There are legit pop-culture disagreements (like just how bad was Rise of Skywalker and Star Wars vs Star Trek), but I’ll fight anyone who tries to claim that there are any time travel movies better than Back to the Future. It has everything: action, romance, comedy, and a cool car. And now, you can relive all of those moments with your family in quarantine with Funko’s new tabletop game, Back to the Future: Back in Time.
What Is Back to the Future: Back in Time?
Back to the Future: Back in Time is a fully cooperative game for 2-4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes about 60 minutes to play. It’s currently available on Amazon and at your friendly local game store (and please support your local game store) for $29.99.
Back to the Future: Back in Time is GeekDad Approved!
Back to the Future Components
Inside the box, you’ll find a host of really cool components, including:
- 1 game board
- 1 DeLorean time machine miniature
- 4 player character miniatures (Marty, Doc, Jennifer, and Einstein)
- 3 non-player character miniatures (Lorraine, George, and Biff)
- 4 player mats
- 20 starter power tiles (5 per player)
- 24 power tiles
- 8 custom dice, 2 in each of 4 colors
- 24 movement cards
- 24 opportunity cards
- 18 trouble cards, 6 in each of three levels
- 13 item cards
- 3 DeLorean part tiles
- 3 knockdown tokens
- 1 turn tracker
- 1 turn tracker cube
- 6 MyFly family photo tiles
- 1 love meter
- 1 love meter cube
- 1 clock tower dice tower
- 1 rule book
It’s not too often that I get excited about playing a game just from opening the box, but this one has such great components that just about anyone you show it to will immediately demand that you play it with them. (And if they don’t, you should probably not be friends anymore. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.)
The board itself is a rendering of the town of Hill Valley, divided into 10 places, each an iconic setting from the movie. The path the DeLorean needs to drive is marked, along with a reference for the DeLorean parts and a reminder that George, Lorraine and Biff cannot enter the Town Square.
The first thing you see when you open the box is the Flux Capacitor. It’s just printed on the back of one of the quarters of the board and doesn’t have anything to do with playing the game, but the fact that the designers took the extra effort to make sure that you get such an iconic image from the movie when you open the box, instead of the normal blank board, shows the care that went into creating the game.
The next thing any normal person is going to do once you pull the board out is grab the DeLorean. How can you not? This matchbox-sized mini is so cool. I mean, the moment Doc Brown decided to build a time machine out of a DeLorean, that was pretty much a given, but come on, you’d have to be a bit dead inside to not want to play with the car at least a little.
Interestingly, while the car is highly detailed, the rest of the artwork, from the other minis to the cards to the board itself, is highly stylized. I have no idea if there was a problem acquiring the rights to use the actors’ likenesses or if it was just a design choice, but everything else is rendered like a comic book. But it still works.
The character minis are very well done. Even though each of the player minis is a single color, the color matches the player mat and backs of the starter power tiles. But even if that wasn’t true, the minis are detailed enough that no one is going to confuse Doc from Marty, or Marty from Jennifer. And Einstein, of course, is even more different.
The same applies to the three non-player minis. George and Lorraine are both the same shade of pink, but again, their sculpts are so well done that there’s never any confusion. And Biff, the largest of the minis, is a bright red.
The player mats are nicely laid out. Each is perfectly sized to provide space for the power tiles, and each features a nice, big piece of artwork that perfectly captures each character. The mats also have the character’s special power printed on them (more on those below.)
The power tiles themselves are nice and simple: just the symbol for their associated dice and a line of text for their movement ability. The player starter tiles are nicely balanced and show the extra care the designers put into thinking the game through. Each player starts with five tiles: one for each of the four dice colors, plus a fifth that is a repeat of one of the others. But that extra tile isn’t random. Instead, it nicely pairs with the role each character needs to play: Marty gets an extra Courage tile to help fight Biff, while Jennifer gets an extra Love tile to try to get George and Lorraine together. Einstein is going to mostly be devoted to moving the car, and so gets an extra Speed tile, while Doc, of course, gets an extra Knowledge tile.
Throughout the game, players have the ability to earn extra power tokens, all of which offer significant upgrades from the starters. There is a set that allows the player to roll a combination of two dice, four tiles that double up each color, and two tiles that represent wilds, allowing the player to roll any dice they choose. There are also tiles that allow for modifying rolls, changing a symbol to a wild or a single wild to two wilds. And finally, there are four tiles that allow the player to reroll any Biffs they get, and two that allow for movement up to 6 spaces instead of the usual three.
The eight custom dice follow the game’s bright and cheery color scheme. Each has two bad sides with Biff, two wilds, and then one single and one double of the power specific to the dice color. The wilds are important: there’s a rule that you can never roll more than 2 dice of one color, and yet some of the challenges need three of a symbol. So the ability to roll any color dice for any challenge, with a 1-in-3 chance of getting the wild, makes sure that no players’ turn is ever wasted. (But, also, there’s an equal 1-in-3 change of rolling Biff.)
In order to succeed in the game, the players need to move the DeLorean. But before they can get it all the way to the street next to the clock tower and go back to the future, they need first to assemble the parts needed for to make the car go: gas, the power cable, and the hook. These are represented by the three part tiles, and will almost always be among the first things the players try to do.
Fans of the movie will surely remember the photo Marty carries with him of him and his siblings. As hs changes the past and accidentally endangers his parents’ relationship, his siblings and then he slowly vanish from tthe photo. It’s used as a device in the movie to tell Doc and Marty (and the audience) how much time they have left. And it serves basically the same purpose in the game. The love meter is a board that has a tracker along the parameter where players move the love cube forward and back and they bring George and Lorraine together, but Biff drives them apart. But the space in the middle of the tracker is filled with a comic book-style representation of the photo, broken into six pieces. If at any point in the game, all six tiles are flipped over to their no-kids side, the players automatically and immediately lose.
Turns through the game are tracked on a turn meter, which, like the love tracker, is the same thickness as the board. One side of the tracker is for 2 and 4 player games, and the other is for 3 players. An orange cube is used on the tracker to represent each turn.
The remaining cardboard pieces are the three Biff knockdown tokens, which are simply small circular pieces.
The rest of the components are cards, which are divided into four sets. The first are the movement cards. These force the players to move George, Lorraine, and/or Biff. George and Lorraine always move a given number of spaces clockwise or counter-clockwise around the board or jump them to specific locations. Some cards move both of them, and others only one. Except for the four cards that move both lovers, all also feature Biff symbols, which move Biff one or two spaces. These cards provide an element of randomness to the game that almost always messed up the best-laid plans for the players. Towards the end of the game, they provide the tension that exists near the end of any well-made cooperative game.
The second set of cards are the opportunity cards. These represent scenes from the movie that provide additional challenges the players can complete and are the primary way that players get additional power tiles, which in turn give them the additional dice they will need to win the game. These opportunity cards show the location where they are placed when drawn and the challenge symbols needed to complete them. Many of them either grant the player who completes the challenge an item, allow players to knock down Biff, or move the love meter.
Those items are another key element for success in the game. They represent some of the props shown through the movie, like the video camera, Biff’s homework, and the radiation suit. Each grants the player holding it a special ability that can be used once each turn.
The final set of cards are the trouble cards. While the opportunity, movement and item cards are all that standard miniature card size used in a lot of games, the trouble cards are slightly larger squares. This deck is further divided in to three sets. All represent the mischief Biff’s gang gets into (fun fact: one of the members of Biff’s gang is played by Billy Zane), but each set presents slightly more difficult challenges to the players. The cards are drawn throughout the game and essentially force the players to deal with them, as their continuing effects will make it difficult, if not impossible, to win if they are ignored.
Frequent readers of my reviews will know that I hardly ever mention the rulebooks. I sort of assume that you will know that the game includes one, and most aren’t worth talking about. This rulebook, though, deserves a shout-out. Inside, the rules are clearly laid out, with lots of pictures to make sure you understand what they’re referencing. But the cover of the rulebook is what makes it cool: it’s a representation of the comic book that Old Man Peabody’s son, Sherman, holds up to show his dad that what crashed into their barn was none other than a UFO. (Fun fact: while neither kid is mentioned by name in the movie, the boy has a name in the credits while the girl is simply “Peabody daughter”. And, second fun fact: Jason Marin, the actor who plays young Sherman, would a few years later be featured as the voice of Flounder in Disney’s The Little Mermaid.)
The final component is the one I honestly leave in the box: the 3d clock tower dice tower. It is the one component that is disappointing, both because it honestly doesn’t fit together all that well, but also, if placed on the clock tower spot on the board, hides some of the board from the person sitting behind it. And, if used as a dice roller, it guarantees that the dice will tumble out and across the board, and everyone knows you never roll on the board. But thankfully, it’s really just an added thing that doesn’t matter to the game, so simply pretending like it isn’t there works well.
How to Play Back to the Future
Before I begin the discussion of the rules, I want to go ahead and address the elephant in the room. The game takes place entirely in 1955, and focuses on Marty’s attempts to ensure that his parents fall in love and Doc and Marty’s plans to power up the time machine and get him back to 1985. Obviously, it therefore makes no sense at all that two of the characters would be Jennifer Parker and Einstein, who together have maybe 15 minutes of screentime, all of it in 1985. However, I’m willing to forgive the game’s designers for this. The 1955 portion of the movie essentially only has two main characters: Marty and Doc. The only other characters of any note are George, Lorraine, and Biff, and to have them be playable requires creating an entirely different game. Sure, they could have used characters from the 1955 part of the movie, like future mayor Goldie Wilson, Vice Principal Strickland, or a member of Lorraine’s family, but none of them would have made any more sense to turn into major characters, either. So accept that the game exists in a slightly different BTF timeline where Jennifer and Einstein came back with Marty, and all is well.
The goal of the game is have the DeLorean in position and Geogre and Lorraine in love at 10:04 when the lightening hits the clock tower.
To setup the game, place the board in the middle of the table. Each player picks a character and takes the player mat and starter power tiles for their character. The character minis are all placed in the Town Square. The remaining power tiles are mixed up and placed in a stack near the board. George and Lorraine are each placed at their houses, Biff is placed at the Clock Tower, and the DeLorean is placed at its start place in the school parking lot. The three DeLorean parts are placed face down (with the power symbols showing) in their designated spots.
Place the love meter near the board and assemble the six picture tiles on it. Place the white love tracker on the 0 spot. Place the turn tracker near the board with the orange turn cube on the appropriate spot for the number of players.
Shuffle the movement cards and opportunity cards separately and place them near the board. Then, draw the top three opportunity cards and place them in their designated spots on the board. Place the deck of items nearby as well, but there’s no need to shuffle it. Individually shuffle the three sets of trouble cards and place them in three stacks. Place the dice and knockout tokens on the table.
If you want, you can assemble the clock tower and place it on the board as well.
Fire up the BTF soundtrack. I recommend the Intrada special collection, which is Alan Silverstri’s amazing score. It’s pricey but worth it. Alternatively, you can get the original soundtrack release, which featured the music by Huey Lewis and other artists.
Choose a player to go first. I’d recommend chosing whichever player most recently travelled back in time, but the rules don’t have a requirement so whatever works for your group.
Start with the turn tracker. You don’t move it on this first turn, but you still need to do what it says: draw a level 1 trouble card, which is placed wherever it says on the card, and any effects are carried out immediately. Then, draw a movement card and follow its instructions. Usually, they will instruct you to move either Geogre or Lorraine a certain number of spots clockwise or counter-clockwise. You then move Biff one space per Biff symbol on the card. ‘
All movement, whether by non-player characters or the players, is always orthogonal. Diagonals simply don’t exist in Hill Valley in 1955 (I think they were invented about a decade later.)
When moving Biff, he always heads towards either George or Lorraine, whichever is closer. If they are equidistant, he will move towards Lorraine. In the image above, the first trouble card is “Strickland Looks for Slackers”, and it is placed at Hill Valley Hill. It says that until the card is dealt with, no players can attempt to fight Biff. The first movement card (visible in the extreme right edge of the picture) was a Biff card – it just moves Biff twice. He was at his starting location at the Clock Tower, and so he moves two spaces down the road on the left, since Lorraine is closer to him than George.
Now, it’s the first player’s turn. When playing a four-player game, there’s an obvious tactic, based on each player’s initial focus. Einstein has an extra speed token, so it makes sense to have that player focus on moving the DeLorean. Doc has extra knowledge, so he should try to assemble the parts. Jennifer, with her extra love (aww), should try to get George and Lorraine together, and Marty can fight Biff.
Rather than a straight reguritation of the rules, I’m going to take you through a few sample turns, which will give you a flavor of the game and allow me to describe most of the rules.
But given that the first trouble card prohibits fighting, the first player in this game should probably head to the high school and try to take care of that. So we’ll use Marty. He flips over the love tile to move (each tile can be used to move up to three spaces instead of rolling its dice), and then, once at the high school, can spend his speed token to try to defeat the trouble card.
But would it make more sense to also use one of those courage tiles as well? Every additional dice obviously increases the odds of success, but at the same time, increases the odds of rolling Biff. But, powers that aren’t used in a turn are wasted, so why not? So, the Marty player flips over one of those tiles to show that they have been used and rolls. The initial roll is a good one: he gets a lightening bolt on the yellow dice and two stars on the blue. The trouble card only requires a single speed icon, and the lightening bolt is always wild, so the challenge succeeds. Marty discards the trouble card and gets its reward: a new power tile, which he takes from the top of the stack and places, face down, on his player mat.
But Marty still has two tiles left: a green and a blue. And the high school happens to also have the first DeLorean part needed, so Marty can go ahead and try for this as well. (This would be the reason to use the love tile to move, so as to save the green knowledge tile for this.) As before, there’s no reason to waste a tile, so even though the part only needs a single knowledge icon, Marty rolls both remaining dice, after flipping the tiles. This time, the roll is a bit less lucky: he comes up with a the double knowledge icon and a Biff. Resolving the knowledge icon first, Marty succeeds in acquiring the part, which is flipped face up and placed at Doc Brown’s house. But, then, he has to deal with that Biff dice, which functions just like Biffs on movement cards. In this case, Biff will move one more space–to Lorraine’s house. That could be trouble, since if the movement card that will be drawn before the next player’s turn shows any Biff icons, the love meter will go down.
But, wait. There’s one more thing Marty can do this turn. Each character has a special, unique power that they can use once per turn, and Marty’s is particularly helpful here: he gets to move Lorraine up to two spaces towards him. Since Lorriane is in danger with Biff at her house, he uses this power, moving Lorriane to George’s house.
Marty’s turn is now over, so he flips all of his tiles–including the new power he just drew–over, discovering that he can now convert courage symbols on blue dice to wilds.
Next up is Doc. At the start of his turn, the turn tracker moves forward one space, which requires a movement card draw. This card tells the players to move Lorraine clockwise two spaces–thereby undoing Marty’s use of his power–and move George one space counter-clockwise.
Doc has that extra knowledge tile, so he spends his love tile to move over to the South Shops to try to get gas. This will be a bit trickier since it needs two knowledge icons, so Doc decides to increase his chances and roll three dice: both of his green and his blue. The roll is OK: he gets one knowledge symbol and a Biff with his green dice, but the blue dice comes up with the star symbol, totally useless here. But hope is not lost: players always set aside Biff dice but then can reroll any other dice as much as they want. Since he needs two knowledge icons, Doc decides to set aside the knowledge icon he already rolled along with Biff and reroll the blue dice. And, bummer! He comes up with a second Biff. So, the challenge fails. He doesn’t pick up the card.
But things go from bad to worse here. Thanks to the movement card, Lorraine is back home, with Biff. And any time a Biff symbol comes up, whether because of dice or a card, and Biff is already in the same location as either George or Lorraine, instead of moving him, players move the love meter down. In this case, it drops two spots, to negative 2. (It can’t go below negative 4.)
Now, Doc has one tile left: his yellow. He could use it to try the opportunity challenge at his location, and it reqiures a yellow symbol, so he figures it’s worth a shot. He flips and tile and rolls a yellow … and success! He discards the opporunity card and claims its reward: a power tile and the Radiation Suit item, which he draws from the item stack. He can’t use it this turn, but on future turns he can flip it over to ignore Biffs that he rolls.
Before ending his turn, Doc could decide to use his power–jump to the DeLorean’s location–but decides not to, opting instead to stay put and try the part again next time.
Einstein is next. He once again moves the turn tracker, and again draws a card. This card works well for the players, instructing them to move Lorraine counter-clockwise three spaces, which puts her at the Clock Tower, far away from George but luckily far from Biff as well. The card also has a Biff symbol, though, so he moves. At this point, both George and Lorraine are the same distance from him, so he’ll go up one space towards her. Einstein’s main job is moving the car, and he can only do that if he is in the same space as the DeLorean, so he spends his love tile to move to the parking lot space, and then decides to roll all four remaining dice to try to get movement symbols. HIs initial roll comes up with a wild on one of the yellow, a star on the blue, and Biffs on both of the other two. A few rerolls of the blue dice later, he hits a wild, thankfully avoiding a third blue. So he moves the car forward two spaces, and then moves Biff two spaces to the Clock Tower where Lorraine is.
But Einstein’s special ability helps out here, and is an easy call to use: if Biff is within one space of the dog, Einstein can bark to scare him off, moving him up to two spaces away. The player decides to move Biff to the high school, where Marty is.
Another movement on the turn tracker takes us to the next draw of a trouble card. It’s worth noting here that trouble cards do not automatically restock, but are instead only drawn when indicated on the turn tracker. In addition, only one trouble card can be out at a time, so if Marty hadn’t defeated the earlier card on his turn, it would now be discarded in favor of the new card. This one has the players move George back to his house, and prohibits players from escorting him or moving him.
I haven’t mentioned escorting yet, but it’s another special ability players have: whenever they move, if they move into a space with either George or Lorraine, they can continue their movement with that character in tow.
The movement card this time says to move George counter-clockwise two spaces, but the trouble card overrules that so he doesn’t move. Lorraine, however, moves clockwise one space, to the parking lot. Cards that move both George and Lorraine never include Biff symbols, so he stays put.
Jennifer wants to focus on that love meter, but she can’t roll to move it unless Lorraine and George are in the same space. So, she first spends her green tile to move three spaces: first, one space up to the Clock Tower, and then two more spaces to the parking lot and then the high school, but when she was at the Tower, she picked up Lorraine so they move together. Jennifer then uses her yellow tile to continue moving and escorting Lorraine. She only needs two of the three movement points to get to George’s house.
Before she rolls her pink dice, she decides to spend her blue dice to try to get rid of that trouble card. And, success! A blue star and the card is discarded, allowing Jennifer to also draw a new power tile. Now, it’s time to try to get those crazy kids in love: Jennifer rolls her two pink dice and rolls really well, with both of them coming up on the double heart side, so she moves the love tracker up four spots to positive 2.
Jennifer’s special ability is to move any of the other characters up to 2 spaces towards her. Doc and Marty are both fine where they are, but when it gets to Einstein’s turn, he wants to try to move the car again. However, thanks to his successful movement on his turn, he is no longer in the space with the car. So Jennifer uses her ability to move Einstein down to the high school, meaning he won’t have to waste one of his tiles moving himself.
Jennifer is done, so she flips over all of her tiles, including the new one she drew, and sees that in future turns she will be able to treat one heart icon as if it was a wild.
It’s Marty’s turn again, and so he starts with the turn tracker. This time, it says that players have to flip one of the pieces of the picture over. This happens seven times on the tracker, but there are only six pieces, and if all six are flipped the players lose. The only way to stop it is to have George and Lorraine be in love–meaning that the love tracker is on one of the hearts on spaces 13, 14 and 15. That isn’t the case here so the top part of Marty’s brother vanishes as he fades from existence.
The movement card is also bad news here: Lorraine moves two spaces counter-clockwise, putting her back at the high school. And since Biff is already there, those two Biff symbols also move the love tracker down two spots, resetting it to zero.
Marty is going to fight Biff. He takes his two blue tiles, along with this green one, to roll three dice. He gets fairly good results: one of the blue dice comes up with a star, and the green dice is a wild. The other blue is a Biff.
When fighting Biff, every hit–either a star on the blue or a wild–knocks him down. For the first hit, players tilt his piece on the side. Subsequent hits are shown by adidng knockout tokens. So, briefly, Biff is knocked down and a token is placed on top of him. But then, we have to deal with that Biff face that was rolled, which simply takes away the token. Still, a good result.
Now, Marty spends his new power tile to move. There’s no point in saving it since it converts stars to wilds, but he has already used both of his blue dice. He grabs Lorraine and they head back to George’s house. Once there, he can do one of two things with his remaining tiles: either try the opportunity challenge that is there or roll for love. Even though the opportunity needs a green and a yellow to succeed, and he only has yellow and pink tiles left, he decides to go for it, particularly since the challenge can only be attempted when George is also there (this is stated on the card.) So Marty flips over both tiles and rolls … and gets lucky, rolling a speed icon on his yellow and a wild on the pink. As a reward, he draws a power tile, moves the love token up two spaces, and draws the Cassette Player item card, which he can use in future turns to draw a power tile if he fails a challenge. The opportunity card is discarded, and because there always have to be three cards on the board, a new one is drawn right away. At the end of his turn, his special ability isn’t needed, since Lorraine is already in the same location.
I’m not going to continue through the game, as this run-through of the first few turns has, I think, covered all of the rules for movement, rolling the dice, and moving the NPCs.
There are a few other things to note. First, players may never roll more than two of any color dice. If they have enough tiles that they could roll more than that, they need to make different attempts. Second, players cannot have more than eight power tiles. If they draw beyond that, at the end of their turn, they can look at their tiles and discard any–including their starter tiles–to get down to eight. The exception is if a character has received the backpack item, which allows players to keep ten tiles. And finally, players in the same space can help each other out. They can add their own dice to challenges (although the two-per-color rule still applies) or they can use other special powers. However, when they do this, they flip over their tiles, and they can’t flip them back until the end of their turn. So helping another player means sacrificing powers on your turn.
The game ends when either all six of the photo tiles have been flipped over, at which point the game automatically ends, or if the turn tracker reaches the 10:04 spot and the players have managed to get the DeLorean to one of the last three spots on the board and George and Lorraine are in love. If the turn tracker reaches 10:04 and either or both of those conditions have not been met, then the players lose. However, if the players achieve those conditions early, they do not automatically win, and instead have to play out the final few turns until the turn tracker reaches 10:04, hoping that cards or Biff don’t reverse their progress to the point that the conditions are no longer true and they lose anyway.
Why You Should Play Back to the Future: Back in Time
As a long-time fan of the movie–I remember seeing it when it was originally in theaters–I was looking forward to this game as soon as I saw it was coming out. Thankfully, unlike the movie’s sequels, the game doesn’t disappoint.
There are enough strategic and tactical decisions throughout the game to make it challenging. Do you risk rolling extra dice to increase your chances of success but likewise increase the odds of rolling Biffs? And if you are going to roll extra dice, which colors? The odds of getting wilds are the same on every dice, but each one you use is one you can’t use for something else that turn. This becomes more difficult as the game progresses and you start getting those special power tiles. Is it worth burning a “Reroll all Biffs” tile just to move?
But what’s best about the game is that there’s so much of the movie in it. Yes, it’s silly that Jennifer and Einstein are major characters, but that’s easily forgiven thanks to the appearances of Strickland and Goldie and Uncle Joey–behind bars (in his playpen), of course. Biffs gang is an anonymous group that causes havoc and gets in the way, just like the movie. And I love the little touches like the disappearning photo.
But is the game just for fans of the movie? Definitely not. The first time we played I thought my son had seen the film recently enough to remember it, but I was wrong. We hadn’t shown it to him in years (our best guess is that we probably watched it five years ago, in 2015) and he only had a vague recollection of what happened. (He also had the movies confused with each other in his mind, and was wondering why there was no train in the game.) But he enjoyed playing it for the sake of just playing it.
But, a disclaimer: after that first play through we watched it again (the whole trilogy is currently on Netflix) and then on our second game he enjoyed it even more, since the references made sense. So it’s entirely possible to enjoy the game if you aren’t familiar with the movie, but you’re at least knowing the movie makes a fun game even more fun.
Most of the time, I write up reviews after one, maybe two plays. As of this writing, we have already played this game five times. Sure, some of that has to do with the fact that we’re in quarantine and are generally playing more games now than normal, but of the hundreds of games on the shelves, this is the one my son keeps asking to play again. And really, there’s no ultimately no better compliment for any game than that.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.