Price of Admission: PDF $5 , $12 printed via DriveThru
Pop this open right quick and follow along, okay? PDF character sheet / rules helper.
Bottom line up front: So take Dr Who but make it a woman Doctor and instead of a Timelord, she plays the cello. Pit her chosen teenage companions against the Maestro of evil, Tchaikovsky, who shreds guitar and uses ninjas to enact TIME SHENANIGANS.
Also, dinosaurs in tophats crash the premier of Hamilton.
This is a super silly game through and through, but anchored on a solid telling-a-story framework. What randomization is needed is taken care of with smile-worthy mechanics like Rock-Paper-Scissors and origami fortune tellers.
Quirky candy-striped design throughout the booklet that looks and feels like a kid’s coloring book.
There’s a section that addresses Accessibility for the movement-impaired. That’s a responsible consideration!
Character sheet fits a comprehensive rule summary.
Best. Randomizer / resolution techniques. Ever.
Under the hood:
The game is divided into five discrete phases, or Acts, which help frame up a tidy story arc no matter what kind of craziness happens.
Phase 1 is mostly in the hands of the game leader – the Conductor – and helps breeze them through the Lonely Fun aspects of game planning. An outline for an evil speech is laid out, players and Conductor contribute possible ideas to throw “in the hat” and as the monologue is delivered, ideas are drawn to fill in. If you’re thinking about improv games, you’re on the right track.
Phase 2 helps create the characters – relationships are shuffled up to connect each character to the one on the player’s right.
During Phase 3, each player gets to pick an action scene where the kids will help Time Cellist fend off the Maestro’s army of ninja clones and stop one of the Mayhems. These scenes are about the kids overcoming fears, trying hard, working together, and all that. They’re not about whether one manages to punch a specific ninja, though. Resolution is handled with Rock/Paper/Scissors, the lead player squaring off against the Conductor. If the player wins, progress! If the Conductor wins, the ninjas pull off some of their Mayhem plans. Oh, and if they tie, here’s the kicker: a Time Paradox-dox-dox-dox happens.
What that means is that something absurd happens… the Hindenburg drops in for a textbook landing right in the middle of the Coliseum, the Founding Fathers get in the way while trying to use a Selfie Stick, or, yeah, top-hat t-rexes. This right here looks pretty darn fun, but could get wayyyy out of hand depending on how creative everyone gets.
So, here’s where the writing style really rocks and gets to the heart of what many games just assume. There’s good direction to make sure no single action can end the scene outright (you can’t just say, “I’m going to grab back the pen that they use to sign the Declaration of Independence”), each has to be a small part of it. The text walks the Conductor through this stuff that’s usually taken for granted – set up the scene, push for the conflict, how to resolve it – like an improv theatre textbook.
After each player’s had a scene in the spotlight it’s time for THE BIG SHOWDOWN in Phase 4. WITH THE MAESTRO HIMSELF. And since Time Cellist is all about the trappings of silly childhood games the showdown is played out with rounds of slapjack. Every time a jack is slapped (as per the standard international rules of slapjack), the winner says how they (character or Maestro & ninjas) tilt the battle back and forth, until cards start running out. A player without a deck is eliminated – LOST IN TIME AND SPAAAAACE – unless there are tokens remaining to allow the Time Cellist to perform some fantastic rescue. Players also have the chance to sacrifice their character to stop another character from being LOST, too. It’s all rather heroic.
BUT WAIT. One more thing. So remember when the Mayhem scenes were happening? For each of those that the Conductor/Maestro/ninja side won, they can call in a New Rule during slapjack. Slapjack can already continue indefinitely and this opens another door to break it.
Anyway, back to the good stuff. Once the big climactic battle that Team Cello is guaranteed to win, one way or another, is done then everyone not LOST will be around for Time Cellists after-school-special speech. “Hurray, girls, you did great! The Maestro wasn’t able to complete his evil plans thanks to your smarts, and your newfound patience, and your getting over a crippling fear of balloon animals!” Then everyone figures out an afterword using a “cootie catcher” fortune teller, even those that got LOST IN TIME AND SPACE. Their scene just ends up surreal interpretation of the oracle:
“You know what would be funny? We established that Billy really likes to dance.I think it’s 1987 and we fade in on a young kid watching a Madonna video on MTV.
As they’re showing the row of background dancers behind her, the camera pans over and we see Billy, now a teenager but still dressed like a cowboy, with a big smile on his face dancing up a storm.”
Back matter: appendixes cover how to play the various games & make a cootie catcher oracle, ideas for relationship connections, and there’s a sweet list of time paradoxes that you could lift for any gonzo game.
Wrapping up: For such a simple game at heart, there’s a lot of little moving parts. Granted they’re giddy fun moving parts and not something lame, like damage-type-versus-armor-type tables. The rules start big and handwavey but then zoom in on things that really do matter. The game promises very little prep but asks everyone to bring knowledge of a time period.
Overall, I’m really torn. There’s a lot here that’s exciting so I don’t want that to be lost. And it feels like an awesome game to run for kids… Pick whatever they’re studying in History/Social Studies, or the setting from a movie they liked, come up with goofy shenanigans, play some card games, and one-up their favorite cartoon.