Time Stories: Under The Mask (99% Spoiler Free Review) - Quantum Leaping

Time Stories was definitely not a "flash in the pan". Already on its fourth instalment and there are hints of at least 3 more scenarios to come during 2016, including an expedition to Antarctica which I think will be pretty cool, maybe they'll go with a rip-off of The Thing or something. Well, this scenario is the opposite in terms of temperature as we're now in Ancient Egypt, a setting I've been looking forward to since its announcement as I hoped with the rich theme of tombs and mysteries and scribing that we could return to a style of play more akin to the original Asylum, which is still the highlight of the range and not just because of the novelty factor of first discovering what Time Stories was, although I'll admit that does play a part.

Of course I'll keep this free of major spoilers (which also means I can only talk about so much), though there will be a pre-warning to a very MINOR spoiler that some already knew before playing this and even if you don't, you literally find out at the start so don't worry too much. So is the novelty wearing off or will this cool setting be a new lease of life?




Designer: Manuel Rozoy, Guillaume Montiage
Publisher: Space Cowboys
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Time: 60 - 90 minutes per "run"
RRP: £19.99


Innovation Held Back By Repeated Issues


The setup is your typical standard affair, though a little less complicated than with Dragons, except with a nice little minor twist (minor spoiler alert, but this was an official post) in that you now have the ability to shift in and out of different receptacles during the scenario as you meet them. This allows for some really cool interactions and helps to support the over-arching storyline, not to mention provide some cool variety in the characters. Not all of them will be useful, but that's the funny part of deciding whether you're going to shift or not. We missed out one in particular who on reflection would have actually made our lives so much easier had we taken them over, but that's how Time Stories works and why everyone plays it differently. It's a brilliant little innovation and I hope that this continues in future scenarios. While on the subject of innovation, without spoiling, this scenario has one of the best "Easter Egg" style endings I've ever seen in a board game - you'll love it.

Of course the artwork is as good as always, but the bright Egyptian setting allows for these cards to truly shine (no pun intended) with the colour and detail. It's a short step below Asylum, which still to date in my opinion has the best art of the lot (wasn't a fan of Marcy's and Dragon's styling), but it's still gorgeous to look at and even the backs of the cards look cool with all the Egyptian flair, capturing the setting perfectly.

However the same old problem will arise with translation issues. Yet again some cards in the set have ambiguous rulings that will get in the way. A little thought will solve some of them, but again, expect this to get another FAQ in the short run - seriously why is this still happening after 3 scenarios? Some more emphasis needs to be put into proof-reading these things. There's even a laughable mistake in the card art at the very end when you succeed the mission - see if you can spot it - it's painful how that got through testing.


Not For The Blood-Hungry Time Traveller!


A problem I had with the last two scenarios was the heavy reliance on combat. Pretty much every single scene required some degree of combat and usually quite intensive ones. Asylum was an even mix, very nicely balanced. Under The Mask goes a step in the other direction and actually provides very little in terms of combat. Occasional moments will arise, but this is easily the least combat orientated scenario to date so if like me, that was a bugbear for you, you'll be glad to know this focuses more on the story and mystery and that the gore factor is nil.

Really I've only got two minor flaws for this scenario in general. Firstly even though there isn't much combat, there isn't much in the way of cool puzzles outside of the main story. You get one ingenious and thematic situation later which is dirt simple to figure out even if you haven't found out the cool "pre-warning" ahead of time, but that's about it. I do miss those little cool puzzles, Dragons had a couple, but again Asylum takes the crown for that, I know I praise that a lot, but it's my favourite for a reason.

Secondly this is the most time-constrained scenario yet. I've been playing with the same ladies from The Game Shelf (#plug) all this time and we completed Asylum in 3 runs, Marcy in 2 runs and Dragons in only a single run! Not joking! And we had a ton of time to spare as well, granted we got lucky on a 1 in 3 choice in that game, but even so. Under The Mask took us 4 runs to complete and even though we made some very unlucky choices in terms of timing, we still probably would have only done it in three runs at best. I've yet to know anyone to do it in two and the only way that's even remotely possible is if you pick the absolute best case scenario throughout, which is highly unlikely. There's a great deal of travelling to do which sucks up precious time and a fair amount of skill checks to fail on.

That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but if you don't like it when you have to repeat a ton of areas just to get one thing done and can't be bothered to lay out all the cards again, this might frustrate you. There's a good amount of "save points" that help on the location front, but if like us you don't find them early for whatever reason, then you'll use up plenty of time to do them later.


Verdict


This was a nice return to what I enjoyed most about Time Stories in the first place, the innovation and the mystery/storyline. Under The Mask plays out much more like Asylum did, just without the horror elements and not too many puzzles, though some harder ones would have been nice. Combat is incredibly light here allowing you to concentrate more on the story. The ability to shift in and out of multiple characters is a wonderful innovation that mitigates the initial lacklustre starting line up of choices and I hope this gets repeated in future scenarios.

It is however very time-constrained depending on the route you take within the game. Unless you get very lucky this will be a three-run minimum scenario, possibly even four. And if the repetition of going back through bits you've already seen Groundhog Day style puts you off, you might get a little frustrated by the end. Overall I got to experience a bit more of that original novelty factor I received from Asylum and will easily place this as my second favourite scenario to date. However a small word to the publishers . . . . . SORT OUT THE RULES ISSUES!


If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/


YOU WILL LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You enjoyed the original Time Stories - bit of a given really!


You weren't a fan of the gore factor of previous games - I don't recall seeing any gore here.


You enjoyed the mystery solving aspects of Time Stories rather than constant combat.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS GAME IF:


You enjoyed all the combat brawling in other scenarios as you will encounter very little here.


You're getting sick and tired of the FAQ issues by now - there are some belters here, but a little bit of thought will get you through them.


You don't enjoy the repetition of multiple runs, completing this scenario in two runs will be next to impossible without some amazing good luck.

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