Time Travel Game – Affecting Your Own Past

Continued from Travelers

Star Trek Discovery, Season 2 Finale

Star Trek Discovery S2

Season 2 of the latest Star Trek series, has been (**Spoilers**) all about time travel. Well, actually it’s been all about family relationships, but the main Sci Fi trope in play is of a visitor from the future trying to change their past, by visiting our “present”, and preventing some events that caused a specific catastrophe. There’s going to be real **Spoilers** below, so don’t read ahead until you’ve finished the series, but the Finale gave me an idea for a board game mechanic, thematic to a Time Travel game.

Increasing Workers Over Time

I played Dinogenics for the first time this Easter Weekend, and after the initial learning curve, it turned into a fun game. It combined worker placement with set collection, to collect the DNA required to create Dinosaurs for your Island theme park. You get an extra worker a couple of rounds in, to represent an expanding work force as your park grows, and the game completes at 7 rounds. Everdell does the same, giving you more workers to place in later rounds. What this means, in both of these games, is that it controls precisely the number of worker placements you can make, and when you can place them.

Everdell Box

Both games are about maximising the value you get from those worker placements. And the balance of both games revolves around limiting worker placements early on, so that long term bonuses are kept to a minimum. To that end, it would be worth sacrificing a worker placement from later in the game in order to trigger more long term bonuses. Thematically, it would be beneficial if later workers could “time travel” to the earlier rounds.

Of course, going back in time just to make money/points/VP is unethical in a regular game. In fact it is the basis of the comic/movie/TV Show Timecop.* But it could work nicely in a game where the stakes are higher. Say life and death. Or where you would fail/lose the game.

The Red Angel (Here there be Spoilers!)

Red Angel

The overarching story of Star Trek Discover Seasons 2, revolves around the mystery of the Red Angel, who briefly visits various locations in the galaxy. Information is gathered about the Red Angel at each visit, and it is discovered to be a woman in a space suit, visiting from the future, lending a hand when needed. Originally thought to be a future version of Michael Burnham, the shows protagonist, it is revealed halfway through the season to be her mother, previously thought deceased. She was accidentally sent 1000 years to the future, where she discovered all sentient life had been eliminated by an A.I. run amok, after it had absorbed an inordinate amount of information from “a sphere of data” (the MacGuffin in this particular season). Despite repeated attempts to prevent the A.I. from getting access to the data, she has been unable to stop the extinction of life in the galaxy.

Michael Burnham realises the only way to stop the A.I. from gaining access to the data is to build a copy of her mothers suit, and take it far into the future, and out of the A.I.’s clutches. The climax of the season has the good guys fighting the A.I. and it’s drone ships, whilst building the suit, charging the time crystal, and Michael flying out ahead of the ship far enough to safely open the wormhole to the future. However once she is in position, Michael discovers she cannot make the jump to the future. Something is stopping her. “Time”, in fact, is stopping her.

The final piece of the puzzle, is that Michael was the Red Angel that appeared at each of those locations in the earlier episodes. Each visit was important to get all the pieces in place, so that they could succeed now. She is unable to jump to the future, until she has made all her jumps to her past, and set everything in motion. Once that has been done, she is free to open a wormhole to the future, and take the U.S.S. Discovery, and the sphere of data, with her.

Time Traveling Meeples

And thus the inspiration for a time traveling mechanic. I imagine it as a game where you have a set number of Meeples to use over a set number of game rounds, like in Dinogenics and Everdell. But you have the ability to use meeples from your last round, earlier in the game, when the circumstances require it. Like if you, another player, or an important NPC dies. You get to see the results of what happened, but then have the ability to rewind a little bit, put those cards back on the deck, and send a future meeple back to help finish the scenario. The downside is, you have used up time and moves that you might need at the end game, to help finish the scenario. I’ll give an example using a well known game.

Pandemic – Help from Future You.

Pandemic

After every players turn in Pandemic, cards are drawn from the Infection Deck, and cities are infected, indicated by placing a cube. If you would ever place a 4th cube on a city, instead you have an Outbreak, and all connected cities gain a cube instead. Outbreaks are tracked on the bottom left of the board, and if 8 Outbreaks occur, you lose.

So imagine you have drawn Infection cards, and the final Outbreak triggers, ending the game in failure. If Time Travel was possible in the game, then you can put those Infection cards/cubes back, and the next player could travel back to have their turn before that Infection phase. Hopefully they are close enough to clean up some cubes, and prevent the Outbreak.

However, because they have used up their turn in the past, they no longer have their turn in the present. Which means, after you have drawn the Infection cards that originally caused the final Outbreak, you would immediately draw another set of Infection cards, and have to deal with those consequences.

Original Turn

  • Player 1 takes 4 actions
  • Player 1 Draws Infection Cards
  • City with 3 cubes receives a 4th/8th Outbreak occurs

With Time Travel

  • Player 1 takes 4 actions.
  • Player 2 Time Travels to use actions to remove cubes from City
  • Player 1 Draws Infection Cards, and 8th Outbreak does not occur. Then …
  • Player 2 Draws Infection Cards

Maybe a different final Outbreak gets triggered, and so the next player has to travel back to fix it. Things could cascade, so that all the players actions are taking place in the past, and there is no-one left to save the present.

The Vague Specifics of a Time Travel Game

Each scenario in the game, would have 4 or 5 set pieces to be solved, like an episode of a TV Show. eg

  1. Find downed plane.
  2. Recover military tech.
  3. Rescue personnel.
  4. Escape from enemy militia.
  5. Make it to rendezvous helicopter for extraction.

If the helicopter pilot can see the future from his position, he will see if one of these fails, and can go back in time to help out. But if he uses all his actions in the past to help with the earlier scenarios, he will not be there to pick them up in the helicopter, and the whole scenario fails.

Time Travel Meeples

And the only thing that needs to be tracked is the number of time jumps used. This could be as simple as a player board, with standing spaces for Meeples, and each time you time travel, you replace one with a dice, that is face up with the set piece number. When you get to the final round, you check the player board to see, “Here the pilot had to time travel to help Rescue personal, and then to help them Escape the enemy militia, but he still had enough meeples to fly the helicopter in and pick everyone up.

This is a very rough example, but I think it illustrates how it might work.

* Add Timecop to the list of Time Travel board game ideas. Other players are using “future meeples” to increase their “profits”, whilst one player is playing the roll of officers in the Time Enforcement Commission, catching them in the act and stopping them.

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