Trying to plan a Time Heist

I can pinpoint the exact moment I came up with the idea for Time Heist, my upcoming game about stealing a time travel machine with the help of your future selves.

It was when Ant Man/Scott Lang first said the words ‘time heist’ in Avengers: Endgame.

Sure, I took *a lot of other things* away from that film (don’t get me started on Tony Stark not choosing to undo the first snap at the point it happened but instead allow those 5 years of horror to stand). But what really stuck around was the abstract concept a ‘time heist’.

The game’s gone through a lot of iterations, more so than anything else I’ve written to date. It started as a game where you rolled all your dice in advance, then swapping dice in and out to change the results of rolls (thanks to future selves either providing aid or deliberately screwing people over). The first playtest had a timeline that stretched around 100 years, with people travelling back in time to become the founders of the Time Force or destroy the creator of the time machine before they could make it, or forward in time to perform sub-heists and become Time Lawyers…

It was a lot to handle as a GM, I’ll say that much!

So, over several months and a series of playtests, the game shifted in various ways. From taking place in one of six random locations to focusing in on an evil version of Tracy Island, from invoking future selves by switching dice to claiming automatic successes, from a mid-game switch from co-operative to competitive to a co-op game with new shady antagonists, from bare-bones mechanics to randomised lockboxes and complication tables for future selves…

I’d say that I’ve play tested Time Heist more than any other game because it came from a feeling I wanted to evoke, rather than something more concrete (like a mechanic I wanted to play with, a very specific setting I wanted to explore, or suchlike). It was that feeling in time-travel stories of success being snatched from the jaws of defeat by a future self dropping into the action, and how the differences in that future self told a story. (As someone who reads the synopses for horror films far more often than I ever watch them, Hypercubes description of a future self’s arm being covered in watches, stolen over and over again from the body of someone they’ve repeatedly killed, signalling quite how long they’ve been there and what they’ve done, has always stuck with me.)

And it’s that kind of thing I’ve been trying to chase. It’s also a thing that’s *really* hard to try and create the right conditions for. But when it’s worked in games – someone falling back into storage boxes, getting covered in the confetti they saw strewn over themselves beforehand; a character diving to protect another, getting the stab injury that causes the bloodstained shirt previously witnessed; a failed attack in a climactic fight resulting in the damaging of a parachute that was malfunctioning at the very beginning of the game – it’s felt brilliant.

I’ll admit that I’m more nervous about releasing Time Heist than (I think) any other game I’ve written so far, because of the instant reaction the concept gets, and how excited people have been by it. And naturally I hope it lives up to that. That’s why I’m taking a few final passes at writing it, so I’m really confident it sets people up as best as possible for a really fun game. As much as I’m nervous, I’m excited to.

(I still think the best writing in the entire game might be the damn tagline.)

Credit to Gerald McDermott for the beautiful artwork for Time Heist – check out his work here:

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