The Distant Future, The Year Two Thousand

So. Do triangles mean "the future" to everybody else? Is this something only I have missed out on?

After playing Richard Amann and Viktor Peter’s Kickstarter success story Trickerion: Legends of Illusion, I vowed that I would try anything else this duo dreamed up. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long. Anachrony — which also features Dávid Turczi in the design column — sports an even cooler pitch than Trickerion’s city of magicians. Here it’s the distant future, the Earth has been trashed, and competing factions vie for supremacy and to survive an impeding asteroid impact. Oh, and there’s some light time travel.

Anachrony, it’s weird how many of my switches you’re flipping.


The future is always so cluttered, y’know?

Like any good time travel story, Anachrony serves up a healthy portion of déjà vu. It shares common pedigree with Jamey Stegmaier’s Euphoria: Build a Better Dystopia, not just because both take place in scorched wastelands dominated by less-than-magnanimous governments, but also in their deployment of needy workers. As is the case with most worker placement games, your little guys — in this case, brainy engineers, scientists, administrators, and geniuses — can only perform so many tasks before they get sleepy. However, instead of merely “waking up” each round, how you motivate your people is a matter of choice. Where Euphoria let you either perk up your laborers with fruit and drugs or compel them by sticking electrodes to their gonads, Anachrony allows a similar approach. Either you can force your workers to return to their chores, probably with stern words about duty and whatnot, or spend extra water rations to keep everyone happy. Both will nudge you up or down on a little morale track, one of the many many many many ways that Anachrony doles out its endgame points, and may even cause a worker to die of exhaustion if abused too often. So it goes when you’re trying to save the world.

Anachrony dares to take this concept, of finicky workers with miniature needs of their own, and take it even further, bumping into nearly every element of its design. Incidentally, this is also where the game’s greatest similarity to Trickerion arises. As was the case with its predecessor, your goals are spread across two separate boards — your faction’s home base and the wasteland capital — and both are entirely vital to any post-apocalyptic time-wandering faction’s inevitable success.

Let’s start with your base. Each side of this conflict (called “paths”) represents its own philosophical approach to solving the apocalypse. At least that’s the party line. While there is a great degree of variability in how each faction sets up, with multiple goals, leaders, and even asymmetrical opening resources to choose from, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me of the real difference between the path that brags about “progress” and the “harmony” bros, let alone the softies who claim to espouse “dominance.” As far as I can tell, picking animals to adorn their flags and exosuits is about as far as they’re willing to press the matter.

Not that this necessarily matters. Within the first few rounds, each side will quickly establish themselves as pursuing particular strategies and boasting their own strengths and weak points. Much of this comes down to your base. Early on, your home is pretty much a barracks, a place for your workers to nap. Later on, it will house all the buildings you’ve constructed, providing a wealth of new actions, bonus resources, and even the ability to travel back in time. Once it reaches this level of development, your workers are as likely to stay home as venture out into the wasteland, generating resources or purifying water or working whatever other task you’ve set up. It’s the base where most of your points are ensconced, and where the wacky stuff goes down. And yes, we’re talking about the time travel.

Yay! More colors injected into my retinas at point-blank range!

Much of the action also takes place on your personal faction board.

On paper, time travel is one of Anachrony’s neatest ideas. Crud, it’s right there in the title: anachrony, as though the entire game is going to revolve around the concept. It doesn’t, and the idea never quite lives up to its potential, but it’s still reasonably enjoyable to toy around with.

Essentially, time travel is a jazzy way of taking out a loan. Each round, you’re allowed to make a sort of bid, requesting up to two things you’d like from Future-You. Maybe you want an engineer, or a metric ton of gold to use on a particular building, or some ultra-rare timetravelanium. Or whatever the purple resource is called. We call it timetravelanium.

Point is, you make a bid, and that thing appears in your base. Boing! That’s probably the noise it makes when it appears. Without any effort at all, you have a brand new scientist, ready to work. Or a powered-up exosuit, or some canisters of water, or whatever. Time travel is like that.

Much like regular loans, temporal loans eventually come due, and that’s where all those time travel generators you’ve been installing in your base come into play. Sometime after you take out a loan, you can have one of your workers fire up your power plant and spend whatever it was you were given, effectively “sending it back to yourself” if you want to get all fancy-pants about it.

For the most part, that’s it. A whole mouthful of bluster — not to mention some hefty rules overhead — for not all that much payoff. You give yourself some uranium, only to spend it back sometime in the next few rounds. Clever players will obviously be able to leverage an early resource to their benefit, and completing the circle by sending stuff back to yourself in the past awards a couple points — because what doesn’t? — but the whole thing isn’t strictly necessary. It’s even possible to guide your selected path to victory while only flexing the space-time continuum once or twice.

There are two redeeming features to time travel. First, it lets you complete superprojects, beefed-up structures you can install in your home base. These are universally tasty, especially options like Synthetic Endorphins, which transforms your entire workforce into a compliant herd of sheep, or the Archive of the Eras, which makes all your paid back time-loans worth extra points. And secondly, as is pretty much always the case, time travel gets a whole lot more interesting when it goes wrong. Outstanding loans may cause you to pick up paradoxes and eventually anomalies, staticky little bloopers that suck up construction spaces and points until you send one of your workers back in time, 12 Monkeys style, to sacrifice themselves plugging the hole you’ve torn in the fabric of the universe.

It's space that's curved. Theoretical physicists, feel free to correct me in the comments section!

Time is a straight line.

Like a lot of Anachrony’s ideas, time travel isn’t necessarily as developed as it could have been. Scratch that — it’s very developed, and a ton of thought has obviously been poured into making it work as intended. Impactful, on the other hand, it isn’t always.

And that’s okay, because Anachrony is not aiming to be “tight.” Instead, this is a sprawling experience that absolutely buries you in stuff to do, ranging from buildings and superprojects and their attendant research prerequisites, to tweaking the particulars of your economy and workforce. It’s the sort of game that unabashedly gives you a dozen ways to earn points, then merely shrugs when you cast a glare its direction.

Note, for instance, that I haven’t gotten around to saying a single word about the main board even though it’s where the bulk of the game actually takes place. An omission we shall now rectify, exactly like sending a hapless engineer to die in the 1920s because I forgot to pay back that titanium cube. Exactly the same.

Since the wasteland is toxic, your persnickety workers aren’t willing to come down with a nasty case of rad-lung just to make a trip into town. Instead, you’ve got to first entomb them in exosuits. These aren’t necessarily a big deal, a bit like owning a car for the sake of driving into work every morning, at least if your car occasionally required an ultra-valuable power core and put you on water rationing for a month. The problem is that you need to evaluate in advance just how many of your workers are going to stay home and how many plan on heading into the capital, adding one more wrinkle (in time) to a game full of them. Need extra workers? Resources? Access to blueprints? To pump a few more literjons of water or make a trade with the nomads beyond the capital’s walls? These are all things that must be taken into consideration long before you ever send somebody trundling out of the exosuit garage.

Even better, when that asteroid finally lands, your number of easy slots for exosuits is severely scorched, along with the capital and much of the atmosphere. This kicks Anachrony into an unexpected third act. Where most worker placement games open with quick turns and gradually slow to a crawl as new workers and resources are acquired, Anachrony inverts the entire formula. Sure, by the time disaster strikes you’ll probably have plenty of structures and superprojects sitting around your base, so it isn’t as though you’ll be lacking for options. But your ability to move out to the capital becomes dangerously hampered, propelling each path to be the first to evacuate the planet. It’s a brilliant kick in the pants that makes the last few rounds considerably faster than they would have been otherwise, more of a race to the finish line than a trudge.

If anything, they make it tricky to see some of the icons. But they're big and chunky and plastic, so I guess everybody will love them.

The “miniatures” don’t necessarily add much to the gameplay.

As a big fan of nearly everything this design team did with Trickerion, I’m happy to announce that Anachrony is the superior of the two. It takes some of the most overused elements of modern game design — points salads and worker placement — and gives them a refreshing spritz in the face. Perhaps best of all, it embodies a sprawling sense of fun, letting you play the tyrant or the benefactor, taking dips into the river of time or just focusing on matters nearer at hand.

Like its predecessor, there’s also a whole lot of stuff crammed into that box. Nearly every element can be tweaked, made more complex, or rounded out with an expansion. Want to add some thrill to the time travel? Just flip over the track and watch as each request from the future becomes loaded with some sort of perk or penalty. Want to give your path’s exosuits more of an identity? Manipulate the impending asteroid strike or maybe even erase it entirely? Go on cutesy little adventures? You can do that. The last time I played a worker placement game with so much potential for customization, it was Argent: The Consortium.

Then again, all these hundreds of tokens and cards and everything else makes setting up a royal pain in the continuum. If I could have my future-self send it back to me ready to go, I would. Then I wouldn’t set it up once we were done, and damn the consequences. Make that your tagline — Anachrony: Worthy of Chancing Paradox.

Posted on March 28, 2017, in Board Game and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Alexandre Limoges

    The common criticism against Anachrony and Trickerion is that complexity is achieved through added layers of rules and chrome, instead of having every part well-integrated in a coherent mechanism. What would you respond to this criticism (which has made me avoid those 2 games until now), since, obviously, you do not share it…

    • I don’t tend to read other people’s reviews, but I’ll do my best to answer. As far as I understand what you’re saying, the criticism is that these games revolve around a multiplicity of systems that don’t gel together as a coherent whole. Is that accurate?

      If so, then the glib answer is: so what? Why must every part of a game be integrated into a single coherent mechanism? Why can’t “many systems” be a mechanic in its own right, where the goal is to superbly manipulate many different things? Just as an example, I’d offer something like Bios: Genesis, where players are constantly dedicating resources to multiple sub-games. There’s the game of hedging your bets in the primordial soup, the high-risk gamble of single-cellular life, and the deeply competitive jostle for position as a multi-cellular organism. These three sub-games do integrate in some sense, with bits carrying over from one stage of evolution to the next, but they’re still so distinct that they can occasionally feel isolated. The way to win, then, is to carefully curate three very different ongoing games, sometimes all at once.

      That said, I can sort of see where someone might be coming from when they issue that complaint, especially in regards to Trickerion. You’re playing a worker placement game, assembling an economic engine, gathering resources, and manipulating tiles during a show. It’s a lot to take in, absolutely. And one of my criticisms was that Trickerion would have benefited from a more developed finale at the conclusion of each round. But every one of those individual systems follow logically given the narrative arc of the game. You must carefully curate your cards, resources, and performances — but every one of those things revolves around how well you manipulated your workers. They integrate just fine.

      Matters are even more improved in Anachrony. The main offender possibly comes in the form of the time-loans, but they tie into the modules you add onto your base. To strip out the time travel, you wouldn’t just be removing loans. You’d be excising a full third of the structures, not to mention one of the game’s primary ways of alleviating its resource scarcity. You might be able to argue that the game is a “points salad” affair, where all these different systems exist in isolation but award different quantities of points. But they’re still tied together by the placement of workers and the gathering and spending of resources; the “game” is about assessing which options are most likely to net you the highest returns. I can see someone not enjoying that sort of thing, but that hardly makes Anachrony’s various systems poorly integrated.

      Does that help at all? I’d be happy to clarify further if necessary.

      • Certainly, it perfectly answers my question. I have not played any of those games, but I was looking for a heavy euro with a well-integrated theme, found those entries and started reading the comments here and there. I saw some raving comment about its qualities, but it concerned me a bit that those who disliked the games had rather similar complaints about the game “being less than the sum of its parts”, critics aimed at “useless complexity for complexity’s sake” and clunky parts that created an inorganic whole. Seeing that neither Trickerion (or Arkwright) were now available on the market to fill my desire for heavy euro games, I was looking at Anachrony …(but I might actually wait for Trickerion, given a better thematic affinity).

        Thanks again for answering my questions with such details
        Alexandre Limoges (Solipsiste on BGG)

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