Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Brief Review Of A Brief History Of The World

Not so much a review, really, just my initial impressions.

To start with, I've been a fan of A History Of The World (HotW) for some time. It was one of the first AH titles I snapped up when the company sold out to Hasbro in the late 90's, even though it wasn't really a game that was going to work well solitaire (and I was playing mostly solitaire at that time). I like to think I play that version competitively, and I find the Strength/VP paradigm in that game to be really excellent - you are rewarded for doing the most with the least, and on one occasion I very nearly won a game while simultaneously holding both the most VP and the least Strength for the entire game. The only thing that killed me as Britain in that last round was rolling three 1's on my leader card that I'd saved for the entire game. Sigh.

I have some experience with the later AH edition (the "Hasborg" edition), but I don't like it nearly as much, from the use of plastic figures (and different for every era) to the removal of the Strength element from the game. I also dislike the random bonus VPs you get, which encourages people to maximize points instead of trying to be a bit more subtle.

Now, the Ragnar Brothers, the original designers, have come up with a "brief" version of the game. Here are a few of the changes from the original AH edition:

  • Empires are distributed much differently. The person with the lowest VP gets N cards from the deck (where N is the number of players in the game), picks one, and passes it on. Simultaneously, the person with the highest VP gets their pick of N Event cards. It is now much easier to stick the leader with the crappy empire. 
  • Players get two Event cards at the start of the game, and they are all the same - Weaponry that lets you use four dice, and Leader with lets you use three.
  • Event cards almost all now cost VP to use! Also, you can use more than one a turn, but can't have more than one in play at a time (you have to lose that capability if it last the entire turn).
  • With the exception of the initial events, all other events are one era use only. I like this rule.
  • Combat is simplified. Attacker still rolls two dice, defender one, high roll wins, but you have to win by a differential of 2 if attacking forest or mountains. If the attacker wins by a higher differential, they can "overrun" the empire they initially attacked, removing adjacent units for one point unless in forest/mountains (2 points). If attacking by boat, the attacker loses one die. Straits are no longer significant terrain, they act as if normal adjacent territories. 
  • Forts let the defender roll two dice, and that area can't be overrun. 
  • In combat, if you fail an invasion, you can reinvade right away at +1 to your next roll. If that fails, you gain +2 on the next, and so on. In other words, persistence can pay off. If you invade something else then come back, you lose your bonus.
  • The map has been simplified in some areas. 
  • There are now six epochs instead of seven. Many of the "old" major empires have been demoted to minor Event cards, and at least one minor empire (Japan) has been promoted to major empire. 
  • There is no preservation of culture rule (which I learned to dislike anyway). 
  • Players use generic plastic counters, which are stood upright for the active empire and turned on their side after that empire is done. I think this was an excellent choice, as it lowers the bit count significantly (and thus price and box size), but still achieves what it sets out to do. 
  • You can't place multiple units in an area anymore (I think). 
  • Top three VP totals at the end of each epoch get bonus points, from 1-3. First player gets to pick from three tiles, then second, then third gets leftovers. 
  • The VP schedule for the various areas is slightly different and marked with tokens on the board instead of a chart. 
  • Some empires have special rules that apply only to them.
My expectation is that the new rules will shave about an hour off of playtime for six people. I have no idea if the game works well with a smaller number - one problem with the original AH edition is that it really only worked with six players (or three playing two empires each). 

I found the new combat system to speed things up once you got used to the various permutations. Overruns especially, although this also means that a big differential at the right time can be huge, thus adding a bit more of a luck factor. Of course, forts can be used to make overruns not nearly as effective since you can't advance into them.

The new empire distribution system seems like a good idea. If nothing else, you could be aiming for being one point behind the second or first place player rather than getting stuck with the crap empire for the turn. When the game is close early on, there is something to be said for being in last place. 

I really like event cards having a cost. Sure, you can use Weaponry for three VP your last turn as Japan, but is that really going to be worth it? This adds some nice decisions without forcing players to figure out when they can use a given Event card as in the original AH edition. 

The general strategy is still the same - try to get your units in out of the way places with a fort protecting them, and see if you can't sit there throughout the game. In my "test" game, Blue did this really well, with forts in Crete, the Upper Nile, Upper Indus, and Sumatra. That color won the game handily, despite being down to Purple on the final round by about 15 points. As usual, pulling out sequencing coups (last one turn, first the next) can bring a lot of points if you do it right. However, since even the first player to select an empire in a round will be missing at least one empire, that *might* screw up your plans if the first empire to go overlaps the last empire you played. 

HotW has a special place in my heart for a lot of reasons, but mostly just because I love the sweep of history as the Mongols focus on India, the Germans invade America, and the Portugeuse overrun Southern Africa. I still like the first AH edition the best despite it's flaws, but this one is a close second. However, given that one color got shut down early and never did catch up despite picking their empire first every turn, I have to wonder if there isn't a runaway loser/winner problem (although the winner of the game did score a ton of points, over 40, in the last round to outpace the Epoch 5 leader by about 30 points). I'm glad to see the game has a much smaller box and good bits, and I'm also happy to see a shorter playing time. If this will work better with four or five players than the previous editions, it may become my favorite simply because of that. 

And now the purple Romans from my Hasborg edition can rest easy knowing that there is very little chance they'll be called upon for a game - one of the few casualties my games have suffered from my dogs was about 10 of the little purple guys left on a table who became the Canine GI Tract Expeditionary Force, giving all of us a little bit of a start when we first discovered what had happened to them. That was some scary sh*t. 

1 comment:

FloydWing said...

I've never seen the original but I've been playing a clone called Empires on gamesbyemail.com with friends. It's pretty fun and interesting.