Anachrony Review – My Head Hurts

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Designed by: Richard Amann, Viktor Peter, Dávid Turczi
Published by: Mindclash Games
Players: 1-4
Playtime: 60-120 Minutes

Review copy provided free of charge by Mindclash Games

Near the start of this year I reviewed Mindclash’s first game, Trickerion, and utterly adored its clever worker-placement mechanics and its unique theme involving magicians putting on shows for a cheering audience. Now I’ve got my hands on Mindclash’s second game, also a worker-placement title but with a radically different theme. There are some similar ideas underneath the hood, including a desire to take up more table space than any one game should ever need, but Anachrony does plenty to set itself apart. It’s big, thinky and wholly absorbing.

And just like Trickerion this is a difficult game to review because there’s quite a lot going on and it all ties into everything else. As soon as you begin explaining one mechanic you wind up detouring into something else entirely. Attempting to explain it in written form could be challenging, so I’ll probably skip some of the smaller rules in favor of the broader picture.

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The setup behind Anachrony is that THERE’S GIANT FREAKING METEOR HEADING FOR THE PLANET! This, shockingly, is something of a bummer for the residents as it will destroy the capital city and make life even harder. This, in turn, has an impact on the gameplay, but we’ll come back to that later. Waving the impending destruction heading toward Earth Anachrony takes place in a post-apocalyptic version of the planet where humans have constructed domed cities to survive. You’ll be playing as one of four factions across seven rounds, known as eras, each intent on building up their own colonies and recruiting people from the thriving capital city before the meteor strikes.

So that means before the action beings proper you need to pick from a faction, each of whom have their own unique evacuation goal, a late-game action you can take which can potentially score a heap of points. It’s this goal you’ll typically be working towards throughout the game while also taking every other opportunity for points you can. The Path of Progress, for example, gain a victory point for every worker they currently have provided they’ve met their evacuation prerequisite first, which in this case is to have the morale track maxed out. Once everyone has settled on a faction you must all decide whether to collectively use side A or B of the player boards. Side A means everybody will start with roughly the same stats, only the evacuation goals and leader powers being different, whereas side B gives each faction unique traits in what I deem to be a far more interesting game. Of course, I would tend to say that since I personally love asymmetrical factions.

At its most basic level Anachrony is a worker-placement game, meaning you’ll be deploying workers from your colony to the capital city on the main board in order to do various things like build new structures for your colony, gather water which acts as a currency of sorts, conduct research into super projects, trade with nomads and go mining for four types of raw materials needed to do pretty much everything. Included in the standard retail edition is an extra module that lets players alter when the impact will occur, or even stop it entirely, but for this review I’ll be focusing on the core game because frankly there’s enough to talk about already without adding a new board to the mix as well.

Before you being placing workers to take actions, though, Anachrony introduces you to a wonderfully thematic mechanic; requesting resources from your future self. To do this you take a token bearing the symbol for whatever you want, be it a new worker or a resource or even a powered up exosuit, and place it on the current era tile, and then whatever resource is represented on the token is immediately given to you from the supply, the mere act of deciding to send things to yourself later on being enough to make those items appear right now. Cool, huh? Of course sometime down the line you have to send that resource back in time by discarding it, and for that you need to make sure you build a power plant. Mechanically it’s really not much different than taking a loan out that you have to pay back later or lose points, but it’s just such a thematically wonderful touch that I never once thought of it that way.

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Messing with time can be a dangerous proposition, though, as any sci-fi fan knows. I mean, who knows what you might screw up? Trump might become presi….oh. At the beginning of a new round the player/s with the most tokens in on each era tile, including all prior ones, must roll the Paradox die, taking a corresponding number of Paradox tokens from the supply and sticking them on their player board. Once you’ve gotten enough of these tokens you have to take an Anomaly tile which covers up a building slot and takes away victory points at the end of the game. Getting rid of one of these requires sacrificing a worker and some resources, so you definitely want to avoid getting these if possible. However, risking all of space and time on a whim does have one potential worthwhile bonus; every time you successfully send a resource back in time you move your marker up the time travel track, earning extra end-game points. Some factions can score very highly here.

Okay, with that out of the way it’s finally time to get down to taking some actions, right? Nope. You can’t just send workers off to the capital since the environment between your dome home and the city is deadly, so some of your six exosuits must be powered up near the start of the round. It’s these that your workers will use to travel through the hazards, so you’ll just pop your little worker tokens onto the bigger exosuits, unless you happen to have the awesome expansion which adds in sizable exosuit miniatures with slots for the worker tokens. You can power up three of these for free in the early game with extra ones costing resources to field, but once the impact event has occurred two of the free slots are covered up, so it’s a good idea to invest some time in constructing buildings that will provide the resources needed to power up exosuits in the last few rounds as well. This exosuit system has the effect of forcing you to plan out your entire turn ahead of time, and makes adjusting on the fly a bit more challenging.

With exosuits powered up we finally get into the action phase proper, where it’s time to begin dispatching workers to the capital city or to your own colony if you’ve got some buildings already constructed.

Complicating your decisions is a system whereby certain workers will gain benefits when assigned to specific tasks, or how some of them simply can’t do some stuff. A scientist, for example, is the only one who can conduct research, but they are incapable of recruiting other workers at all. An engineer can recruit, but not recruit geniuses while an administrator can recruit anybody. The engineer counters this by offering a resource discount when building stuff, or by coming back refreshed and ready to work again after going mining. Again like the exosuit system there’s a lot of emphasis on planning out your strategy at the beginning of each turn.

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The pink geniuses are the exception to these rules. These smart buggers can take on the role of any other worker and gain its associated bonuses as well, making them very valuable indeed. The only thing they can’t do is take the place of a worker required by something, so if building a super project needs an engineer to be sacrificed for the greater good then a genius can’t be used instead.

Being first to a spot can be important as well, as being any later than that usually means having to pay some extra water to take the action. If all the slots are occupied there’s another choice; capital actions. There are two of these at the top of the board and they allow you to take a build, recruit, mine or research action at the cost of a water, or you can use the second capital action slot which lets you nab the first-player token as well provided you hand over two water.

Not all spots are so limited. Both the water gathering action and the trading action have no limit to the amount of workers who can be placed there.

Recruiting and mining are two key actions within the game, and both the available workers and resources are determined by cards drawn as you move into a new era. Whenever you recruit a new worker to your team you earn a bonus, and likewise when mining you get the chosen resource and a bonus one from the three slots on the right.

When it comes to adding new things to your own colony there are four types of building available, each with a primary and secondary stack. At the end of each round the topmost tile from the primary pile gets shifted over to the secondary stack, and thus at any given time you’ll  have a total of eight buildings to pick from. Power Plants let you do the whole time travelling thing we talked about earlier, while factories are good for producing various resources. Life support buildings typically give you water, and labs do a variety of things. Regardless of what you want to build you need to pay the cost shown on your playerboard. Each building gets in its correct row on the furthest left space available, the cost becoming higher as you move toward the rightmost slots.

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At the end of the round all your workers will head home, tired from their hard day of labor. Depending on the worker and the location you placed them in some will be immune from this fatigue, but for the most part they’ll return and have to be placed in the tired column, meaning they can’t be used again until they are refreshed using the supply action on your player board where you can either to pay a sum in water and advance the morale track for extra endgame points, or opt to force them back to work as a free action in exchange for the morale track taking a hit. Forcing them is normally a free action whereas actually giving them water tends to require a worker.

So lets talk about the super projects that I’ve mentioned a few times now. Under each of the era tiles a face-down super project will be placed at the start of the game, only getting revealed once you enter that era during the game. These super projects can be constructed using the standard build action at the capital, but they take up two slots and are typically very expensive. Not only do they need the standard water and construction resources like titanium, but they also require breakthrough tokens, which is where the research action at the capital comes into play. By sending a scientist to this space you can roll the two breakthrough dice and take the token which matches the shape and icon rolled. However, you can opt to lock one die to a shape or icon of your choice first, which is important as many super projects can be built using either two specific shapes with whatever icons you want on them, or a specific shape and icon combo. All this effort can be worth it, though, as the abilities provided by super projects can be huge and they are typically worth a good number of victory points in their own right.

Building a super project from a previous era is slightly more complicated. To build one of them you must use a power plant building in your colony to shift your “focus”, which is to say marker you use to track which round the game is currently on, back to the era that the super project is in. After that you can take a construction action as per normal to build it. No matter which era your focus is currently on when the round finishes ALL player tokens get moved into the new era, so you can’t simply keep your focus in the past. Shifting your focus backward is also how you repay any resources you requested previously, although interestingly you can only pay back a single resource at a time, so if you requested two or three things in a single era it can take a while to give everything back.

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Now we come back to that massive asteroid looming over the entire game. After the 4th round the impact occurs, changing a few key things about how the game plays. Firstly two of your exosuit slots get blocked off, meaning you only have four to power up and most of those will need to be paid for. Preparing for this is vital and I’ve seen a lot of people fail completely by not ensuring they’ll have access to the resources they need to field exosuits. The second change is to the locations on the board. For each open slot on research, building and recruiting a token is placed that adds a powerful extra ability whenever that action is taken. However, at the end of a round the spaces that are used get their tokens flipped over, blocking access. Should all of these tokens get flipped over then the game ends early, a fact easily taken advantage of by anyone who thinks they can get the victory by bringing everything to a grinding halt.

So, did you get all that? No? Thank Odin, because neither did I. Anachrony’s rules are written well and understanding the basics of how to play is actually relatively easy, but it’s the strategy which turns your mind into a grey sludge. There’s so much going on here to consider, from your factions unique evacuation goal to whether you want to risk requesting resources from your future self to the four types of buildings and the super projects. Yet it all ties together wonderfully well, each mechanic making thematic sense and feeding into everything else. There’s a touch of engine-building going on, too, as you gradually add more buildings to your colony and thus open up some extra options for gaining resources. With a mere seven rounds available you need to be planning from the very first era, especially if evacuation goal calls for you to have three labs in place and then provides further bonus points for each scientist and breakthrough pairing.

The game also comes with an impressive solo mode which makes use of a bot player powered by dice rolls and moving tokens. For its turn you just grab the die, roll and then perform the action above the matching token, before moving said token to the next space. In this way the bot builds, recruits and mines, occupying spaces on the mainboard while accruing points. Unlike the player the bot does not have to spend resources to construct anything nor waste time powering up exosuits. It also gains points for sets of workers and minerals, and can even build super projects after the impact without having to pay for those either. It can be a solid opponent and I generally found that while I could typically beat it my scores were not much higher, except on rare circumstances.

There are other things I’ve not even touched upon, too, such as how the era tiles can be flipped over to reveal a new side where requesting resources from the future brings about new benefits and penalties. There’s also the option to draft starting resources using cards in case players don’t want to take the default ones listed on their faction sheets. And of course there’s the Doomsday module that comes with the game as well, allowing players to conduct experiments that alter the impact event.

At this rate Mindclash are going to make a hell of a name for themselves. While I believe Trickerion to be the better game personally Anachrony is brilliant in its own right. It has a theme which pervades everything you to, although like Trickerion that theme can get buried under the weight of the mechanics as you spend so much time trying to ponder every move that pretty artwork and the way that the mechanics make thematic sense that they simply fail to get appreciated. Yes, those mechanics are lovely and rich, every turn a delectable puzzle that sometimes brought me to a standstill as I attempted to work out what my most effective moves could be. It’s a daunting juggernaut of a game that eats table space and eats brainpower.

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