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Card Game Review: Back to the Future

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A while ago I reviewed Chrononauts, a game where players are given the identities of time travelers and sent on missions to collect objects or re-establish their future so they can go home (or, arguably, exist at all). The fellows at Looney Labs are at time travel again, this time adapting their game in homage to the greatest time-travel movie trilogy of all time: Back to the Future.

The game is set to be released September 3, 2010, just five years until we all get our Mattel hoverboards that were promised in 1989. It follows much of the same format as Chrononauts with a time-line set out in a grid, item cards, action cards, and ID cards, but the inherent game is vastly different. Chronoauts is listed as 20-45 minutes of play, while Back to the Future goes up to 60, with both suggesting players’ ages as 11 and up. Rather than each player minding his or her own business collecting items or arranging history, Back to the Future: The Card Game is a cut-throat race to preserve one’s very life.

I suppose “Russian” Back to the Future could be played where losers have to erase themselves from the time stream, but in reality the singular goal of the game is to orchestrate the time-line on the character’s ID card, which is cleverly backed with a CusCo employee ID, just like Marty McFly had… until he was fired, that is. Each character is a descendant of characters from the films, such as “Marty McFly III,” “Tiffany Tannen,” or “Marlin Berry” (coming from Marvin Berry, the cousin of Chuck Berry, who, of course, stole rock’n’roll from Marty McFly). “Verne Brown” is the only character to have appeared in the films, son of Dr. Emmett and Clara Brown seen in the last bit of BttF III, as well as a personal favorite from the animated series. Each of these characters comes from a slightly different world, meaning only one can truly exist.

When the events are aligned perfectly, the player makes an attempt at stopping the invention of time-travel, thus ensuring the character’s existence forever. Time-traveling to November 5, 1955, when Doc Brown invented the flux capacitor, the player attempts to alter the event. Five cards are shuffled and arranged at the point, giving the player an initial twenty-percent chance of success. Either “Mysterious Forces Prevent You From Changing This Event at This Time” or “Emmett Brown Hangs a Clock in his Bathroom,” stepping down from the toilet without incident. Without time-travel, no one can challenge the events of the time-line, and the player wins.

This creates a clearer endgame than Chrononauts, which is often won out of surprise to many of the players. In this version, it is clear when someone is close to winning, and this makes the game much more cut-throat. If time-travel is not un-invented, players will immediately pounce upon the time-line to mess up the initial player’s events and attempt to block his next move. Desperate plays of Action and “Power Action” cards come out in a flurry, such as “Rewind” to pillage the discard deck and “Hitch a Ride” to follow up on another player changing the time-line.

As opposed to Chrononauts, altering events is not so easy in Back to the Future. It gives the game a very different feel and mimics more of the films’ showing of difficulty trying to get a DeLorean to work. BttF I and BttF III revolve almost entirely around simply figuring out a way to get the time machine going again. To time-travel in the game, a player must use one of six time machines, most of which require additional Item cards to use, such as Plutonium, Lightning Prediction, or an Overpowered Locomotive. Changing time simply is not that easy, and it makes the changing of events much more significant in game-play.

While play-testing, a buddy of mine said that this game was leaps and bounds better than Chrononauts. I do not know if I agree, but I definitely think it is enough to come down to a matter of opinion. If the group gaming is looking for a fast-paced, almost unpredictable, wild ride of time-travel, then go for Chrononauts. If the group wants plotting, intrigue, and a mad-dash ending with plenty of movie references, then Back to the Future is it.

Whichever anyone prefers, both give me a surging desire to watch a certain movie trilogy in marathon back-to-back-to-back… to the future.


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About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.
  • SpeedyBeattie

    I really enjoy Back to the Future the card game. The designers took a lot of care with this product First, you use actual events in the trilogy and their possible outcomes. Second, as you play through and start changing individual events on the time line (and their consequences), there is still no major conflicts with logic or chronology.
    The game does require you to pay attention to several things at once: the cards in your hand, your individual winning requirements, the current time line, and how close other players seem to be to winning. Each player must change two events from the original time line to the version on their ID card to win.
    I have not played Chrononauts or any other product from Loony Labs, but Back to the Future the card game was done so well, I think I will check some of them out.