Anachrony is set in the 26th century and features such delights as global cataclysms, toxic atmospheres and time manipulation. It’s basically a mind blowing Sci-Fi movie for 2-4 players that plays out over 1-2 hours. A bold idea from a bold publisher. Mindclash games have developed a reputation for deeply thematic, immersive games of a heavyweight nature. That description fits Anachrony down to a tee.
What’s the deal with Anachrony Essential Edition?
I think it’s important to mention at this point that Mindclash have changed their product structure for Anachrony. The original Base Box and the Exosuit Commander pack will no longer be available at retail and are replaced with:
Anachrony Essential Edition. The base game
Classic Expansion Pack. The original 3 modular expansions previously split across the Base Box and Commander Pack.
Exosuit Miniature Pack. Containing 24 55mm miniatures for use in the base game (but no gameplay related content).
The original solo mode for Anachrony is not included in the Essential Edition or Classic Expansion Pack but will be included along with a new solo mode in the Fractures of Time expansion coming to retail soon. What follows is a review of Anachrony Essential Edition only.
Phew, that’s the boring bit over, now on to the good stuff!
The chief mechanism in Anachrony is worker placement. Players have a personal board on which they can construct buildings and super projects. Many of these locations provide new personal worker placement spots while some give ongoing abilities. The main game board hosts the majority of worker placement spots but your poor workers will need a powered exosuit to visit these places. Because no game set in a dystopian future would be complete without a toxic atmosphere eh? Workers in Anachrony come in 4 different classes, engineers, scientists, administrators and genius’.
Some classes may be excluded from certain actions or some may gain greater benefits from them. When a worker is assigned to an action they return from their work at the end of the round all tired out, awww. To use these sleepy workers again you’ll need to spend an action to wake them. Using an Exosuit will require powering it up before the round with a resource known as Power Cores.
To explain more about Anachrony gameplay I’ll need to briefly dive a bit deeper into its theme and backstory. You see mankind is slowly recovering from the”Day of Purgation” which rendered much of the planet uninhabitable, bummer! Upon investigating the site of this mysterious disaster representatives from the various new ‘paths’ of humanity discovered a wondrous new substance, Neutronium.
That is Heavy Doc
Obviously the different ‘paths’ each built a monument out of the weird stuff, only to discover Neutronium has time manipulating qualities, say whaaaaat!? Now we each have access to a rather handy time rift. No sooner has the fabric of space and time been punctured though and a mysterious message pops out. It suggests that the cataclysm that made Earth into such a dump hasn’t actually happened yet!
The cause of all the trouble is still hurtling toward us even now in meteor form (set to occur between rounds 4 and 5 in fact ). The obscene amount of Neutronium that is due to impact the planet has sent destructive ripples back through the past while still threatening our future! My head hurts, does your head hurt? I’m just going to have a lay down...
...Ok, that’s better. Right so how does this mind bending story translate into gameplay? Well there’s a cataclysm coming for a start, practically that means after round 4 you’ll have less exosuits available as no faction escapes the cataclysm unscathed. On the upside you’ll have the opportunity to score big by evacuating the capital. The central worker places on the main board gain special tiles post apocalypse which boost their effects BUT once they’ve been visited the tiles flip and those places are blocked for good. This provides a sort of count down to the end because when all tiles are flipped its game over man!
The time travel element weaves not just through the story but through the mechanics of the game too. Anachrony has a row of timeline boards, one for each era. At the start of each era, you can choose to receive practically any in-game resource you want. Be it water, Neutronium, a worker, even a fully powered Exosuit. All you have to do is put a little chit on the timeline and it’ll magically appear on your player board. These freebies can give you just the boost you needed to nail this era, but of course nothing’s free.
Items sent back through time have the power to cause paradox’s, collect enough paradox tokens and you’ll find a pesky anomaly opening up on your player board. Anomalies take up valuable building space and threaten negative points during endgame scoring. The safest course then is to send back in later rounds the resources you greedily gobbled up in previous eras, thereby cleaning up the timeline, scoring time travel points and avoiding paradox’s. It’s also possible to remove anomalies that have occurred, but all this temporal housekeeping is expensive and resources are tight. Tough decisions and risky strategies abound!
One thing is clear when you open the box of Anachrony Essential Edition, this is a big, complex game with plenty of moving parts. A veritable sea of cardboard awaits you. Anachrony is a table hog in the best possible way! The art that adorns all this content is subtle but evocative. The deeper you look the more interesting it is, there’s incredible detail everywhere you look. The quality of all the components from the cards to the cubes is phenomenal. The exosuits tiles can be upgraded to 55mm miniatures by buying the separate Miniatures Pack but the tiles are fit for purpose and keep the cost of the Essential Edition low.
Worker placement has to be one of the most widely used mechanisms in modern gaming. It’s been tweaked and twisted and moulded into barely recognisable forms over the years. But making us fight over limited actions with our finite supply of little wood, plastic or cardboard minions is a staple of the hobby game catalogue. Anachrony, for me, is the pinnacle of this wonderful mechanism. Everything it does is elegant, streamlined, deeply thematic and crunchy!
That's not how Time Travel Works
The 2 tiered placement spots and 4 classes of workers make the level of strategising and preplanning needed much higher than average. Hell just deciding how many exosuits to power up for each era is an agony of decision making. Along with the sleep/wake mechanism and the phenomenal amount of buildings that change each game, Anachrony is a gloriously complex and heavy experience.
One of the most thematic games I’ve played, the way time travel weaves through the story and the mechanics is truly immersive. The impending cataclysm and how it effects gameplay manages to make an already tight game even more tense and engaging as it approaches the end. The fact you can make resources appear from thin air is so tempting but the price you pay for these ‘freebies’ gets exponentially more dangerous. Efficiently cleaning up the timeline as you go can ensure you optimise your victory points, but equally using the system mercilessly for a big payoff and taking any consequences on the chin could also be the winning strategy! Anachrony doesn’t hand you a clear route to victory, instead it offers many options and rewards you for efficient use of your workers as you pursue your chosen path.
As you can probably tell I like Anachrony a lot! I can’t fault the gameplay at all. That’s not to say I didn’t have any issues with the Essential Edition though. While I understand and appreciate separating the base game, miniatures and expansion modules into different boxes to keep the cost down, personally I think not including the solo mode was a mistake.
For the type of gamer Anachrony appeals to I think many would feel that a solo option with the base game is indeed ‘Essential’! I was certainly disappointed. I have the base game, Classic expansions and miniatures and yet I’m still waiting to get hold of even more content before I can play solo. Although not a deal breaker it’s a shame, especially as decent Automa’s have become more and more commonplace in quality base games.
Another slight issue I had was with the rule book. I had to read this thing so many times before I started to get a hang of the gameplay. Now I know it’s a complex game, but the sheer scale of terminology was mind boggling. Breakthrough tiles and path markers, warp tokens and focus markers, morale trackers and recruit pool cards. There’s so many unique terms to learn and It tended to deep dive into each aspect before moving on to another. Nothing stuck in my brain before I had a more generalised overview which i could only get by reading the whole thing. Maybe it’s me or maybe it was the complexity of the game but I found learning Anachrony hard work. My advice? Watch a tutorial before diving into the rulebook.
Time Warp Again
Lack of solo and traumatic learning process aside, Anachrony Essential Edition is without doubt one of the best games I’ve played in the last year. I mean it is a complex game with a ton of setup, I have to warn you of that. But the depth of strategy required by the multi-tiered worker system is delicious. The unique, mind bending and consequence rich time warp mechanism is intoxicatingly fresh!
It’s a tight game where you’ll never get to do everything you want. The great cataclysm halfway through makes the endgame even tighter and underscores the importance of that customised engine of building tiles you’ve built up through the early rounds. It reminds me a little of Wingspans diminishing action cube situation where you’re left thinking “argh if only I had 1 or 2 more moves!” The result is a strong desire to try again, tweaking your tactics to get the epic payoff you felt so close to last time.
The replayability with Anachrony is huge. With 4 different factions, asymmetrical dual sided player boards, multiple leader cards, 78 building and super project tiles and random recruit and mine pool cards every round each game will be considerably different to the last. Mindclash did not skimp on replayability. In fact they didn’t skimp on anything to do with Anachrony, the game is a feast for the eyes and the grey matter!
So there we are, if you fancy something heavy and challenging with deep ties between the theme and gameplay I can’t recommend Anachrony Essential Edition enough. If you want a game with enough components to sink a battleship and a unique mechanism you’ve probably never experienced before you need to try this game. If you want to enter the cardboard nirvana of euro games but weep at the thought of farming, gardening or fishing simulations... my friends... try Anachrony NOW!!