It’s so great to see so many properties from my childhood getting the strategy board game treatment. Back to the Future Dice Through Time is a great example of a modern hobby board game based on a pop culture licence that’s actually good.
I’m so glad we now live in a time when licenced board games are actually worth playing. I’m also impressed to find a new and interesting way to represent time travel in a board game.
Disclosure: Thanks to Ravensburger for sending me a review copy of this Back to the Future board game. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What do you get with the cooperative game Back to the Future Dice Through Time?
Back to the Future Dice Through Time was designed by Ken Franklin, Chris Leder and Kevin Rodgers. It was published in 2020 by Ravensburger. One play of this dice driven cooperative game takes about an hour or longer depending on what difficulty you decide to play at.
Dice Through Time is a cooperative game where two to four players take on the role of Marty and Doc each starting in a different timeline. The players are working together to stop Biff who has stolen the DeLorean and messed with the timeline for his own profit. They do this by travelling through time, completing events to earn items and then returning those items to the proper place and time.
To get a look at the components in this time travel board game be sure to check out our Back to the Future Dice Through Time Unboxing Video on Youtube.
Upon opening the box the first thing you see is the backside of the game board which has a letter from Doc Brown introducing the premise of the game. This board is protected by shrink wrap, something you don’t see often for boards. It is a very colourful four-panel mounted board showing four different time periods with five locations in each. There are spots for cards, tokens and a time track.
There is also a shrink-wrapped set of two punch boards. One sheet contains clock face paradox tokens and four Biff standees. The other has a DeLorean steering wheel first player marker, an OUTATIME licence plate time tracker and a bunch of two-sided Einstein tokens. Both are well cut with artwork that is not actually from the movies but rather looks more like icons. Each and every piece also has copywrite information on it, something I thought seemed a bit ridiculous.
There are four player boards in four colours, one for each player. These summarise the rules of the game and have a spot for placing item cards once you collect them. To go with these, there are small plastic DeLorean car figures in each of the player colours. Finally, each player gets a set of four custom dice in their colour.
The dice sides have symbols on them including Doc Brown’s head, a first, a wrench, an arrow, a flux capacitor and a lightning bolt. It’s worth noting the designs on the dice are printed, rather than etched and inked. This could mean that the symbols may wear off with repeated use, but I think it would take a lot of play for that to become an issue.
You will also find a small baggie of standees for the Biff tokens and for the OUTATIME marker.
Finally, there is a significant deck of cards. There are item cards for each of the four time periods in the game as well as a deck of event cards. Matching with the other components, none of these feature any artwork or stills from the movies. Everything is rather abstract and again reminds me of icons.
All of this fits in a rather functional bright orange plastic box insert that has a spot for everything that comes with the game.
How does a game of Back to the Future Dice Through Time play?
A game of Back to the Future Dice Through Time starts by laying out the board and putting a Biff standee on each Biff starting location. There’s one for each of the four time periods shown on the board. The events are shuffled and placed into their spot on the board. The Einstein tokens are flipped down and randomized and place beside the board along with the paradox tokens.
Players then select a colour and take the player board, the dice, and the DeLorean figure in that colour. They place their DeLorean on the clock tower space in their starting time period.
Players decide on a difficulty ranging from Science Experiment (beginner) to Nobody Calls Me Chicken (insane) and take the appropriate number of item cards for each time period and shuffle them and place them beside the board. The start player is the player who has so far travelled the most through time (the oldest).
At the start of each turn, a number of event cards are drawn based on the number of players. Some of these are Special Events which are read out loud and cause an in-game effect for the entire next turn. Most are events that happened in the three back to the future movies. Each regular event has a time and a location where they occurred. They also have a symbol, or two, in the top corner. As each card is drawn it gets placed on the appropriate location on the board. If an event has a Biff symbol on it, the Biff standee in that time period moves to the location of that event.
Once all events are played, players roll their dice and then take turns spending their dice to do actions.
The actions players can take include:
Flux Capacitors – Spend to move to the same location in any other year.
Arrow – Spend to move to any location in the same year.
Fist – Spend to move Biff from your current location to any other location in the same year.
Lightning – Spend to re-roll any number of other dice.
Doc Brown – Spend to remove two paradox tokens from anywhere on the board.
Wrench – Spend to use as any icon for an event.
Mr. Fusion – Spend two dice with the same icon to get any other icon.
Movement – Spend any die with any icon on it to move one space in the current year.
Complete An Event – Spend dice matching the symbols on an event card at the location where your DeLorean is, as long as Biff isn’t at that location. When an event is completed the player draws an item card from that time period. Players can only hold two items at a time.
Return An Item – Return an item to its proper location and time period, as long as that location is empty (no events, no Biff). As a reward, move the OUTATIME marker back one space and flip over an Einstein token. These tokens each show one of the die symbols and can be spent by any player on this or a later turn.
Ripple A Die – Leave a die on the space you are on. That die can now be used by any other player in the same location during that year or any later year.
Once a player has completed their actions, the OUTATIME marker advances. It moves one spot to the right for every event in the year that has the most events, plus one more for every paradox token in that year. If the OUTATIME marker hits the end of the track the players lose. After moving the OUTATIME marker, players add one paradox token to every location in the year that caused the marker to move that has one or more events in it and doesn’t already have a paradox token.
Finally, assuming the players haven’t lost yet, the first player marker is passed to the left.
Play continues until either the game ends due to the OUTATIME marker getting to the end of the track or the players managing to return the last item to its proper location, in which case the players win.
Back to the Future Dice Through Time is a light gateway cooperative time travel board game.
Before I start to share my final thoughts I just want to make sure everyone knows which board game I’m talking about here. The game in question is Back to the Future Dice Through Time from Ravensburger and not Back to the Future Back in Time from Funko Games. What we have here is the same problem we had with Scooby-Doo Escape from the Haunted Mansion, a couple of games released at almost the same time with the same intellectual property and similar names.
To make things worse, both of them are cooperative games and both feature custom dice. I have to admit when I asked to review this particular game from Ravensburger I thought I was getting the other one since I knew Ravensburger did a lot of work with Prospero Hall last year and that other game is designed by Prospero Hall.
This particular Back to the Future game, the one I am reviewing right here, is much lighter and much more of a gateway game. Which means it is probably the better choice for younger and more casual players.
Back to the Future Dice Through Time was surprisingly simple to learn and get set up. The rules are short enough that I could see bringing this game home, gathering your family around the table and learning to play together right out of the box. The mechanics are easy to pick up, with my kids grasping them pretty much right away.
The simple gameplay is additionally facilitated by a very clear system of iconography that we found you get used to very quickly. I will admit I wish the icons on the cards were a bit bigger but they do work as they are even with my ageing eyes.
The neatest bit in this game is the way the designers have incorporated the time travel theme. I thought the ripple mechanic was really brilliant, where a character can leave something in the past so that themselves or any other player can use it on a later turn as long as they are in the same location and in the same year or later. The paradox rules also work pretty well where if you let too many events happen in one year it can be catastrophic and you find you are hoping to roll Doc Brown results on your dice to fix the mess. Finally, there’s a big penalty if two players end up at the same location in the same time period. Remember all the players are playing the same characters, Doc and Marty, from different time periods. Meeting yourself during time travel advances that OUTATIME token two spots.
Unfortunately, those are really the only places that the theme really sticks out. The rest of the game is very abstract with each location on the board having three almost identical cards representing the same event with the only difference being what icons are needed to defeat it and if it calls Biff to that spot or not. While these are all iconic scenes from the movies, there isn’t really anything other than the icon like graphics and title to tie them to the movie. There’s no flavour text or anything like that. There’s really not a lot here that says Back to the Future to me besides the names for things and the icons used.
Another complaint I have with this game is a lack of variety. After a handful of plays you will have seen every special event and every regular event for each time period and every game of Dice Through Time starts to feel the same. You are solving the same events with the same dice icons to get the same items to return them to the same places. Now that’s not to say that every game plays out identically. The order of the event cards, which items are in play each game, the vagaries of the dice and which Einstein tokens get flipped does add randomness and variability to each game, but we found every game had the same feel.
We had fun playing Back to the Future Dice Through Time. It’s a solid game but much lighter than I expected. This lightness did mean that the game was more accessible to kids and ended up being a good game to play with the whole family. I do have to say my one kid liked it more than the other. My youngest felt that there was too much coordination and talking required each turn.
I was impressed by some of the cool time travel mechanics in Dice Through Time but did find the connection to the Back to the Future licence a bit weak. It didn’t particularly feel like I was taking on the role of Doc and Marty and thwarting Biff. Instead, I was just rolling dice, trying to match symbols and bringing cards to specific spots on the board. My biggest worry with this game is its long term replayability. Even after only a handful of games, we found that the game was starting to feel repetitive. What I do think is that this is a solid gateway cooperative game, one that is great for families especially with kids who don’t mind repetition but rather embrace it.
I think for most groups this one is going to be a try before you buy, though if you have a family that are huge Back to the Future fans you may want to take a chance and grab Back to the Future Dice Through Time.
In addition to two rather similar Back to the Future games coming out this past year, including Back to the Future: Dice Through Time, there have been more than ten different Back to the Future board games published over the years. How many of those have you played and what’s your favourite? Let us know in the comments!