Whole Lotta History – Timeline review

Timeline COVER

Y’know, not every game out there has to be a three hour marathon, complete with a multi-volume rulebook and several thousand pieces. As we’ve seen before, simple can often be satisfying – check out something like Love Letter which provides a fantastic game experience in only sixteen cards, or my current favourite to end a night, Loopin’ Louie. An approachable game that keeps things easy can often be as enjoyable as an epic that requiresacres of table space and an IQ the size of a planet.

And with that, I present to you Timeline. I was first made aware of it a couple of Essens ago when I was sat in Dusseldorf airport with Rory and his wife Anita (of Story Cubes fame), waiting for a delayed flight home. He pulled out this little tin packed with teeny hobbit-szed cards, explained the rules to me in about thirty seconds, and boom – we were away. Now (at least in the UK) it’s been picked up by Esdevium Games and repackaged in a bid to see if it’ll be as popular here as it is in mainland Europe.

The premise is simple. The game comes with two hundred and twenty cards, each one depicting a significant event in history. From the birth of the universe through to the invention of the personal computer, this isn’t a game for the creationists amongst you… The cards are double sided, though the image shown for each of the events is the same on both of them – the only difference (and the thing that the game is built around) is the year that the event occured is shown on one side. Four cards are dealt out to each player – there are strict rules about keeping the cards with the date face down on the table – and a further one is flipped over in the centre of the table.

In turn, players must choose one of their cards and add it to the middle creating a Timeline, a series of events in chronological order. As the beginning of the game, this is rather easy – you’ll invariably end up with huge swathes of time in which to place your own cards. Once you’ve decided where it’ll go, you flip to reveal the date on the back; put yours in the correct position and it’ll stay there, reducing the amount of cards that you need to get rid of. However, if you’re incorrect, the card is discarded and you must take another from the draw pile. First to get rid of the lot wins. It’s almost alarmingly straightforward.

It’s also really quite enjoyable, a game where knowledge is useful but you’re still in with a decent chance if you have even the vaguest ability to work stuff out and make educated guesses. If you’re forever playing with the same people, week in week out, I fear that the pleasure may run thin after a while – sure, there are a load of cards in the pack but, much like Trivial Pursuit, you’ll soon get to know the answers and it’ll become a matter of who remembers previous games best. For hardcore gamers, Timeline will end up little more than a diversion… but it’s not really aimed at them, is it?

Of course not. It’s pretty much a kids game, and while not all of them will enjoy it – after all, it’s almost like you’re learning something – there’s a good amount of children out there who will have a blast with Timeline. Pit them against some grown ups and they’ll soon be hollering with pleasure as the adults screw up yet again while the youngsters throw down their final card… it’s a game where the field will level out with repeated plays and when you can finish a round in around fifteen minutes, it’s quick enough to break it out multiple times in a single session.

This new version of Timeline also comes with larger cards than the original, meaning that smaller hands will be able to handle them just fine. Sadly this means that it’s not compatible with the Asmodee release, which is a bit of a disappointment. The French company have actually released four different versions of the game since 2010 (Inventions, Discoveries, Historical Events and Diversity), but it seems that Esdevium have gone for a mix and match approach with their take on the game, grabbing elements from all four to create the English game. Still, the game is ripe for expansion – after all, it’s not like there’s a limited amount of history that they can look to in order to create new cards.

My only major downer is the packaging the game comes in. The box is IMMENSE and really pretty flimsy, crushing easily. Also, where previous Esdevium releases of this ilk (like Jungle Speed or Buzz It) have seen fit to include a fabric bag to stash everything in, the only thing that Timeline comes with is a CD-ROM of the game to play on your PC. I’d have preferred a way to chuck the box and keep the cards together, but at least bags are easy enough to come by. It would’ve been even better had they gone with the awesome little tins that the originals came in, but perhaps the desire for larger cards (and the need to hit a certain pricepoint) outweighed this. You can understand why they went down this path.

Minor production issues aside, this is a charming wee game where – gasp! – you might well actually learn something. Educational games are notorious for being utterly awful, but Timeline manages to straddle the divide between pushing knowledge and providing entertainment quite well. Like I said, it’s not a game for everyone, but given the right audience, you could be in for something of a surprise.

Timeline was originally released by Asmodee in 2010, with this English version following up through Esdevium Games in 2012. Designed by Frederic Henry with art by Nicolas Fructus, between two and eight can play with games normally taking around 15-20 minutes. Should you fancy a copy for yourself, why not see the charming folks at Gameslore who can provide you one for a mere £12.49?

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