Welcome to the second of my post-Essen reviews. Today I’m going to be taking a look at a title that has received a lot of praise lately. I’ve got to admit that it didn’t even feature on my top ten games to watch out for from Essen, but it made it to position three on Paul’s list!
So without further ado, let’s take a look at Historia! An interesting new civilisation game brought to us by Giochix.it.
Historia the Look and Feel… My First Impressions…
When you get your hands on Historia you’ll be drawn to the interesting box-art. The main image is an amalgamation of various buildings from throughout time, all coming together to form a towering structure flanked by a launching missile and a space shuttle. This very striking image is enough to draw your eye to the box and certainly intrigued me enough to make this my second Essen review title.
Those who know me well will know that I’m a sucker for good looking games, I simply love shiny components! Don’t get me wrong, a beautiful game with terrible gameplay isn’t going to stay in my collection for long! However, initial visual impressions mean a lot to me when it comes to my games.
When we first played Historia, Nikki took the box through into the other room and started setting it up while I wrote part of the Alchemists review. When I was done, I wandered through to where Nikki and the game where waiting.
Imagine my surprise when I saw the board… With box-art that intrigued, all I can really say about the board is that it put me off the game at just one glance. My first and lasting impression of the Historia board is that it’s dry, almost clinical, with a graph-like busyness, that showed no signs of life or soul…
If you’ve seen my Panamax video you’ll have realised that I like to see a busy board, and if you like your boards busy too, then when I come to release my Kanbahn review you’ll be in for a real treat! However, Historia’s board does almost nothing for me.
Appearances can be Deceptive… Historia Deserves a Second Chance!!!
Thanks to the board, I sat down with a certain degree of doubt in my mind and started to read the rules. There’s not a lot to learn for Historia, and it really didn’t take us long before we were up and running.
After reading the very short rulebook, I started to feel a little more optimistic about Historia. The rules made sense, there didn’t seem to be anything too complex to trip us up and despite being incredibly boring the board at least now made sense.
On With the Historia Show… How Does the Game Play???
Historia plays with two to six players but also has rules for bot control if you really want to play it by yourself or only have two players. Each player starts the game with nine cards (eight actions and one advisor) and each card lets them perform a specific set of actions.
There’s three rounds, or ages, to a game of Historia, and each round is made up of four different turns. At the start of each round, players are given some leader cards from which they choose one and determine their personal goals for the round. This card gives you a chance to earn points for accomplishing specific things before the end of the round and can sometimes seem near impossible to achieve – manage your civilisation well though and you can score big with the leaders!
Each player also starts with one of their own personal advisor cards, randomly selected from the five available cards. Advisors have a special action that you can use only once.
At the start of each of a rounds four turns – a series of actions occur that range from replenishing the available wonders to scoring leader cards. During each turn players play numerous cards from their hands and spend and earn action cubes to further their civilisation.
The basic premise of Historia is that you have to advance your civilisations technology and military prowess, while exerting influence, or rather winning wars, across a world-map. At the end of the third round, all the scores are counted and the player with the most points wins.
What Cards Can I Use??? Actions and the Discard Queue!!!
During a turn – players play cards from their hand. When they do this, actions happen and then the card goes into a discard queue. I found this to be quite an interesting mechanic because as you build more wonders and the turns progress, you take actions that let you retrieve the cards from the start of the queue, whilst others let you retrieve the more recently discarded cards. You have to work on balancing these actions though, because you have to ensure that the cards you need aren’t stuck in the queue when you really want them.
At this point it’s probably best to take a look at the action cards that you start the game with. Each card has a basic action that, when played, can always be used. Each card also has an advanced action and if you have reached a certain tech-level and play the card then you can use that action instead of the basic action.
Here’s a quick look at each of the starting action cards:
- Military – This card lets you increase your military power level by one. It costs a cube but also has an advanced action that, after you develop Metal Working, you can spend three cubes to gain two levels.
- Technology – This card lets you increase your technology level by one. It costs one cube but has an advanced action that, after you develop Science, you can spend three cubes to gain two levels.
- Art – This card lets you take and build a wonder card. It costs one cube to do so and if you have the Writing technology then you can take two for the price of three cubes.
- Exploit – This isn’t the exploits of your people, it’s how you exploit them! When you play this card you get two of your power cubes back form the used cube area or map. If you have the Printing press technology you can spend a victory point to recover four cubes.
- Expansion – This card lets you place a cube on the map in any area next to one that you already have a cube in. If you have the Wheel technology you can take a cube from the used cube area and then place a cube on the map.
- Trade – When you play this card, if a civilisation that you are adjacent to on the map has a higher technology level than you, then you can increase your own technology level by one. When you do this, the neighbour with whom you traded receives two victory points. However, if you already have the Navigation technology then they only receive one victory point.
- Raid – This is the first of the conflict cards. You use it to perform a raid on either a player with a cube in the same section of the map as you, or on a section adjacent to you. Your raid is only successful if you have a higher military level than your opponent. If you do, then you retrieve one cube from the used cube area and gain a victory point. If you have the Gunpowder technology you get two cubes back and receive two victory points.
- Revolution – When a player plays their revolution card, it means that all cards that are currently about to be played are resolved and then the current turn ends. The person who plays the revolution card returns it to their hand and then takes back a card of their choice from their discard queue. After each players card has been resolved you then deal with moving the turn tracker forward and resolving all actions for the turn.
As the players progress through the tech-tree they also unlock two other cards that they can add to their hands – these are:
- War – The second conflict card, and probably the card that’ll cause the most dispute between growing civilisations! When you play this card, if you have a higher military level than a player who shares an area of the map with you, then you gain two victory points! You also remove their cube from that area of the map! If you have Nukes, you will gain four victory points instead of two!
- Tourism – This card can be used to grab some late game victory points. When you play Tourism you get one victory point for every four wonders you own. However, if you have the Internet technology you’ll be getting one victory point for every three wonders!
Any More for Any More??? What about the Advisors and Wonders!!!
As I mentioned earlier there are advisor cards for each player. You start with one advisor in your hand but through the different turns in a round or progression up the tech-tree you will get more advisors joining you.
When you play an advisor card it returns to the bottom of your personal advisor card pile face up, rather than joining the discard queue. This makes their actions more of a one hit action that you need to use to the maximum advantage!
The final card type are the Wonders – these cards are bought by using certain actions. They sit at the side of your play area and you can activate their special powers by rotating the card 90 degrees. These cards provide a variety of bonuses to the owner and can be used to great effect if you manage to get your hands on a selection of wonders that chain their abilities.
The Tech-tree… The Military… and the Map!!!
As you progress through the game – playing cards and taking actions – you’ll increase your military or tech level. During our first game, Nikki and I took very different approaches to improving our civilisations. I ramped up my military very rapidly, whereas Nikki took an early control of the map.
At first I was worried by this move, because with each turn she was scoring lots of points from the additional areas she controlled.
As we played on though, this worry started to balance out a bit as I started to move my tech/military tracking marker up and across the board.
The large, multi-coloured chart that dominates nearly the entire board, and initially put me off, is where you keep track of all of your advances. This is called the Development matrix!
Each player starts with their tracker marker in the bottom left space of the chart. With each military progression you move your marker one space up the board. With each technology progression you move it one space to the right.
There’s some staggering to the chart that means that at some points you will have to increase military before you can increase technology.
With each step up, or to the right, on the chart – there’s an additional bonus ranging from cards, the ability to play extra cards on your turn and new advisors.
The chart itself has different zones, marked in different colours. During the turns of a round, you will receive points for your position on the chart. The number of points you receive will depend on the zone that your tracker token is currently sat.
Symbols, Symbols Everywhere… But Do They Help Or Stink???
One thing you’ll definitely notice as you start to play Historia is the plethora of symbols that appear on the board and on the various cards. These symbols might cause confusion for some people, however – given a few turns – you should soon be able to understand what’s going on.
There’s a handy crib-sheet for each player that details exactly what each symbol means – so if anyone does get stuck they can consult that for help.
Adding to the symbol confusion is the round and turn tracker circle that drives the progress of the game. It’s split into four turn sections and each section contains a series of symbols that you perform in order. People who are new to the game will undoubtedly feel that this is somewhat over-bearing! However, not to worry, they’ll soon get into the swing of it, and to be honest, you can just deal with the actions yourself if they’re too confused!
Historia – My Final Thoughts… A Good Civ-builder or a Dry Symbol-fest???
Despite my initial, and almost instant, dislike of Historias game board – I think it’s fair to say that you shouldn’t judge a game by its incredibly boring board!
Once I saw my military power quietly increasing and the world being prematurely dominated by Nikki, I started to get a feel for what the designers were trying to do!
So, first off, let’s look at the things that I found most interesting about Historia:
- Mechanics – these all work very well and I especially like the discard-queue management.
- Tech-tree – although very simple – the linear progression provides tangible rewards as you progress through it.
- Military improvements – these have a real impact on your ability to take control of the world. A fact that became very obvious when Nikki’s initial bid for world domination was later wiped out, almost entirely, by my vastly superior military advancements.
- Leader, Advisors and Wonder cards – these add the opportunity for some asymmetrical powers for each player and add an interesting layer to the game.
Although there were many things I liked about the game, there are a few things that might put you off Historia, these are:
- Board – The board looks extremely dull, but seriously… don’t let that put you off, the artwork on the cards is great and gameplay makes up for the board-art!
- Symbols – There’s a lot of symbols and the crib-sheet for them is pretty big!
- Depth – If you’re looking for a deep strategic civ-building game like Clash of Cultures, then Historia isn’t for you. This is a light civ-builder – but it’s certainly an entertaining game!
All in all I would say that I’ve enjoyed playing Historia! It plays quickly, it has some interesting mechanics and despite the ugly board, it kept both Nikki and I entertained throughout! We were quite intrigued and encouraged by the fact that the rulebook includes rules for some mini expansions that you can buy separately. Although, at first, this felt somewhat of a tease – it turns out that you can get hold of them from retailers so it’s not a particularly bad situation! The two mini expansions available provide you with a series of civilisation goals and one time action improvements whereas a third mini expansion (not in the rulebook) was made available only to Kickstarter backers. This KS exclusive adds the concept of a golden era which you can use to speed up your growth.
Historia is a game I would bring out for both new and advanced gamers but I would worry that the board-art might put them off if given a choice of what to play.
So there we have it, another post-Essen review done and dusted. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it, and if you’ve decided that Historia is the game for you then check to see if there’s any still available in the store!
Once again, we’d love to hear from you so feel free to leave any comments in the box below and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
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Driven Instructional Designer by day, board game fanatic by night! Tom has a long background in eLearning design and is a strong believer that story and narrative are crucial to creating excellent learning and gaming experiences. A passionate blogger, game reviewer and play tester, he enjoys spending his time playing games of all genres.