Chrononauts is a tabletop card game that investigates cause and effect in historical events.
|Age range||11 and up|
|Setup time||5 minutes|
|Playing time||20–45 minutes|
|Skill(s) required||Strategising, collecting|
Chrononauts is a card game that simulates popular fictional ideas about how time travellers might alter history, drawing on sources like Back to the Future and the short stories collection Travels Through Time. The game was designed by Andrew Looney in 2000 and is published by Looney Labs. In 2001, Chrononauts won the Origins Award for Best Traditional Card Game of 2000.
Chrononauts is played with a specially designed set of 136 cards. There are 32 "Timeline" cards that form the game board (with four "tiers" of eight cards), 24 cards ("IDs" and "Missions") describing goals for the players, and 80 cards ("Artifacts," "Actions," "Inverters," "Patches," and "Timewarps") that make up the deck from which players draw.
The 32 timeline cards represent significant events in (real) history of two types: Linchpins and Ripple Points. Players use Inverters to directly change the Linchpin events, changing to the alternative event on the reverse side of the timeline card. Changing a Linchpin also turns over one or more Ripple Point cards, exposing paradoxes. If a player uses a Patch to resolve the paradox, the player receives an extra card for his hand. Artifacts are collected and played to accomplish Missions, and Actions and Timewarps are used to affect specific gameplay elements (a prominent example is "Memo from Your Future Self," the one card that can be played out of turn to undo another player's action).
For example, turning the 1865 "Lincoln Assassinated" card to "Lincoln Wounded" causes the 1868 "Andrew Johnson Impeached" card to turn, leaving a paradox in place for that year (1868). This paradox can then be repaired by playing a Patch on top of the paradox that describes Lincoln's impeachment in 1868. (The game designers' historical reasoning behind this sequence of events, and many others used in the game, may be found here; this particular example is #12 on the list.)
There are two special points in the timeline:
- 1945 (the end of World War II), the Nexus: Three Linchpins can Paradox this Ripple Point, and there are four different Patches for it, but each one can only be used under specific conditions that are easy to undo.
- 1962 (the Cuban Missile Crisis), the ÜberParadox: There is only one Patch available for this Paradox, but this patch in itself creates a problem, as it's World War III and the destruction of the Earth, meaning anything past this point is void as long as the Patch is in place (no event can be altered, no Artifact can be played, and no ID Card condition can be met if it contains a date past 1962). This card still counts as a Paradox but negates any Paradoxes after it until the original Paradox is undone.
The game can be won in one of three ways:
- Return Home: The timeline can be altered so that certain events happen as described on a player's ID card. This represents the idea that each player comes from a different alternate timeline and our "real" history is, for them, an alternate history. Most ID cards depict three key events; two that need to be "altered" to re-create the characters' reality, and a third which happens as it did in "real" history and must remain unaltered (or be restored if it is). If all three conditions are met at the end of the player's turn, the player wins.
- Complete the Mission: Each player has a Mission card detailing three or four Artifacts that can be retrieved through time travel. If a player collects all three (or three out the list of four) of these artifacts at the end of their turn, the player wins the game.
- Gain Power: A player gains cards from playing Patches. A player whose hand contains 10 or more cards at the end of their turn wins the game.
If there are ever 13 or more unpatched paradoxes on the timeline, then the universe is destroyed and all players lose (except Crazy Joe from the Lost Identities expansion).
Expansions and spinoffs
In 2001, the company released Lost Identities, a set of 13 new IDs and one new Mission (The Most Toys) for Chrononauts. Most of these new IDs were created by fans of the game in a submission contest held on Looney Labs' website. Among the new IDs are:
- Crazy Joe: Wins if the universe is destroyed by too many (12 or more) unpatched paradoxes, as he owns a business located outside it.
- Tyberius: A nod to the time travel episodes in the original Star Trek series.
In 2004, Looney Labs released Early American Chrononauts (EAC), a prequel to Chrononauts. Using the same game mechanics, EAC focuses on 32 more events, set from 1770 to 1916. It also introduces "Gadgets," a new card type that can affect the play of the game by allowing an extra turn or blocking other players from stealing Artifacts. Gadgets were retro-added to the third printing of the original game via the addition of two cards originally released as promos (see below).
In 2010, Looney Labs released Back to the Future, a licensed game based on the films of the same name and using a game mechanic similar to Chrononauts.
The Chrononauts and EAC timelines can be interconnected to create a third game, ÜberChrononauts, which requires players to satisfy all THREE winning conditions (though NOT simultaneously) to win the game. Looney Labs had discussed the possibility of offering another expansion pack of IDs that makes use of missions and events from both games to support ÜberChrononauts games, but has since backburnered the project in lieu of The Gore Years expansion described below (though one ID usable only for ÜberChrononauts--Spa Fon--was included with EAC).
Looney Labs has also released several promotional cards that can be added to Chrononauts and EAC games. Six of these are available singly from their site, although four of the six are now included in the regular printing of Chrononauts:
- Really Fast Time Machine
- Teeny Tiny Time Machine
- Jade Statue of Tirade (the broccoli-like "mascot" of Looney Labs)
- German Cake (as in German Chocolate Cake)
The two others still available only for single purchase are:
A seventh card was included in the Looney Labs Holiday Pack 2013:
- Wooly Mammoth
An 11-card expansion pack was released on 4 December 2009, encompassing the years 2000–2008 and is entitled The Gore Years. This set includes 5 new Timeline cards, thus adding a fifth "tier" to the timeline for the original Chrononauts or a ninth "tier" for ÜberChrononauts. It also includes 3 new Patches and 3 new Identities to add to the original or the Über game.
- "Origins Award Winners (2000)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2008-04-15. Retrieved 2007-10-17.