21 September 2018
The rise and fall of empires ascends to new heights
A tabletop chronicle of human civilisation from its emergence to the modern day, History of the World has itself become a piece of history. This latest restoration, a remastering and revamping of the 27-year-old game, proves that it won’t be consigned to the annals just yet.
This is a game full of striking features. Among the most immediate is the central map, a distorted reimagining that resizes and even completely relocates regions to create an almost fisheye-style abstraction of the globe. A little jarring at first, the magnificent illustration begins to make perfect sense as you play, with geographical accuracy surrendered in favour of easing along the world-sweeping jostling for control of territories and avoiding a cluttered board. Just as eye-catching is the first player marker – a 3D catapult that doubles as a way of tracking tokens spent during sieges. It’s a little unnecessary and unwieldy, sure, but it captures the joyful spirit that soaks through the rest of the game.
History of the World gleefully subverts the classic civilisation format, presenting a buffet of empires for players to pick and choose from at the start of each round, rather than chewing on a single faction for thousands of years; you might begin with a starter course of Sumerians, moving on to the meaty military of the Romans and finishing off with the ocean-crossing imperialism of the British. Although you move on, your retired armies don’t, continuing to rack up points and trouble invading neighbours over the ages – although each empire feels individual, modelled loosely on their real-life counterparts, being able to chain together differing philosophies through the centuries leaves the paths to victory feeling constantly numerous and the gameplay options consistently juicy.
It’s an especially breezy tour through civilisation this time around, too, as the original game’s marathon length has been compressed from seven epochs into just five. A playthrough can still stretch to a couple of hours, but the tight turn structure and impressively trim gameplay means that you barely feel the millennia passing. That said, the separation of turns – factions even score separately after their actions, rather than together at the end of each round – can leave inactive players twiddling their thumbs for a few minutes, especially with bigger groups.
Happily, this subsides in later rounds as the board fills up and clashes between settled armies occur more regularly, resolved with a swift rolling of dice that peppers in some light terrain and structure modifiers – as well as the costly option to invest precious troops in a result-boosting siege – to great effect. Battles are over in seconds with little taxing of brains, the luck element carefully restrained to inject some welcome surprises without trivalising the central strategy offered by the selection of cards and area control.
Playful without feeling frivolous, History of the World is enormous fun. Composing your personal medley of history’s greatest hits through the ages remains a joyous alternative to more sedentary civilisation games, effortlessly linked by an graceful flow of watching empires rise, fall and rise again, all while leaving their mark on future ages. As the latest edition of this classic proves, this is a game that’s sure to leave its mark, too.
Why play one empire, when you can play them all? History of the World’s entertaining civilisation-hopping twist on the grand strategy genre is complemented by beautifully stripped-back gameplay in this stunning restoration.
Designer: Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall, Phil Kendall et al.
Artist: Mateusz Leinert, Antonio Mainez
Time: 2-3 hours
This review originally appeared in the July 2018 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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