Designed by: Frédéric Henry
Published by: Asmodee
Playtime: 15-30 minutes
History can be a dull and difficult subject to become invested in. In many ways it serves little practical purpose on a day-to-day basis. It’s not often that you suddenly find yourself confronted with a pressing need to name the date of the Battle of Hastings or to tell someone when tophats became a thing in Britain. And yet history is important because it can teach us so many valuable lessons about life. If you can get past its initial dryness, history can be a fascinating subject full of breathtaking stories and weird facts. Timeline attempts to prove this with a simple but enjoyable family card game that requires very little learning and plays in about ten minutes. Plus it comes packaged in a nice little tin.I mean, just look at how cute it is.
Explaining the basic premise of Timeline is very easy; each player gets four cards with historical events on them, from things like the founding of the Bank of England to Britain becoming an island and the Battle of Hastings. Timelines casts its net wide, from thousands and thousands of years ago to 2016, and covers the small and the large. The player’s job is to take it turns to play one of their cards, attempting to guess where in the timeline it fits. At first there is just a single card which gets placed on the table from the top of the deck. When they’ve decided whereabout it fits they flip the card over to reveal the date: if it’s right then nothing happens, but if they’re wrong a new card must be taken from the deck. First person to get rid of all their cards wins. It’s that simple.
As the timeline grows, though, things become harder. With one card on the table there’s only two options, place one of yours to the left to indicate you think it happened earlier, or to the right for later. There’s a 50% chance of being correct either way. But now that a second card is in play it becomes a bit more difficult: does the card you want to play take place before or after the two existing events, or does it go between them? The answer could be easy if there’s a huge gap between the events on the table, after all if one is Britain becoming an island and the other is the UK choosing to leave the European Union then the chances are the card you have goes between them. However, sometimes you’ll wind up with quite a tightly knit timeline, making the game more challenging.
So to put it simply it’s an educational game, for both adults and children alike. Frankly this did not impress my eight year old niece since school hasn’t exactly been teaching her very much about history. Needless to say she struggled massively the first couple of times we played, and so did I, to be honest. History isn’t my strong point and a lot of mistakes were made. We both got better, though, as we began to memorize events, or at least get a strong inkling of where they fitted into the timeline on the table. My niece became proud that she knew when the 999 emergency number had been introduced.
Despite this I can’t say she ever seemed to be really enjoying herself. The desire to learn from the game wasn’t there simply because the game itself wasn’t all that fun. Kids and educational games only tend to mix when the educational side of things is a little more hidden. Truthfully me and my friends enjoyed it much more, and that’s because we were drinking and thus our own lack of historical knowledge became a topic of much laughter.
Speaking of historical knowledge there is a potential problem with one member of your group having actually paid attention in school and therefore putting everyone to shame. It’s a problem all trivia style games have; some people are very, very good in one area or another. You could even face the reverse, with the group being generally very good at their history and one person not. To be fair it’s a problem any game can have, after all you might end up playing against someone whose mind simply clicks with a specific type of game, letting them dominate. However, I’d argue that you’re generally more likely to encounter someone with a reasonable grasp of British history. In other words if one of your friends can list the exact date that top hats appeared in Britain but the rest of you can barely remember what year we voted to leave the EU it might be worth tying your friend up and shoving them in the cupboard.
There’s also an issue with replayability. The more you play the more familiar you become with the dates, obviously depending on your own memory. To counter this there’s a substantial stack of cards so unless you’ve got a photographic memory remembering all of them won’t be an issue, but you’ll doubtless still become quite familiar with many of them. With that said it’s possible to mix Timeline sets together, creating an epic pile of cards in the process.
Timeline has a lot of fans, so it saddens me to say I’m not one of them. I do see the appeal, but I find it rather dull to play. After taking it out of the tin a few times I felt done with it. Arguably, though, I never got to play it with the right people and at the right time.