August 31, 2006

Hands On: Tempus

Tempus.8.2.06.jpgPeople have likened Tempus [Funagain] to a simplified version of a civilization style game - namely, the game Advanced Civilization. We like to think the game falls in line with this other analogy: Tempus is to Civilization, as stuffed French toast (at I-Hop) is to a traditional French breakfast.

Tempus wraps a sugary crepe around the complexities of a social evolution and conquest game like Civilization, and pours a gobs of syrup on top so that anyone will give it a try. In fact, Tempus simplifies so much into a sweet gooey essence that a lot of the inspired flavor is lost. Although the soul of the game is still anchored in the dynamics of growing societies, almost nothing in the gameplay or in the pieces sells the feeling of social evolution. Don't get us wrong - the game definitely satisfies, but there's very little to instill a feeling that you're leading a society out of caves, through feudalism, into the age of exploration and finally the modern era.

Tempus does have some mechanics of technological progression, but only in the sense that the entire world's technology level is slowly evolving as a whole. Each turn begins with the world technology meter going up one 'age' (writing then farming, etc), which increases the power of each of the payer's actions (increased movement distance, increased number of actions players can make, increased population growth, etc). Players can gain a technological advantage over their competitors, but for only one turn at a time. At the end of the turn everyone catches up with each other, and the playing field is once again leveled.

That brief technological edge is determined at the start of each turn. The game has a linear technology track, and each spot on that track is tied to a resource type on the game board. Those players who start the turn with the most units occupying that resource type will gain a technological boost - for one turn their level of technology is actually the next level on the progression track. Depending on the technology age, this could give them a short boost to hand size, unit stacking limit, movement distances, etc. At the end of the turn the track is normalized (everyone is the same technology level again), the next technology resource type is checked, and a new technology advantage is given.

Tempus.Session.8.31.06.jpgThe resources required for the progression of society varied greatly in human history, and this is well reflected in Tempus and is an important mechanic of the game. Moving your society into place to adapt and take advantage of the various resources and technological boons will take careful consideration. And even with plans in place, the progression of your civilization never seems the least bit inevitable - an opponent may win the tech race one turn, launching his units over land and sea faster than you can move your tribe, and they might beat you to the resources that you had planned to conquer three turns in the future.

One last thing we'd like to go over is the game cards. Each card has special text that can be played at any time your turn. The cards are mainly boosters to the normal actions a player can take. For example, if a player chooses to Have Babies as one of their turn actions, then the Medicine card can be played to increase the number of units placed. The cards also have a colored background matching the various resources on the board. In this way the cards can also be used to boost the resources accumulated for the technology race, OR to increase the combat strength of your unit when fighting on a space that contains that resource. The multipurpose cards can be very confusing at first, as there are times when you it's confusing if you have to match resource types with the card and the target or not. However, once the state of confusion is broken, the multipurpose aspect becomes a huge strength of the game. Should you use cards to boost the power of a particular action this turn thus increasing your civilization's infrastructure, or do horde them to increase your resources for a technological edge? Or do you save them for stronger defense, or to push an attack into enemy territory?

To us, weighing these decisions is the essence of the civilization game genre. Is Tempus [Funagain] worth it after all of the historical theme and complexity has been stripped bear? So far, we strongly nod yes. Unlike its predecessors, a game of Tempus can easily be wrapped up in an hour to an hour of a half (instead of three to twelve hours), and there's a lot of strength in that. And thanks to Tempus' random board layout, no two games will play the same.

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Posted by Critical Gamers Staff at August 31, 2006 1:40 PM

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