Session Report is a monthly series that explores the intersection of narrative and broader themes of game design by focusing on a specific tabletop game each month. This month’s game is:
Anachrony by Dávid Turczi with Viktor Peter & Richard Amann
Mindclash Games, 2017
Trigger warning: This review deals with themes of depression, suicide and self-destructive thought patterns.
Like most other mammalian species, humans learn through play. Games have lessons to impart, whether it’s teaching moral behavior and the pitfalls of sin through Snakes and Ladders or denominations and change-making through Monopoly. As adults, we (hopefully) don’t stop learning, and while our play may become more codified, the lessons more abstract, it never truly exits our lives.
I play a lot of games, and I like to think I learn a little something from each one. Video games train my reflexes, hand-eye coordination and spatial visualization skills. Real-time board games like Space Alert help me practice making complex decisions under pressure, and hundreds of hours of VP-crunching in countless Eurogames have drastically improved my mental arithmetic. Historical games like Black Orchestra and Cruel Necessity have given me new insight into other times and cultures.
But there is one lesson board games keep trying to teach me that never seems to stick: future planning. Board gamers categorize decisionmaking as largely binary: decisions are either “tactical,” a response to the present game state with little regard for future turns, or “strategic,” which requires thinking three, four or more turns ahead. Neither one is necessarily deeper or more complex than the other, and most games feature a mix of both. Chess is a prime example: high-level players are ranked by their ability to plan up to 20 moves ahead, but they must constantly respond to the opponent’s aggressions. Among modern, “designer” games, Uwe Rosenberg’s catalog (Agricola, Caverna, A Feast for Odin) tends to fall under the “strategic” umbrella, while Antoine Bauza (7 Wonders, Hanabi, Tokaido) focuses on designs that are more tactical in nature.
When it comes to my personal enjoyment, I tend to favor tactical play. Both in play and in my real life, I’m poor at planning ahead.
Lately, this deficit has weighed on me. The trajectory of my life so far has been one of mismanaged potential. When I graduated summa cum laude from my undergraduate studies, I was invited to a luncheon with the president of the university. It was only after I arrived that I realized how badly I had fumbled my career path. The other students at the luncheon all had internships lined up, or they’d already applied and been accepted to Master’s programs with an eye toward a PhD. I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to “do” with my English degree; it had been a goal in itself, not a means to an end.
I’d chosen English because the foundations of the program–literary critique, writing essays, and reading literature–were all things I enjoyed and for which I had an innate talent. But I certainly didn’t want to go into teaching or academia. So after graduation, I applied for my first real job, a retail position, and though I was considered a valuable employee, there was no forward trajectory. It was simply another holding pattern.
I’m now 32 years old, and I still don’t have a clear idea what I want to do with my life. I know what makes me happy and what I’m good at: I love writing, I love reading, and I’m pretty keen on English usage. But I have no idea how to spin that into a stable career. My vision for my own life has always been to work a nine-to-five while devoting my free time to my passions, like writing and editing. I’ve always wanted, more than anything, to raise a family. But I haven’t taken the prerequisites: job stability, career identity, some semblance of financial, emotional and psychological independence. I’m (belatedly) coming to discover that employers aren’t looking for reliability; they want aggression, a hunger for advancement that I just can’t muster. They want employees with an eye toward the future.
So a little future planning is a lesson I could stand to learn.
“Paradoxes are just the scar tissue. Time and space heal themselves up around them, and people simply remember a version of events which makes as much sense as they require it to make.”
—Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
Mindclash Games’ debut release, Trickerion, is one I plan to cover in this space at some future moment, so I’ll save time and steal some lines from my (as-yet-unwritten) review.
Trickerion is a worker-placement game about magicians–not “yer a wizard, Harry” spellweavers, but David Copperfield-esque illusionists, masters of misdirection, which to me is a much more interesting premise. The setting is a neo-Victorian Mecca for illusionists, escape artists and patrons of the paranormal. Like a well-rehearsed Vegas act, the impressive part of Trickerion isn’t in the originality of its ideas but in the finesse of its execution, particularly the way everything comes together to make players feel the part of astounding adepts of artistic of astonishment. Turning over the round’s worker assignments feels like a Big Reveal–“and for my next trick”–and pulling off a successful show against all odds feels like sleight of hand. It’s basically The Prestige: The Board Game, and if there were ever a playbill tailored to tempt and tantalize yours truly, that’s it.
I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m cribbing from my own notes because Anachrony is, in many ways, a repeat performance of what made Trickerion so magical. Like Trickerion, there isn’t one single element of the design I can point to and say, “See how original and interesting this is?” Rather, what impresses me is the way the game’s many parts come together to create an experience that’s both mechanically satisfying and thematically immersive, a brain-melting phenomenon on par with our favorite time-travel twists. Doing well in Anachrony tickles my cortex in the same way as watching the pieces come together in 12 Monkeys, La Jetée, Lunopolis, Time Lapse, Synchronicity, Donnie Darko, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Returner, Slaughterhouse-Five, Braid, Life Is Strange….
Even the thematic premise revels in paradox. Brace yourself: roughly 300 years in the future’s past, an event occurred of such magnitude that it reset Earth’s timeline. Much as the cultural architects of the past might have split events into antediluvian and postdiluvian chronologies, so the new calendar began with the Day of Purgation: 0 PP, the start of a new era in human history. In the Purgation, a geological cataclysm of unknown origin shook a desolate part of South America. Within two decades, the global aftershocks of this event had reduced human civilization to rubble and transformed the planet’s surface into a dust-choked, lightless waste.
The Purgation carried more than destruction in its wake. Over 250 years later, an expedition to Ground Zero uncovered a new element, dubbed Neutronium, with a flexible atomic structure. When exposed to enough energy, Neutronium is capable of opening rifts in time, connecting past and future moments. In time, the terrible meaning of this discovery became clear: the Purgation, which nearly wiped out humanity, was merely a fraction of the shockwave, flung backward over 300 years by its own destructive energy and the peculiar properties of the novel element, of a much deadlier cataclysm, an impact with a Neutronium-rich asteroid. The true cataclysm was yet to come.
If this were a movie, Anachrony would be all action as the vestiges of humanity race to use their foreknowledge of the disaster to prevent it from ever occurring. As a board game, Anachrony is more cerebral. It’s a clash of ideologies: each player represents one of the four ideological Paths that humankind has adopted following the Day of Purgation, each striving to become the dominant ideology in the post-cataclysmic world. They’ll do this by manipulating the timestream, building structures and Superprojects, achieving breakthroughs, raising their followers’ morale…and especially by participating in the evacuation of the World Capital, symbolic center of life on New Earth, which is predestined to collapse in the wake of the impact.
“Faith Echoes in Eternity.”
—High Sunwalker Amena, Path of Salvation
The first time I witnessed the cataclysm that ended Earth, I walked the Path of Salvation.
I believed the words of Shepherd Caratacus when he told us not to fear the coming impact. I had not always lived in Purgatory, sheltered from the physical and spiritual poisons of the surface world, but God had seen fit to cleanse me of my memories of the Hell above. And for every cycle, as long as I could remember, I had borne witness to the Day of Miracles. I had seen Shepherd Caratacus pull fresh, drinkable water from the ether. I had witnessed him producing gold, titanium, and other materials for our building projects, whatever we needed most, whenever we needed it. I knew the power of the Drokhaton bloodline and their connection with God, and I trusted his words: when the cataclysm came, God’s chosen would be spared, just as we had been the first time.
While the followers of the other Paths quaked in anticipation of the cataclysm, we remained steadfast in our conviction. Shepherd Caratacus told us that God had granted him a glimpse into our many futures, and that in all of them, we would persevere. But secretly, our leader’s faith wavered. He lacked confidence in his own evacuation plan, and he spread our resources too thin. In the end, when ruin came to the World Capital, he could not convince anybody to seek asylum in our shadow-kissed haven of Purgatory. He had failed, and we, his flock, began to see the cracks in our infallible leader’s armor.
Rewind. This time, our Path will prosper. This time, we follow High Sunwalker Amina, eldest daughter of the Drokhaton dynasty and twin sister to our beloved Shepherd. High Sunwalker Amina leads the Sunwalkers, those missionaries who don the Pilgrim exosuits and, steeling themselves against the diabolical dangers of the Outback and the lavish lifestyles of the World Capital, venture to the surface to trade, collect resources, and proselytize.
Through her brother’s gift of prophecy, the High Sunwalker knew that the only way to convince the heretics of the Capital to walk the one true path is to lead in the evacuation effort. We must show that we are loved by God and demonstrate His gifts, just as we do on the Day of Miracles. To this end, we would need to gather the mana stone, which the heathens call Neutronium, delivered by God Himself on the Day of Purgation. Through esoteric rites known only to the Drokhaton dynasty, this stone would allow the performing of miracles on a grand scale.
Of course, some sacrifices needed to be made. The water stopped arriving, rerouted to the power plants and factories the leaders built. The people worked themselves to exhaustion, and still the leaders forced them to work. Then, the High Sunwalker returned from the Hell above with plans for a new Superproject, one she promised would bring bliss to all workers of Purgatory. I know not the meaning of her words, “Synthetic Endorphins,” but when I had my first injection, all my weariness fell away, and I experienced a sense of euphoria, content to toil in service of God.
When the impact arrived, we had what we needed…just as we always did. Our many power plants allowed direct manipulation of the mystery of time, and we had gathered a massive store of mana stone. Many of the Capital’s survivors joined our flock.
But we did not achieve the salvation of all. Self-propelled exosuits arrived from a future timeline. They began hoarding fresh water, resources, and workers, all in the name of an entity called the Chronobot, which claimed to have been given the knowledge to save humanity from itself. In the end, without a Path to follow, without an evacuation plan, the Chronobot still managed to wrest control of the World Capital from humanity, beginning a new era of subservience to these sentient machines.
Rewind. This time, our Path will prosper.
“Once confined to fantasy and science fiction, time travel is now simply an engineering problem.”
—Michio Kaku, Wired Magazine
In most details, Anachrony is no different from any other worker-placement, resource-management Euro game. If you’ve endured Agricola, the seminal game of subsistence farming in the 17th century (what will those wacky Germans come up with next?), you will recognize many of the tried-and-true gameplay gestures here. The central board shows the World Capital and its surrounding environment. Each space is associated with a particular action. For example, by claiming one of the mine spaces on the right of the board, a player can collect two available resources from the mines. Most spaces can hold only a single worker, but an unlimited number of workers can be sent to harvest purified water from the Three Pillars, trade with nomads in the Outback, or, after the impact, aid in the evacuation of the Capital. Competition over the limited spaces in the Capital is further intensified by a cost of 1 or 2 water to take the action when the first space has been occupied. The Purgation rendered drinkable water a scarce commodity, so timing is critical.
The Capital Action spaces allow three standard but crucial actions. The first, Research, allows the player to gain a Scientific Breakthrough tile, which are needed to construct Superprojects but can also be cashed in for points at game end. The second, Recruit, lets the player claim a new worker, plus a small bonus. The final Capital Action, Construct, is also the most coveted. This allows the player to spend resources and build a building, which will be worth points at the end of the game and typically provides a lasting benefit in the form of a new action or passive bonus. The buildings come in four types, none of which will make sense quite yet, so you might want to save this section for Future You to read. Power Plants allow time travel, which is critical for paying back paradoxical debt; Factories produce raw materials or energy cores, needed to power up exosuits at the start of each round; Life Support produces fresh water or reduces the cost to motivate exhausted workers; and Labs have various effects. The Construct action also allows players to build a Superproject, which are costly but provide powerful, game-changing effects and a significant point yield.
Each player’s board only has room for three buildings of each type, and these spaces may also be occupied by Superprojects, which take up two slots, and Anomalies, negative results from excessive fiddling with the timestream. For this reason, you’ll need to plan your Construct actions carefully, choosing buildings that synergize with each other and with your Path’s evacuation goal.
So far, so peat-bog–standard worker placement. Keep playing Anachrony, and you’ll spot a few wrinkles, in time, that give it its unique flavor. For example, workers aren’t one-size-fits-all. There are four varieties of worker, each with its own specialty: Administrators are better at recruiting and motivating other workers; Engineers get a discount when building and can go to the mine without becoming exhausted; Scientists can more efficiently harvest water and are the only ones who can research breakthroughs; and Geniuses (I call them Precogs) can do everything just as well as anyone else. The restrictions and bonuses for each worker type are printed on the action spaces: for instance, the Recruit space shows that Scientists can’t take the action and that only Administrators can recruit Geniuses.
Usually, after taking any action, a worker becomes exhausted. Exhausted workers can’t be used again until they’ve been motivated. In true dystopian fashion, players can choose between keeping the workers motivated by showering them with fresh water, improving morale, or hoarding the aqua cola and forcing the proles to work, worsening morale. Positive morale is worth points at the end of the game, while negative morale subtracts points, and citizens can be literally worked to death.
So far, I have described only one of the six phases that make up each round, or Era, of a game of Anachrony. Granted, the Action Rounds occupy the majority of the gameplay, but it’s in the three preliminary stages that the game’s brutal emphasis on planning occurs. Each of the Paths’ capitals are protected from the harsh atmospheric conditions of New Earth, so taking actions on your own player board only costs a worker, but all main board actions require the worker to be loaded into an exosuit to survive the poisoned air and unpredictable weather of the Outback. And exosuits require power.
So, after a short upkeep phase, each Era begins with the players deciding how many exosuits to power up that round. The decision is non-trivial, since powering exosuits consumes energy cores, a difficult-to-obtain resource. And it’s non-obvious, since a player’s available workers at the start of the round don’t necessarily reflect the number of workers that will require exosuits: new workers can be recruited during the round, and, conversely, some workers must be set aside to perform building-related actions at home. To avoid wasting resources, you must carefully consider the actions you wish to take for the entire Era, with some margin of error for spaces your opponents might block.
But that is only one half of the future planning you will do for the round. The other half comes in phase four, in which players can use timeline manipulation to “warp in” needed resources from a future Era. Fuck Polonius; help yourself out with a small loan of only $1 million. But make no mistake: a loan it is, and the longer it goes without being repaid, the more temporal interest you’ll accrue in the form of paradox. You can pay back “borrowed”’assets by building power plants and using them to open a channel to the past. Of course, you don’t need the power plants built to receive the assets; that’s a problem for Future You. Collect enough paradox, and you’ll create an anomaly, which covers up one of your building spaces and, if not resolved, counts as negative points at the end of the game. This is Anachrony’s one concession to timey-wimey shenanigans: gaining an anomaly resolves a single outstanding warp, so in this one case, you are getting something for nothing.
I’m a good, frugal boy, and my instinct is always to play it safe and not overextend my credit, but Anachrony encourages players to meddle with the timestream, since closing loops can be a significant source of points during endgame scoring. However, it’s still a serious case of Future Planning. You aren’t warping in assets on an as-needed basis; you must consider your needs and make this decision at the start of the Era, before any other action takes place. Anachrony’s version of time travel is evidence against Clarke’s third law: it’s a lot less like a magic wand and a lot more like special relativity, something requiring careful study and precise calculation.
“Balance Grows Peace.”
—Patriarch Haulani, Path of Harmony
We thought that all life on Earth’s surface was erased in the wake of Purgation, that only humanity was spared to wither slowly on the vine. We were wrong. In 144 PP, an expedition into the Outback discovered Wellspring, an oasis of lush, vegetal life in an otherwise blasted landscape. It was a promise from Mother Nature that the technocracy espoused by the other Paths was not the only way forward, that we might cultivate a new Eden in which mankind lived in balance with other life, as we once had. CO2 scrubbers were not the only path to clean oxygen, and vat-grown nutrients were not the only source of food.
Now, those of us who walk the Path of Harmony live in the embrace of Talma, our mother vine, who provides us shade, protection and a livable atmosphere. Matriarch Zaida and Patriarch Haulani, alongside the Cultivators who spread the message of life among the Outback in the Seeder exosuits, communicate directly with Talma via Neya, the white flower that blooms within their breasts, spreading its roots among their veins.
Matriarch Zaida knew of the coming apocalypse, and she knew that while Talma would shelter Wellspring and her inhabitants, others would not be so fortunate, and Mother Earth would keen with the tremendous loss of life. To prevent this heartache, we must expand our home, spreading Talma’s roots far and wide, to prepare her to accept the capital’s refugees.
As blood carries the spark of life within the human body, so water flows within the veins of Talma. So the Matriarch’s first focus was on acquiring renewable sources of water. She constructed three vast reservoirs to provide life support to the people of Wellspring. Her second focus was on recruiting administrators to oversee the new citizens. Matriarch Zaida has a natural charm, and with gifts of fresh water and living fruit, she was able to coax many from the Capital’s Rim. But she also had a secret weapon: a Cloning Vat she constructed in a hidden glen, able to replicate life much more efficiently than the natural method the Harmonists typically embrace. Finally, Matriarch Zaida knew that the expansion of Wellspring would need to be supported by infrastructure, so she built factories to produce titanium for building and Neutronium for the construction of power plants.
Many in the Capital saw the appeal of a more natural way of life, and the smiling Cultivators helped to convince them–it’s easy to be happy when water is plentiful and you are among family. But then another force arrived, a force aligned with the very technology we spurned, a force of cold steel and heartless logic calling itself the Chronobot.
Rewind. This time, our Path will prosper.
“Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm.”
—Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
What I really suffer from is a lack of focus. I pick up and drop projects like seashells along life’s shore. As a child, like most children, I tried to learn an instrument, the saxophone. It didn’t stick, and by high school, I had given up on school band. That didn’t stop me from begging my parents for an electric organ one Christmas, a didgeridoo the next, an electronic drumkit the year after. I recorded a concept album, Waxing Red, using a program called Audacity to distort and loop my voice into sounds vaguely resembling electric guitar and bass. For my senior talent show, I picked up the guitar just long enough to learn two chords and write a love song. I still remember some of the lyrics:
My ears are ringing
like a platinum bell
in a burned-out lighthouse
while the telephone’s silent
like a choir in Hell
and I’ve got nothing to lose
but at least I’ve got her
I have no manual dexterity and precious little rhythm, so I could never have been a great musician, but these projects demonstrate a congenital failing: rather than dedicate myself to a single task in order to perform it proficiently, I spread myself thin, always distracted by something new. I love writing first drafts, but I can’t complete a revision to save my life. I’ve written bad short stories in every genre, bad plays, bad novels, and bad interactive fiction. I can’t commit to humor or horror or surreality or sincerity. I took four years of French and four years of Japanese and barely remember a word of either, although I can still rap 90% of the first verse of Manau’s “La Tribu du Dana”:
Akim, le fils du forgeron, est venu me chercher.
Les druides ont décidé de mener le combat dans la vallée.
Là, où tous nos ancêtres, de géants guerriers celtes,
après de grandes batailles se sont imposés en maîtres.
C’est l’heure maintenant de défendre notre terre
contre une armée de Sumériens prête à croiser le fer.
The song’s chorus, by the way, translates to:
In the valley of Dana, in the valley, I can hear the echoes
In the valley of Dana, in the valley, of the war chants and the drums
Which seems, somehow, apropos to our time-traveling theme.
Or maybe the problem is that I take up these hobbies for their own sakes. I learn a skill, not with some endgame in mind, but simply to see what learning the skill would be like. And once I have discovered the spark of something, I am content to watch it fall and wink out. I have never tried to see what might happen if I stoke the flames.
Like everybody, I wish I could go back in time and do things different. More often, I wish only to relive my halcyon days. If I could, I would live forever in a bubble of youth. But, seeing as that’s impossible, I consign myself to my own uncertain future.
All I need is to set my life onto a new path I can follow without meandering. Meanwhile, the waves undermine my footprints, erasing the evidence of my passing.
“Inside, where nothing shows, I am the essence of a man spinning double-headed coins and betting against himself in private atonement for an unremembered past.”
—Tom Stoppard, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
Anachrony provides focus in the form of evacuation conditions. Each Path has two to choose from, for a total of eight. After the impact, if you have completed your base evacuation conditions, you can spend an action at the ruins of the World Council to evacuate, receiving a set reward for the base condition and a scaling reward for stockpiling specific assets or asset pairs. If followed diligently, these evacuation goals can account for fully half the points you score in a game. Each one is different, reflecting the divergent ideologies of the four Paths. For example, in my first game, I played the Path of Salvation with the “Overwhelming Power” goal, which required me to construct three power plants but awarded additional points for each cube of Neutronium I had on hand. In another game using the same Path, I had the “Masters of Time” goal, which required two Anomalies as a base condition and awarded additional points for every pair of uranium and unused Warp tiles. Both of these goals line up nicely with Salvation’s backstory; the cult’s leaders were the first to discover the powers of Neutronium, but they’ve kept this discovery a secret, using it to perform “miracles” to dazzle their followers.
Many of these goals are contradictory. It’s a little puzzle, like a Zen koan: how do you get Anomalies without using Warp tiles? Solving one encourages a singularity of purpose in the midst of all the game’s distracting options, reinforcing the notion that you are toeing a party line. It requires discipline, but it’s a creative discipline.
The Paths are further differentiated by the unique powers of their Leaders, of which there are, again, two apiece. Salvation’s Shepherd Caratacus can Meddle with Time, either gaining 2 water and a paradox or spending 2 water to resolve a paradox. Dominance’s Treasure Hunter Samira can claim a free resource from the mines at the end of each Era or pay 2 water to gain an additional resource. And Progress’ Patron Valerian can use his Exosuit AI to deploy an exosuit without a pilot once per round, treating it as though a scientist were at the helm.
Furthermore, each Path’s player board has an asymmetrical side with a few advantages (and disadvantages) over the the other Paths. Often, the Leader abilities and asymmetrical advantages synergize well with the Path’s evacuation goals, but some of them require more lateral thinking. For example, one of Progress’ goals rewards bonus points for pairs of scientists and breakthroughs, so a clever player will often have more than enough scientists sitting around to begin with, somewhat muting the advantage of Valerian’s power. Harmony’s asymmetrical board allows exosuits to be powered with water rather than energy cores, but water costs for buildings are also increased, the potential score bonus for morale (which costs water) is much higher than other paths, and Matriarch Zaida’s ability has a water cost, leaving the player with a torrent of options for aqueous expenditure.
“Discipline, Purpose, Valor.”
—Captain Wolfe, Path of Dominance
Treasure Hunter Samira lead the Capital relief efforts, following protocol laid out by Captain Wolfe. Mission parameters were to peaceably evacuate as much of the population of the Capital as possible to undergo post-crisis Indoctrination. Operation was code-named Industrial Revolution: wow the civvies of the Rim with our superior technology, manufacturing prowess vis-à-vis industrial fabrication, raw materials, trained personnel. This was officially designated a Hearts and Minds operation, not a Raid, but as the Atlantean approached dock, many were reminded of the highly successful Capital Raid of 179 PP, and morale remained high for the duration of the op.
Operation was a success vis-à-vis primary objective. Leading the Treasure Hunters in their Octopod exosuits, Treasure Hunter Samira conducted diplomatic forays into the Capital to achieve mission-critical assets including titanium, uranium, and construction/fabrication specialists. Atlantean’s factory operations expanded to include the fabrication of energy cores, extending versatility vis-à-vis Octopod deployment, and the smelting of raw titanium into usable alloys. Life support systems in the Ag Hull were also expanded, and research into bioreplication with psychic imprinting was conducted to rapidly expand pool of skilled personnel. Treasure Hunter Samira personally conducted peripheral operations in submarine Old World sites to procure additional assets. A favorable portion of the Capital’s inhabitants were inducted into the ranks of the Echelon.
Secondary and tertiary objectives were not met. Excessive use of chronodilation techniques to secure mission-critical assets had unforeseen repercussions vis-à-vis temporal anomalies. Unanticipated presence of self-propelled Chronobot units in the AO resulted in diminished effectiveness of Psy Ops and competition for resources.
Rewind. This time, our Path will prosper.
“You are the stone that split the stream of time in two.”
—Ecco: The Tides of Time
All suicides are psychic. They know the exact moment and circumstance of their death. Deaths, actually: suicides can see into myriad possible futures, all of them terminating soon enough. Drown yourself in honey. Take a bath with a toaster. The quick finality of a gunshot. That’s how suicidal ideation works. Flashes of violent prescience. It’s a localized phenomenon, not useful or profitable to anyone else, because that’s how depression is, too.
But suicides are flawed diviners. They’re their own monkey’s paws: the act of peering into a future corrupts it. Human intelligence and survival are predicated on the ability to extrapolate futures, to run mental simulations and calculate probabilities. But in the suicide, this mechanism is faulty. The suicide can only see the future as an eternal recurrence of the miserable present. They see, with absolute clarity, an infinite tessellation of loneliness, failure, and pain. That is why, through sheer force of will, they create new, abrupt endings for themselves.
My ideations often return to themes of puncture. I think it’s because my body issues leave me feeling impeded, incapable of purgation. The bladder, gut and skull are most frequently pierced. In these fleeting visions, liquid is allowed to flow freely, providing an immense relief of pressure. A river that flowed into itself is allowed an outlet; time meets its estuary. But these are only thoughts that recur, coming to no conclusion.
“Supremacy Through Intellect.”
—Librarian Cornella, Path of Progress
They say that necessity is the mother of invention. If that’s true, then the end of the world as we know it is the mother of all necessity. The Apex’s scientists were naturally the first to put two and two together following the Day of Reminiscence incident. We were the first to understand and formalize the antetemporal qualities of Neutronium. We were the first to pinpoint the arrival of the Neutronium asteroid. And we were the first to propose an evacuation schema to the World Council. Of course. You wouldn’t expect any less from the Apex of Humanity.
But there can be no progress without experimentation, and without progress, humanity is not worthy of self-preservation. The evacuation plan put forward by the Patrons’ Court was based on Patron Valerian’s own theories, but when he was placed in charge of the project, he immediately jettisoned the plan for one that favored the Apex’s residents over the rabble below. Why bother winning over the genetically and intellectually inferior citizens of the Capital, thereby diluting the purity of Apex culture?
As a member of the Path of Progress’ intellectual elite, Patron Valerian viewed the evacuation of the Capital as an efficiency calculation. Of course, some people needed to be saved; there was simply too much to be gained by doing so, and the requisite actions–constructing laboratories, recruiting scientists, achieving breakthroughs–would be necessary in the long run anyway. But saving them all was simply infeasible in terms of cost-benefit analysis. Time and resources would be better spent on tasks that would directly advance the Path’s progress.
So Valerian continued to lead the Path of Progress as he had always done. Under his patronage, citizen-scholars of the Venice of the Skies developed uranium cores for the Gargoyle-model exosuits, allowing them to be powered much more cheaply and efficiently. Using micro-drones of Valerian’s own design, these Gargoyles were dispatched to the capital sans pilot to conduct research, achieving several notable technological breakthroughs. By opening and closing temporal loops, Apex physicists advanced our understanding of Neutronium and the timestream by several decades. Nor were the Apex’s achievements confined to the scientific; during this time, a number of universally lauded and avant-garde operas, galleries, and musical compositions debuted, contributing to a happy populace.
The evacuation of the Capital occurred as planned, with the most ambitious and deserving of its people welcomed into the Nuovo Renaissance, but the prestige garnered by this event was dwarfed by that of the Path’s other achievements. Yet, in the midst of the crisis, Patron Valerian witnessed an ominous event: the arrival of the AI-controlled exosuits of the Chronobot, claiming to hail from a more advanced future and believing themselves to be the shepherds of mankind’s evolution.
Rewind. This time, our Path will prosper.
“Nothing sorts out memories from ordinary moments. It is only later that they claim remembrance, when they show their scars.”
Anachrony comes with a scorepad to clarify and assist with end-of-game scoring. This also creates a neat time capsule of each play. Each scoresheet is a frozen moment, preserving the outcome as players experiment with different Paths, leaders, evacuation conditions, and strategies.
For example, I can see that in my first game as the Path of Salvation, I was not able to achieve my evacuation goal, and I ended up with 34 points overall. The next time I played, I had a better idea of what I was doing, and I scored 30 points during the game (much of it from my evacuation goal), plus 12 points for buildings, 5 for superprojects, 8 for time travel, and 2 for breakthroughs. After subtracting 3 points for unresolved anomalies, I earned 54 points that game.
The scoresheets tell a story, like footprints in the sand. As the Path of Harmony, I earned comparable points from my evacuation, but I traded time travel for morale, getting 64 points total (this is also the only time I have beaten the Chronobot, the game’s AI opponent, which scored 63 points that game). Playing as the Path of Dominance, I achieved maximum efficiency from my evacuation plan, earning an unprecedented 40 points during gameplay, but I lost that progress on other fronts and wound up with the same 64-point total. My greatest achievement so far was when I intentionally broke the mold as the Path of Progress, setting aside my evacuation goal to see how many points I could accrue from other sources such as breakthroughs and buildings. That game, I got only 21 points in-game, 13 of them from the evacuation, but I exceeded my own expectations with a 67-point final score.
Well, what do you know. It looks like I’m making progress after all.