Timeline is a fun, historical trivia game where players take turns use mini-cards to try to determine where, on a timeline, events fall. Guess right and your hand size shrinks. Guess wrong and you get extra cards. Get rid of all your cards first, you win. It’s enjoyable, but it doesn’t have a lot of meat to it.
Enter Timeline Challenge, a new game from Asmodee, for 2-10 players aged 10 and up and is supposed to play in 30 minutes. Where previous iterations of the game only asked players to put events in historical order, Timeline Challenge has a variety of mini-games that really add an extra bit of punch to the game. There have been more than a half-dozen varieties of the game so far, with cards specializing in topics from inventions to movies to sports. Any variety of these previous games can be played with Timeline Challenge (with the exception of an upcoming Star Wars version, for obvious reasons)–or you can mix and match for a huge, mega-game.
Everything is very gorgeous, the cardboard is thick, the artwork is great, and the player tokens are really very nice. First, there’s a huge, oversized board, measuring 31 inches by 20.5 inches that has a timeline, a place for cards for drawing and discarding, five spots for the various trials that must be done, and a large clock that tracks players’ progress and dictates what trial the players must participate in next.
Each player gets an historical board, which has one dial with +/- on it and four dials with numbers 0-9 on each dial and is used in all of the trials. This historical board is a tool for how players interact with each other and secret their answers to the various challenges. Additionally, there is a game aid for each player and five gold tokens, representing various forms of travel: biplane, locomotive, car, masted ship, and space shuttle. The game also comes with a deck of 110 Timeline cards, identical in size to the familiar Timeline cards of other games. One side has a title and art, the other side is identical, but adds a date showing when that event occurred. The insert has cutouts for other Timeline decks to be stored inside the box.
Setup & Gameplay
Each player gets a game aid and an historical board. The historical board has an icon, which dictates which token the player gets. Cards are shuffled and set in the draw pile. All tokens are placed on the first spot on the clock and gameplay is ready to begin–easy!
There are five types of spots that players can move to on the game board, each representative of a different type of trial. Players always begin with the Timeline 4 trial and, after that, participate in whichever trial that the leader’s token sits on.
In the Timeline 4 trial, four cards are dealt, date side down, to the green Timeline 4 area of the board. In that area, cards are placed on placeholders that are also identified by shapes, which corresponds to the dials on the historical boards. There are ten spans of history on the game board’s timeline and each is identified by a number from 0-9. It’s the player’s job during Timeline 4 to identify the time span that each of the four events occurs in. For instance, if you think the first event happened after 1970, you would turn the first dial to 9. Once everyone has all their dials set, the cards are flipped, dates revealed, and spans identified. Players get to move a single space on the clock track for each answer they get correct.
In The Bet, a single card is placed on the red The Bet space. Players must identify during which time span this event occurred. The catch is, if the player has some certainty about when this event occurred, she may turn all (or most) of her dials to that span. However, players may also want to hedge their guesses by also including time spans surrounding what they believe the correct answer to be. Players get to move ahead one space for each correct answer.
For The Split, two cards are placed date side down on the blue The Split spaces. It is the players’ responsibility to guess how many years passed between the two events occurring. Only one player wins this trial, the one who is closest gets to move four spaces.
A card is placed, facedown in the single spot on the yellow area for The Right Date trial. This is the only trial where the +/- dial is used, specifying if the date is intended to refer to A.D. or B.C. Players look at the card and try to guess the exact date that this event occurred. When the answer is revealed, players move one space for each correct digit they have in the correct date.
Finally, there’s the purple space, The Combination. In this trial, four cards are dealt, face down. Players key their historical boards to the shape on both their boards and those on The Combination area on the game board. Players rank the four events from 1-4, with one being the earliest and four being the latest. There are four tokens you can use to help identifying the order. Players move one space for each answer they get correct.
In addition to the five trials, there are two challenges on the board. As soon as a player passes a line denoting a challenge, it immediately takes place. (Each challenge only takes place once, not every time a player crosses that line.) Challenges take place between the two players who are furthest back on the track. If multiple players occupy the space in last or next-to-last place, three or even four players might take part in the challenge.
The first challenge is called Sudden Death. This game is played like a normal game of Timeline. Beginning with a single card, players take turns placing cards in the correct place in a timeline. Once one player makes an erroneous placement, the other must make a correct placement and then she gets to move three spaces. The other challenge is called More or Less and it plays like a guessing game. A card is placed down in front of the players. They then take turns guessing the date. After each guess, the leading player (as referee) notes whether the guess needs more or less years to meet the answer date. The first player to announce the correct answer gets to move three spaces.
Play continues until someone reaches the finish space, when the game immediately ends. There are additional rules for ties, two-player games, playing as teams, and using cards from other games in the Timeline series.
I have mixed feelings about Timeline Challenge. On the one hand, I really like Timeline. It’s a fun filler and one that’s simple to teach and get playing right away. However, I’m not very good at it, even though I like history and trivia quite a bit. Maybe I just haven’t played with the right Timeline set of cards yet! I really think the trials add a great variety to the game and they make the game for more complete, as opposed to Timeline‘s more simple and straightforward guessing game.
Playing the game is always very enjoyable. Even though Timeline Challenge often features frustrated, furrowed brows, trying to remember the difference in time between events, these brief periods are often followed by howls of disbelief as dates are revealed and the difference in your estimation is shown to be off by centuries. (Fingers may have been pointed, kind-hearted jokes may have been made.) But, just as often, these exchanges lead to great little discussions about the targeted event or tangential history. It’s fun.
It’s also really beautiful. Everything about the game–the board, cards, tokens, and historical boards are really nice. We especially liked the illustrations on the board’s timeline. Everything about the game just works well together.
Still, there are a handful of things I’m not crazy about. Every historical board has some dials that are too loose and it makes it tough to spin your answer and hide your response while you wait for the others. I wish, rather than game aids, they had included simple, paper screens so you could lock in your answer and not worry about touching it (and accidentally changing the dials) afterwards. They could have even put the game aids on the inside of the screen. Maybe I’ll make my own.
Timeline has always felt like a party game to me, there’s always a lot of chatter every time I play, but in Timeline Challenge, when players are given a trial, players retreat into deep thought that doesn’t ebb until everyone is complete, which can take a couple minutes (or more) if you have some players given to analysis paralysis. With Timeline, one player only had to decide on one card. Conversation would continue while she considered her options. With Timeline Challenge, up to five players (or more on teams) are analyzing up to four cards. That’s a lot of thinking, not much interaction, and a lot of silence. I can see Timeline Challenge being a game where I’ll put a sand timer in the box.
What’s more, I really wish there was a story to Timeline Challenge. For years, we have seen the Timeline girl on tins and now boxes. She always looks anxious and harried. Timeline Challenge was the perfect opportunity to define her and give her purpose. Or we could have been treated to an entirely different construct. Instead, there really is no defined reason to the game; the rulebook throws you right into the game setup without any explanation of why. This part of the game feels naked and rushed.
Still, if you enjoy Timeline, you will love Timeline Challenge. It presents some new ways to play Timeline cards and enhances the original game, beyond any doubt. I really like that you can incorporate as many cards from other versions of the game as you want. It give the game lots of replayability. Or, if you’re a history buff or enjoy trivia, the game is a good option too.
I’ve played it four times now and not once have I come close to winning, I’m just not good at this game. But I learn something new almost every time I play it. Given the talk of time travel this week, maybe I’m just the Doc Brown of Timeline–absent-minded enough to be in the game, just not enough to win. But I still enjoy it a lot and would play another game in a second.
Timeline Challenge will be in stores very soon.
Disclosure: GeekDad was sent a sample of this game for review purposes.