Any Day Now – Back To The Future: The Card Game review

Without doubt, one of the finest movies (there’s a big difference between movies and films) of the 1980s is the mighty Back To The Future. The time-travelling adventures of Marty McFly are forever etched on the minds of a generation of thirty-somethings around the world, myself included.

This year sees the 25th anniversary of Back To The Future (which, of course, also spawned two pretty damn good sequels). While the retro hype machine hasn’t exactly gone into overdrive, there’s been a reissue of the trilogy on Bluray and even some screenings in cinemas of the original movie. Along with that, Looney Labs – creators of Fluxx – have released a licensed card game to tie in with the celebrations.

Many people find Looney Labs games very divisive, ironic for a company that prides itself on an inclusive, friendly attitude. Fluxx is often seen as the main offender, its chaotic rules meaning games can last for minutes of hours with no way of knowing in advance. Back To The Future: The Card Game is based on another of their releases, the time-bending Chrononauts, but how does it stand up to its predecessor?

Where the original was… alright (it’s been damned with faint praise, sorry!) this updated remix cures a few problems and is actually a pretty decent game. It’s also very simple – something that Andrew Looney and his team do well. Each player takes on the persona of a character from the town of Hill Valley – however, they’re not the ones you’d expect. Invariably done to help the game work a little better, you play previously unknown members of the various characters families – second cousins twice removed, that kind of thing. Marty must’ve been too busy making Biff drive into a manure truck…

Whatever character you’re dealt, the winning condition is the same. You each have a set of goals to achieve, some of which may coincide with other players’ ambitions. Laid out before you are a series of 24 cards (in a 6×4 grid) that represent the whole trilogy’s time line from the 1880s to what is now nearly present day.

This review definitely needs pictures, so here's the first - the grid of Linchpins and Ripplepoints.

God I feel old. Not even a hoverboard to show for it either.

Anyway, the grid is made up of these cards, all of which are have different versions of events printed on either side. Depending on the cards you play from your hand, these Linchpins (causes) and Ripplepoints (effects) will flip back and forth, showing fluctuations in the time line – event A will effect event B, which in turn will effect event C. You know what I mean. It’s like a very small-scale Butterfly Effect, causing a hurricane in China when you step on a bug in Bristol.

Here's the ID card, front and back. Don't recall Marlin from the movie? Me neither.

You affect the grid by taking one card from the draw pile then playing one from your hand. This could be an item which stays in front of you, or one off action and Power Action cards. Time Machine and Doubleback cards (normally) allow you to flip a Linchpin, hopefully helping you to victory. This is a game all about time though, so you know that may not happen…

Here's a close-up of a couple of cards. They stay in the same position when you flip them, as shown by their co-ordinates in the top right.

Once you’ve managed to get the cards exactly how you want them (as stated on your character’s ID card), you’ve then got the chance to grab a win. Again, this involves you flipping a card, only now it sees you attempting to un-invent time travel in order to keep everything as you desire. There are five cards on this part of the grid, shuffled at the start of the game. When you attempt to finish the game, you take the top one hoping it’ll say Doc Brown has hung his clock properly (as opposed to slipping off the toilet, having a eureka moment and coming up with the flux capacitor). If you’re unsuccessful, the game goes on with you now racing to try and flip the next card on that pile as your opponents feverishly attempt to disrupt the cards on the time line that will scupper you but allow them to win.

Each grid card has two sides. Here's what happened when Doc Brown met the Libyans...

...and when he remembered to wear his bullet proof vest. Same card, two events.

As with anything to do with time travel, it can get very messy very quickly. Something that you do to help yourself may also aid another player while messing up someone else’s scheming. In turn, your opponents can quickly have both negative and positive points on your objectives. While it initially seems random, with a few plays you should be able to work out (through checking out what they’re moving) the characters they’re playing. Know that and you’ll know what to avoid flipping yourself, coming up with a method that gets your goals met and no-one else’s!

So, highs and lows. On the upside, like many games from Looney Labs, it’s a quick affair with a simple set of rules. Beneath those, though, lies a game that initially appears random and chaotic but actually has a welcome unexpected level of strategy. The theme works incredibly well too; after all, it’s the film about time travel. The only way it could be more thematic is if it came in a DeLorean shaped tin. There’s a few minor downers; you’re not playing with characters from the series, but I understand why – it would have made the game far too complex and unwieldy to play, and if it’s hard to play no-one is going to have fun. Also (and I hate to say it) the fact it’s from Looney Labs may put certain players off. If that’s the case though, tell them to harden up and give this entertaining little game a try. Back To The Future: The Card Game may not change the world (despite the efforts of the characters within) but give it a shot with an open mind and you’ll have fun!

Back To The Future: The Card Game is available now, and will cost you around £10. Designed by Andrew Looney, it’s an evolution of his earlier Chrononauts game system, streamlined and made just that little better. Still not sure? Check out the video right here for a swift run through!

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Any Day Now – Back To The Future: The Card Game review

  1. PinkBatgirl

    I love Chrononauts, I love Back to the Future, this is an absolute must-buy for me!!! ^_^

  2. Despite loving Chrononauts precisely as it is, I also appreciated the streamlining of the core mechanics of Back to the Future.

    Uninventing time travel is a ticker, though. In all the games I’ve played, it’s turned out that anyone trying to flip that lynchpin gets precisely one shot, as everyone wises up to the fact someone’s about to win and does their best to rejigger the timeline. It makes the game go on past the point of enjoyability.

    • idlemichael

      I can see that being an issue as players get more used to playing the game, to be honest – however, as something I don’t play too often, it’s not a bad way to spend some time.

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