Full disclosure: A review copy of Time Chase was provided by Renegade Game Studios.
Alright, back with another Renegade Games title! This and Terror Below just released a few weeks ago, so, I wanted to talk about both of them before diving into other games (my review of Icarus is a month or so out, for instance). This one is a time-travelling trick-taking game, so if that’s not enough to at least pique your interest, I don’t know what I can offer you. Let’s dive right in and see what this game has got going on, this week!
In Time Chase, you did it! You invented time travel! You’re going to get a huge bonus or a prize or whatever; it’s great. However, your colleagues are jealous of your success (is what you’re telling yourself; you probably just didn’t give them enough credit) and have stolen your greatest creation to travel back in time and take the credit they believe they deserve for themselves. Good thing you have a spare time machine! Now, time itself is your battleground as you attempt to twist events in the past, present, and future to your advantage so that you can stand above all as a success. Will you be able to get time on your side?
Setup isn’t too rough. Give each player a Time Machine card:
Give them a player piece in the matching color:
Shuffle and deal out cards, removing cards as needed for your player count:
- 3 players: Remove 1 – 6 of each suit.
- 4 players: Remove 1 – 4 of each suit.
- 5 players: Remove 1 – 2 of each suit.
- 6 players: Use all cards.
Put the Event tokens in increasing order, with 1 on top:
Give each player their three Control Tokens, which they should place on the three empty spaces on their Time Machine Card:
And set the Time Machine Fuel aside, for now:
You should be ready to start! Shuffle the deck and deal each player 10 cards.
Time Jumble Mode
If you want to get a bit weird, you can instead try Time Jumble Mode. To do that, shuffle the Event Tokens (so that they’re no longer in increasing order) and flip your Time Machines to their B sides:
Alright, it’s time to go time traveling. Well, I guess it’s always time to go time traveling if you have a time machine. Or it’s easy to get to alright we’re getting off-track. You need to control three Events in order to win. However, your opponents are manipulating the timeline, same as you.
To begin a round, reveal the top Event Token of the pile. In the main game, this will be the next number in numerical order. This is now the “Present”, so move all player pieces to that time. In Time Jumble Mode, you should still put the Event Tokens in chronological order; you’ll just have gaps.
If you have any Fuel, you may choose to go back in time (one fuel per time you’d like to go back to). If you’re playing Time Jumble Mode, you may choose to go “forward” in time, as well, but that’s complicated. On the count of three, each player simultaneously reveals how much fuel they’re using and moves that many spaces forward or back in time, depending on your game mode. You may go back beyond the first Event; this will put you above the deck, where you can modify the Invariant. More on the Invariant in a bit.
Now, it’s time to clash for control of the Event. Each Event is a trick in a trick-taking game, and they resolve from the furthest event in the future (usually the present) to the furthest event in the past (all the way to the Invariant). The lead player chooses a card from their hand and plays it face-up (this card is known as the “led” card). Each player present at that Event must then, in turn order, play a card from their hand of the same suit as the card first played. If you don’t have a card of that suit, you may play any card from your hand. If you play a card of a lower value than the led card, gain one bonus Time Machine Fuel. Then, the event resolves:
- If a card of the Invariant suit was played: the highest card of that suit wins.
- If no card of the Invariant suit was played: the highest card of the led card’s suit wins.
Discard all cards except the card that was led and the card that won; these go below the Event token so that players know which suit was led and which card won for future time travel shenanigans.
Resolve all Events that take place before this one in the same way. If the lead player isn’t present in that Event, the player present closest to the lead player goes first. For past Events, in order to win that Event you have to play a card that still follows the led suit if you can and then beats the current winning card for that Event.
At the Invariant, something different happens. Every player there plays a card face-down and then reveals it. The highest-value card becomes the new Invariant, and all other cards are discarded. Note that this does not affect existing Events; only Events that happen later in the game will take the new Invariant into consideration. Sometimes time takes a bit of a push to update.
Once all Events in the timeline have been resolved, each player gains 2 Time Machine Fuel minus one for each Control Token they have on an Event Token.
If, at this point, any player controls 3 Events in the timeline, they win!
Player Count Differences
I don’t usually say this, but I think the game gets best at higher player counts! The high chaos of this game is a delight, honestly. At lower player counts, it’s too easy to get yourself split up across time (and the game will only ever go 7 rounds, max). Plus it’s fun to see people fighting up and down the timeline to no avail as one player slips beneath their notice and wins the game out from under them. It’s a really wild trick-taking game, so I feel like leaning into the chaos of higher player counts is more ideal. I’d probably recommend it at 4+, personally.
- Don’t be afraid to change the Invariant. It might be pretty critical to your plans, unless you happen to start with a lot of the Invariant suit in your hand. If that happens, well, someone else is going to change it pretty soon, so you might as well get it out of your system. Plus, then you also win a bunch of Events! Events that are easy to take back as soon as the Invariant gets changed, but, hey, temporary victories still count.
- You’re going to need to go back in time at least once, unless your opponents aren’t paying attention. Being perfectly honest, if you win the game without going back in time at all, well, then that’s not very fun. You should go back even if you think you can win without it just to get the full experience. Plus, it’s fun to steal previous Events. You’re basically Carmen Sandiego, but in the classic video game Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?, which is obviously one of the better ones. So, do that. Also, from a strategy standpoint, it becomes easier to win tricks in the past once you’ve eliminated some of your worse cards and can play a card of whatever is currently the Invariant.
- Watch out for too many people abandoning an Event. This one is a bit of trouble. If you’re in the Present, it can strictly benefit you; imagine getting an entire Event to yourself! You basically win no matter what card you play. The problem is that if everyone else leaves, they’re usually going to strip the timeline for parts, which isn’t super fun. I have seen circumstances where players all leave the present without checking to see who might win the game, and so that player wins the game pretty handily because nobody’s there to stop them. Naturally, you’d like to avoid that if at all possible.
- Don’t win too many tricks too quickly. This one’s mostly because then you won’t have any Time Machine Fuel, so you’ll be stuck in the Present for the entire game. That’s never great.
- As with many trick-taking games, your life will be made much easier if you can rid yourself of suits quickly. This frees you up to play more cards from the Invariant when you can. If you don’t have any of those, it might not be a bad idea to go change the Invariant.
- The far past becomes harder to change over the course of the game; be careful. It just moves further and further away from you and you may not be getting fuel at a quick enough clip to be able to afford that progression. That said, if you’re going to go back in time, make it count.
- If you’re going back in time late in the game, make sure you’re potentially going to steal a point from the player that’s most likely to win. You don’t want to steal from player A, only to have player B win the game; that’s just poor planning. Instead, keep in mind which player is the Lead that round and who benefits most from you not being present. Then rob them. In a way, you’re really paying it forward, temporally speaking.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Love the theme. I’m a sucker for time-travel games, and I’m also a sucker for trick-taking games. Naturally, a game that combines both is 1000% up my alley. Really enthused about it. I haven’t gotten to play a lot of time-travel games, so, I’m always excited about them.
- Also love the art. It’s really nice! Very colorful and intense without being too generic sci-fi. They’re not not that, but they’re also just very nice on their own.
- Really cool concept for a trick-taking game! I think we as players take for granted that tricks are set in stone once they’re taken, and this game flips that whole concept on its head. It’s enough of a trick-taking game that players who are only familiar with the classics should be able to grok it, but with some new twists to really excite players like me who basically exclusively want to play weird games all the time.
- Very portable. Not very many extra components; mostly just cards and fuel. Can throw it in a backpack or Quiver very easily. I think it’s the same size box as The Tea Dragon Society?
- I appreciate how wild and chaotic it is. It’s very exciting when I play it, and I kind of love that, personally. It has the same sort of chaotic energy as Skull King, my other favorite trick-taking game.
- The second mode (Time Jumble) is a great idea. I mean that throws the entire game off the rails since now you can also jump into the future, but isn’t that half the fun?
- Larger components would be appreciated. Everything is just a bit smaller than I would expect. That’s totally reasonable for a $20 portable card game, but, you know, I just like larger components.
- Better hope the weird conjunction of verbs when talking about time travel doesn’t give you a headache. If you’ve ever used the phrase “well I’m going to need to have been winning that trick by next round or else the trick you will have been about to win won’t be the trick that I won next round” or something, your brain will hurt a bit but it’ll all sort itself out eventually. That’s just part of the charm.
- If you get a bad hand, you’re basically done. This is my one gripe; I wish there were a way you could expend fuel to draw new cards or something, since if you get stuck (as I have, twice) with a spread of low-value cards you’re basically done before the game even starts. I’ve been trying to think of how to mitigate it, but unless you’re traveling to the Invariant every other turn, you’re hosed, and even then you can’t win the game doing that (especially at lower player counts). I wish low-value cards had more utility.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
Overall, dang, this is a strong contender for my favorite trick-taking game, right up there with Skull King! I’d say that most of it is that I really like both the theme and the way the theme is implemented within the game. It feels like a rad time-travel game, and I’m super here for it. Don’t get me wrong, the art helps sell that a lot; it’s very science-fiction without being too over the top. It’s just fun to see how the scramble occurs when players realize they can go back to any trick and try their luck again, even as their hands decrease in quality. The trade-offs are important, too! What happens if you go back too far and you leave one player completely alone in the present? What if you stay in the present and a player in the past manages to go back and steal the game out from under you? It’s a trick-taking game where nothing is set in stone, and that honestly excites me because that’s just something you take for granted, you know? Once you win the trick, it’s yours. Not anymore, or at least, not in Time Chase. Add in a few other things I like, like how portable this is (very easy to throw in a Quiver) and you’ve got a really solid recipe for success. Now, I generally have a soft spot for trick-taking games anyways, but I think this is a particularly fun one. If you’re looking for a trick-taking game that will break time without running too much over time, I’d definitely recommend Time Chase! I had a blast with it.