Where I'm coming from
Civilisation themed games appeal to me. I also like games that aren't too long. Not to mention games that can be played solitaire. So naturally when I learned of this game it aroused my interest.
The question though is does this bring anything new to the genre? How much theme and detail does it sacrifice by keeping down the play time? Does the game hold up in solitaire mode compared to multiplayer?
The game can accommodate 1 to 6 players but really this is a 6 player game. Whether you're playing solitaire or with up to five players, it recommends you make up the player count with civbots. This is one of the exciting features of the game; the ability to include automated opponents that are challenging but not onerous to administer.
The board itself is interesting. There is a spacial aspect to your nations which occupy territories on the world map but this takes up a small corner of the board leaving the lion-share of the board space to the technology/military matrix. This is a funnel shaped matrix where all players begin at the lowest level and may then progress by moving through the two dimensions allowing for a greater divergence between military strength and technological progress over time.
The game is played over three eras with four rounds per era. Players accumulate points through owning territory, raiding their neighbours, successfully waging war, their government type (defined by their position on the matrix), meeting their leader's goals and potentially through wonders they have built. Whomever has the most points at the end is the winner.
Learning the game
There is a fair amount of iconography to assimilate although it is fairly logical and the players are helped by handy reference sheets. The main thing the new player must get to grips with first is the action cards.
There are also a certain series of actions (affecting all players) that must be performed at the end of each round and are indicated by their various icons on the time wheel in one corner of the board. Understanding what each of those actions are and how to time ones play to fit in with these end of round actions is also important.
In each round, players simultaneously play an action card from their hand and this process repeats until at least one player has played the 'Revolution' action which will trigger the end of the current round. All players have the same action cards in their hand as each other and the skill of the game is learning how they all work together and how to time their actions most effectively. When an action is played, it goes into your discard pile.
What limits what you can do in each round, besides having the necessary power cubes to spend (which I shall talk about later), is also getting your spent action cards back out of your discard pile. At the end of each round, you will get at least two (the oldest two) back again but invariably you will have used more than two actions last round so you often find yourself unable to perform an action you really want to do because you did so many actions last round.
Advancing your technology level can make new action cards available to you, can unlock advanced capabilities of existing action cards or allow you to play more actions at once so this is the only sense in which your civilisation becomes more efficient, able to get more done in a round.
Because each round is of variable length you don't know what you will be able to get done by the end of the round. If you don't play a 'technology' action this time planning to do so next time you might not get a chance if someone else plays a 'revolution' card.
The turn order is re-evaluated at the beginning of each round (actions are evaluated in turn order) putting those with the least points at the front. This serves as bit of a catch up mechanic because sometimes it's advantageous to go before others.
These are great. Each can be assigned one of three difficulty levels which basically dictates how many actions it can do each round. There is a deck of six civbot action cards that are shuffled and drawn from randomly. This with a simple straightforward system for choosing where to expand to and who to go to war with makes administering the civbots quick and painless. They are definitely intrinsically aggressive and you will need to stay ahead of them militarily if you don't want to be dominated by them.
In the solo game, unlike the multi-player game, the human player can be eliminated from the game which basically means that you have no option but to ensure that you focus on your military. It is far more important than your technology level than in a multi-player game. So whilst it is a shame that your strategic options are somewhat limited in the solo game, the civbots do make challenging and unpredictable opponents.
So how well does this game capture the theme of building a civilisation and which aspects does it cover?
It's pretty abstract, it has to be said. Each player's civilisation is basically defined by three measures:
1) Which territories a player occupies on the map of the world
2) The player's position on the technology/military matrix
3) The tableau of wonders that each player has built in front of them
Military and technological progress are individually linear but the matrix creates an interplay between them that does two things:
1) Certain military levels have minimum technology requirements and vise versa.
2) The matrix is divided into regions which indicate government type. The type of government you are in awards points and/or recycles power cubes (resources) at the end of each round.
There is a small touch of asymmetric player powers in the game with 7 different nationalities to choose from. Each comes with a deck of five unique advisers that become available to the player when they reach particular levels of technological progress. These can be played as an action to convey various one off benefits. They're a bit like the 'Great People' in the computer game 'Civilization V'.
Players draft leader cards at the beginning of each era, each having different goals on them which award the player points if they have achieved them by the end of the era.
There is no concept of an economy in the game and consequently no engine building aspect as one does in games such as 'Through the Ages' and 'Nations'. There is one generic resource: power cubes. You start with a small pool of power cubes (which expands at regular intervals over the game). You spend power cubes by expanding into new territory, by advancing your military or technology, or to acquire a wonder. Spent power cubes can be recycled (made available to you again) through the execution of certain actions, by reaching particular military levels or by activating particular wonders you have built.
There is no flavour or variety in your military. In 'Through the Ages' you can recruit different types of military units, employ different military tactics and research military technologies. In Historia military is simply an aggregate. Likewise, technological progress is linear and you don't pick and chose what you research. You simply advance your technological level which may unlock new abilities or advisers. Although it has a map and hence a spacial aspect to your civilisation (unlike 'Through the Ages' or 'Nations') it is quite simplistic. You can only trade with or raid your neighbours (until you have discovered navigation). You can only go to war with someone you share a territory with. Gaining territory does nothing other than give you points.
So, while it does lack an engine building aspect, and the flavour of non-linear technological and military progression included in some other civ building games, I think the shorter play time at least goes some way in making up for this. Also the spacial dimension of the map adds some flavour. If you want it for solo play, 'Through the Ages' is not an option and the civbots make for a more interesting solitaire experience than the score maximisation exercise that is 'Nations'.
So far I have had two 3 player games (padded out with civbots) and three solo games. I haven't played with the optional Event cards that promise to shake things up a bit so that will be interesting at some point. Right now, I don't feel the need for them.
The limited strategic options for the solo game might impact the games longevity for playing that way but the variability of setup, the availability of higher difficulty levels will help to keep the game fresh for some time to come.
Wonderful review! I'm an "early adopter" on Historia having backed it on Kickstarter a few years ago. I probably have played 50+ solo games, along with another two dozen games against my girlfriend (definitely a "non-gamer"), but I can get her to the table for Historia. She's the first to create an impressive tableau of Wonder cards, and has come from behind and overtaken my military accomplishments through her use of the Wonders!
Personally, I'm not a fan of Through the Ages...I want to like it, but the management of resources is far too cumbersome and the military was broken in the game, as attested by scores of players. I believe that they fixed those issues with the new version...we'll see. As for Nations, I do enjoy the engine-building aspect of it and that hits the table quite a few times during the year. It's currently listed on my 10x10 Challenge for 2016.