A time-warping masterpiece.
Anachrony, a Mindclash Games production designed by David Turczi, Richard Amann, and Viktor Peter this Mindclash Games struck me like a thunderbolt and left me shook and surprised- I’ve seen this game around since 2017, when it originally released, and ignored it under the assumption that it was underdeveloped, expansion-laden Kickstarter detritus. But with my recent board gaming interests lying primarily in soloable, heavy Eurogames, it popped up on my sensors and I asked Mindclash for a press copy of their recent “Essential Edition” of the title which they kindly provided along with the miniatures set. Even though I’ve since gotten my hands on an Infinity Box, which is almost the full product line, rest assured that this release is a 100% complete game and you need never purchase another product to experience it to its fullest potential, with one exception.
Without further ado, here is the million dollar pull quote. Anachrony is one of the best heavy Eurogames I’ve ever played. The sci-fi concept, which is front and center and informs every single aspect of gameplay, finds players on a post-apocalyptic Earth preparing their Paths (factions) for an imminent catastrophe that actually caused the other catastrophe that happened in their past. The tasks at hand include suiting up Scientists, Engineers, Administrators, and Geniuses in Exosuit mechs to conduct missions ranging from research expeditions, recruitment drives, mining operations, building construction, and trading with nomads out in the wastelands. There are a few common goal cards for everyone to pursue which award points for various accomplishments, majorities, sets, and so forth as well as a faction-specific Evacuation requirement that you want to try to manage to reach before other players get their people out of the doomed Capital.
Now, before I get ahead of myself, the time travel aspect is suitably mind blowing and it is woven into both the extensive storyline as well as the mechanics. An element called Neutronium, a time-displaced by-product of the asteroid that strikes Earth in the future, is discovered to enable time travel in the present time. And this makes it possible for you to – get this – “borrow” from your future turns. Let’s say you are short Water or Titanium needed to construct a building. Or maybe you need the services of an Administrator to reset all of your exhausted workers and don’t have one in the readied area. Or you could need an Exosuit but don’t have an Energy Core to power it up. The solution is simple- you simply place a marker on the timeline and whatever you “request” from the future is yours.
The catch is that every time you time warp something from your future turns, it has the potential to mess up time. Every round you’ve got to roll Paradox dice if you have the most markers on a time segment and if you get three Paradoxes you have to take an Anomaly which blocks you from using building spaces and incurs negative points – not to mention that at the end of the game you have to “clean up” the timeline by taking negative points for all the time-loans you didn’t pay off. So in future turns, you have to actually send back whatever it is that you’ve already used- presuming you have it to spare. This requires using specific buildings to take a worker back to deliver the resources to your past self, and there’s an escalating points award for every time you go back in time (queue Huey Lewis there).
Yeah, I get it that this is really a loan mechanic in fancy dress. But in context and given what you are conceptually doing in the storyline of the game it’s an entirely different thing than, say, taking out loans in Brass. Like all good time travel fiction, it’s confusing at first and kind of doesn’t make sense if you look too long at it. But in practice, it’s awesome and it gave me one of those wonderful “aha!” feelings when you discover a game mechanism that delights and captivates in equal measure.
Beyond the novelty of getting to go back in time to give yourself a mech, Anachrony is fundamentally a worker placement and resource conversion game, but it’s one of the least abstract ones I’ve played. It’s on par with the excellent Argent: The Consortium and it offers the kind of depth and detail that you’ll find in a Lacerda design but with more straightforward, less layered or codependent mechanisms. The central gameplay is, despite how it looks, pretty easy to grasp and perform. There’s a TON of rebus-like icons, but they aren’t too difficult to sort out. At root, you’ll be placing one worker either in an Exosuit onto the main board or into one of your buildings on your player mat each turn and that’s it.
Now, where it gets vastly more complex is chiefly in how the game presents with fluid availability and variable valuation. There are only four types of buildings – Power Plants, Laboratories, Life Support, and Factories – and they aren’t even named. But each of these buildings has a different set of parameters for how it performs its function. For example, one Power Plant may have a low range (meaning the number of time segments you can send something back) but a high point value. Another might allow you to discard a Paradox when it’s built but low points. Another might have a longer range and high points but kills the worker when you use it. There are always two options available for each building, and the value of each building to a given player may be very different- even before figuring in how buildings often interact with Goal cards or Path evacuation requirements.
There are always too many things to do and too many things you need. We’re looking at four different worker types, each with restrictions and benefits applicable to certain tasks. There is Water to consider, that is needed almost everywhere. There are four main resources used chiefly for building. Energy cores for the Exosuits. And you’ve got to get all of this stuff together and then also find time and opportunity to maybe work on one of the Superprojects, that offer powerful benefits in exchange for Research tokens. But that may require going back in time to do a project that is no longer current in your time segment, which takes a worker. Which you may also need to procure.
This is all before figuring in the combinatorial aspects between building functions and goals. Learning to spot an opportunity in the benefit offer that will make a goal easier or a task more efficient is a critical skill. And the game gives you ample room to change focus and redirect effort while demanding that you mind your tight resource and action budgets.
It almost feels like too much, but this creates a sense of drama and tension that is not common in worker placement-based designs. It’s true that the friction between players remains of the passive variety where competition for working spaces and available opportunities is the limit of interference. But I’ve found that I didn’t really care because I was just too busy and compelled by getting my own shit together to worry about whether I could take something away from another player or somehow impede their efforts.
And that leads to the solo mode. I think Mindclash dropped the ball on this “Essential Edition” by leaving it out of the box. It’s in the Fractures of Time expansion. There is a print and play Chronobot available online but it isn’t as good as the updated Chronobot 2.0 or all-new Chronossus automa in the add-on. It should be noted too that both of these automa have lore. Which means you’ll be cussing at an AI opponent that has an actual raison d’etre in the game’s story. The solo mode is extremely easy to run and diabolically challenging- but more importantly, they allow you to play the full Anachrony experience without another player.
I’m sorry humanity, but I prefer to play Anachrony alone. The 2 and 3 player games I’ve done with friends were fine – great, even – but I’ve gotten the most out of the game alone when I’m able to just get stuck in and not worry about entertaining or educating others. A solo mode in the Essential Edition box would, I think, expand this game’s reach and possibly encourage more folks to check it out free of the worry that a group won’t commit to learning the rules and playing repeatedly. I must admit that if the game didn’t have a solo mode, I may not have ever given it a chance simply because I do not have a group right now that would play this regularly.
It took me a couple of years to get around to it but Anachrony is a masterpiece, it’s rapidly become a title that I would be willing to list among my favorite games. It’s a one-in-a-million design with huge ambition and a heartfelt attempt at conveying science fiction narrative through game mechanics. It’s spirited, bold, and dynamic, every game has been exciting and filled with difficult situations and triumphant solutions and I’ve barely even gotten into the advanced game options offered by the Infinity Box beyond the solo bots. This is a game with a bright future.
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