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Subject: Timeline 2012 reprint review: a flawed gem? rss

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Barry Hood
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Coventry
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This is a quick review specifically of this 2012 English reprint of Timeline (which seems to include a combination of existing cards from the previous Timeline: Inventions, Timeline: Discoveries) and possibly Timeline: Historical Events, although I don't remember any events coming up).

The game

If you are unfamiliar with the original game, it's a great little filler card game that you can literally teach in a couple of minutes. In fact the rules sheet included in the box is small and yet it's obvious they have had to stretch a lot of the descriptions in order to fill this sheet (or maybe some of this is a result of it being translated from the original and not well edited).

Essentially the point of the game is that you're laying cards with an invetion, discovery etc on one side and a date on the reverse, you do not flip the card to reveal the date until you have guessed where it fits in the timeline you're building. Position it correctly and you successfully reduce your hand by 1 card, place it incorrectly and you move it to the correct place and take a new card. The winner is the first to reduce their hand to zero.

It's a really simple concept but it's great fun and literally anyone can comfortably jump into a game regardless of their skill level with board or card games. You don't even need to be that great at history, the artwork often gives you a clue as to the date so even the very young can make a reasonable stab at a guess.

The components

On the subject of the artwork, those little cards really are a work of art. There are over 200 of them in this edition (I believe they re-use the art from the previous editions) and each one is beautifully drawn. The cards are the real meat of this game, and this version comes with larger cards than the previous versions. Usually this is a good thing, but the drawback we found was that the timeline quickly became unmanagable, in a four player game you don't need to make too many mistakes before the timeline is ridiculously long and you then need to split it over two, or even three, lines, which can detract a little from the experience.

It's by no means a huge issue, but since you're not holding the cards in your hand they probably could have stuck with the smaller cards, it feels like they made this decision to appeal to people who dislike hobbit cards without really considering if it would enhance the playing experience. The cards are otherwise of really good quality, which is just as well - I can't imagine you'd want to sleeve a stack of 200+ cards (although you can always just take out maybe half of them at once since you're unlikely to burn through that many in one game).

And now the not so good...

After the cards that's where the components unfortunately take a turn for the worse with this edition, and really this was my reason for writing a review specific to this version of the game. The other editions come in very stylised metal tins which, love them or hate them, would still be a world apart from the awful box in this edition. The cardboard is cereal box thin, you wouldn't want to include this in a stack of games unless you don't mind it getting squashed and battered out of shape. The cover art is fine I guess - it just repeats the art from some of the cards with the logo splashed across it - but it's not as interesting as the steampunkish look of the originals. The plastic insert is that nasty thing plastic that they used to use for packaging software CDs back in the 90's, so it feels really flimsy and looks brittle.

On the subject of software CDs from the 90's, the game actually comes with a digital version of the game on a CD. In one of the worse packaging decisions I've ever come across, the CD clips into the plastic tray covering the cards, meaning every time you want to get the cards out to play a quick game you have to fiddle with removing and replacing this disk, which is again an experience made worse by the quality of the insert and the feeling it might snap or crack with repeated use (check it out in the game images and you'll see what I mean). My first move was to dump the box and drop the cards into a bag until I can find a suitable replacement.

On the subject of the CD itself, I have to admit I didn't play the digital version of the game. It's a nice touch that they included this but I would have preferred it as a digital download or an app - in this age of tablets and netbooks and smartphones it's increasingly rare to find a computer with a CD drive attached and I didn't want to play the digital version strongly enough on a traditional computer to go seek one out, whereas if it was something I could play on my phone during downtime it would have seen more use (and on that front I can highly recommend the iPad app version).

In summary

I initially had some concerns about the replay value, but realistically with 200 cards you tend to find you can remember roughly where to play a card, but remembering the exact position can still be a challenge unless you have a photographic memory ("I know this was some time in the late 1800's, but there are already ten cards in that time period, where exactly does this fit...").

This adds another dimension of strategy to the game where you will want to save your obvious cards (invention of writing, etc) until late in the game, but you have to balance that against getting one of your less obvious cards wrong and having to draw the upcoming card you don't like the look of. I guess if you were really determined you could go through the deck and learn every card off by heart but for most people I don't see this as being a big problem, and there is a lot of room for future expansions to keep things fresh.

Aside from the packaging issues I can't recommend this game highly enough. Not much is more portable than a deck of cards, and yet it's a game anyone can instantly grasp and start playing with minimal instruction. Games take a few minutes so it's a perfect lunch break game or a quick filler in between bigger gaming sessions or just to kill the odd five minutes here and there. The only tweak I would suggest to the original rules is that you reduce the starting hand as you add more players to keep the timeline manageable. Other than that, for me this is a must buy.
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Ben Croft
United Kingdom
Nottingham
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delinear wrote:
The components

... the drawback we found was that the timeline quickly became unmanagable, in a four player game you don't need to make too many mistakes before the timeline is ridiculously long and you then need to split it over two, or even three, lines, which can detract a little from the experience.


Are you placing the failed cards into the Timeline? My Esdevium copy of this great game distinctly state: "If the card has not been placed correctly, it is removed from the game"
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