How to take a sure-fire hit and do everything wrong
Near the end of January, I wrote a few lists to go with the start of the site. Number 8 on my most anticipated expansions of 2018 were the T.I.M.E. Stories expansions.
Pay special notice to two words in that sentence – expansions and were.
As a series, I really enjoy the premise of T.I.M.E. Stories. A gaming system with different adventure scenarios each expansion, the ability for narrative-driven deck exploration is limitless.
There is even the added benefit of an overarching narrative. This was added mostly secretly a couple of scenarios ago, and I was really looking forward to seeing where Space Cowboys could be taking things.
But, there were issues. I don’t mean the fact some scenarios were better than others. This is just to be expected, especially when each scenario is essentially a different game. I mean the general execution and apparent disinterest of Space Cowboys in general.
For starters, without trying to spoil things, there is a meta backstory of T.I.M.E. Stories has you making decisions on an external website.
This allows you to choose branches and see different story elements, with a story unfolding based on both gameplay decisions and on the spot choices.
In theory, this is simply amazing. However, in execution, I was left wanting. A lot. Where this had become unlocked, I was slow in picking up the scenario. And the site hadn’t been updated 6-8 weeks after the scenarios date to the scenario before.
Think of it like looking at the T.I.M.E. Stories homepage. There are 2 more scenarios released with another announced, but the page shows none of this.
The other issue was the release schedule of the scenarios themselves. To me, I would like to see scenarios released no more than eight weeks apart. Partly, this is because I love the game and want more. There is nothing unique about this – all fans want more.
But add the inclusion of an ongoing story behind the scenes, you need to be keeping to a stricter schedule. You want players to be remembering the scenarios they have played, and be riding that “What’s Next?” wave.
The last official T.I.M.E. Stories expansion was Estrella Drive, and it was fun. It released at the end of November 2017 in the US. As is usually the case, I had to wait a bit longer here in Australia – February 2018 to be specific.
Wanting to keep with the story and having played the different scenarios with different people, I started organising three others to play the entire series from the start. I was ecstatic – a new group that collectively had the spoiler of a deeper game happening.
So the call went out for players, with the idea of starting play with the next expansion was released in the US – the pirate-themed Brotherhood of the Coast.
So remember I put out the call for a dedicated T.I.M.E. Stories team just over 2 months from when the last scenario was released. Yes, it takes longer to arrive in Australia, but I figured as did many others that Brotherhood of the Coast was imminent. Playing through each scenario maybe every two weeks, with some scenarios taking multiple sessions, ending up to date with the latest scenario seemed a no-brainer.
And here is the single fact that has killed almost all enthusiasm for T.I.M.E. Stories for me.
Brotherhood of the Coast will hopefully be released September or October this year.
Almost a year after the last scenario. So much for the three expansions a year timeline – there will be one scenario released this year, with no official word of any following.
Now Space Cowboys isn’t the biggest of publishers. They tend to make quality games, and ones I enjoy playing. This lack of support for what could have been a genre-defining backbone of their catalogue has left a rather bad taste in my mouth though.
Now I will probably play through Brotherhood of the Coast. It’s the pirate scenario – I really do want to play it. But will I not be going out of my way to import it as I have many other scenarios. I may not even start the entire series playthrough with the playgroup.
Fair or not the message from the publishers from early on has been a growing “We don’t care about this game”, and if they don’t care, why should players?
Yes, I will buy the next scenario. But it will probably be my last. Three years later, any good feelings and enthusiasm have been well and truly wasted by Space Cowboys on T.I.M.E. Stories.
Portal Games, on the other hand, has a history of caring about its community. And I have recently received my pre-order copy of Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game.
Now, on paper Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game is not a T.I.M.E. Stories killer. They aren’t really even the same concept. There are two similarities though.
Firstly, it’s a cooperative game where all players work together in a common story that can change depending on the decisions made. Secondly, there is a wider connecting backstory.
Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game comes with five cases that I am likening to scenarios, and because I preordered I have a sixth case as well. This means that I will be able to play everything ‘as is’, without having to wait to continue the story – if I am ready to continue, I simply can. If I let so much time go between cases that I lose interest in playing, that’s on me.
Space Cowboys has let so much time go between scenarios, that lack of momentum in interest for the game is definitely on them. Imagine your favourite television series, and having to wait months between episodes. How much do you think you would enjoy a 12 episode series that takes 3 years to finish?
T.I.M.E. Stories is a game that I enjoy playing, and will gladly sit with anyone that wants to play my copy or even lend it out. But recommend it as a game three years later? Not to buy. A game that teases an intriguing metagame and just leaves you hanging? Who honestly can recommend that as a good purchase to anyone. I am sure there are plenty of people that will happily sell their copy cheap, or like myself let you play theirs at the very least.
And in regards to looking forward to the continuation of the series? Nope. Sorry Space Cowboys. It’s a great experience (fluctuates between scenarios, but I am speaking generally).
The feeling I have is that Space Cowboys have created a textbook case on how to do everything you can to kill your own momentum and goodwill.
But that is all the bad news. Next time, I will talk about my learning game of Detective: A Modern Crime Story, which has definitely taken the place of T.I.M.E. Stories in my playlist going forward.