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Time Travel: possible within a board game?

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ceethreepio
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Okay, so, one of the 'sides/races' in my '1800's' game is the Time Traveller from H.G.Well's "The Time Machine". And I want him to actually Time Travel. And I'm trying to figure out how it would work, without melting my brain, or involving the grandfather paradox.

I'm also wondering if anyone else has played or seen any game that has a time traveller / time travel in it?

Basically, my current Time Traveller player can leap forward or backward from current round to basically, any round in the past or the future, provided that there are still Time Traveller Actions left uncompleted in it. I'm following the basic Avengers: Endgame premise here - you can travel into the past, but you can't change your past, but you can change your future.

So, every round, for the time traveller consists of 4 Actions, and so the time traveller, can, as an Action, time travel, up to X rounds (where X is a cost of some time currency, whatever). If they jump into the future (relative to the current round number), they may also wait there until the current Round number catches up with them. If they jump into the past (relative to the current round number), they need to complete their actions immediately.

I view this as a spreadsheet of 4 columns and say up to 50 rows, where each row is the game's Round, and each column is an action. The Time Traveller gets this as a sheet printed out, and they have to mark in each action Action cell that they occupy what Action they performed, so they know what they did and when.

Time Travelling consumes 1 action, but moves you to a different round (assuming you can pay for it). You can only move to a Round where there is at least 1 Action left you haven't already spent (empty cell in the spreadsheet).

I then figure that the Time Traveller can perform any number of the remaining actions in the round that he has travelled to, up to the 4 that are available in that Round. Obviously they could jump to a different Round again, consuming an Action in the Round they left, and potentially giving them an immense number of Actions.

However, obviously no-one knows the board state at that time, X rounds in the future, so I'm thinking I'm going to have to restrict the Traveller's actions to only interacting with himself or the board.

At this point, I get a little stuck, lacking both the 'win' condition for the Time Traveller (why jump around), and the value. It may be simply that's not in anyway feasible... or that it's just too bonkers an idea to be plausible. It may also be that I lack sufficient in-game apparatus for the Time Traveller to interact with.

I've attached the current player guide / panel / sheet to give you an idea of where I'm heading....I don't know. It feels like there is a side here, but I fear it may be too bonkers even for me. Any thoughts folks?

ananda
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Fantastic topic. I was

Fantastic topic. I was working on this exact problem for 2 years, inspired by the mechanics of the computer game Achron (which has the most authentic time travel mechanics I have seen in any game in any medium). I'll give a more in depth response later when I have access to my computer, but in the meantime check out Tragedy Looper for an example of a board game with authentic feeling time travel mechanics.

Warklaxon
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It seems to me that you have

It seems to me that you have to place a limit on the amount of time travel you can perform. Ala Dr. Strange. Say the player can only go back in time within 4 rounds of play. Each turn and action adds one round, and your encounters get turned face up each round. The encounters could span 10s or hundreds of years and not necessarily be in sequential order. If you die you have to replay that round and the following round. If you cannot defeat that one round and it becomes unobtainable to return, you lose/ die.

Unlike Dr. strange, maybe the device has limited charges to permit going back in time to previous rounds. It costs more to go back 2 rounds than 1 round. Or possibly there is an item or event you have to perform in one round to live in the new round. It seems to me that each round should have a high likelihood of death to make it challenging enough for being able to live again.

For me it seems like messing with time could have disastrous consequences and your player is trying to restore order and live. They have to solve puzzles, fight antagonists, get items and live. The first time they use the device they have no idea where they go, but have managed to be able to lock in.

Another possibility is that the present day is known and the next five encounters are known. The player has to manipulate the tiles to reposition the time they are from at the end of the next five.

Really fun concept, I look forward to seeing it move on.

let-off studios
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Reason to Travel

Full Disclosure: I absolutely loathe implementation of time travel in games, and with the exception of solo game experiences (even in that, severely limited experiences, such as game books) I don't think this has -ever- been solved in a worthwhile fashion.

Personally I think people should focus their efforts on the notion of "alternate dimensions" instead, but perhaps that's neither here nor there.

///

I empathize with your dilemma about, "Why time travel at all?" and I think this is the reason for your puzzlement. What's the advantage of being able to do things before other players?

Maybe, with the set of restrictions and/or the framework you have already established, you want to streamline this to bonuses or abilities best-described as "super speed." As in, Martians try to do something, but the Time Traveler is there to thwart them before they do it. Maybe the Time Traveler player has the ability to do an "interrupt" action as long as their machine possesses enough Chronotons to power it. Maybe time-consuming activities can be drastically shortened. Maybe the Time Traveler can always win initiative in combat encounters.

You've already established that you don't want to alter past occurrences, so focusing on constantly interfering with - or assisting - other players (which has the side-effect of increasing interactivity between them) seems like a possible direction to pursue.

Good luck. You'll need it. :)

X3M
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There aren't many time travel mechanics out there

What would the function of the time travel be?

Undoing the choices that a player made?
Undoing the choices that an opponent made?
Resetting the game to a certain point, while keeping one or several items?

questccg
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Andrew Harmon's Portal & Prophets uses Time Travel

But it's a different form of travelling. The idea is that you have a Time Tracker that you can fuel/power to witness various Biblical Events in history... So if you have a card that says 6th Century ... Well you need to make sure that you can TRAVEL to that destination at the right time period. To do so you can use FUEL for the Time Travel machine (Empty, 1, 2, 3 and Full)... When the Time Travel fuel level is FULL you can visit ANY Time Period. If it is "1", then you can go forward or backwards ONE (1) Century. And things start with the Old Testament followed by the 16th Century BC... Moving forwards until the New Testament (5th+ Century).

Some people have claimed that although the mechanics are "clever" ... You can't actually AFFECT anything that happens in the timeline. You're ONLY witnessing events that occurred in past history.

Never the less... While Let-Off says no games have implemented a GOOD or clever Time Travel mechanic... I'd look at Portals & Prophets by @harmon89 (Andrew). I own a copy of the game ... because it's Biblical and wholesome... And I genuinely thought that the simplicity of the game and its parts are a greater whole together!

So I own my own copy of his game.

ananda
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I read through your

I read through your attachment, but didn't find enough to give much informed feedback on your particular design (aside from what I will mention at the end of this post), so instead I am going to talk about my observations about time travel in games and how I went about designing my own game, which will hopefully be helpful to you.

Time travel in board games is not unheard of; in fact, there are several games out there that are themed around time travel. However, there is a big difference between a game with a time travel theme and a game with time travel mechanics.

For example, consider Chrononauts, a classic Looney Labs game with similarities to Fluxx. In Chrononauts, time is represented as a timeline of event cards, and by changing one event card you can cause others to change later in the line. However, this is really just time travel as a theme - causality is just the arbitrary relationships that the designers decided certain cards to have, and there is no real feeling that you are changing your past or future within the game. Incidentally, while I find this game mediocre I love the theme - players are from different possible futures and are trying to alter the timeline to ensure that their future happens, erasing the futures of their opponents in the process.

Another example of a game with a time travel theme that doesn't quite reach the mechanics is Anachrony, a worker placement game in which you can send resources back in time - sounds exciting, but in fact it is just a thematic explanation for a loan. You gain a resource now and have to sacrifice a matching resource in the future or else bad stuff happens and you lose victory points - it works, but it still just feels like theme.

The only published board game I have played where the mechanics do really feel like time travel is Tragedy Looper, a game in which one player (the Mastermind) understands the goals and the causal relationships in the game and the rest go in completely ignorant. The Mastermind has a tragedy that he or she wants to cause, and the players are trying to figure out what it is and how to stop it. When they inevitably fail, they are sent back to the starting state of the game and play again, armed only with whatever information they learned the first time around. If they can prevent the tragedy even once (within a limited number of loops), they win.

The reason that Tragedy Looper feels more authentic, I think, is the way it focuses on the idea of changing the past, which is one of the major appeals of time travel fantasy - what would you do if you were given a second chance? It gives the players the opportunity to see how their past choices played out and challenges them to bring about the changes they want to see with their own actions, using their improved understanding of the causal relationships in the game that they gained through trial and error. Games that lack this aspect of changing the choices that you made earlier in the same game feel like the time travel is just thematic, not part of the game mechanics themselves.

Tragedy Looper has time travel, but all players travel back at the same time and play through the same timeline. For the next level of time travel mechanics, you need players to be able to play through different points in the timeline simultaneously - from what I understand about your game, this is the sort of time travel experience that you are trying to create, and it is also the most difficult.

The most authentic feeling time travel mechanic I have ever experienced is the way time travel works in the Achron, an RTS released in 2011. In Achron, in addition to the standard minimap there is also a timeline - it is possible for players to independently travel to different points in the game, up to about 8 minutes in the past or 2 minutes in the future, and play at different points in time simultaneously. This is accomplished through the concept of timewaves, which propagate changes made in the past to the future slowly, rather than instantaneously. If you go back in time and order your armies to destroy a factory, the ripple effects of its destruction propagate through time at a rate of 2 seconds per second (or faster if the player is actively observing them), giving your opponent in the present or future time to react before it disappears.

Sadly, Achron made some terrible design decisions for its gameplay (unrelated to the time travel mechanics), crippling an otherwise revolutionary genre. But the lesson to take away from it is that if you want players to be able to play simultaneously at different points in the timeline of the game, you need to make sure that changes to the game state in the past do not immediately propagate to all points in the future.

I was inspired by Achron to try my hand at a time travel board game allowing simultaneous play at different points in time. I came up with Paradox [1], the rulebook to which I have linked at the bottom of this post in case you are curious. The time travel mechanics of Paradox felt authentic to me, but much like Achron, the gameplay itself felt mediocre. The most important thing that I learned from the process, which I suggest you consider carefully if you want to make a game with a similar interpretation of time travel, is that time travel mechanics of this sort add crippling levels of upkeep. If you want a player's decisions in the past to matter, their effects need to ripple through the timeline to affect the future, but that means you have to compute the game state in each subsequent round. And as I (coincidentally) pointed out in a recent blog post, procedures like this are not free.

The system I came up with in Paradox involves ripple tokens, which indicate objects that may be affected by a time-traveler's actions. Each action that you can take has very specific rules about which objects receive ripple tokens as a result, and whenever you propagate changes to the next point in time, you only need to pay attention to objects with a ripple token to determine if they need to change. Anything without a ripple token could not have been affected by the time traveler's changes, and therefore can be ignored, which simplifies the necessary procedures. By adopting a turn-based variant of Achron's "time waves", procedures can be further simplified by only updating one round's worth of changes per turn (as opposed to the entire timeline).

Another possible approach that I considered (but never implemented in a game) is to have a real time game where you reward players for updating the timeline. Players would all be making changes simultaneously, spending some sort of action resource which they could regain by propagating changes from one turn to the next. The downside to this system is that it would be very chaotic.

One thing I did notice about your game is that it sounds like time travel is only usable by the time traveler faction, which means that you would need to build some very complicated machinery into your game to handle event propagation for the sake of just one faction. If you add that much weight to your game, it is probably worth giving the other factions a way to use time travel as well, unless it is the type of game where it is one player (the time traveler) versus everybody else.

[1] https://stonearchgames.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/Paradox-3.pdf

FrankM
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What if we could answer what if?

One way to do this would be to pre-deal the deck of encounter/event cards, and let the time traveler jump ahead to peek at a card and resolve it on his own if desired, maybe with some of the pivotal cards marked as “must resolve” if peeked-at.

Traveling to the past is more complicated, as pretty much everyone everywhere has figured out. If the game for non-time-travelers is relatively simple, the game state could be preserved in the record for each turn, and quickly recalculated if the time traveler changes something (like helping one side of an encounter).

If the game for non-time-travelers is supposed to be moderately complicated, it might be best to leave the Traveler as an NPC who shows up at random.

Edit: In the mucking-around-with-a-simple-game version, the die rolls could be part of the recorded history to make sure everything recalculates as expected after a nudge. If the die rolls have to be re-rolled, it introduces a bit of a butterfly effect which may go with or against your intended theme.

questccg
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Another form of "Time Travel" and affecting the future

Talking about "simple" ideas... There exists in games such a Civilization a research timeline with various centuries and discoveries interconnected as a player travels through time (as normally).

In this sort of "technology tree", it could be possible to RE-ARRANGE the past and affect the tree in the future. Similarly it might be possible to re-arrange the Future with insights into some point in time with an advancement that has yet to be discovered occurring way ahead of the science that allows it to exist.

For example, what if the Egyptians discovered "Gunpowder"! How the tech tree would be altered with such a discovery. And that could affect the future tech tree also. I think the idea is to go "into the future" and then travel "back to the past" to bring things of VALUE... That could alter the timeline and progression of factions in different time periods.

I'm not sure how FEASIBLE the idea is... Never the less, it's in relation to the discussion about "Time Travelling": you've got to want to do it for SOME REASON!

questccg
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Campaign-based RPG "Time Travelling"...

This is LESS about "Time Travel" mechanics and more about "Time Travel" themes... In which you could structure a RPG "Campaign" to have a time travel aspect... Like visiting a place that was taken by war to a time before the war that demonstrated the stark difference both eras...

This again has more to do with THEME than MECHANICS... I'm just pointing this form of time travelling because it can be inspiring to play a game in two very different times and see the real impact of a war or the end result of some conflict or catastrophe.

Just figured I'd add this in the event that someone wants to further explore such a dichotomy of different proportions!

ceethreepio
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Further thinking ...

Thanks for the feedback folks! It's been really useful. I've taken a look at Achron and Tragedy Looper which look very clever. Achron is especially remarkable but translating that level of event propagation seems unfeasible in a boardgame.

I've spent some time thinking about this evening and I've come up with a rough concept. So, let's run it by you all...

First, the Time Traveller will be a 'helper' faction, in that they will assist another player's faction. The Time Traveller wins if that other faction wins. If it doesn't, they both lose. The Time Traveller cannot win independently of the other faction. This is unique in of itself (good).

Second, the entire cognitive load of time travel is going to fall entirely on the Time Traveller player. No-one else cares. That's important.

Third, they don't get to choose which faction they are aligned with. It's random. (Thematically, having been to the future, the Time Traveller realises that faction will "likely win" and so decides to align with it to ensure it).

Fourth, we'll define the past as fixed (mostly), the present as malleable and the future as very fluid.

Fifth, let's not have event propagation. It's a nightmare. So, no changing the past!

So, with that in mind, and with Avengers: Endgame hovering in the background, let's try this:

The Time Traveller is allied with a faction and wants to help them win. He uses the Time Machine to go back to earlier rounds, "borrows" units from that faction and brings them back to the present where, crucially, he controls them.

His (eventual) problem is that he needs to return those units at some point back to the time (round) they were taken from. Which means they must be alive to do so. That means he must be careful with his units in Battle.

If he's not careful and they get killed, even just one, then he's created a paradox, and Time punishes him. He loses his Time Machine and ALL the units he's brought from the Past (as Time fixes his illegal little adventure).

He can only make 3 Time Machines total.

He can travel to the far future to steal body armour/machine guns/lasers to increase the power/hp of the units he controls. That should decrease the chances they die in battle. But doing that is super expensive.

---

So, play style, the Time Traveller only needs to note down what his allied faction is doing. He needs to keep an eye on what units his friend has, and when he has it.

He also needs to be absent from those rounds, so he can travel to them and "borrow" those units. He also needs to upgrade his "technology" level so "borrowed" units are well protected.

And he needs to figure out where he can best help his ally.

And he's also got to manage his Chronoton supply. The limited capacity of the Time Machine means he'll need to keep travelling.

And he needs to spend some actions actually moving and battling with allied units he's borrowed.

Finally, he needs to be careful he doesn't end up 'stuck in a temporal corner'. If he would end a round in the past, but then run into himself in the next round because he's already been to that subsequent round, he'll meet himself, with terrible results.

This is going to be brutal faction to play.

Note: An important note is that, he doesn't actually NEED to return the "borrowed" units to their times during the game. He just needs to REMAIN CAPABLE of doing so. I'm fine to assume that he returns the units after the game is over.

Let's go for the rules:

PLAY STYLE:
Complexity: SUPER HARD
Aggression: MEDIUM

GAME PIECES:
1 x Time Traveller
1 x Time Map sheet
1 x Notes sheet.
1 x Chronoton marker
1 x Technology marker

SETUP
Remove all pieces from the box.
Retrieve the 'faction' cards from the box. Return the 'Time Traveler' faction card and all other 'faction' card that aren't in this game. Shuffle the remaining cards. Draw one. Return the rest to the box. Look at the card. This is your secret Ally.
Retrieve the 'Time Crystal Location' cards from the box. Retrieve the "London Time Crystal Location" card. Shuffle the remaining cards and draw two. Return the rest to the box.
Place the Time Traveller on the location "(09) London' space on the map.
Place the Technology marker on the "0" on the technology track.
At the start, you do not own a TIME MACHINE.

START OF ROUND
If you are in the past (relative to the current round), you must take all your actions until you reach the current round or you travel into the future. You cannot wait in the past, only the future.

If you are present in this round, you may take up to the available number of actions for that round whenever you wish, even during other player's turns. If you have already taken some of these actions, you may only take the remaining actions. If you have taken all those actions you may not do anything.

If you are in the future, you may perform up to the available number of actions for that round whenever you wish. You may also time travel to other rounds. If those are in the future you may also continue to take actions.

START OF TURN
Your turn starts as soon as the round begins and ends after you take your last action.

TURN
For every turn you take you must note it down on the Time Map sheet in the appropriate round/action cell.

- ASSEMBLE
If you do not have a TIME MACHINE, and your current location matches a "Time Crystal Location" card, build a TIME MACHINE. Return the "Time Crystal Location" card matching this location to the box. Place the Chronoton marker on the "4" on the Chronoton Supply.

- MOVE
the Time Traveller (and any TIME MACHINE) and/or any allied units to an adjacent space.

- TIME TRAVEL: JUMP
If you have a TIME MACHINE, spend X Chronotons to travel to a named round in the future or the past, where X is the difference between the target round number and the Time Traveller's current round number. You may take any number of allied units with you.

- GATHER: CHRONOTONS
If you have a TIME MACHINE, Gather X Chronotons, where X is equal to the current round number.

- BATTLE
All Allied units you control on a space, battle other units on that space. All allied units have +X when battling, where X is your "Technology level". If any units you control are killed, they cannot be returned to their time, causing a paradox. Time wrecks vengeance upon you. Remove ALL allied units you control from the game. Your TIME MACHINE is destroyed.

- UPGRADE: TECHNOLOGY
Spend 20 Chronotons to travel to the far future and learn new technologies to increase the power of units you control. Increase the "Technology Level" marker by 1.

END OF TURN
No actions to perform.

END OF ROUND
If you will pass into the next round and meet yourself you have caused a paradox. Remove all allied units you control from the game. Your TIME MACHINE has been destroyed. Return the Time Traveller to the present round.
If your TIME MACHINE has been destroyed and you have no more "Time Crystal Location" cards, then you have lost the game.

SPECIAL ABILITIES

POWER OVER TIME
Your ability over time rivals that of the gods.

THE PAST IS FIXED. MOSTLY.
You cannot change your past. It is always fixed no matter where you go in the future.

YOU CANNOT MEET YOURSELF
You can only occupy one place in the space-time continuum.

--

So, thoughts?

questccg
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Not part of my experience... So I'll defer to the others

ceethreepio wrote:
So, thoughts?

So mostly this "Time Travelling" game is primarily about WAR, right?! You are using the Time Machine as a way to earn "stronger" Technology and Units... If one of those displaced units are lost in battle, it causes a paradox. In these respects, I see the game more as a WARGAME.

As such, I'm not a fan of "wargames"... Moreover, I don't have the expertise to diagnose or analyze your invention. You'll have to wait for someone like "lewpuls" or "X3M" who are very experienced in wargaming. Those two would be able to do the best analysis of your ruleset.

Of course there are a bunch of other people "in the middle" with EXPERIENCE with wargames such as FrankM, Let-off Studios, Elkobold, etc. They can also help see how this game measures up with other games in the same "genre".

Wishing you all the best with your design... Let's hope some of the other designers have an opinion about your "ideas"...

Note #1: I wanted to ADD that when I talked about technology, I was more thinking about HOW the units on the field of battle would be affected by "Time Travel". True that you do allow for more "advanced" units to be on one player's side (given more advanced technology) but I was also thinking about things that could affect the "number" of units in a player's ranks. So IF a player had a TANK and it could be enhanced to a LASER TANK, maybe there could be rules that affect the number of such units. Like in my example as 1:1 ratio.

So a player has 3 TANKS and then the Time Traveler goes into the Future and gets the LASER Upgrade Technology which TRANSFORMS a player's 3 TANKS into 3 LASER TANKS. This seems plausible in your scenario/ruleset.

But there could be Tech that "combines" units like 3 TANKS become 1 GIANT ROBOT. For example...

Note #2: Just as an exploratory exercise, each Tech card can have a "pre-requirements" like for Tanks (Gunpowder, Armor, Military Tactics) and would offer some for of "bonus" (increased damage, resistance, etc.) To upgrade to LASER TANKS would require (TANKS and LASERS)... So you see that the Time Traveler's ROLE is to go to the future and acquire technology and to travel back into the past and SHARE that technology with one player.

This sort of GIVES a "role" to that player... He has a purpose to not only directly AID a player ... but also to SABOTAGE his opponents...!

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