DESIGNER DIARY pt 3: AGENTS IN TIME — Initial Concepts and Theme

In the previous post, I talked a little about how this whole thing kicked off, and am hoping to cover some of our initial efforts, here…

— late March 2017: Travelling Man, York —

While my erstwhile colleagues, Ocean and Stephen had previously come forth with an idea for a time travelling game, what we had back then was a bit unwieldy: a world map of sorts, various key locations earmarked as potential places where paradoxes could occur (with associated events tagged to each location – which no-one knew how to properly represent on the board yet), and the hope that further along the line, we’d also work out a way of linking one place to another so that knock-on/ripple effects could be interpreted (probably by colour-coding locations or similar). There were also objects scattered throughout time and seeded all over the world map (represented by face-down chits), and so many of the damn things, too…


In the bottom right corner of the world map was a set of squares that represented the available player actions: Paradox, Resolve, Search (for Object), Exchange Object, New Mission, Mission Completed, and Rest. Each turn was also split into two phases: Planning and Action. In the Planning phase, players would take it in turns to assign an Agent to an action space (we had 5 Agents each back then), and in the subsequent Action phase, would then take it in turns to use an Agent from one of the action spaces to actually carry out that action somewhere on the board, or change tact and recall the Agent back into their hand. The rules back then were that despite a turn order being in place, only the player with a majority on each action space could perform that action (and then remove their Agent from that space and thus potentially open it up for someone else), so you could temporarily ‘block’ other players and there’d be limited room here for sleight of hand, misleading other players, and generally trying to be secretive about what your intentions were for that turn.

It should be readily apparent that Stephen won on the co-op vs competitive front (see DESIGNER DIARY: pt 2), and the co-operative theme got dropped very early on — Agents in Time is definitely a game with a fair amount of ‘take that’ in place from the start!  And while many of these actions/elements have definitely stuck, hopefully you can see where the core of the game started to form: players could always Paradox and Resolve events, and pick up and complete Missions even back then.


‘Missions’ consisted of a mix of obtaining certain objects and ensuring certain events were Paradoxed or Resolved, with object collections yielding the most VPs. The term “Mission” was dropped a short while later, mainly because I associated it with a game called Chrononauts that had a similar theme, but played very differently (with a lot more randomness, I think).

The ‘majority action’ concept also got dropped pretty sharp-ish, mainly because we found players would artificially bump up the Agent numbers in certain action spaces just so they could go first in that space (usually to try and Search for objects before other players, and thus effectively ‘waste’ Agents to do so). Objects were a strong focus point in these early versions, and because you could move your Agent to a location anywhere on the world map to carry out your chosen action, it turned into a bit of a race for who could get to an object first in many cases, or who could swap one for another because a new object had just been revealed by someone else’s Search action, etc.

With the ‘majority rules’ thrown out, the game really did start to feel a bit more workable, although we still had issues with the size and scope of the world map: more locations and events were needed. There were only about 16 ‘spots’ on the board that could be Paradoxed or Resolved, and because most of those were clustered around Europe and the US —with a lot in Germany, funnily enough— the board looked cluttered and the original theme/concept of a world-spanning, time-hopping bonanza of fun seemed to be taking a darker turn: players were being secretive and deceptive with their intentions, were stealing objects from under the noses of the other players, and generally all-out for themselves. And while this is not generally a bad basis for a game per se, it was not really how we’d originally envisaged things: indeed, Ocean had specifically said he felt the game should be working towards a worthy goal, like trying to make the world a better place by stopping all the conflict and war, etc.

That was when I stuck my big fat hobnail boots in, went off on a tangent, and just ripped the original game apart, transforming it into something much more reminiscent of the current incarnation: an enjoyable romp involving a randomised board set-up, fast-paced turns, Timespots being flipped and rippled left, right and centre; and a constant flow of Objective cards and to-and-fro motion on the unique Score Tracker.

Next time, I’ll be revealing how I went about it, and why we eventually threw the whole ‘object collection’ theme out of the game…





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