That's a problem for Future Me - Anachrony Review
I’ve been playtesting Anachrony for the last month or two (about 5 games) and now that the kickstarter is live (and funded in 4 hours!) I thought it’d be helpful for others to hear my impressions of the game in case you’re on the fence about this one.
The tagline of Exosuits, Time Travel and Cataclysmic Future should be enough to grab you, but in case you’re looking for a more indepth overview of the theme…
Anachrony takes place in the distant future where what’s left of humanity after a gigantic unknown disaster is suddenly visited by… itself? We send ourselves a message back in time to let us know that there’s a big meteor about to strike the earth (again, apparently) and we should be doing our best to plan for it. Also the meteor itself contains large deposits of Neutronium, which allows us to master time travel (hence the message from the future). Armed with this knowledge of our fate, we do the only reasonable thing and fight over who’s got the coolest pad that everyone should migrate to post-cataclysm.
A bit unexpected, right?
At its heart, Anachrony is a worker placement game. Groan… you’re thinking, not another worker placement game! Yes, I can understand your cynicism - I have more than enough of those in my collection. That said, Anachrony approaches the mechanic in a few very interesting ways, and is unique enough in its approach to justify its own spot in your diverse collection.
The idea is that the World Capital is the place to get stuff done, but it’s also the target of the aforementioned meteor, so everyone is scrambling to do as much there as they can before there is no more world capital. You’ll be fighting other players over the coveted Construct, Research, Recruit, and Mine actions, as well as control of the World Council (first player token). But here’s where it gets interesting…
The beginning of each round you have to decide how many actions you’ll be taking in the shared World Capital. You decide this by “activating” between 0 and 6 Exosuits and of course, activating more exosuits will cost you more “energy cores”, having you make the trade off between immediate actions and core shortages later in the game. Using less suits in a round nets you more water - the currency in the game - so you need to balance your income needs against your world capital actions. All players decide how many exosuits to activate simultaneously, adding a bit of “Hmm, am I going to lose anything by taking less actions than Jeff?” consideration to the decision.
On top of that, you need workers to take the actions. There are four classes of workers in the game, all of which are better at certain actions than others, so managing which workers you use when becomes important. This also makes the Recruit action more important as only certain types of workers will be available each round, and if the player to your right gets there first you may be left with the bottom of the barrel employee you don’t really want. Of course, your workers are human, so they’ll need to sleep a bit and get watered every so often, which adds a bit of worker management in a similar vein to Above and Below.
To improve your civilization, you’ll be primarily constructing buildings and super-projects that provide facilities to produce resources, water, and ultimately travel through time. A lot of these buildings actually contain worker spaces of their own, which you can use throughout the round without the cost of an exosuit to make your civ self-reliant instead of having to depart to the world capital every time you need something. Which is pretty helpful since it’s about to be struck by a meteor.
Oh, I haven’t got to the coolest part - the actual time travel! If you ever thought “how would they implement time travel in a board game?”, here’s your answer; loans. Every round you have the option of loaning yourself 0 to 2 resources in order to advance your particular corner of civilization; you literally send it back in time from your future self. Need a scientist worker? Just warp one back! But wait, how do you know you’ll have a scientist in the future? That, my dear reader, is a problem for Future You. Future You will be responsible for building a time machine (one of the four building types you have access to in the game) and taking an action to warp back those previously loaned resources, which also nets you some VP since you’re such a good citizen of time travel. Conversely if you don’t fulfill your debts to yourself you will be losing points in the end game.
Of course time travel has a price; the more you warp things back and don’t resolve those debts the more likely you are to cause time Paradoxes - once you’ve created enough paradoxes you’ll straight up spawn a time Anomaly in your civilization’s habitat. If you ever wondered what a time anomaly would look like, you can imagine it as a swirling void of terror that can only be satisfied by one of your workers holding a box of resources and jumping into it. Also it’s -3 VP and eats one of your limited building spots, which is a pretty big deal.
Once the meteor does hit the World Capital (which happens roughly after the half-way point of the game), it’s evac time - you do your best to lure the existing world capital population to your particular civilization by fulfilling certain goals specific to your civilization’s leader. Generally things like “have a bunch of workers” or “build habitats” or my personal favorite of “have two anomalies in your civilization on display”. If you can meet your civ’s requirements you’ll gain your last big chunk of VP near the end of the game. The trouble is, the place where you need to go to do all these things has just been hit by a meteor - the available worker placement actions on the main board disappear as people use them, as the world capital collapses around you. Once the old world capital collapses, the game comes to its conclusion, and you and your fellow splinters of humanity compare VPs in an effort to be crowned the new world capital.
While I obviously can’t comment on the final product since it’s still a kickstarter, I can give my impressions of the game in its current state, and it’s a damn beautiful game. The futuristic cataclysmic theme drips off the artwork on the main board, and the iconography makes for a really easy-to-understand and language-independent game. And I’ll be damned if those minis don’t look amazing! The coolest thing about them is that they have a slot for your worker tokens, so when you dispatch workers to go do things at the world capital, you actually put them in their exosuit when placing them on the board. How neat is that?
My favorite part of Anachrony is the time travel mechanics they’ve added to the game - a really clever way of capturing the idea of sending things to yourself and then making yourselves perform the action of sending those same goods back later to fulfill that promise works really well. On top of that, the flow of the game is really smart - each action you take is clear and concise, and only takes a few seconds to execute. The complexity comes in when tying all those actions together to achieve your overall goal.
I think a good measure of a solid worker placement game is having more than one path to victory, and Anachrony does exactly that. Your actions will definitely be blocked by other players as in any worker placement game, but you never feel like you’re completely blocked out of the game - there’s always another option or another strategy you can pursue.
On top of that, there’s a decent amount of replay value in that each of the 4 paths play a bit differently with their “evac” conditions, and even within that you have (currently) two available to choose from per path. The available buildings and super projects is shuffled each game and you definitely won’t see all of them, and the random allocation of both workers and resources makes for a different game every time. The kickstarter also comes with two modules (I’ve only played one of them) that change the game quite a bit as well, so there’s no reason to be bored with this package anytime soon.
I’ll easily give this game a 8.5 out of 10 (Excellent game, will probably suggest it and never turn down a game) - the only thing preventing it from being a full 10 is the longer playtime (30 minutes/player, which rang true in our playtests), which would prevent it from being a game I’ll “always want to play”. Several other players in my play group have also backed this game based on our experiences in playtesting, putting our money where our mouth is, so that should be a pretty ringing endorsement. I fancy myself a collector of diverse board games, and I’d be remiss in not having this unique time-travelling worker placement game on my shelf. I hope you’ll consider backing this wonderful project on Kickstarter!