Dave and Tony joined the regulars to give us a full table of 6 last Sunday. First choice fell to Andy. After a short swither which included a disparaging nod in the direction of my mention of Battlestar Galactica, he plumped for History of the World. This choice pleased me because I'd been hankering lately to revisit this fine old game.
History of the World and all that
Looking back from the vantage point of the second decade of the 21st century, it is possible to see 1991's History of the World as the last word in a unique moment in British games design; a moment which- though quite self contained, was simultaneously widely influential; far more so surely than anyone could really have imagined at the time.
Across the Atlantic in the early 1970's James F. Dunnigan's SPI was a leading innovator in conceptual and graphic design as it tried to challenge Avalon Hill's domination over the recently emerged board wargames market. Meanwhile back in Britain, the pre-eminent boardgames manufacturers of the time were two stalwarts of the family games market:
- J. W. Spear & Sons: founded in Germany, Spears became exiles from the Nazi regime in the 1930's.
- Waddingtons: publishers of the original Cluedo.
Younger readers might find it hard to imagine- in these globalised days of worldwide mass commodity shipments; online purchasing with express despatch from vast centralised warehouses; and, naturally enough, the dominant market position of Games Workshop in its sector of the adventure gaming hobby industry; but in the early 70s Britain simply couldn't support a company of the ilk of AH or SPI. Neither the home hobby market- dominated by cottage industries producing historical miniatures, nor the transatlantic distribution chain- limited in quantity and largely one-way, were sufficient to sustain such an enterprise.
This discouraging background notwithstanding, a small group of designers and companies were able to produce some games which broke out of the family games mould; which demonstrated innovative mechanics; and which set new standards in functional and attractive graphic design. Chief among these games were:
- 1829 (BGG) (1974): the grandfather of the contemporary railway-building genre.
- Kingmaker (BGG) (1974): set in the Wars of the Roses, Kingmaker was the original game of dynastic conflict, in which players:
- Amassed armies of nobles and mercenaries as they vied to control the senior surviving heir from either the Yorkist or Lancastrian houses while eliminating all members of the other royal house.
- Captured nobles in battle and ransomed them back to their enemies, or not.
- Held Parliaments and voted to divvy up the spoils of war.
- Holed up forever in their castles to avoid marauding enemy armies or the plagues in the cities (a turtling tactic which would make games drag on for inactive ages).
- Offered early proof that beer and pretzel needn't mean dumb.
- Delievered the first card-driven combat resolution system of which I am aware.
- Expansion and development.
- Resource management and trading.
- Advancements cards- special abilities.
- Calamity cards- events.
- 1829 (Wiki)- of which BGG says, "The board gaming hobby has in its history a few landmark games, which redefine a part of board games in general, or even spawn an entire genre. 1829 is just such a landmark"; lives on the 18xx series still produced by designer Francis Tresham.
- Kingmaker (Wiki) was produced in an AH editon- to my knowledge the first British boardgame to be taken up in this way by one of the big 2 in the US; which came complete with an expansion.
- Civilisation (Wiki) too was published by AH- running to 2 editons with 4 expansions; was also published in several European-language editions; and that's even before you mention its disputed role in inspiring the computer game Sid Meier's Civilization.
What went down
Note: the pictures are illustrative of the empire of the player in front in each epoch.
- Gav: Indus Valley- 12VP
- Dave: Egypt- 8VP
- Andy: Babylonia- 7VP
- Donald: Sumeria- 7VP
- Me: Shang Dynasty- 5VP
- Tony: Minoans- 4VP
- Gav: Vedic City States- 27VP
- Tony: Persia- 27VP
- Me: Assyria- 24VP
- Donald: Carthaginia- 22VP
- Andy: Greek City States- 19VP
- Dave: Scythians- 19VP
- Tony: Maurya- 56VP
- Donald: Romans- 48VP
- Andy: Macedonia- 47VP
- Me: Sassanids- 44VP
- Gav: Celts- 43VP
- Dave: Han Dynasty- 39VP
- Gav: Arabs- 84VP
- Tony: Goths- 77VP
- Donald: T'Ang Dynasty- 75VP
- Andy: Byzantines- 70VP
- Dave: Huns- 64VP
- Me: Khmers- 60VP
- Gav: Holy Roman Empire- 132VP
- Andy: Mongols- 110VP
- Donald: Chola- 98VP
- Tony: Franks- 95VP
- Me: Vikings- 86VP
- Dave: Seljuk Turks- 80VP
- Gav: Mughals- 165VP
- Andy: Timurid Emirates- 155VP
- Donald: Portugal- 130VP
- Me: Spain- 115VP
- Tony: Incas/Aztecs- 110VP
- Dave: Ottoman Turks- 108VP
- Gav: Germany- 205VP
- Andy: France- 182VP
- Donald: Manchu Dynasty- 164VP
- Dave: Britain- 158VP
- Me: Netherlands- 156VP
- Tony: Russia- 143VP
Usurper tyrant 1
Grumbling under the yoke 0
Another great play of a game I like more and more each time I play it. This being only HotW's third appearance on the table we were still getting to grips with the game's strategic intricacies, exactly as with War on Terror the last time we played that. In particular we (for 'we' read Gav) realised that there is more to passing off Empire cards at the start of each epoch than just giving rubbish wee empires to the leader; there is also the matter of ensuring that a powerful empire can be cut down to size before it has a chance to score everything twice (I'm afraid readers will have to wait for a future play before I explain all these rules references).
Our game last Sunday took some 6 hours to play, a time which will limit how often we play HotW, naturally enough. One consequence of the inevitable long gaps between plays was- and will no doubt continue to be, that some of the key rules and fiddly case exceptions had just slipped our mind; so that they took some getting used to. These rules aren't complicated per se but- as I noted after our first play last Easter: the rules of HotW leave a little to be desired when it comes to clarity; a problem residing mostly in the realm of the lack of concise summaries of oft-used mechanics. I aim to address this with a summary sheet ASAP.
Also we routinely violated one essential rule of the game: "No 'diplomacy' must take place during the [Empire card] distribution phase." We'll have to do better next time.
In short: we'll be back if I've got anything to do with it! ;)