TimeLine in progress.

We had  the chance to try TimeLine this weekend, one of the Cheapass Games titles that made the leap to print and play licensed under Creative Commons.

The upshot is all the players have time machines. And, being sensible owners of time machines, they rocket up and down the timestreams, buying up cheap commodities and trying to offload them at financially advantageous moments in time.

The board starts out as a line of cards that trace four interweaving paths that represent the value of commodities: oilpetrol, milkbread, beetcandy and nucleons. These paths also have waypoints, which each hold one token representing one of the commodities scattered along them. Players move around by traveling in time, left or right along the path their pawn is on, or locally, up or down a column of cards.

That’s where the design of TimeLine gets interesting. The board is theoretically infinite along that up-down axis, but only ever a set number of cards wide, which depends on the number of players. Pawns can move up or down a column of cards as far as they like, constrained only by the number of turns the game lasts, the size of the playing surface and the size of the deck. The markets at the right side of the timeline extend infinitely in each direction as well, but they’re worthless unless they somehow connect with the leftmost card showing the commodities in question.

Going back to commodities, as players move around the board, they collect those tokens as they land on waypoints. Traveling through time, they take whatever resource is on the line they follow. Traveling locally, they collect any token they like from the card in question, stopping on that line. When someone picks up a commodity token, it changes the timeline. Because a resource is removed from the timeline, history then plays out differently from that point on. This is represented by shifting the card and all above it up one-quarter of a card, so that the line from which the token was removed and those above it may connect a resource to a market of another value, or it may stay the same while another resource’s worth changes.

TimeLine is a great deal more random than I expected. One never knows when a resource’s start point will connect with any particular market value. What I think won the game we played — and what I never tried — was being there on a market at the start of one’s turn, having waited for the timelines to shift in an advantageous way. I made the mistake of always trying to play catch-up to where the big money was. Because a pawn can move up or down or along a timeline, it’ll rarely get to the market it wants to go while the resource is still connected. In that way, it’s even more random than trying to win Chrononauts by patching paradoxes on the timeline.

This was also my first experience with a print and play game. Cheapass Games released PDFs of the cards and rules after ransoming them for donations. Additionally, they set up the option to buy a poker-sized deck of TimeLine cards via a shop in Hong Kong called ArtsCow. At that time, ArtsCow had a deal going to buy a single deck for $3, and that is about on par or less than what one would have paid for the original, grayscale version of TimeLine, so I leapt on that opportunity.

The cards are . . . okay. The colors and print quality are fine. But the way they’re cut and the lines on the card spaced mean that the lines don’t align if the cards are laid edge to edge. And if you position the lines correctly, then there are distracting gaps between the cards. It was a nice idea, but I think the card layout needs more finessing before the print on demand version is useful.

I think I need another play or two to be sure, but I suspect this one’s going in the “loss” category for me. I’ll try to play it differently, but I think TimeLine is too random to be fun — and lacking in sufficient whimsy to entertain in other ways, as a Chrononauts or a Talisman might.

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