The Tenth Doctor is fighting the Weeping Angels, and he’s losing. He’s in Cardiff, a storm is brewing, and he’s not got what it takes to turn the tide. In a desperate moment of inspiration, he sends out a ping for help. And with the wheezing, lurching groan that we all know and love, a TARDIS materializes. Out leaps the Seventh Doctor, umbrella in hand, and with him, Ace. The two Doctors now have a fighting chance. But will they win?
It’s all down to a roll of the die.
No, seriously. It’s all about the die. In Gale Force Nine’s frankly brilliant Time of the Daleks, you play as The Doctor. And your friends sitting across the table? They play as The Doctor, too. Your basic objective is to reach Gallifrey (the Time Lord homeworld) before the Daleks do. Why are they headed there? Miscellaneous nefariousness!
In true Doctor Who form, your adventures throughout the game are a mad, at times random dash through a kaleidoscopic array of locations from the show’s storied history. Think of each of these locations as an episode of the show, with villains, obstacles to overcome and a variety of intrigue. Every time you resolve an adventure, you either lose (and move the Daleks forwards) or win and move The Doctors forward.
That’s the game. Can you play it in full costume? I enthusiastically, even loudly, encourage you to do so.
Time of the Daleks Review
The base game provides players with the First, Fourth, Eleventh and Twelfth Doctors, and if they have the multitude of expansions, you can tack on the rest. Can I be blunt? You really should play with the whole roster. It takes the game from a good one to a great one. One of the most enjoyable mechanics of Time of the Daleks is regeneration; certain adventures result in what is ostensibly a blaster to the face, or a ship crash, or being popped like an overripe bag of fruit by a rampaging Yeti.
When this happens, you have to regenerate into the next chronological Doctor in the line-up, which means you lose your set of trademark abilities and WHAM. You’re sporting a new miniature and tooling around with a new face. It’s rare for a game to capture such a signature, iconic aspect of a show like this; mid-game, you get to do something The Doctor does very rarely, and it’s a true treat to force yourself to suddenly pivot play styles. And without all thirteen Doctors, the process feels a bit like shareware.
But, I digress. And it’s sort of hard not to get off-track with a game as overstimulating as Time of the Daleks. As established, you win by visiting destinations, revealing obstacles, trying to beat said obstacles, and then either having something very bad or very good happen. But as with the utterly lovely mechanic involving regeneration, Time of the Daleks lets you engage in proper Doctor Who wish fulfilment by rocketing around the universe pell-mell in the Tardis.
You! In the freaking Tardis! Take THAT, everyone who mocked me for never getting my driver’s licence!
The only way to win is to travel around and best evil. So you roll a big blue die, and if you get a Tardis icon, you pick two destinations from the gorgeous swirly deck of face-down locations, which will soon populate your gaming table like a galaxy unfolding before you. You look at the two you’ve drawn, pick one that takes your fancy, and pop it down. You pick a time period on the location (most have a Present or a Past, with varying outcomes and pitfalls), and move your Doctor there. Well done, you magnificent thing. You’ve just landed the Tardis. Unless your dice come up with a question mark, in which case you deal one location and fly there.
But each of the two time zones on your location tile has a lovely semicircular recess for a reason. There’s a smaller deck of round obstacle tiles, which are filled with face-down obstacles when a location is played. This means you’re really only sure of half of what’s in store when you land. In true Doctor Who style, you could rock up to a pretty weaksauce bad guy, or something truly impossible to defeat.
You pick your timezone, flip the dilemma… and now, you have to roll the dice. Finally! Time to die!
Each Doctor first builds their pool of dice. Black dice are six-sided, and each side has one of the six stats which the game revolves around; diplomacy, cunning, tactics, science, strength, and running. Take, for example, the battle facing anyone who may have landed in Mars: Past. They need to roll one diplomacy, one tactics, and three running to win. Like I said, black dice have one of each stat… but green, blue and red die all have certain stats in far greater numbers, so you basically use your companions, your gear and your Doctor to build a dice pool.
You can use certain abilities to re-roll and tinker with your dice once you’ve thrown them down, but sometimes, you’re screwed. The bad guys win, the punishment is doled out, and the universe moves one step closer to being stomped into the dust by the ironically foot-free Dalek hordes.
The centre of your table will house the enormous and rather lovely time-tracker, which charts the race towards Gallifrey, but it also houses us! Earth! Given that Earth is kind of the focal point of the show (The Doctor has something of a fixation, which seems odd until you consider that no other planets in the galaxy serve hot chips), this makes sense. In fact, Earth has three dilemma slots, so if you like, you can tool around Earth’s three time zones: past, present and future, over and over. But the rewards are often greater when you brave the uncharted miasma of space. But… oh god! I forgot companions!
There are two decks of companions. Earth, and Alien. The Earth deck is bigger, and features a lot more of the show’s beloved (or hated) companions, whereas if you’re off-world, you’re going to be drawing from the Alien companion deck. At the start of each trip (or adventure, as they’re called in the manual), you can spend a sonic token or discard a timey-wimey card (timey wimey cards are basically pieces of gear which occasionally emerge to aid you from the depths of the Doctor’s storage closet) to grab a random companion, who becomes a temporary addition to your crew. If you fail the adventure, they… die. Whoops! Bye, Adric!
…Again, that is.
If you succeed, they become a permanent companion and can continue on with you, meaning you can actually try and recruit and build a kind of dream team. But certain Doctors and locations, and even dilemmas, have linked companions, and if you’re linked to a companion, rather than grabbing at random, you can go through the deck and recruit them directly. Some companions even have brilliant lore-related abilities, such as Captain Jack Harkness, who, true to form, can’t be killed – rather than being discarded when he’s offed, he gets shuffled back into the companion deck. Brilliant.
There’s an array of other fun features: terrible things that happen if the Daleks pass certain points on the time track, and they move one space every turn. There’s the brilliant ability to travel over to another player’s adventure to help them out in a pinch, and the fantastic Friends expansions, which adds Chandler, Joey, Rachel and… wait. Wrong Friends. It lets you draw from a separate deck when picking a companion, resulting in a variety of at times rage-inducing mechanics.
But does the game work if you don’t give the feeblest of figs about Doctor Who? Can Time of the Daleks be enjoyed if you don’t know your Cybermen from your Silurians?
Probably not. And that’s fine! I played with my wife, Tegan, who is regularly on ABC’s Whovians, and I host a Doctor Who Podcast, The Doctor Is In. So for us, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. We got every reference, knew every character. Hell, we had Murray Gold’s sublime score from season four of the show blaring whilst we played (I know, I know, we’re nerds). But there’s truly nothing wrong with a game that caters almost solely towards the fans of the property being rendered lovingly in cardboard and resin.
The only real flaws of Time of the Daleks? A couple of very small niggles, but nothing that in any way ruins the game. The Tardis consoles in the base game are thin cardboard, whilst the expansion consoles are thick and robust. Nyssa’s homeworld, Traken, is called “Tarken”. The rules are, at times, a little vague. And playing without the full roster of expansions just isn’t as good. But honestly, there’s so much love, detail and lore in the completed game that, as a Whovian, I was practically humming with excitement from start to finish.
And if it gets too easy, guess what? You don’t actually have to help the other Doctors vying to be the saviour of the universe. You can leave them in the lurch! Sure, it goes against the spirit of Doctor Who in every conceivable way, but screw it. Sometimes sci-fi needs to get dark. Or, you can pop on over to Boardgamegeek.com and print out some of Wanderer_in_time’s brilliant fan expansion content, adding companions from the flawless Big Finish Doctor Who audio plays. Either way, if you’re into Doctor Who and you’re not playing Time of the Daleks… it’s time.
Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks was reviewed using a retail copy provided by Gale Force Nine.