-4; a Relic that is a skull, a ring, a feather, or a key; and a color that represents one of the four classical elements – blue (water), red (fire), green (earth), or purple (air). There are four of each number, Relic, and color in the deck, and no two cards have the same combination of the three:
When you have a Paradox in hand, you first must check the Codex. If any of the cards in your hand match the color covered by the Codex, your Paradox is invalid and you can’t collect a Paradox Crystal. If not, however, you show your Paradox and collect your Crystal (after your opponent has confirmed that it’s legal). Then you pick up the three cards on the right or left of your sorcerer’s current position and randomly place the cards from your Paradox into those empty spaces. If there aren’t three cards to pick up on one side of your sorcerer, you have to pick up from the other side.
So how do you get these cards in hand? You have to move your sorcerer around. On your turn, you’ll play a card from your hand and determine if you want to move right (into the future) or left (into the past). If you move into the future, you’ll look at the value on your card and move that many spaces. If you move into the past, you’ll look at the Relic or color of your card and move to another card in that direction with the matching Relic or color. If you don’t have a legal move into the past or future, you must move the other way. Wherever your sorcerer ends up, you pick up the card that is there and put the card you played in its place.
If you wind up directly across from your opponent’s sorcerer, a Clash happens. First, resolve a Paradox if you’ve created one. Then compare hands with your opponents. Whoever has the highest total value on their three cards wins and steals a Paradox Crystal from the other. If there’s a tie, player shuffle their cards (minus any cards that match the Codex) and reveal their top card randomly. Again, the player with the higher value wins. However, if there’s a tie again, nothing happens due to the Clash.
Once someone has collected all Paradox Crystals, the game is over and the loser better hope their opponent doesn’t snap their fingers. Or something.
Time travel as a theme in a game is one that I am becoming increasingly skeptical of. It’s a very complicated subject, and to base your game in that space, you have to be prepared to deal with a number of issues that will inevitably arrive from trying to mess with the time stream. In Antinomy, the time travel/paradox is mostly just pasted on, and is really abstracted down to you move right for the future, and you move left for the past. The most interesting thing to think about with this theme is that the players are sitting across from each other, and one person’s past is the other’s future. It’s like you’re the Doctor and River Song, each traveling through the time stream in opposite directions. Except, in this version, you’re trying to undo reality rather than put things right. Be aware, however, that this opposite directions thing can create some confusion as players figure out what the other just did. It might have been a little simpler to say the past is towards the Codex and the future is away from it, but I think the left-right thing helps lift the theme.
Mechanically, Antinomy is essentially a point-to-point movement game where players are jumping around on the timeline to get the cards they need. This is accomplished simply by playing a card from your hand, but you have the choice as to whether to go left or right. This directional decision determines how the card is resolved – to the right, move spaces equal to the value; to the left, move to a card matching the color or Relic. It’s a simple distinction, but still can mess with your brain, especially if you want to play a 1 and move to another 1 to the left (which is something that will never happen since the 1 you played is the only 1 with that particular color and Relic).
There’s some strategic planning ahead as you do have to look ahead a couple of turns ahead to try to set up your Paradoxes. Of course, there’s always the possibility that your opponent will swoop in and change things on the Continuum, which could be bad. But it might work in your favor since the Codex rotates after every Clash or Paradox, and that set of red cards that was just an illegal Paradox is now getting you a Crystal. The game ends up being quite tactical because of the shifting board state, and it can be quite frustrating if your plans are blown to pieces.
Overall, the game is not complicated to learn, but this is deceptive. You really do have to think in several different directions at once, and it can be quite challenging. It’s really mostly a puzzle, but a pretty interactive one – there’s indirect interaction as you take cards your opponent may have wanted, and also direct as players can Clash. The Clash is an interesting addition as it gives you another reason to collect cards – if you’re not making Paradoxes, maybe try to collect some high valued cards and chase your opponent around to steal some of their Crystals.
One of the things I love about Button Shy Games is their ability to pack a ton of gameplay into just 18 cards. This done with cards that contain a lot of text and can do many different things (as in Liberation) or cards that utilize the front and the back (as in Circle the Wagons or Sprawlopolis). Here, though, it’s just 18 cards – really, 16 since two of the cards just mark player position – that simply show a number, Relic, and color. And even with that simplicity of card design, there’s a lot of depth and decision making here.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I’m incredibly impressed by this game. It’s got a tremendous amount of game packed into a small package, and it feels quite unique. It always feels satisfying to complete a Paradox, especially if you’ve had to work for it. This is one I’d highly recommend, and would even go so far as to say it’s one of my favorites Button Shy has produced.
Be sure to check out the Kickstarter when it goes live
Tuesday, February 12 at some point in the hopefully near future. (EDIT: It’s now live!) Thanks again to Button Shy for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!