If I had to rank my favorite movies of all time, Back to the Future would surely crack the Top 10. I have watched this trilogy more times than I can even count, starting with the early days of my youth. Yet despite this excellent source material, we’ve never really been giving a good board game based on it. There have definitely been numerous attempts, but most have fallen into a pile of manure with Biff and his gang of cronies. Will Back to the Future: Back in Time from Funko Games change that trend? Grab your puffy vest and walkman and let’s find out.
Back to the Future: Back in Time is a cooperative game where players are trying to recreate the plot of the first movie (for the most part). Players control either Marty, Doc Brown, Jennifer Parker, or Einstein and they must get Marty’s parents to fall in love, fix the Delorean, and get it to 88mph when lightning strikes the clock tower. Easy right?
Back to the Future is played over a series of turns, with each turn having two parts. First, a player moves the turn tracker forward. This will usually affect the board state in a few ways depends on the icons present. Options include movement of characters, new trouble cards, or a Love Check. Movement cards all move George, Lorraine, and/or Biff around the board. If Biff ever meets up with the other two, bad things happen. Trouble cards will hinder the game in some way, and a Love Check may result in another stage of your photo disappearing if your parents aren’t in love yet.
After the turn track is resolved, you can activate any of your action tiles. These can be used to move your character around the board or attempt skill challenges. Each tile exhausted will let you roll one die when attempting a challenge. All dice have success icons, wild icons, and Biff icons. Success and wild are just like they sound, while Biff icons will activate the Biff character, by moving him towards George or Lorraine. If he is already in their location when activated, he moves their love meter back a step. Jerk.
Players will be moving around the board doing a variety of tasks. The core tasks are to collect the three parts needed to fix up the Delorean, move the car to the starting line, and to get Marty’s parents to fall in love. There are also side quests, called opportunity cards. If you pass those tests, you are rewarded with better action tiles and possibly items to upgrade your charter.
When the turn tracker moves to the last space on the track, lightning hits the clock tower. If the Delorean is at the start line and Marty’s parents are in love, the players win!
Let me start by saying that Back to the Future: Back in Time is, without a doubt, the best Back to the Future themed board game ever made… and it’s not even close. Granted, that’s not really a high bar to cross, but the game is actually really good. The gameplay mechanics are both fun and well made, and the whole experience feels highly thematic.
And that’s one of the things that works so well with this game. You feel like you are working on events in the first Back to the Future movie. Many games will use a licensed property as a crutch to sell copies of the game, only loosely trying itself to the source material. Back in Time does the opposite and fully embraces the central plot of the movie. This is clearly a game built around the plot of the movie.
Yet it’s also not a 1:1 remake. Sprinkled in here are a few things to help stop the game from getting stale too quickly. Things like the opportunity cards were a great addition. Not only do they help add a little variety to the game, but they give you a much-needed route to power up your character. Those starting power tiles on your board are all kinds of crappy. Once you fill it out with 3-4 upgraded tiles though, you can start really kicking butt in those tests.
Yet despite the variances with both the trouble cards and the opportunity cards, Back to the Future is also probably going to suffer a little bit with its replay value. Yes, there is some variety in each game, but overall you’ll have the same three goals each game. I do worry that, after enough plays, things will start feeling kind of samey. This kind of echos fellow BGQ reviewer Brian’s thoughts on Jaws last year (also designed by Prospero Hall): great at recreating the movie, but not much different from game to game.
The other thing to be aware of is that there is a fair amount of randomness in the game. From the rolls of the dice to how the movement cards are drawn, a run of bad luck can really set you back. We actually ended up restarting a game after 1 full round because things had gone so poorly, George and Lorraine pretty much wanted to kill each other as Biff danced over the disaster of their relationship. While the game does give you some luck mitigation options, you need to first complete a few trouble or opportunity cards to earn them.
Back to the Future: Back in Time is really a great game. Is it perfect? No, but I can overlook some of its flaws because it really is the best way to experience this beloved movie on our tabletops. The gameplay mechanics are accessible enough for just about anyone to play, and the game also requires intense cooperation between players if you hope to win. My only concern is that, after enough plays, you’ll have seen all Back to the Future: Back in Time has to offer. Which might regulate this one to a “pull off the shelf once in a while type of game.”
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great game that really embraces its source material. There hasn’t been a better Back to the Future game made.
• Luck can play a significant role early on
• Games have the same goals each play