21 December 2020
Taking the time to smell the flowers
Time travel is a tricky subject for gaming, especially if you leave any questions floating mechanically. In a medium where the ‘take back’ of a move is a questionable action and often a sin, there’s always going to be friction against a concept that offers the main novelty of having another go.
The Hadal Project is part of the Time Stories universe, in a slightly different coloured world. Not requiring the base game like many of the Time Stories expansions means that this can be considered a complete and standalone project. And for those of us who fancy dipping our toe into the time machine, it’s a great place to start.
Players do the normal Time Stories things like laying our panoramas, exploring parts of them and looking for ways to achieve their goals – these might not always be clear from the start, but working out exactly what you’re looking for is part of the fun. Here we’re tasked to find the cure to a mysterious virus which is spreading throughout the planet. And we begin our adventure in a huge undersea lab before something large and fishy happens. We can’t tell you much more without spoiling things.
Each player takes a vessel to inhabit, who come with their own set of skills and personal story cards. These include interesting motives that can be completed for your own satisfaction and for a bonus of Azrak returned to your character. This Azrak is the currency of your actions, as players have to spend these little plastic crystals to turn over panorama cards and investigate the scene. Azrak can also be used to pass tests more effectively. Usually a test will be presented with score you need to meet, exceed, or in some cases fail, each sending you on a slightly different path on your chrononautical journey.
As a solo experience it’s compelling. It's heavily story driven, and with the use of the personal motives, has a very pleasing human element. You’re not just the godlike narrator of the action as you are in some solo experience, you can make intriguing story choices to explore. Not all of them to your advantage.
While a ‘normal’ game relies on communication most of the time – players usually having to pass on information rather than exposing the cards to one another – in solo mode it becomes a fairly tough puzzle of interpretations. ‘Does this, what feels like a too obvious clue, actually lead us where we need to go?’ the options for second guessing yourself are plentiful, and working out what your characters’ strengths are is key.
Once you’re in the swing of things the game opens up to this thinky experience that lets you make mistakes. The tests can feel a bit arbitrarily luck based, as much as you try and hedge your bets. On the plus side, there’s little hand holding, so you never feel on rails. On our first solo playthrough there were whole areas left unvisited as I rushed towards what turned out to be quite a bad ending. Apologies to the entirety of humanity.
As an experience compared to the larger Time Stories games, it’s simply more compact in scope – if not table space. A couple of scenes take up a great deal more table space than you’d imagine for a game mostly about laying down a row of cards. Still, those expansive movements are pleasing and cinematic. It’s a solid entry in the series and pleasantly streamlined.
A very contained and accessible version of TIME Stories that takes any worries about ‘investing’ in the series, and gives you a new timeline to play with.
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Unlock!…
Similarly to the much lighter Unlock! series from Space Cowboys, TIME Stories Revolution: The Hadal Project is a rewarding puzzler, and the ideal next step for those looking for something meatier.
Words by Christopher John Eggett
Time: 1-3 hours
WHATS IN THE BOX
- 1 Token punchboard
- 32 Azrak crystals
- 110 Story cards
- 60 Common cards
- 59 Personal cards
This review originally appeared in Issue 44 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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