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Subject: History of the World: my view. rss

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Rob Mortimer
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History of the World: my view.

Preamble:

My formative years were spent playing games that took more than 4 hours to play. Although nowadays I tend to prefer games in the 1-3 hour range, I was keen to play History of the World since it reminded me of Civilisation and, particularly, Britannia, two games that I played numerous times as a teenager. We’ve now played a couple of games of the Avalon Hill version, with 4 and 5 players, so I feel ready to offer my views.

Components:
The components are simply fantastic. The board is well done, with a good range of colours, and although occasionally it is hard to interpret the slightly stylised geography, it works extremely well. Land provinces, sea and ocean spaces and impassable barren land areas are defined clearly, with straits shown by dotted lines connecting two land provinces. There is a victory point track around the outside of the board, in which every space is numbered. There are 5 standard dice. There are 30 capital/city markers, 32 forts, and 36 monuments to represent infrastructure. All of these pieces are plastic, but they are very pleasing to the eye. The capital/city markers are simple grey cities on one side, and gold-embellished capitals on the other. They fit snugly into the fort pieces, which is an extremely nice touch. The monuments are simple arch structures that are entirely fit for purpose. As if these excellent pieces weren’t enough, the game then delivers 600 (yes, six hundred!) coloured plastic troops. There are six player colours (pinkish red, purple, dark blue, orangey yellow, purple, khaki, and green). The colours are slightly unusual shades, but they complement the board really well. My only complaint is that the khaki and green are rather too close for rapid identification of troops, which is a shame. These troops represent the seven different Epochs of the game, and are styled after representative troops from these time periods (Egyptians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Mongols, Spanish and British). There are also round cardboard tokens to represent fleets/coins and pre-eminence tokens. In addition, there are cardboard scoring strips that are stacked and placed in the scoring box of each continent. Finally, there are 49 Empire cards (7 for each epoch) and 71 event cards. The cards are standard size, and reasonably thick. The Empire cards contain excellent artwork and information on both sides, but the rest of the cards are rather plain text affairs.

Overall, a clear 10/10 for components. This game looks fantastic when it’s set up. It all comes in a large box that is turned into a storage container with some thick cardboard inserts. The rulebook is clear and easy to read.

Gameplay:
The game is played in seven Epochs (rounds), each of which depicts a period of history. Players command one Empire from that time period, scoring points for expanding, and controlling infrastructure. At the end of each Epoch, the player with the most pints also scores a pre-eminence bonus. New Empires are drawn each round and the winner is the player with most points at the end.

To set up, the board is placed on the table and then the score charts for each coloured land area (continents or sub continents) are stacked in chronological order. Each player places one of their plastic pieces on the scoring track around the outside of the map. Next players are dealt three greater event cards and 7 lesser event cards, which they may look at. These represent all the cards that the players have at their disposal during the game since no further cards are drawn. It should be noted that some cards can only be played in particular epochs. Finally, the Empire cards are separated into the seven Epochs, and the pre-eminence markers shuffled, face down.

To begin the game, players draw their Empire cards for the first Epoch. Players roll two dice, with the highest roller drawing first. That player draws a card from the deck and decides to either keep it, or to pass it to another player. If a card is passed to another player, the recipient places it in from of them but cannot look at it until all the players have empires. Each player in succession follows this procedure. Any player who already has a card when he/she draws one must pass the new cards to another player. Unused cards are discarded.

The Epoch is then played out. One player reads the list of Empires from the back of his/her Epoch I card, starting with the Empire at the top of the list. If a player has the card corresponding to the Empire called out, he/she plays a turn. All players play their Empires in this way, and then the Epoch ends. During a turn, a player first decides whether to play any event cards. Up to two cards of any type can be played per epoch, but they must not be identical. Some cards can only be played during certain Epochs. Greater even cards include Leaders and Weaponry that give advantage in battle, Reallocation that allows naval resources to be diverted into land troops, and Minor Empires that give small empires in addition to the Active Empire which is the main one played during an Epoch. Lesser events allow a variety of smaller scale bonuses or destructive actions to be undertaken. Some lesser events allow coins to be taken. These can be spent to return a defeated army or to buy forts.

After playing cards, the player brings on their Active Empire. They first consult the Empire card to determine which province that empire starts from, whether they have a capital city, and whether they have any fleets in certain seas/oceans. Next they take a number of troops equal to that Empire’s strength. The first army is placed in the starting area, alongside a capital if the Empire has one (any existing army, city, capital or fort is removed). The player can then expand by placing armies into adjacent areas, one at a time. Land provinces may only contain one army and players cannot expand through barren areas. If a player places an army into a province containing another player’s army, combat occurs. Fleets are used to connect land provinces across sea or ocean areas. Unplaced armies can be exchanged for forts at any time.

Combat is simple. The attacker rolls two dice, keeping the higher number, and the defender rolls one die. The higher number wins, and the defeated army is eliminated. Both armies are eliminated in the event of ties. Repeated attacks against one province are allowed if initial attempts fail, provided the attacker has sufficient armies. Attackers receive bonuses for some event cards. Defenders receive 2 dice, keeping the higher, if there is a terrain feature in their province that the attacker must cross (mountains, Great Wall of China, forest). Defending across straits also gives defenders 2 dice and defending across a sea or ocean gives defenders 3 dice. In contrast, forts give a +1 die roll modifier to the defender, and then they act as an additional army for removal of casualties (attacker must defeat fort first, then army). If an attacker conquers a province containing a capital, it is flipped over to become a city. If a conquered province contains a city, it is removed from play. Monuments are unaffected by combat. Finally, for every two provinces containing a resource symbol that an attacker conquers with their Active Empire (ie. minor empires not included), he/she may build a monument. Monuments must first be built at an Empire’s capital, thereafter at any city, and thereafter in any area with a resource symbol.

Once a turn is complete, fleet markers are removed and the player scores for all his/her armies on the board. When scoring, the player looks at each colour-coded continent area in turn and checks the scoring marker. If he/she has at least one army there, that is classed as ‘presence’ and the first number on the score marker is scored. If he/she has at least 2 armies and more than any other player in an area, that is classed as ‘dominance’ and the second number on the score marker is scored. If he/she has at least 3 armies and is the only player with armies in an area, that is classed as ‘control’ and the third number on the score marker is scored. Dominance is worth twice as many points as presence and control is worth three times as many points as presence. In addition, the player scores 2 points for each capital, plus one for each city and monument controlled.

Once an Epoch is complete, the player in the lead gains a pre-eminence token that he/she may not look at until the end of the game. Next players check the scoring charts to see if any need to be updated for the next Epoch by removing the top chart from the pile. New Empires are then drawn following similar rules to the start of the game except that the order of drawing cards is in reverse victory point order, from the player with least points (first) to the player with the most (last). There are rules for sorting out ties, based on the strength of empires just played.

After the seventh and final Epoch, players reveal Pre-Eminence markers and add those points to their victory points, and the player with the highest total wins (ties are broken in favour of a player who played weaker Empires… determined by adding the strength of all Empires played during the game).

There are a few optional rules for more advanced play, one of which I would recommend for even first plays, which is to separate the minor empire cards from the other Greater Event cards, and to ensure that each player gets one of these plus 2 other Greater Events in the initial draw.

So What Do I Think?

I like History of the World. It reminds me of Britannia (on which it is partly based), but it is both a little longer and lighter than that title. There is a reasonable amount of luck involved (dice rolls and empire card draws) but strategy also plays a role. It is less prescriptive than Britannia because not all the Empires will be drawn, which provides a variety of options. There is certainly an advantage to knowing something about the starting positions and relative strengths of each Empire, so newbies will be in trouble if they play a group of experienced players.

My favourite part of the game is the Empire draw phase. This can be luck driven, but it also offers some delicious opportunities for catching the leader or mischievous play. Weaker players may get stronger Empires and the leading player is likely to get a weak Empire. There is lots to think about in this phase because the strength of an Empire, the timing of when it plays in a turn, and where it plays in relation to the existing troop layout on the board are all important considerations. It is a good way of incorporating a catch the leader mechanism, and it goes some way to counteract the pre-eminence tokens. The latter are useful but not game breakers since they are worth only 3-6 points each.

Overall I give History of the World a commendable 7 out of 10. It is quite long (4-5 hours) and the downtime can be tedious but I guess that is what we should expect from a game that tries to simulate the History of the World! I like both Britannia and History of the World, but I suspect that neither will make the gaming table that often because they are too long. If we do get time, we’ll probably choose Britannia because it is shorter. It is no mean feat that players consistently learn something about history playing these games, and they are certainly rich in theme. Maybe Avalon Hill could consider making a third in the series that covers another region, but with the aim that it can be played in under 3 hours. If there is sufficient variability, with interesting choices and historical context, I think they’d have a winner on their hands.

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Andrew Prizzi
United States
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Thanks for the nicely done review. History of the World is one of my all-time favorite games. It took me a second to realize you were talking about the HASBRO-Avalon Hill edition. I own the pre-Hasbro AH version, and that's the only one I've played. It doesn't have any pre-eminence tokens so I was a bit confused by that at first. How exactly do they work? The "old" avalon hill did put out another game in the Britannia/History of the World mold- called Maharaja which covered the history of India from Alexander the Great to European colonialism. I've never played it though, so I can't comment on playing time. There is also a game called "Mesopotamia" that uses similar mechanics and is available as a free (I think) download.
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Rob Mortimer
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prizziap wrote:
Thanks for the nicely done review. History of the World is one of my all-time favorite games. It took me a second to realize you were talking about the HASBRO-Avalon Hill edition. I own the pre-Hasbro AH version, and that's the only one I've played. It doesn't have any pre-eminence tokens so I was a bit confused by that at first. How exactly do they work?


Thanks for that. I forgot to specify HASBRO-Avalon Hill, so thanks for pointing that out. The pre-eminence tokens are basically additional victory point chits. The player in the lead at the end of each Epoch gets to draw one but they are not revealed until the end. The vary in value from 3 to 6 points. They haven't had a significant effect in our games. One of the optional rules is to leave them out altogether.

prizziap wrote:
The "old" avalon hill did put out another game in the Britannia/History of the World mold- called Maharaja which covered the history of India from Alexander the Great to European colonialism. I've never played it though, so I can't comment on playing time. There is also a game called "Mesopotamia" that uses similar mechanics and is available as a free (I think) download.


Thanks for that. I'll check those games out.
 
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Dave de Vil
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You may have noticed a new map on the files. This was my first effort, I've just posted a new version with some 250 land area which should be up in a few days.
I'm working on a 20 epoch rules set to accompany this, with several hundred empires.
I'm also a Britannia fan (I was a playtester on the new version) and you'll see that I've simplified the map as regards terrain, with each area now having one basic terrain type rather than the rather fiddly borders. This is to facilitate Britannia style PIP (population increase points), as empires get to play on each turn for which they have surviving units.
Rules so far include a new combat system making battles more interesting, and different rules for settled and nomadic nations.
I would welcome any suggestions for more rules, particularly if you think you can liven up the combat!

Details posted on the Britannia discussion group:

http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/eurobrit/files/History%2...
 
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George Van Voorn
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Quote:
There is also a game called "Mesopotamia" that uses similar mechanics and is available as a free (I think) download.


Indeed. The game Mesopotamia: Birth of Civilisation http://www.boardgamegeek.com/game/4199, by the Australian G. Stevens, covers the history of the Fertile Crescent, Egypt and Greece from the Sumerians to the Persians. It plays very well with four or five players, it resembles Britannia and HotW and I'm positive it really fits your wishes!! Another pro is that it is free for download. Only drawback: you have to cut and paste it yourself. But there are only 25 cards, so that is doable (be sure to have good card stock) and the counters need to be cutted. Maybe the kids like to make their own counters!!

Oetan
 
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Seth
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Noord Brabant
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Would you consider HotW over Mare Nostrum? I'm considering buying a game with a Civilisation theme. But not the original since it takes too long to finish.
 
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stuart cudahy
Australia
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cool review. I think the game is worth 8 out of 10. The system is innovative and players always think they have a chance right up to last epoch. A unique game and fun. I heard AH also released a computer game version that had cool AI? cheers Stu
 
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Chris
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But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty
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RobM wrote:
At the end of each Epoch, the player with the most pints also scores a pre-eminence bonus.


That's a great idea - History of the World as a drinking game!
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