Sunday 23 December 2018

Review - Timeline (British History)

Designed by Frederic Henry
Published by Esdevium Games
For 2 to 8 players, aged 8 to adult

Box art from the Timeline card game

Not a lot of people realise, but I'm a big old bag of insecurities and anxieties. When I'm in public, I put on a decent show, I'm not agoraphobic or anything like that, and it's not like I hate people (I happen to think that, in theory, the idea of people is quite a good one); but I'm uncomfortable in crowds, loathe public speaking, and really don't like getting too close to people until I know them really well. Put it this way: It's no coincidence I've ended up working a gig that means I don't ever have to leave my house and I can comfortably hide behind my words.

However, I am a parent, and that entails certain responsibilities that involve interacting with the community, especially during the festive season. It's currently the last week before Christmas, and I've already marched with my daughter in a lantern parade in front of hundreds of people, culminating in the illumination of the town lights (I can't believe Santa was there!) and a fireworks display. I've been to the mayor's carol concert where I watched her sing a selection of festive songs as part of her school choir (during which I absolutely didn't tear up at any point, just so you know). I've taken her ice skating, where I did my finest impression of Bambi, I've gone shoulder's deep into the crowds at Christmas fayres, and I've stood in the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree to sing a rousing version of Jingle Bells with her school friends.

And that's the wonder of being a parent. It forces you out of your comfort zone. You end up doing things you never thought you would do.

Playing Timeline, for instance.

Timeline really isn't my sort of game. It barely classes as a game at all. It's more of an activity: a way to kill five minutes. I had no intentions of ever owning, or even playing, the game. But it just so happens that my daughter loves history. Her favourite subject at school is history, her favourite books are the Horrible Histories books by Terry Deary (seriously, check them out, they're absolutely brilliant), and her favorite television show is (perhaps unsurprisingly) Horrible Histories and Horrible Histories: Gory Games (hosted by the always excellent Dave Lamb).

My daughter's love of history has even reignited my own interest in the past; something I thought my A-level history classes had murdered years ago.

Seeing her fascination for the subject, and being one of those people who never misses an opportunity to spin someone's interests into an excuse for buying games, I started looking for some board games to get her for her eighth birthday. That's how I ended up owning a copy of Timeline (the British History edition). I found it in a discount store for about £5, and it seemed like too good an opportunity to pass up, even if it wasn't a game I personally found particularly appealing based on what I already knew about it.

And now here I am, reviewing said game. Let's find out what it's all about...

Timeline is a very simple card game. In fact, for your money, all you're getting is a pretty small deck of pretty small cards in an embossed tin (and seriously, publishers, stop putting your games in tins; they're board games, not biscuits).

Each card has a picture on the front of an historical event and the same picture on the reverse that also includes the date of the event. The cards cover all the gory and glory of British history, including such things as the first viking invasions of Britain, the invention of the top hat, and the founding of the Bank of England. I should imagine any future editions will include Brexit, the first series of The Only Way is Essex, and that time Jeremy Corbyn allegedly called Theresa May a "stupid woman."

They just don't make good history like they used to.

A game of Timeline in progress, with cards arranged in order.

Each player gets a hand of five cards, and one card is placed on the table with the date showing to start a timeline. Players then take it in turns choosing one of their cards and placing it on the timeline. The first turn is relatively straightforward: Pick an event that happened before or after the only other event in the timeline. But as the game goes on, it becomes increasingly difficult as you can place at the beginning of the timeline, the end of the timeline, or any spot between two existing events in the timeline. You might know for sure that the introduction of income tax was after the great fire of London, but was it before or after the introduction of gas lights?

And how do you win? Easy. If you place a card correctly in the timeline, you flip it over so the date is showing, and play continues with the next person in line. If you place a card incorrectly, you discard it from the timeline and draw a replacement into your hand. The first player to successfully place five cards is the winner.

A sample of the rules from the Timeline rules book.

Like I said, it's an incredibly simple game. It's pure trivia. And that's a blessing and a curse. On the one hand you have a game that's exceptionally easy to teach, accessible for people of all ages, and plays in just a few minutes, making it an excellent filler. One the other hand, you have a game that doesn't offer any diversity in gameplay and strategy, only has a limited number of cards and therefore a limited amount of replayability, and which (as with any trivia game) heavily favours those players with a greater knowledge of the subject matter.

A hand of five Timeline cards in a card holder.

Fortunately, the cards are very cleverly constructed to provide context clues so you don't have to rely 100 percent on your knowledge of history (thankfully). For example, one event is the creation of the top hat, and several other cards depict people wearing top hats. One event is the execution of a king who may appear on several other cards if you look carefully enough. It's a great way to help people make educated guesses, and goes some way towards levelling the playing field.

Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to help me. My daughter regularly beats me soundly.

The other good thing about the game's design is that it's easy to expand. You simply buy any of the other versions of the game (Inventions, Discoveries, American History) and shuffle all the cards together to create the history of life, the universe, and everything. The game is as boundless as time itself. There are always new events happening in the world, and new discoveries about old events. The well never runs dry, and you can tailor your game of Timeline to reflect your interests. You can just keep adding to it.

And yeah, normally I wouldn't rate this game that highly. Normally I wouldn't even consider playing it. But my daughter has requested to play many times since she got it for her birthday, and I have no intentions of missing a single one of those opportunities. After all, I can't think of very many people I enjoy spending my time with quite so much.

The embossed tin for the Timeline card game.

So, this Christmas I want to thank my beautiful, funny, caring daughter for every second we spend together. I know she won't always want to play these games with Daddy. One day she won't want to march in the lantern parade to light up my world. One day she won't want to lift up her voice to lift up my heart.

She will be a young adult (hopefully one more outgoing than me). But I hope she will look back on these days fondly, and maybe once in a while she'll pull up a chair, open some cards, and relive a little bit of history.

And by then, her baby brother will be at school. So I will march in the parades with him, and sing Christmas songs with him.

Maybe we'll even play board games together.

Because these family moments are the important events that have created my own timeline. And I'm truly blessed because, much like the game, I can just keep adding to it.

Merry Christmas, everybody.

Merry Christmas to all of my readers. Thank you for your continued support. I hope you have the very best of everything the festive season has to offer, and you can fill your timeline with all good things. If you would like one of those good things to be a copy of Timeline, you can find all of the different versions online or at your local games store.

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