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Mark J
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Monroe
Michigan
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Quick Rules Summary

If you know the rules and just want to chat about the game, skip to the next heading!

The game covers, well, the history of the world, from the dawn of civilization to World War 1. (I'm not quite sure why they stopped there. I'd guess the game mechanics break down with improving transportation technology.)

The game board is a map of the world, sort of. It's distorted to make places that were more important over the long haul of history larger. Like, the Middle East is much larger than in real life; Australia and the Americas much smaller.

The game is divided into seven "epochs" of several hundred years each. In each epoch, each player gets an empire of that time period. Thus, over the course of the game a player will control seven empires. The way your empire is assigned is a key element of the game: There are cards for each empire. These are shuffled, and the player with the lowest current score draws first. He can decide to keep this empire or pass it to another player of his choice. Then the player with the next lowest score draws, and so on in order. Each player can keep the empire he drew or pass it to someone else, except that if he has already been given an empire, he must pass the card he draws.

Then the empires are played in the order they came to power in history. Each empire gets a number of armies -- more or fewer, depending on how strong that empire was in history. (Like, Rome gets the most, the Celts not so many.) Each empire is "active" for just this one turn. That is, you get armies the turn your empire appears in the game and you can attack with them and conquer territory. After that you never get new armies and can never attack. You can only defend against attacks from new empires. So an empire bursts on the scene, conquers a bunch of territory, and then goes into decline. Sometimes the decline is fast: I've seen empires wiped out within one turn of appearing. Other times it's slow: in my last game the Persian Empire of epoch 2 survived into the 20th century and was still the dominant power in the Middle East.

Combat is pretty simple: attacker rolls 2 dice, defender rolls 1, compare the highest attacker die to the defender's die, whichever is higher wins. Defender wins ties. I calculate that at a 58% chance the attacker will win. The defender gets bonuses if he's in rough terrain or has a fort. But the attacker can keep attacking the same place until he wins or runs out of armies.

Each player is dealt 10 "event cards" at the beginning of the game and he can use up to 2 of these each epoch. Some cards give combat bonuses, others give an extra "minor power", and some cause other players various sorts of trouble, like plagues wiping out units.

A player gets points for control of areas and cities. You get points for both your current empire and for empires from previous turns that are still on the map.

Comparisons

I've seen several reviewers compare this game to Risk. I really don't see much similarity, beyond the simplistic one that both are played on a map of the world. History is a far more complex and sophisticated game.

I've also seen it compared to Britannia, and I think that's a reasonable comparison. A key element of both games is that a player controls a succession of empires over time. Something I never liked about Britannia was that the victory conditions for each empire are so specific that the player has little in the way of strategic choices: you MUST seek to control the territory that that nation controlled in real life. In History, there are often reasons to try to reproduce what these empires did in real life, but you don't have to, and the flow of the game may lead you to do otherwise. I played a game recently where instead of invading Europe, the Huns invaded China and ended up ruling China for centuries.

My Humble Opinions

I've always liked games on a "big scale", and this is about as big a scale as you can get without turning to science fiction: It cover the entire world for almost all of history.

But I also like games that are realistic. Of course a game is, almost by definition, a simplification of reality, but I like a game that's a simplification and not a vague resemblance. I like a game where the players have to make the same decisions that faced people in real life.

History does that to some extent, but in many areas the abstractions run amok.

Players have to make fairly realistic decisions about where to attack and expand. Some places on the map are more valuable than others: The map is divided into "areas" with different value, and the value changes over time to reflect the changing economic importance of various places. For example North America starts out worth zero but ends up being one of the most valuable places on the map. Players can build "monuments" giving a place a permanent extra point value. Etc. Players can build forts making some places better defended than others. Etc.

Some parts of the map are kept out of play by geography. You can't reach the Americas or Australia until empires with ocean-going ships arrive. And you can't cross the Sahara Desert, keeping southern Africa out of the game until the same time. That's pretty realistic. Though I think it's disappointing that empires are just GIVEN naval power, there's no player decision whether to devote resources to this.

I really dislike the event cards. The player is given 10 cards at the beginning of the game, and must decide how to allocate these across his 7 epoch empires. I like games where you have to plan ahead, but this bears no relation to reality. A wise player, of course, will not blow all his best cards on his first couple of empires. But in real life, did the rulers of ancient Egypt really sit around and say, "Should we get a great general to lead us into battle, or would it be better to save the great general for some other nation that might exist thousands of years from now and who will be able to use his talents more effectively?"

I have mixed feelings about the mechanism for assigning empires. This is clearly a key element of the game. Letting the player with the lowest score go first gives him an advantage -- he always gets a choice to keep or give away the card he draws. If it's the most powerful empire available this epoch he'll presumably keep it; if it's the weakest he'll give it away and be sure that he'll get something better. And if you draw a weak empire, you'll give it to the player who's in the lead, to handicap him for this era. So this tends to even the game out: you don't have that phenomenon that happens in some games where once someone gets ahead, he just steamrolls forward and it's almost impossible to catch up to him, and the game just drags on pointlessly. Here you always get something of a second chance.

I said that if a player draws the most powerful empire of the epoch he'll keep it, but this is an oversimplification. There are a number of factors to consider in deciding what is a good empire to get this turn. This makes this part of the game interesting. Of course an empire with more armies has an advantage over an empire with fewer. But you also have to consider location: If, for example, you control China, getting another empire in China means you could be boxed in by your own "allies". If you have some strong empires on the board, getting another empire that goes early in the turn means you get to collect points for them before an opponent gets to whittle them down. Or conversely you may get to whittle down an opponent's empire before he can score. Empires with strong navies have much more flexibility than those with small or non-existent navies. Etc.

Of course none of this empire selection has anything to do with real life decisions -- nobody chooses where to be born, never mind based on the criteria in the game. ("I'd hate to be born in a place where I'm surrounded by friends. I want to be born somewhere that there are enemies on every side so I have many opportunities to fight to the death!") But I give them this one. Assignment of empires to players has to be pretty arbitrary anyway, so why not turn it into a set of interesting decisions?

Note that this is a game of military conquest and not technological or economic development. All the non-military stuff is abstracted away. Like I mentioned that the value of different areas varies with time, as they did in real life. But in the game it's a little backwards. In real life, powerful empires tend to rise in places that are rich because they can afford to build powerful armies. In the game, the areas become rich and then great empires gravitate there. It's like saying that the powerful United States empire came to North America because the place had a strong industrial base and prosperous economy, rather than the US become a powerful nation because of that economy. (Of course sometimes nations attack others because they perceive them as rich but weak.)

A catch to the historical accuracy of this game is that they provide enough empires for the maximum number of players, so when there are fewer players, some empires never appear. This can lead to extreme distortions of history. Like what if the Roman Empire never appears? History from then on is, well, totally off on a different track.

An absurdity that happens all the time is that an empire will build a colony in some far away place, then the core of the empire will be destroyed but the colony continues to exist for centuries. Like, I recently played a game where the Persians played an Astronomy card which let them put ships in the Western Mediterranean. Then they took over the western half of North Africa. Their capital and all their holdings in the Middle East were destroyed by other empires the next turn ... but this colony in North Africa continued to exist until the end of the game, producing points for the Persian Empire every turn. Maybe you could interpret that as "they left a cultural influence which continued for generations". I'd buy it now and then, but it literally happens all the time, some far-flung outpost carries the torch of a dead civilization. It's like having a World War 2 game where even after the fall of Berlin, the Germans continue to get points for having a presence in South America.

Despite all my whiny complaints, this is one of my favorite games.
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Moritz Eggert
Germany
Munich/Germany
Unspecified
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Thanks for your extensive review!
You might want to check out A Brief History of the World - this is a slightly revamped version by the original designers which I think fixes many minor complaints one could have about the game. I think it is an excellent re-design of an already great game and the version that I play the most nowadays. There is also a faithful IOS-app which I highly recommend!
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Edwin Nealley

Ardmore
Pennsylvania
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I feel in love with the older AH Blue Box version of this game, and have never ceased to enjoy playing it when I can bring it to the table.

Biggest Disadvantage: Play Time- This game plays along the scope of older games, and while it's shorter than 'a quick game of Civ', it covers a lot of time, and seven rounds take some time to play.

Biggest Advantages: Epic- That said, seven rounds of human history feels epic in scope, and watching empires grow, shrink, and cease to exist is entertaining. We always get a big kick out of 1st Epic empires surviving to game end, and once or twice even the Sumerians stayed on the table.

It's Welcoming to All- You don't have to have taken history yet, much less passed it to enjoy this game. The simplified combat system can be played by younger players as well as older, and combats go very quickly. The strategies of expansion and survival are easy enough, and longer term occupation of space is generally a good thing.

Interactive, but not Evil- Each empire expands on it's own scale and is scored. If the Romans wipe them off the board, they still existed and scored at least once. No effort is futile here- if you occupy for longer periods of time it's a help of course, but everyone has at least their first say in History's picture.

So this is a terrific game for all. The Brief History reprint probably is mostly tailored to get the game to the table for modern players- an understandable goal. But I love the big picture this one paints, and if I have say a half day, I love to pull it out.

One of my long-term favorites, for certain.
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Jim Marshall
United Kingdom
York
North Yorkshire
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'Downtime' is the word that comes to my mind when I think about this game.

I loved it when it first came out in the UK (Gibsons edition) and played it a lot, but I came to realise that while I might enjoy the 5 minutes my turn took in a 6p game it would be another 25 minutes before I did anything else (other than defence die rolls). Playing with fewer players obviously improves this, but that increases the randomness as fewer empires come out and a map area can be left untouched for 2 or 3 turns while someone racks up easy points.

Brief HOTW improves on this, but it's still not really 'brief' (unless Civ is your reference point).

A treat to be sampled occasionally for me.
 
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Robert Lesco
Canada
Brampton
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saneperson wrote:

The game covers, well, the history of the world, from the dawn of civilization to World War 1. (I'm not quite sure why they stopped there. I'd guess the game mechanics break down with improving transportation technology.)


A coincidence to be sure, but it is still interesting that Sellar & Yeatman's 1066 And All That also stops here, on the grounds that this was where history came to a "."

One thing I remember from early plays is that a good strategy is not to be Rome. It tends to paint a bull's-eye on your back, though after a few plays I have seen people overcome this.
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Roy Hasson
Israel
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Quote:
An absurdity that happens all the time is that an empire will build a colony in some far away place, then the core of the empire will be destroyed but the colony continues to exist for centuries. Like, I recently played a game where the Persians played an Astronomy card which let them put ships in the Western Mediterranean. Then they took over the western half of North Africa. Their capital and all their holdings in the Middle East were destroyed by other empires the next turn ... but this colony in North Africa continued to exist until the end of the game, producing points for the Persian Empire every turn. Maybe you could interpret that as "they left a cultural influence which continued for generations". I'd buy it now and then, but it literally happens all the time, some far-flung outpost carries the torch of a dead civilization. It's like having a World War 2 game where even after the fall of Berlin, the Germans continue to get points for having a presence in South America.


I actually like this thing. When I play it is interesting to see how vestiges of former empires sometimes survive for ages in remote locations. You could imagine the descendants of the Roman Empire surviving in India and continuing the Roman tradition, centuries after the fall of the west. It's an interesting concept.

We actually tried a variant once called "post eminence" - whereby you would get a "pre-eminence" marker if at the end of an epoch you controlled the oldest surviving empire on the board. It led to some interesting tactical decisions.
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