A to Z Gaming: Early American Chrononauts

We messed around with the American history timeline in Early American Chrononauts, the next game in our A to Z game-shelf play-through.

Basic Info: Early American Chrononauts
Players: 1-6
Time: 45 Minutes
Designer: Andrew Looney
Artist: Alison Frane
Publisher: Looney Labs



In Early American Chrononauts, each player takes on a secret identity with a longing to put the timeline back to the one they know, a mission to collect specific artifacts, and a desire to repair paradoxes in the timeline.  There are three ways to win the game – getting the timeline to look the way your secret identity wants it, collecting the artifacts listed in your mission, or getting 10 cards in your hand (from repairing artifacts). Alternately, everyone can lose the game if too many paradoxes are in play at once.

The game plays identically to Chrononauts, which I reviewed back in April, but the timeline includes only highlights from American history during the years 1770 to 1916.

The game begins with the timeline cards on the board representing history we all know it. Those cards are either “Linchpins” or “Ripplepoints.” The Linchpins are events that can be reversed (using Inverter cards) which cause other changes through the timeline, creating paradoxes of selected Ripplepoints (which can be fixed with Patches).

Each player has a hand of cards, and on their turn draws one card and plays one card. If the card played is a patch to the timeline, then that player gets to draw and keep an additional card. The other cards include Artifacts, Actions, Timewarps, and Gadgets.

The Artifact cards are objects that cand be collected from the past and future. Actions, Timewarps, and Gadgets all change the game play in certain ways. Actions allow players to steal things, sell artifacts for additional cards, or change out a player’s Secret ID or Mission. Timewarps allow players to retrieve things from the play deck and cancel other player’s card plays. And Gadgets give players permanent additional powers.

If, at the end of a player’s turn, they have the timeline matched to their Secret Identity, the Artifacts specified by their Mission, or 10 cards in their hand, they win. If there are 13 un-patched Paradoxes in the timeline, everyone loses.

Like Chrononauts, this is a small box card game that is fun to pull out. And, there’s even an “Uber Chrononauts” variant that can be played by combining both decks and timelines. We haven’t played that variant yet!

I love the puzzly aspect of the game. Do I go for the my secret identity’s timeline? Then I need to make sure I use my Inverters on the right Linchpins and have the right Patches in hand. But I can’t be too obvious about what I want the timeline to look like, because other players will see and start turning things back. Plus, of course, they’re changing the timeline for their own identities.

I also really like that there are a few ways to win. This means that if everyone is fighting over the timeline, you can concentrate on collecting Artifacts or applying random patches to get your hand size up. This helps the mitigate the luck involved in pulling the right cards from the deck.

How is it as a 2-player game?  Like Chrononauts, Early American Chrononauts is just okay as a 2-player game – it is much better when there are more players messing with the timeline. With just two players, each player can concentrate on a single strategy (collecting Artifacts or manipulating the Timeline) without affecting the other player. With more players, there is more push-pull between what each player wants.

How about the art and component quality?  I love the art on the cards! I especially like the Artifact cards. The iconography on the Timeline, Inverter, and Patch cards helps with identifying which Linchpins and Ripplepoints are connected to which events. I also love how the theme runs through the Actions and Timewarps. There’s a  “Get there first” card that allows you to steal an artifact, since you were able to travel to just a moment before the other player stole it from history. And there’s a “Never born” card that prevents your secret identity’s parents from ever meeting, so you have to change your ID.

Will this stay in my collection?  Yes. I enjoy this game. While we’re more likely to pull out Chrononauts, this is a small game and easy to keep on the shelf. Plus, we still need to try the Uber-Chrononauts variant!



2 Replies to “A to Z Gaming: Early American Chrononauts

  1. Chrononauts has the same basic rule as Fluxx, “draw a card and add it to your hand, then play a card from your hand”. But having three fixed ways to win instead of Fluxx’s constantly shifting goal makes the game somewhat less random. It’s still pretty random, though — you may never get the patch or artifact that you need.

    I’m doubtful about UberChrononauts, and expect it’ll feel like shuffling two Fluxx decks together: you now have more ways to win, but you’re less likely to draw the cards you need and will need to go further through the deck to get them, so it’ll just make the game longer.

    I’d love to see a Doctor Who retheme of this game, where the Linchpins are things like ‘Sutekh imprisoned on Mars’ or ‘Snowmen take over London’, and the show’s timeline then would be rearranged into alternate versions.

  2. Uberchrononauts is fun, especially after you’ve spent so much time playing Chrononauts that you can guess your opponents’ identities after a few rounds.

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