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Card Game Review: Chrononauts

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A while ago, a buddy and I were talking about things that would make for cool card games and we settled on the topic of time travel. We kicked around a few ideas and finally came up with a system that would have events that could be changed (preventing or causing assassinations or disasters) and items that time-travelers would want (pet dinosaurs, lost plays of Shakespeare, the usual). A few days later, he sent me an e-mail with a link to Looney Labs.

They'd already invented our game.

But, no hard feelings, because they did a pretty awesome job with it. The game gives thirty-two TimeLine cards showing events focusing on the Twentieth Century with a few added concerning Abraham Lincoln (an assassination popularly prevented by time travelers). The other events include the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand; the Manhattan Project; the launch of Sputnik; the John Lennon murder; and the siege of the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas. Inverter cards change these events, and thus cause all kinds of “ripples” through the timestream, some good, some bad. The Archduke lives, no World War I; no Manhattan Project, WWII includes a bloody invasion of the Japanese home islands, but no Cuban Missile Crisis; no Sputnik, the Space Race falls apart; no Waco, no 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

With all these time travelers running around, paradoxes are bound to happen. When the thirteenth Paradox card flips up in the timeline, the universe is ripped apart as space-time collapses. Fortunately, Patch cards allow paradoxes to be repaired in bizarre ways, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. taking office in 1974, the 1929 explosion of the aging Titanic, and Germany making a successful show at the 1939 World's Fair instead of invading Poland.

Two points to watch out for are the 1945 Nexus and the 1962 UberParadox. World War II could have ended in many different ways with Tokyo nuked, Truman never deploying the A-bomb, world peace, or the Nazis triumph over Europe. Here, patch cards can even change the same year in multiple ways. In 1962, we came very close to global annihilation in the Cuban Missile Crisis. If time travel had made the Cold War go hot, the game discounts events everything afterward as all had been wiped out by nukes (except a few hardy cockroaches, of course).

The object of the game (other than playing with causality itself) is to match one of three goals: match the events on an ID card to get a time traveler back to his own timeline, collect a series of Artifacts listed on a Mission card (such as stealing all three versions of the Mona Lisa), or get seven extra cards as rewards for fixing the timeline. The rules are further flexible, allowing for single-player modes and simply collecting Artifacts any way players want to do it. It's a sprinkling of Free Will in a Fate-filled universe.

The expansion for the game, The Gore Years (released December 4, 2009), adds eleven cards to the mix: three new IDs, three new Patches, and five event cards from the first decade of the twenty-first century. Switches involve Al Gore winning Florida and thus the 2000 election, prevention of 9/11, and the possibilities of the first female and/or black presidents.

I brought it to a party the other day, and we played it through five times.


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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.