Can you prevent the apocalypse? This Didn’t Happen is a cooperative card game where you are adjusting the timeline and trying to prevent the apocalypse.
Correcting the timeline in This Didn’t Happen is all about using your skills of deduction to determine which points in time need to be changed and which need to be protected so that they don’t end up swapping in a cascade effect and causing more harm than good.
Disclosure: Thanks to Island of Bees for sending us a preview copy of This Didn’t Happen to check out.
What is the card game This Didn’t Happen all about?
This Didn’t Happen was designed by John Heffernan, an indie game designer out of Calgary, Alberta here in Canada. It features artwork from Zé Miguel. John plans to launch a Kickstarter in early 2022 for This Didn’t Happen and will be printing the game under his own company Island of Bees if it hits its funding target.
(EDIT: The Kickstarter is now live. You can check it out HERE.)
This Didn’t Happen plays one to four players with games taking anywhere from as little as fifteen minutes (if you really mess up the time stream) to about an hour.
Please be aware that this preview is based on a prototype version of This Didn’t Happen. While the game has been fully developed and playtested, it is possible the components and rules could change by the time the game is published.
This Didn’t Happen is a cooperative card game where you take on the role of time travellers trying to stop The Apocalypse. This is done by travelling through the timeline which is spread over three time periods, the medieval, the great war and the lunar eras. Players will need to work together to research the timeline, collect resources and intervene during key events in order to shift things in their favour. Be careful though, altering the timeline can cause a cascade of changes and it’s very easy to do more harm than good.
Normally this is where I would point you to an unboxing video to check out the components for This Didn’t Happen, but due to the fact that this game is a prototype and there’s a chance that things like artwork, iconography and component quality could change, we skipped doing a video for this game.
My prototype copy of This Didn’t Happen came shipped in a tuck box and consisted of lots of two-sided cards. These cards are quite glossy and slippery which actually caused some problems during play with cards “spinning” on the table and revealing what is meant to be hidden information. I am pretty sure this is just due to the fact it’s a prototype and I do hope it will be improved in the final version.
In the box I got cards for the three different timelines, twelve timeline cards and three “end of era” cards, four character cards and four character mode cards to go with them, a time machine card and a health tracker for it, plus a set of apocalypse cards, some event cards and a small deck of paradox cards.
The artwork here is solid, as is the iconography, though it takes a bit to figure out exactly how you are meant to put these cards together when using them. We never did figure out how you were supposed to put resources cards onto timeline piles.
The rulebook for the game shipped separately and is still a work in progress. As it exists now I found it to be way longer and more detailed than it needs to be and could really use some editing for clarity and conciseness. The format is a bit odd as well, being more like a sample chapter from a novel than a board game rulebook. This is likely due to the game being a prototype at this point.
It’s going to take a couple of reads to figure out exactly how to play and having the game set up in front of you will help, as will heading to the Island of Bees website and looking at the graphics and tutorials they have available there.
How do you play This Didn’t Happen?
The first hurdle to playing This Didn’t Happen is setting up the game. It is quite fiddly.
First, you separate all the decks and shuffle them, then you build the timeline. You do this by taking all of the cards for each era and making a row of cards five spaces long with each space consisting of two cards stacked on top of each other in a heart-shaped pattern. Cards should be placed so that the black icons are showing and the red are hidden. Do this for all three eras and you will be left with two cards per era that aren’t used (an easy way to add replayability to the game).
Next, you shuffle each Eras’ three End of Era cards and draw and place one at the end of each era, black symbols up.
Determine the Apocalypse you will be facing by randomly selecting two Apocalypse cards and placing them so the artwork is upright. It’s recommended you use the cards “The Hungry” and “Monster” for your first game. Other combinations have rules that change some aspects of how the game is played, making it harder for the players.
Players each pick a character to play and choose which side of the character card they will start with. Each card presents a female-presenting version of the character and a male-presenting version of the character, each of which features different skills and a unique ability. Players also place their Mode card, which can be tucked under the character card in two ways. This Mode card contains more skills and which side is chosen will affect the event phase of the game. When a character is injured this mode card is flipped and the character loses one skill.
Next, you place the Time Machine on the first card in the lunar timeline, with a Health Tracker card under it showing the right damage level (you start at 8 for one player and move it -2 for each additional player). You are then meant to place the character cards with their mode cards tucked underneath on top of this card which is already stacked on top of a two-card timeline tile in the lunar era.
I don’t suggest actually doing this. Instead, grab some meeple, pawns or some other marker from another game to represent where your characters are. All of this stacking of cards is just too fiddly and it’s far too easy to displace a card revealing hidden information. This only gets worse when you start playing as you will be putting cards under and over those timeline card piles.
Finally, you shuffle the event deck, the paradox deck and the three resource decks, which are placed at the end of each appropriate timeline.
The goal in a game of This Didn’t Happen is to prevent The Apocalypse. Each two-card Apocalypse combination provides a set of five red symbols on it. It’s your job to manipulate the timeline by intervening in some areas while protecting others in order to get those five symbols to show up. You do this by collecting resources and spending them at specific spots on the timeline. First, you are going to have to research to find out what cards you need to alter, and which cards you need to protect, and then you need to actually change the timeline. When this happens you swap the cards on the timeline and new, red symbols will be showing.
Here’s the interesting bit, for every card in the future from the card you altered, you now have to see if those red symbols cause those later cards to be altered as well. Going card by card you keep looking back to see if any of the symbols on it match any already revealed red symbols, as more cards flip more red symbols show up causing even more cards to potentially flip.
If you manage to get all of the symbols on the Apocalypse cards showing in red, you win… but only if you didn’t ruin the timeline by doing so. Each of the End of Era cards shows two symbols on them, and if its ever the case that there are no black versions of those symbols left in that era, these cards flip, creating new “end of an era apocalypses”.
So the game is all about deducing which cards to alter, which to leave alone, and which you need to protect.
All of this is done through a number of phases starting with the Travel Through Time Phase. Here players, in order of their position on the timeline, either move from the Time Machine to any point in the timeline, move from any point on the timeline back to the Time Machine or stay where they are.
Next is the action phase, where each player takes one action. Actions include Gathering Resources by drawing a resource card, doing Research by looking at the red symbols on one covered card at any point in that era’s timeline previous to where your character is, Resting (if you are injured) by flipping your Mode card, Caching resources for other characters by stashing cards to send them to players who are further along in the timeline, Intervening in current events by spending resources to flip the cards on the timeline to a new altered state, Protecting time by placing resources on your spot on the timeline thus making it harder to have that spot altered on a later turn by a chain reaction or committing Temporal Suicide (to be renamed to Temporal Sacrifice in the final version of the game) which lets you revert a previous Intervention or Protection action.
Once everyone has taken an action an Event card is drawn for each player. Each Event card features three different events, one for each era. Players read off the event for the era they are in and do whatever the card says. Most of these will have you checking your Character card, their Mode card, and any Resources you have, to see if you have specific symbols in play. Events can be good or bad. Some Events will cause you to draw a Paradox card.
Paradox Cards are permanent cards that affect the gameplay in some negative way for all of the players. While only one of these can be in play each turn, if you ever have more than one paradox happen, you randomize which is in effect each turn.
After the event phase everyone “Experiences History” which is just a fancy way of saying look under the card you are standing on to see the hidden red symbols. If a Character or the Time Machine is either in the Apocalypse or in an Apocalyptic End of Era during this phase they take damage. If the Time Machine is destroyed no one can travel through time and just progress through time in the next phase each turn.
Finally, everyone moves through time. Each player and the time machine moves one space down the timeline towards the End of Era cards.
There are some other rules I need to cover that didn’t really fit in the above overview.
Each character can only hold three Resources, each of these will give the character symbols they can use for Events as well as being potentially used to Influence or Protect the timeline. Many Resource cards also have additional effects that are beneficial to the players.
Once a spot on the timeline is altered due to a chain reaction, there is no way to turn it back. What’s done is done. Also, there is a strong memory element to this game. When you experience the timeline or perform the Research action, you get to look at the buried red symbols under a card but then you cover them back up again before the end of the round.
If your character is on the timeline when a card gets altered by a chain reaction, that affects their birth and they flip their character card to the other side. A character’s Mode can be changed at any time during the action phase. This means you have to decide your Mode before you see your Event card for that turn.
Each character has two special game-breaking effects. These include things like moving around the timeline without the time machine by damaging yourself, drawing two event cards and picking which one you want to happen, and more.
I realize this is a lot to take in and that’s with me trying to keep things high level. This game is quite fiddly and that applies to how the mechanics work as well as the actual physical manipulation of the components.
In general, you start off a game of This Didn’t Happen by heading out, collecting resources, and experiencing the timeline looking for the right red symbols to match your Apocalypse Card combo. Once you’ve found these symbols you have to figure out which cards you have to protect so as to not cause a negative chain reaction. Once this deduction is done it’s time to make sure you have the resources you need, get people onto the right spots in the timeline and start shoring up the events you don’t want to change. Then, once you think you have everything set up right, you start affecting the timeline one card at a time and hope you didn’t miss anything. While that’s happening you will be dealing with all kinds of events and hoping the time machine doesn’t blow up along the way.
Is This Didn’t Happen worth checking out?
I have to start by saying that learning to play This Didn’t Happen was rough.
As mentioned earlier, the rulebook format is rather strange, it feels more like reading a short textbook than a board game rulebook, and it could really use an edit for succinctness and clarity. Normally I can read a rulebook on its own and then later set up the game and just start playing. In this case, just reading the rules didn’t really get how the game works across. It wasn’t until we sat down and started playing that any of it really made sense. That first game involved a lot of rules referencing and while everything we were looking for was in the book it wasn’t always easy to find.
Even when we did finally figure out how the game played it took a few more plays to figure out what we were supposed to do with these mechanics to have any chance at all of winning. Our first game was amusingly quick, as we started off spread across the timeline and when one player in the Medieval era saw one symbol we needed, we then quickly did everything we could to alter that timeline card. Once we made that one change, almost every single card after that was affected and we ended up with not just the big apocalypse not being stopped but three new apocalypses one at the end of each era. The total playtime for that first game was probably around fifteen minutes.
It took a few more plays before we really started to grok the deduction aspects of this game. This Didn’t Happen is not a game about jumping around, changing things and seeing what happens. This is a game about careful research, memory and figuring out exactly what you need to change and what you have to make sure doesn’t change. It was once we discovered that key aspect of play that the game began to be quite fun.
Now that we know how the game should be played, it’s much easier for me to introduce the game to new players, and for setting expectations before we start playing. Starting out by letting players know this is a deduction and memory game, with some interesting random elements, and that this is not a game about playing around and seeing what happens, sets everyone up for a more pleasant experience.
My biggest complaint about This Didn’t Happen is just how fiddly everything is. Even the turn order feels fiddly. Having to have everyone travel, then everyone do an action, then each deal with Events, etc. It just feels awkward. It seems like it would be much easier to have each player go through the phases in turn, so they travel, take an action, deal with an event, experience time and then move forward in time, then the next player goes. Or perhaps combine the movement and action phases. Maybe it’s just me, and I’m used to players playing through all phases of a round before the next player acts, but for whatever reason, it just feels odd in this game.
We also thought that the fact that you have to choose your Mode in the Action Phase, when it affects the Event Phase, was a little odd, at least at first. Once we started to see how resources give you more skill symbols, the option to shift your Mode during the Action Phase made more sense, and I guess it’s thematic that you wouldn’t know what events are coming.
As mentioned earlier, a lot of the fiddliness comes from the components themselves. Even the way you stack cards in this game, while effective as a way to show information, feels unusual and strange. Then there’s the way you have to stack multiple cards at one location which could include two timeline cards, a character card with their mode card, the time machine with its health card, plus any number of resource cards stacked either below the timeline cards or on top of them.
A chunk of this fiddliness is easily fixed by using some form of counter to represent where your character is on the timeline, and that’s even suggested in the rules. To me, it seems odd that something that makes that big of an impact on the gameplay isn’t included with the game. This is something that I hope comes out during the Kickstarter, maybe as a stretch goal or something.
Jumping back to that memory element, this is one aspect of This Didn’t Happen that I’m not a huge fan of, but one that is easily house ruled. While I understand that it makes sense thematically for you to forget your research or forget what happened to you in the past, adding a memory element to what’s already a difficult puzzle can be too much, especially for younger players. I recommend playing without this rule while players are learning to play the game, only introducing it once you’ve already managed to save the timeline a few times.
I realize that so far this sounds like a lot of negatives, but a lot of these problems can and should be cleaned up with a solid edit of the rules, better clarity on how to manage the cards, and through the use of counters or tokens. Hidden under all this fiddliness is a rather solid and engaging game.
Once everything clicked in place, including how each of the actions and phases works and figuring out what we should be doing with those actions, we found a rather fun game. The deduction aspects of This Didn’t Happen are interesting, with players spreading out over the timeline Experiencing Time and Researching to learn what symbols are hidden where, combined with collecting resources for dealing with events and eventually for affecting the timeline.
That moment when you do finally make your first change to the timeline and slowly begin flipping cards and moving card to card to see if you’ve caused a chain of effects that you didn’t expect is very tense and engaging. Then the feeling you get if you got it right, you did all the right things and didn’t cause any new apocalypses to happen is quite wonderful. There is definitely joy to be found in putting a plan together, acting it out and watching it work. It can also be just as much fun to watch your plan fail miserably as a cascade effect happens and end up causing more Apocalypses.
Overall despite being a bit of a fiddly mess that took quite some time to fully figure out, we’ve really been enjoying This Didn’t Happen. We learned that this is more of a cooperative puzzle to solve than a game, and that’s not a bad thing. Figuring out what aspects of the timeline have to be changed in order to prevent a coming apocalypse can be a lot of fun. Just be sure you have some meeple or something on hand to represent your characters, to save you some card manipulation hassle.
So of course the big question here is should you back This Didn’t Happen when it launches on Kickstarter or pick it up once it’s released to the public?
That really depends on you and your group and I say you or your group as this game actually plays extremely well solo (though it’s hard to not cheat and peek at previously researched cards).
For one, you or your group are going to have to enjoy cooperative games and games that can lend themselves to alpha gaming. You are also going to have to enjoy games with a memory element (unless you choose to totally ignore that rule) and you are going to have to be willing to deal with some physical fiddling both during setup and during play.
If you haven’t been scared away yet, I think this could be a great game for you or your group. If you or your group love puzzles and deduction, this is a game you will want to check out. It’s a very unique puzzle, unlike any others I’ve played. Here’s where the fiddly bits and complicated setup actually shine by providing a unique puzzle to solve each game.
I also encourage time travel fans to check out This Didn’t Happen. While it’s a pretty abstract game overall, there are a lot of interesting mechanics that only work because this is a time travel game. Like being able to research anything that happened where you are or in your past, the ability to cache items so they can be found by other characters in the future, and the potential cascade effect of changing one simple thing.
Personally, I’m really looking forward to seeing what this game turns out like with a bit more spit and polish and will be checking it out when it goes live on Kickstarter in the new year.
(EDIT: The Kickstarter is now live. You can check it out HERE.)
Time travel is a fascinating theme that is so hard to pull off at the game table. Check out my review of Back to the Future, Dice Through Time for a look at another modern time travel board game.
Do you dig time travel as a theme? What’s your favourite game using time travel? Let us know in the comments below!
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