Chrononauts: The Gore Years [Review]

Chrononauts: The Gore Years is an expansion to the card game of time-traveling paradoxes, grand larceny and general tomfoolery, Chrononauts. The wonderful hippies at Looney Labs have updated their popular card game to include major events from the past decade. As with the original game, players take turns changing history at will by affecting major world events. Each player acts as a different time-traveler attempting to complete one of several tasks: making sure that his personal timeline is the correct one, stealing the right historical objects to complete an assigned mission, or fixing all the holes in time she can find. Adding events leading up to the 2008 United States Presidential election gives a boost to the game’s story-telling value and current events interaction.

The Gore Years is not the hippie pipe dream you might expect from Looney Labs. To be honest, there was a part of me that fully expected the timeline to turn into some kind of eco-friendly utopia where hippies and fuzzy animals can romp, play and eat wheat grass together. Andy Looney and his fellow designers avoided that stereotype deftly with their re-imagining of events and created a fairly plausible alternate timeline that fits nicely with the previous incarnation of the game. It is extremely difficult to create alternate history when you are living in the midst of the very events you write about. Looney Labs has done an admirable job of creating the necessary plausibility without losing their sense of humor or purpose.

Chrononauts is the sort of game that quickly becomes a complete mess in the best way. In each version of the game, a timeline of actual historic events is laid out on the table in a grid denoted by numbers on the cards themselves. Most of these cards are called Ripplepoints. These events are basically consequences of the other type of event, the Linchpin. Linchpins are the cause to the Ripplepoint’s effect – if X, then Y. Half of the game in Chrononauts is making sure major historical events agree with the timeline listed on each player’s ID card. Each card is different and represents a time traveler from an alternate timeline. Some create subtle changes and others, like the intergalactic space cockroach Squa Tront, simply want the world to end sometime around 1962. Cards can be played to flip Linchpins, changing the outcome of a major world event. This, in turn, affects Ripplepoints and creates Paradoxes and holes in the space-time continuum. This is bad – thirteen of these and the universe ends, game over, no one wins. Luckily, there are the Patches that fix history and restore it to its former (or never-was) glory.

Chrononauts is, essentially, a giant game of What-If. What if the Lusitania wasn’t sunk? What if Hitler was killed before the 1936 Olympics? What if Lincoln wasn’t assassinated? Looney Labs has taken these many historic events and created their own plausible version of history. If Lincoln is merely wounded, he is impeached rather than Andrew Johnson. If Hitler is killed, Germany stays a productive member of the world’s stage and Poland hosts the 1944 Olympics. The Lusitania arriving safely keeps the US out of World War I. These events shaped our history and if they change, so does our entire world. Chrononauts grabs that concept and runs with it.

The Gore Years continues the game with surprising aplomb, not shying away from controversial topics. The two Linchpins included in the set are 2000: George W. Bush Wins Presidency and 2001: World Trade Center Destroyed. Clearly, these two events are among, if not the most important in the United States over the past ten years. The Ripplepoints are 2002: War Continues in Afghanistan, 2003: Saddam Hussein Captured and 2008: First Black President Elected. Again, these are significant events without question. Playing our What-If game can keep those three things from happening, however. If we get to 2000: Al Gore Wins Presidency, Iraq is never invaded, so Saddam Hussein does not get captured in 2003 and Barack Obama is not elected President in 2008. If we find 2001: Hijackings Thwarted, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq never happen.

Lest we think that Looney Labs has ignored the reality of our world, the Patches to fix our Paradoxes contain grim alternatives. Al-Qaeda did not give up after being thwarted on September 11 and successfully destroys the Statue of Liberty in 2002. In 2003, our search for Bin-Laden comes to fruition and he is captured on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In 2008, Sarah Palin is elected President of the Untied States over Gore’s VP, Joe Lieberman. Wait – let me check that one again. Yep, that’s right: Sarah Palin elected President in 2008. Looney’s reasoning is that she comes to the national spotlight in John McCain’s failed 2004 campaign against incumbent Al Gore. This is actually my only issue with the new set. Sarah Palin was not elected governor of Alaska until November of 2006. In 2004, the limit of her experience was being mayor of Wasilla, Alaska and Chair of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. The idea that she would rise to prominence prior to her stint as Alaska’s governor is a far stretch. I understand the need for a timely name to use in the game, but Palin simply does not fit the timeline.

My kvetching about Gov. Palin aside, Chrononauts: The Gore Years is a great addition to Chrononauts. It continues the historical trends of the previous game smoothly and logically (mostly), and can be easily integrated into the original game and ÜberChrononauts as well. In another ten years we will surely see continued expansion dealing with the current economic crisis and the future robot wars. That is, unless Squa Tront gets his way. If 1962 is giving him trouble, 2012 is right around the corner. Here’s wishing all of us the best of luck.

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