If you had to guess, would you say that blue jeans were invented before or after the stethoscope? Was Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables, written before or after the invention of the barometer? And how might you arrange all four of those inventions in chronological order? This is the premise of a game called Timeline, which will challenge your sense of history in all six of its editions. There are currently three – Inventions, Discoveries and Events. To come, are three more – Monuments, Arts and Literature, and Music. All share a gaming process that asks players (up to 8) to place any one of a series of cards in their hand onto a developing chronological set of them placed in the center of the playing area.
Depending on the number of players, each player will be dealt a set of two-sided cards showing an invention (or discovery, or event), and on the opposite side of the card, the date of that invention (discovery, or event). The cards are dealt face down in front of each player. At the beginning of the game, one card is drawn from the deck and turned over to reveal the date of the item’s invention. In turn order, each player selects a card from their face-down hand and places it either to the left or the right of a card in the center of the table. The first person to play will have only one choice; to the right or the left of the single card that was turned over at the start.
If the person is correct, the card they placed stays where it was placed and play moves clockwise. If the person was wrong, the card they played is placed in a discard pile and they must draw another from the draw deck, which starts with 109 cards. First person to eliminate all their cards wins the game.
It gets trickier as the timeline grows longer, because instead of the single choice available to the player who went first, it becomes a matter of multiple choices. If you’re holding the barometer card from the example above, and the other three are already laid out in chronological order, you’re trying to decide whether it goes before the furthest on the left, after the furthest on the right, or between the first and second, or second and third. This gets more complicated as the number of cards increases.
There are a number of inventions that were invented in the same year. A card placed between two cards, or at either end of the timeline, which matches a card (same date) as the card it’s next to, is considered a correct answer.
This game draws a lot of “Oh, wow!!”s out of people, as they learn certain aspects of history that catch them by surprise; like the fact that Uranus was discovered (in the invention deck?) a long, long time ago. Don’t want to be revealing too many dates in writing about this game, because it already bears the weight of a familiarity problem. Even a couple of rounds of play with multiple people in this game is going to set certain dates in people’s minds. Not that they’ll remember each and every card they play in the game, over time, but familiarity with the game will most certainly give veterans an edge.
There’s a little bit of strategy involved with the selection of a card to play on your turn. You might not, for example, want to play the one you think is easiest, first. You might want to hold on to it and play it as your last card. A ‘bow and arrow’ card, for example, might be a good one to hang on to in a game that’s showing dates from, say, 1798 to 1894.
The upside to this familiarity issue (reduced if owners combine decks from varied editions, increasing the total number of cards, and reducing the possibility of remembering certain dates) is the fact that if you do, in fact, manage to retain the dates of the inventions (discoveries or events) embodied in any given edition of the game, you’ll now be in possession of a good amount of knowledge about society’s progress and technological development over time. Nothing wrong with that.
It’s getting a decent reception out on BoardGameGeek, with an average rating of 6.82, which is high, given the somewhat ‘serious gamer’ folk who normally participate in the rating of games. There is some question whether this is, in fact, a recreation of Harold Johnson’s 1996 release Chronology, which employs the same sort of timeline process, slightly re-worked. Instead of a common timeline, and personal cards that get eliminated from one’s hand by placing them onto the common timeline, Chronology employs individual timelines (cards) to which cards can be added. Player starts with two cards in chronological order. A new card is selected with an invention (discovery, or event) and the player has to place it on his own personal timeline. If correct, card becomes part of their timeline, and first player to 10 cards in their display wins.
Oh, and by the way, the correct chronological order for the inventions mentioned at the start are: barometer (1643), the stethoscope (1816), Les Miserables (1862) and blue jeans (1873).
Timeline, designed by Frederic Henry, with artwork (excellent, by the way) by Xavier Collette, and Nicolas Fructus,is published by Asmodee. It is recommended for ages 8 and up, although the 8-year-olds are likely to be doing a lot of guessing (so, for that matter, are the adults in this game). It can be played with between 2 and 8 players, and a normal round will last about 20 or 30 minutes, depending on the number of players. It’s generally available for under $12.