21 September 2020
That’s the power of luck
One of the most enjoyable (and noodle-baking) moments in the Back to the Future trilogy is the sequence in the second movie where Doc and Marty infiltrate the climactic events of the first instalment, which of course involve past versions of themselves. At one point, 1985 Doc even handily passes 1955 Doc a wrench. Talk about self-help.
That wrench makes an appearance in Dice Through Time, the latest of several tabletop adaptations of Robert Zemeckis’ time-preztelling saga (coming very close to Prospero Hall’s own similarly titled take, Back in Time.) What marks it out from the rest, however, is the way it invites players to cooperatively recreate their own version of that Back to the Future Part II sequence, each playing a Doc/Marty team from a different time period: 1885, 1955, 1985 and 2015. Troublesome bully Biff Tannen has been on a DeLorean stealing joyride and left stolen items scattered around the space-time continuum. So it’s up to two-to-four Doc/Martys to find them all and return all these plot-relevant knick-knacks to their proper times before the universe implodes.
Like all good cooperative games, Dice Through Time presents a series of short-term puzzles that must be solved with careful attention to each other’s resources and decisions, while the long-term challenge gradually escalates. Each round, a number of movie-moment event cards are placed on the board’s luridly coloured grid, which represents Hill Valley in the four different time zones (rows are years, columns are locations). In order to pick up an item, these events must be resolved and removed by matching card symbols to those found on the game’s custom dice, which all players roll simultaneously before taking their turns to use them. Each die result has its own action, too. A flux capacitor means you can move up or down the board to the same location in a different year, for example, while an arrow means you can move left or right to any other space in the same year.
When a round ends, unremoved events shunt the board’s “OUTATIME” marker along its track; if it gets to 12, game over. Fortunately, item returns are rewarded with a backwards step along the track and an Einstein token which effectively gives players a bonus die result.
Things are complicated by Biff, who blocks locations, and the fact that sharing a location in the same year with another player moves you two spaces forward on the OUTATIME track. But there’s a really pleasing, theme-driven mechanism which can make your time-hopping lives easier. You can “ripple” dice by leaving them on the board for other players. If they’re in the same location in the same year or a future year (i.e. below the die in the same column), they can be used by that player on their turn. This both adds a layer of cooperative coordination and also neatly fits the concept of Doc and Marty leaving clues for their future selves.
Being a family-weighted, dice-based game, it does rely a little too much on luck. Despite ripple-based mitigation, or the “Mr Fusion” allowance of using two matching results to count as any other, a bad event-card draw or roll can prove irreversibly disastrous. However, fans of the trilogy will love the way it evokes the films’ frantic-scrabble pace, while its lightweight complexity and quick set up time are sure to encourage same-session repeat plays, time and time, and time and time, again.
PLAY IT? YES
It helps to know the films, but even if you don’t, the way it requires diligent cooperation – especially through the dice-rippling mechanism – should be enough to hook you.
Designers: Chris Leder, Ken Franklin, Kevin Rodgers
Time: 45-60 minutes
WHAT'S IN THE BOX
1 Game board
- 4 Player mats
- 4 DeLorean movers
- 4 Biff standees
- 16 Dice
- 72 Event cards
- 20 Item cards
- 20 Paradox tokens
- 20 Einstein tokens
- 1 OUTATIME marker
- 1 First Player marker
This review originally appeared in Issue 43 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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