Game Night Verdicts #63 – Time Bomb Evolution

Yusuke Sato’s “Time Bomb Evolution” is a small game with simple rules. At a glance, you might be vaguely reminded of Three-card Monte. Here, too, you have to flip over a card lying in front of someone else. You hope to reveal the right card face in order to get closer to winning the game.

However, there are two noteable differences. Time Bomb Evolution pits two teams of players against each other. One side tries to uncover cards with a green tick on it. The other team either tries to prevent this long enough, or to get four cards of any other colour flipped over. If it is not your turn, you try to persuade others to make the supposedly “right” decision of turning over one card and not another. Time Bomb Evolution thus quickly positions itself in the genre of “social deduction games” also known as games that thrive on misleading other players with clever lies, half-truths and statistics… the actual truth. Pure souls might describe this kind of play as lying and deceiving; more mature connoisseurs refer to it as “cheating” and “screwing each other over”.

The far bigger and more entertaining difference, however, is that each player has their cards face down in front of them. Although you are allowed to see which symbols or colours are underneath, their position is randomized. Even if you know there’s green tick among your cards, it’s impossible to say which card it is.

This incomplete access to information shapes the game. If you’re only looking for a werewolf variant in which you can’t be eliminated, you will probably already be happy with Don’t Mess with Cthulhu. After all, both are based on the same design by Yusuke Sato.

Card colours show your affiliation

Time Bomb Evolution, on the other hand, is a somewhat different beast. Instead of drawing on the psychological pressure of being lied to, information in Time Bomb Evolution is scattered. Players are invited to think through their decisions deeply. It’s not just about turning over the right card. The colours you end up revealing also play a role. Those without a green tick will trigger effects. Some colours become more dangerous than others over time. Provided you have already internalised the basics of social deduction games, this is an appealing twist to the formula.

Like every game of its genre, the rulebook only teaches you the game’s formal structures (such as turn flow, win condition, card effects, etc.). The heart of the game must be learned and explored over several plays. First you need to understand how information is communicated in this group, and what kind of conclusions you can draw from observing each other. You need to figure out what type of information is relevant in this group, and is not. You also need to learn when someone at the table is trustworthy, and when they’re not. Is it the body language you should pay attention to? Is it how they reveal something about their cards? Is their tell something else altogether?

The most common question new players ask at the start of game of Time Bomb Evolution is: “How am I supposed to know which card to turn over?” It’s the first challenge they’re faced with in the game. After a few plays however, they realise that playing the game is all about how to approach an answer to this question. While the game is build on top of a logic puzzle (“Who might have which card?”), play itself is about how you try to get to an answer.

A comparatively small number of rules repeatedly create situation you can deduce a lot of decision-relevant information from. Picking up on the right tells and making use of them is how Time Bomb Evolution gives you its greatest sense of achievement. However, it also reveals that its design philosophy might differ from that of your group.

You can cut the tension with a wire-cutter

If you expect indisputable facts and air-tight logical deductions in this game, you will be disappointed. You must always make decisions based on incomplete and often ambiguous information. But to dismiss Time Bomb Evolution as a shallow party game does the game an injustice. Time Bomb Evolution is often more nuanced and occasionally pleasantly clever. If you are willing to open yourself up to it, you can expect a lot of adrenaline and exhilaration. Without every game ending in a simplistic “No, I’m not lying – ha, I lied to you after all” banter.

Time Bomb Evolution is – as the name suggests – an evolution of the original Time Bomb. It’s theme is catchy, its graphics diverse and its mechanics more subtle than those of its predecessor. But to unfold its potential, it needs a group that is willing to observe each other over multiple play and – like the symbol of logical deduction himself: Sherlock Holmes – they need to draw clever conclusions from the smallest of details.

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