What would YOU do with a Time Machine? Would you stop the sinking of the Titanic? Prevent the assassination of JFK? Kill Hitler before WWII? These are just a few of the possibilities in Chrononauts, the award-winning card game of time travel. To win, you must change history at key points called Linchpins, so that history transforms into the Alternate Reality your character calls home. You can also win by collecting a specific set of Artifacts, such as a live dinosaur, the Mona Lisa, and an unpublished Shakespearean play. But be careful – if you create too many paradoxes, you could destroy the entire universe!
We’re big Munchkin fans in my family — we have roughly a thousand expansion sets and we play almost every holiday when we’re all together. This past Christmas we decided to change it up a little with something new to us — Chrononauts, an award-winning card game from Looney Labs, first released in 2000. It’s basically a simpler Munchkin for history and time-travel nerds. Like Doctor Who? You’ll love this!
You, the players, are time travelers. You have a set layout of cards depicting historic events, and you draw cards you can use to influence the layout. You also draw an identity, which specifies the “alternate reality” you’re from. Changing the card layout to match that alternate reality wins the game. However, we found that strategy for winning to be the most complicated. You can also win by collecting the objects specified on your mission card, and that’s where it gets a little goofier… My mission was to put on a lost Shakespeare play, and to do that I had to acquire cards representing the Mona Lisa (or an acceptable fake) and a dinosaur. You can also win by Achieving Power and Success, aka accumulating ten cards in your hand via game activities.
The gameplay sounds complicated, but it’s actually not. It only takes 20-40 minutes to finish, and the instructions are on the cards like in Munchkin, so after a few turns you’ve got the hang of it. What really impressed me, speaking as a historian, was all the time and effort they must have spent on the cards. They make sense as major events that affect each other, if mostly first-world events, and you start thinking like a time traveler — there’s a chronology, but you can insert yourself at different points. There’s not really a role-playing element to the game, you don’t make decisions in that context, but it still creates the feeling associated with time-travel stories and puts you into it.
There’s only one expansion pack, The Gore Years released along with the game’s second edition in 2009, but there’s also a Back to the Future version I’d love to play. On the whole this is a super creative, well-thought-out game tailor made for time-travel fans. It’s got all the inside jokes about dinosaurs and killing Hitler, plus even with all that development it’s not hard to learn and play. The box is conveniently small since it’s just a deck of cards, AND it’s easy to find cheap editions since the game’s been out for so long. Highly recommended!