You are an enemy of the Daleks! Pevans avoids extermination to review

DR. WHO: TIME OF THE DALEKS (Gale Force 9, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 120+ minutes; $50)


If you look on YouTube you’ll find every version of the Doctor Who theme music. I play the original one to start off my games of Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks. I think this is amusing, but I may just be very sad. The game as designed by Andrew Haught, pits several incarnations of our time-travelling hero against his greatest enemy: the Daleks. A central spiral track has the Doctor’s home planet, Gallifrey, at its centre. The Dalek spaceship piece starts at the other end of the track and moves forward one space each round. If it reaches Gallifrey, all the players lose. (The Daleks have destroyed the Time Lords at the beginning of Time and will rule the galaxy for ever. Or something.)

The central board also represents Earth (where many of the Doctor’s adventures are set) with spaces for three different adventures: in Past, Present and Future. If a Doctor loses one of these adventures, a Dalek piece (neat models, by the way) is placed there, making it harder to succeed next time. Even worse, if three Daleks are on Earth, all the players lose.

Smaller boards represent other planets, each with spaces for two adventures (or ‘Dilemmas’ as they’re called in the rules). Again, failure at any of these means a Dalek is placed. The sixth Dalek piece is actually the Dalek’s creator, Davros. If a seventh Dalek piece is needed, all the players lose. Yes, it’s easy to lose this game.

All of which makes this sound like a co-operative game. And, to the extent that all the players want to stop the Daleks, it is. Except that there is a winner: the first player to get their TARDIS piece to Gallifrey. All the TARDISes start on the Earth space on the track, a few spaces ahead of the Dalek ship. Players generally move theirs forward when they succeed in an adventure – hence why players take them on.

The game is for 2-4 players and contains decent models of four incarnations of the Doctor: the first one (played by William Hartnell, thumbs behind his lapels), the most popular one (Tom Baker, unfeasibly long scarf round his neck) and two recent ones (Matt Smith, sonic screwdriver in hand, and Peter Capaldi). The Companions and Dilemmas are drawn from these Doctors’ TV series. Thus we have some of the black and white episodes I remember from my childhood as well as very recent stories.

Players select a Doctor to play, snapping the base in their chosen colour to the model. They also take the TARDIS model with the same colour base, the player board for the appropriate Doctor and the cards for this Doctor and his initial Companion. Thus, if I take the first Doctor, which I usually do (but only because the second Doctor, played by Patrick Troughton, is in an expansion set), I also get Susan, his “granddaughter”.

The game is all about rolling dice. When a Doctor takes on a Dilemma, the player will be faced with a number of symbols required to succeed. Some of these (1-3) come from the location the Doctor is at and are always visible. The others (2-3) come from the Dilemma tile, which is only turned up when the Doctor arrives. Thus players know some of what they have to do, but not the whole story.

The Doctor will roll up to eight dice to get the symbols needed, potentially re-rolling some or all of the dice and/or turning them to different sides until they succeed or have to concede. The standard, black dice have one of each symbol on them (there are six different symbols). Coloured dice have different numbers of some symbols. Thus, the red dice are 3/6ths fighting, 2/6ths tactics and 1/6th cunning. Each Doctor starts with four black dice and one coloured die. Their Companions and Equipment may add extra black and/or coloured dice and/or let them swap black dice for coloured ones before they start rolling. So your first goal is to make sure you can get the maximum eight dice.

The reward for succeeding at an adventure is shown on the location – hence players know what potential reward they’re going for. This will often include moving their TARDIS forward (or, occasionally, moving the Dalek ship back). The penalties for failure are shown on the Dilemma tile and thus only revealed when a Doctor arrives. These often include moving the Dalek ship two spaces forward. In addition, failure means a Dalek is placed on that location. This will zap one of the Doctor’s dice whenever a player tries to resolve a Dilemma at that location. (The Dalek is removed if the Doctor succeeds.)

I’ve mentioned Equipment so I’d better explain this. Equipment is one type of ‘Timey-Wimey’ card which players may acquire and, once on their TARDIS board, provides a permanent advantage of some sort. The unfeasibly long scarf, for example, allows the Doctor one re-roll of one or two black dice. Other cards are Events, one-offs that can be played at a specific point in a turn. Installing equipment or playing an event generally means spending ‘sonic charge’ tokens. Players get a couple of these each turn and may get others from different sources. They can also be used to re-roll or turn dice.

What I haven’t covered yet is what players do in their turn. First off, they can add equipment to their TARDIS board – if there’s room – or play relevant events. They can then move, if they want to. However, as fans of the TV show will know, the TARDIS doesn’t always take the Doctor where he wants to go (it takes him where he’s needed). In the game you roll a die: two-thirds of the time you can move where you want. Otherwise you draw a random location, add two face-down dilemmas and chose one to take on.

Wherever you’ve ended up, you can now recruit a Companion, if you have room for one. This Companion provides their abilities for this adventure and, if you succeed, then becomes part of your crew. Next comes all the dice rolling, followed by the appropriate reward or penalty. After all players have taken a turn, the Dalek ship moves on a space. If it arrives at Gallifrey or there are three Daleks on Earth, the players lose. Otherwise the game continues.

On top of this, there are ‘Time Anomaly’ cards that are triggered as the Dalek ship progresses. These generally provide all the Doctors with a handicap until they deal with it – a threat that distracts them from the main thrust of the game. It is also possible for Doctors to co-operate in a particular adventure. This has not happened any time I’ve played. First, I’m playing with gamers and we want to win! Second, having another Doctor help doesn’t increase the number of dice being rolled – they’re split between the two. What it does do is let the helping Doctor use their abilities on their dice. This doesn’t seem enough of an advantage.

As you can see, this game is a dice fest. In practice, I’ve found that players quickly get enough Equipment and Companions to succeed at most adventures. After that the game becomes a race. Unless someone gets really unlucky, which does happen. If that’s all there was to the game, I probably wouldn’t be playing it again. However, what it does have is bags of atmosphere and incident from the TV show. That’s enough to keep me coming back, particularly as I pick up the expansions. Each of these adds another two incarnations of the Doctor to those available, along with Companions and adventures from their storylines.

If you’re a Doctor Who fan, Doctor Who: Time of the Daleks is good fun. For a while. You may want to get the game with the expansion that includes your favourite Doctor, of course. If Doctor Who means nothing to you, this probably isn’t the game for you – though it’s worth playing once or twice. It gets 6/10 on my highly subjective scale. – – – – – – – – – Pevans

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