Timeline is a fun card game about history, but it’s too easy to memorize after a few rounds
The setup for Timeline is about as simple as it gets. All you have to do is place down cards that have different inventions/discoveries/etc on them in the order that they came into being. Correct cards are flipped over and the year they were invented is displayed. As you play more and more cards down, it gets a harder and harder to place them correctly since you have more dates showing. You’re likely going to learn something new while playing, and yes – they manage to make such learning fun!
Initially you’ll start with one card on the table, let’s say for example “Hot Air Balloon,” which was invented in 1783. It’s pretty easy to know that “Electric Battery” came after it (1800) and Television came after that (1923). But now you’ll have to know if subsequent cards fall between 1784 and 1799 or 1801 and 1922. Each time you place a card those windows of time get smaller, so knowing about when something came around isn’t good enough and you really have to suss it out in your head. As a nice bonus, a lot of the items have little light bulbs on them that you can tap on to learn a bit more trivia about them.
Each player has a hand of five cards with various items on them, and you take turns putting them down on the growing timeline. Each time you successfully place an item on the board, the year is revealed and the card isn’t replaced. When you’re wrong, you draw another card. Whoever runs out of cards first is the winner.
But while the game is fun, there’s a big downside here in that there are no AI opponents to play against, nor is there online play. To play the multiplayer game you’re going to need to find real people to play against, sitting right there in the same room with you. It’s a shame, but as I thought about the lack of AI, it made sense since there’s little strategy and you’re either right or wrong, so it’s hard/impossible to make a compelling AI player under those restrictions.
And at least there’s a single player mode, too. In it, you place as many cards as you can before getting five wrong, and cards are constantly filled in your hand to give you lots of options. There’s a slight variant on this mode where you’re also timed, making it even tougher.
The game includes a huge deck of inventions cards, and smaller ones of music, arts & literature and monuments that can be included with the inventions to spice things up or just give you more things to place. You can also purchase larger events or discoveries decks in-app for .99 cents apiece.
There’s a problem though, that sort or rears its head after a few games, and becomes a larger and larger issue the longer you play. At some point it becomes a memory game or remembering the year printed on the card, and not trying to drag the answer out of your memory from school. I wasn’t totally sure when exactly Internal Combustion Engine was invented, but after seeing the card once, I was able to place it in subsequent games with no problem at all.
With over 100 cards you’re unlikely to remember them all, and you can always add on the expansion packs for a few bucks more giving you even more cards, but the underlying issue is the same. There would be a pretty sizeable advantage for someone that’s played the game before against someone coming in fresh. And not just in the strategy department, which would be pretty common. Someone that’s played would know the dates of a few cards here and there, and would really just be unfair.
It’s really unavoidable I suppose, with the game being what it is. Sadly, this would no doubt cut down considerably on its longevity of being relevant. Though I can say I bet it would be great with younger kids for much longer. In such cases, I’d worry less about them winning the game and would just be happy that they now know the year the Compass was invented (1090 if you’re keeping track).
I was close to buying the original print version of the Timeline card game to add to my collection, but to be honest, I’m not sure how often we would play it. Once people memorize a few cards here and there I could see it diminishing quickly in appearances at the table. I enjoyed the game and would like to have access to it, but I think the cheaper and portable and iPad one is the way to go – especially for playing a few solo rounds. Recommended, but not as a long term investment.