History of the World – Games I Play

History of the World – Game Overview

History of the World Game Box

History of the World is an Avalon Hill war game for up to six players. History of the World was originally published in 1991 while the most recent version came out in 2001. Players play through seven epochs, playing different civilizations (“empires”) each time.

The goal is to expand your influence across the map and then hope it sticks. Points are calculated for a player immediately after that player takes their turn and the number of units a player gets is not based on previous accomplishments (but rather is a static number associated with the empire that you are playing for that turn) which gives History of the World a very different feel than many other war-related board games.

What I Like About History of the World

I plan to make Games I Play be a regular type of post for this blog. The games will generally be older games that have been extensively reviewed over at the geek. These posts will vary in length depending on the game and discuss what I like and dislike about the games from both the perspective of a player and from the perspective of a would be designer.

First and foremost I like the game’s simplicity. It takes a long time to play but does play fairly quickly, with the downtime between players being acceptable. A non-war-gamer can easily play this game and I also feel a non-gamer could jump into a game and figure out the basics.

History of the world is not a zero-sum game. I’m not a math person but from my understanding of things zero sum means that for one person to gain someone else must lose. Risk is a zero-sum game. For Player A to get more units next turn he must take away territory from Player B who then gets less units on his or her next turn. Many games operate in this way (and I do not wish to imply that they are all bad because of this). While it is an acceptable format it can lead to a lot of frustration as Player B has had their turn neutered by the actions of Player A, and with my group this can lead to a bit of complaining and general discontent with the game.

On the other hand with History of the World’s game style your previous turns do not affect what you are capable of doing in later turns, at least not directly. This results in the game feeling a bit more casual while still being interesting.

The Affect One Turn Has on Another

As I said turns (epochs) do not directly affect each other. However to say that they do not affect at all would be misleading. Another aspect of History of the World I like is the self balancing way in which the different empires are handed out. There are seven different empires for each epoch meaning even in a full six player game one of those empires will not be used. (I like this as well as it creates a bit of diversity between plays in and of itself.)

The seven empires for the current epoch are shuffled and then the player in last place picks one and either keeps it for themselves or passes it to any other player. Then the next to last player does the same and so on. No player can be given more than one empire and thus a player must decide just how good each empire will be for each player in order to determine who will get it. There is more to how good an empire is than just how many units they get because the empires play in the same order each game and sometimes it is to a player’s advantage to go early in an epoch. Because of this, doing well in epoch three will make you a target for a bad empire in epoch four and thus the games turns are not at all in a vacuum and players that are falling behind are given a chance to catch up.

What I Don’t Like About History of the World

As I just mentioned there is a balancing effect built into the game by the way that the epochs are distributed. I do in fact like this but I feel that on occasion it does not do its job as well as it should. For example, if the player in last place draws a poor empire and thus passes it to another player they may well get stuck with whatever empire is drawn at the end and it may be as bad or worse than their original choice. While going last does give them a better chance of seeing a more worthwhile empire it by no means gives them dibs on the best empire and sometimes the cards will come down in such a way that they will be driven even further behind.

The Cards

I’m going to talk more about the cards under my thoughts on the game design but here I will mention that the cards are a bit frustrating in that they are not very well balanced. While I consider this more of a game design issue it does end up impacting the playability and fun level of the game.

Are we there yet?

The game is long. I like long games sometimes and as I mentioned before this game moves fairly well, but still a three- to four-hour game is not for everyone and it does make it hard to fit in with the busy life of the modern gamer.

Thoughts on History of the World’s Game Design

I think History of the World is a fairly unique game. It holds some war game aspects but in a lot of ways it does not act at all like a standard war game.

The Cards Again

First, an interesting design aspect associated with the cards is that you get ten cards that are to last you the entire game. You can only play two a turn and there are seven turns so you can’t possibly play two every turn. The cards are the only persistent resource you have throughout the game as everything else is based on the empire you are currently playing.

Not Really About Cards

I like this idea. Conservation is a game concept that I don’t feel is used often enough. Most games seem to want to reward aggressiveness (which is important as well) but ignore conservation. On the other hand some games reward conservation by making “Turtling” a viable and often preferred strategy. I use the term Turtling to refer to holding a position in a game and effectively doing nothing else on your turns.

In Risk 2210 Turtling began to be considered the optimal strategy in my group and that was when the game took a sharp decline in play. In History of the World there is next to no Turtling, as you calculate points at the end of your turn. While you can build forts to defend, it costs you an army and is generally only done when there are no points to be gained by attacking.

Back to Cards

The problem I have with the cards is that they are not very well balanced. As I mentioned this is annoying from a player/enjoyment aspect but it also bothers me as a game designer in that it seems as though they really didn’t think some of the cards through. Some of the cards are incredibly situational while others are always good, and some are just lesser versions of others. The latter is a far more severe game design flaw than the former but both bother me.

I think the best example of this is the difference between Reallocation and Civil Service. Both of these cards allow you to get coins, which are primarily used for “buying back” a unit that has just died, however they can only be used while attacking and only for the current empire.

The first difference between these cards is that Reallocation is a Greater Event and Civil Service is a Lesser Event. A player only gets three of the former but gets seven of the latter. In general I would say that the Greater Events do have more impact on a player’s turn than the Lesser Events.

Civil Service gives a player one coin plus an additional coin if that player has a capital (only 12 of the 49 empires are lacking a capital) and another additional coin if that player has Navigation (which is the ability to cross certain bodies of water and only 19 of the 49 empires lack Navigation). So most of the time Civil Service will give a player at least two coins and if played at a good time (especially later in the game where almost all empires have a capital and navigation) will in fact give three coins.

Reallocation, as I said, also gives coins. Unlike Civil Service a player must sacrifice navigation routes to gain these coins. There are only seven empires that get three navigation routes and one that gets four so most of the time a player is going to only get one or two coins from playing this card. Also many of the empires that have a lot of navigation routes are designed to spread out using those routes, and they take a very serious hit when sacrificing them. Of course, you could just sacrifice some of your routes but again this makes the card pale even more when compared to Civil Service.

Perhaps that was a little more detail than was required but I hope that it explains my frustration. Most of the other cards are solid without being overpowered and offer the player choices to make and risks to take. There are a couple of cards that are under-powered but the negative impact of drawing one of these cards will not cripple a person’s game.

Another interesting aspect of the game relates to how points are accumulated. A player gains points for having capitals, cities and monuments (two points for each capital and one point for each of the others) but then also gains points for having Presence, Domination, and Control of the different areas of the game map.

Presence is defined as having any single space in an area, Domination is having at least two spaces and more than any other single player, and Control is having at least three spaces and being the only player in an area. To make this concept even more interesting the designers made different areas of the game worth different amounts of points based on the epoch. For example, Northern Europe is worth nothing at the beginning of the game but becomes the most valuable by the end. Presence gives X points based on the epoch while Domination gives a player 2X and Control gives a player 3X.

During the early game players are often fighting for Control but by the end the best way to score points tends to be to spread out and claim Presence in as many areas as possible. I really like what this does for the game as players are not always trying to eliminate each other from areas as sometimes it is more effective to just claim a foot hold and then stop.

One Last Comment on History of the World’s Design

The 2001 version of the game includes what they call Preeminence Markers. These are tokens given to the player in the lead at the end of each epoch. These tokens are not revealed until the end of the game and can be worth between three and six bonus points.

I very much like this addition to the game. It creates a level of mystery that would not be in the game without them and it gives players more incentive to be in the lead early. Without them, being in first is a strict disadvantage as the player in first always gets stuck with either the last empire or an empire handed to them by another player. I find it interesting that they added this aspect to the 2001 version but failed to adjust the cards to make them more balanced.

History of the World – Bottom Line

History of the World Game End

I think that History of the World is a fairly unique and generally fun game. If players were so inclined it would not be that difficult to sit down and modify some of the cards to make them more balanced. My group tends to avoid doing this but I can see that some groups would be much happier with the game after a couple of minor revisions.

I also enjoy the history aspect of this game. I like to watch history unfold in a unique way each game as empires make different choices. One of my all time favorite moves was when Spain (under my leadership) Reallocated its ships and charged East into Europe. It may not have been the best move game-wise but it certainly amused the heck out of me.

There is a bit of subtlety to the game as well. An example of this happened when we played this past weekend. My wife had done quite well at the end of one turn and then willingly kept a comparably weak empire because it went early in the round. It was a solid move that gave her a shot at winning the game (even though she didn’t end up winning).

If you love History of the World or hate History of the World or even if you’re completely indifferent to it let me know why in the comments!

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    Matt Says:

    This has to be my all time favorite war board game so far. No two games have been the same for the most part and the game leads to more casual feel which it a lot more fun. Although the game Josh mentioned this past weekend I got clobered. I was dead last by at least 25 points behind the next person and 50 or so behind first.

    To show how bad of a killing it was I’m the red army in the picture, and score is kept on the border of the board. Our friend Nick, the yellow army, was in first. As you can see I was throughly owned. But it still was a great time, and that is a big part why it’s one of my favorite games.

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    I came in third or fourth, I forget. I was doing okay for most of the game though. Still I was really grumpy during this particular game. Not sure why exactly… besides the fact that I am a very grumpy person.

    Pat and I have joked that we need to have our own TV show where we review movies and such. We can call it Two Angry Men.

    “What do you MEAN you hated THAT?! THIS aspect of the movie was WAY worse!”

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    Scott Says:

    Don’t worry Matt, I think most of the times I played History of the World I was closer to your position in that game. I can’t remember if I might have eked out a win, once. Once.

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    Scott Says:

    Ahh, but would Two Angry Men be as ratings-worthy as Cooking With Josh and Scott?

    I do picture it a little like a sitcom, one where the main characters are in constant need of stunt-doubles.

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    Two Angry Men would certaining have less FIRE than Cooking with Josh and Scott and in this day and age FIRE = good entertainment.

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    Scott Says:

    Though keep in mind that these men are ANGRY. People love to see impassioned, angry discourse.

    And what about when the Two Angry Men get to tear into an acting performance that is itself an angry rant?

    Speaking of angry, I feel I have to link to a Bob the Angry Flower comic.

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    FC Says:

    “Reallocation, as I said, also gives coins. Unlike Civil Service a player must sacrifice navigation routes to gain these coins. There are only seven empires that get three navigation routes and one that gets four so most of the time a player is going to only get one or two coins from playing this card. Also many of the empires that have a lot of navigation routes are designed to spread out using those routes, and they take a very serious hit when sacrificing them. Of course, you could just sacrifice some of your routes but again this makes the card pale even more when compared to Civil Service.”

    Say whaaaa? Me thinks you’re not playing this right. Reallocation can be positively devastating in the final rounds. You’re not placing the additional coins in each sea area? When you place a coin in an ocean you must also place a coin in each sea area that connects to that ocean. Note that for this purpose sea areas forming a “chain” are considered connected: as an example all the mediterranean and black sea areas connect to the Atlantic Ocean.

    The British Empire is absolutely formidable with this card. By choosing where to invade you can take away coins from the minor sea areas you’re not interested to rebuild destroyed armies. Note that the british empire has access to the ENTIRE map!

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    FC Says:

    Never mind, I just saw your other post!

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    FC is referring to this History of the World post, for the record.