One of the joys of being a games blogger is when you get to see a game in it’s nascent form, when while it may be ready to be presented to the world, it really hasn’t been yet.
So when designer John Heffernan reached out to me to ask if I’d take a look at his new game coming to Kickstarter in January called This Didn’t Happen, how could I resist?
The game is designed by John with artwork by Zé Miguel and will be published by Isle of Bees.
The game is a 30-minute cooperative card game for 1-4 players.
Keep in mind that while I received a production quality edition of the game, the rules are still being finalized and updated and things can change during and after the Kickstarter (which will be going live on January 5 and I will link to it then) even with the components.
You can go to the Isle of Bees page and check out the Kickstarter preview from there.
Anyway, with that in mind, let’s take a look!
(Note: You can click on each picture to get an enlarged version)
This Didn’t Happen is a game of time travel where 1-4 players are trying to stop the Apocalypse by nudging time in three different eras: Medieval, Great War, and Lunar.
Ten cards for each era are laid out on the table in five pairs each so that the red symbols on the bottom card are covered by the top card of the pair. Each pair laid out like this is called a “tile.”
At the end of each line will be an End of an Era card, drawn from one of the three for each era.
At least one of the symbols on the End of an Era card must appear on at least one unaltered tile in the era or things turn very bleak. Basically, you will have an apocalyptic End of an Era, which means you can’t win even if you avert the actual Apocalypse!
Speaking of, there are multiple options for the Apocalypse, where you take two of the Apocalypse cards and place them together as another tile.
The top card of the Apocalypse may have an effect which will make the game even more difficult.
Each player takes a pair of Character cards and that is who they will be during the game. The Portrait card is double-sided with female on one side and male on the other. Each one has different abilities and it is possible to change gender during the game.
The other card is the Mode card and each turn players will decide what mode they want to be in. Each mode has different symbols too, but you won’t really know which one you will need that turn so it’s kind of a matter of luck.
The Time Machine starts at the beginning of the Lunar Era but will move steadily towards the Apocalypse. That’s bad! And it’s irreversible. It can have 8 Health points but for each player beyond the first, the starting Health reduces by two. So a 2-player game like I played has it start at 6 Health.
It can be repaired, so that’s good.
Each turn has 5 phases. The first phase is traveling through time, where they can either go from the Time Machine to any tile in any era, or they can go from the tile they are at back to the Time Machine.
Then each character can do one of five actions: pick up a resource from the era they are currently in, research (look at the bottom card of any tile in their era that is before where they are), heal the Time Machine (if they are on it), Intervene (try to alter the tile they are on, putting the bottom card on top where the red symbols are displayed instead of the black), Protect Time (try to make the tile they are on harder to alter), or Temporal Sacrifice (try to reverse an Intervene or Protect Time action).
Essentially what you are trying to do is alter tiles in the various eras so that at least some of the red symbols that are showing match the red symbols on the Apocalypse. When all five red symbols on the Apocalypse are matched, the Apocalypse is averted!
How do you do that?
By collecting resources and playing those resources with the right symbols to the tiles in the era.
If you play the symbols on the Resource card, essentially countering the symbols on the era card, it’s altered! Put the bottom card on top and look at the red symbols.
However, doing that can be risky, as you have to check each card ahead of you in the Time Stream.
If all of the symbols on the top card of a tile match any of the red symbols revealed previously in the Time Stream, that tile gets altered too!
It can be quite the cascade effect, especially if you alter a Medieval tile.
After the Action Phase is the Event phase, where an Event card is drawn for each player.
Check the era you are in and do that event. This is where the symbols on your character cards as well as any equipment you have will be useful.
Phase 4 lets each player look at the bottom card of the tile they are on for free.
Phase 5 has each player move forward one tile in their respective eras. If you are at the end of the era, then you don’t
Then start again!
As with most cooperative games, there are a few ways to lose and only one way to win.
If you avert the Apocalypse and all of the End of an Era cards are unaltered, you win!
If the Time Machine is destroyed and the Apocalypse hasn’t been averted or any End of an Era cards are apocalyptic, you lose!
Individual players can lose too. If you are in the Apocalypse when it’s removed (averted), then you lose though the team wins. If you are in any era other than Lunar and the Time Machine is destroyed, you lose! Though the team wins.
Is This Didn’t Happen a happy go lucky romp through time and space? Or is it the end of the world as we know it? (Even if I do feel fine)
This Didn’t Happen is a really interesting game with a high concept.
That’s both good and bad, in a way.
First, I have to say that thankfully the rulebook is still under review and will change during the Kickstarter (and has even been updated already with some suggestions from me and I’m sure other people who are looking at the game).
I’m sure it will be a lot better once things get going.
Secondly, the concept is great but the setup is very fiddly. Setting up each era’s tiles, the Apocalypse, the End of an Era cards and the Time Machine can be quite irritating as the cards you’ve placed on top of other cards keep moving if you bump them (revealing the red symbols, of course).
It’s also not an intuitive layout, which is why I’m glad the rulebook has diagrams of how all of the cards are supposed to be placed. It even has diagrams of how cards should be placed for the Protect Time and Intervene actions (which actually adds its own difficulties as you are supposed to place the resources spent under the tiles, which involves picking them up and the cards shifting and, well…chaos can reign!).
So I’m glad the rulebook has been updated already to include those diagrams (the setup diagram was in their from the first but not the other diagrams).
Once you actually get the game going, though, it’s pretty good. I like the concept of players moving back and forth throughout time, trying to alter things just enough without going overboard. You have to be careful what you alter, though, as things can get out of hand very quickly.
In our first game, we were playing one of the tougher Apocalypses that altered the first unaltered tile in the time stream (which is usually the very first Medieval one) when the Time Machine reached the Apocalypse. That one altered so many other tiles because you have to go forward all the way to the end of the Lunar Era when that happens. I think all of the End of an Era tiles became apocalyptic as well.
It was madness!
That’s where your research and experiencing history comes in, as you need to know which tiles are pointless to alter because they don’t have any of the red symbols you need.
The resource cards are kind of cool too as many of them have uses even beyond Intervening or Protecting Time. The Forecast Eclipse resource above gives you another Eye symbol to deal with Events.
You have to end up juggling a lot of things in order to win, especially if you are playing with one of the harder Apocalypses. The Time Machine is kind of your timer, though it can be adjusted. It moves steadily toward the Apocalypse and then takes one point of damage each turn that it’s there. If you have multiple players, you can dedicate a couple of people to spend resources to keep healing it, but that could be counter-productive since resources are required to Intervene as well.
Essentially, in a 2-player game you have 11 turns to win (5 turns to reach the Apocalypse and 6 damage) assuming that the Time Machine is not damaged in some other way.
I found the whole concept really interesting and fun to play except for the fiddly aspect of the cards (especially the ones that make up the tiles). The tiles can be a nightmare to try and keep straight without revealing the card underneath, especially if you’re trying to place resource cards underneath them!
It’s almost impossible.
But the game itself? Very interesting decisions with some potentially lucky swings (both good and bad) with either Event cards or with the way the tiles are set up. You could easily find a shortage of tiles that have red symbols matching the Apocalypse.
Don’t get me started on the randomness of choosing which mode you want your character to be in each turn. You have no idea what symbols you will need for the Event you draw, though I guess you can mitigate that somewhat based on the resources you have.
The Lunar Drone will negate the need for Eyes (there really needs to be a glossary of what each of these symbols means because “Eyes” just doesn’t sound right). However, you will have to discard it if you use it and look at all of those symbols that could be used to Intervene/Protect tiles!
Some resources don’t have the discard requirement and those could help you decide which mode to take for your character.
Ultimately I did enjoy This Didn’t Happen. It is hard to set up but once you get going, it’s a fun journey through time until you have to get down to business and end the Apocalypse!
Give this one a look on January 5 and see what you think.
It’s definitely worth checking out.