Timeline: Diversity Review – The Three “Ohs”
A few years ago, when we were just getting into gaming, we visited a board game café in Oxford, England, called Thirsty Meeples. The idea was we wanted to try new games, and throughout the day we played various different things whilst enjoying tea, cake, and milkshakes. It was on that day that we tried a few games that have since become regulars at our table – Cosmic Encounters, as an example. It was that day we discovered Mysterium for the first time. Whilst there, we also discovered a small game, one that literally only takes 15 minutes to play, and yet it has since become a staple filler game we love to break out. That game was Timelines.
There are, it has to be said, lots of different versions of Timelines. The first one we discovered was Star Wars Timelines, which my friend Ric (you can read his blog here) managed to complete and win like an Jedi genius. We then moved on to purchasing more versions – British History, General History, and Music and Cinema all being themes that we bought as a group. In our personal game collection we have, what is called in England, Timeline: General Interest, although the “rest of the world” name is more apt. Everywhere else it is called Timeline: Diversity.
So, what is Timeline and why do we have so many different versions? Well, the answer to those two questions, simply put, are “a game and because they’re all different in a kind of interesting way”. That being said, we’d best just look at a review to cover it a little bit more thoroughly.
This article is going to focus on Timeline: General Interest or Timeline: Diversity, although it will also be mentioning some of the others. This is because the mechanics are the same.
What is Timeline: Diversity and How Does it Play?
Timeline is a game that was designed by Frédéric Henry. Ironically, I am unsure on the actual timeline as to when different versions of Timeline were published and released (I believe the first one was 2010 and it was Timeline: Inventions, but am happy to stand corrected); however, what I can tell you is that Timeline: General Interest was published in 2012. It is a short game, with rounds generally lasting 15 minutes, and is suitable for 2 to 8 players, aged 8+.
How Timelines plays is the same across all the versions I have played (the ones mentioned above). All players are dealt four cards, each with a front and a back. Keeping the back on the table, so it can’t be seen, they look at the front of their cards. Those cards have an image, a title, and (only on the back) a date.
A singular card is drawn from the pile (of around 110 cards) and flipped over, forming the start of the timeline. It is then up to players to, in order, take one of their cards and try to figure out where it fits in relation to that card and any subsequent cards on the board, before flipping it over to see if they are correct. Sometimes this may be placing it in a 1400 year gap, and sometimes it may be between two existing cards for 1908 and 1911 (as an example). If they are correct, they place that card into the timeline, extending it for the next player. If they are wrong they discard the card and draw a new one. The first player to get rid of all their cards wins.
Yes. Those are the rules. It is that simple. Seriously. That is it.
What is it like playing Timeline: Diversity?
So far as mechanics go, Timeline is as simple as a game gets – in fact, Board Game Geek doesn’t actually list any mechanics for Timeline: Diversity. Instead, it is considered an educational, family, trivia game. I think, however, this joins the great collection of games that prove you don’t need loads of mechanics to be fun. It is simple, but it is also an effective filler.
The question to ask is – what is it really like playing Timeline: Diversity or any of the other Timeline games?
Well, it’s a couple of things. The first is that Timeline is an educational game. Unless you are a complete history buff who knows literally everything about history and when it happened (including things like “The Invention of the Mechanical Washing Machine”) you will learn something new every time you play Timeline. It is effectively a deck of 110 facts that you need to reveal a selection of during the game.
What this does though is open the game up to discussion. Throughout the game, we usually have a discussion around each card. This goes along the lines of whoever it is placing the card stating their reasoning for where they want to place it and then, once they do, everyone else debating whether it was right before the reveal. This makes for a really interesting game from an academic perspective as we all try to out reason each other and, although not a part of the official rules, it’s as natural a part of the game as actually placing the cards.
Timeline is then a game of three “ohs”. Those are “oh no way!”, “oh really?”, and “oh yeahhhh!”.
No matter what, no matter how you play or even how competitive you are, in our experience the reveal of the cards usually leads to an “oh” moment. Either you really can’t believe something was as late or early as you thought (for instance, did you know the Rosetta stone was carved in 196 BC?). Or, you are slightly out of where you thought, but you may still be correct (for instance, did you know the teabag was invented as late as 1908?). Or, you may get it bang on and be really pleased with yourself (for instance, the first appearance of a superhero comic was 1938). Either way it is a fascinating game.
Timeline: Diversity is a game with good replay-ability because of the number of cards in the deck and how many you are likely to get through in a game; however, it is not the kind of game you can play over and over again in the same evening. Since it is just general knowledge, and even then only general knowledge when it comes to dates, it can grow old relatively fast. After a while you will want to put it away; however, for an hour or so it can be a really entertaining.
The thing that really makes Timeline though is those three “oh” moments. Each one of them is satisfying and, although not necessarily something you want to keep doing all evening, each “oh” moment comes with a little nugget of knowledge (either learning something new or having a suspicion confirmed) that is well worth playing the game. To answer the previous question – that is why we have so many different versions.
You won’t walk away from Timeline: Diversity saying it was an innovative game, but you will come away having learned something, and that is really kind of cool.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and the Invention of the Mechanical Washing Machine
Okay, let’s look at the Good, Bad, and Neutral points to do with Timeline: Diversity (or Timeline: General Interest) in particular.
- The cards are beautiful. The artwork is fantastic and reflects whatever the card is about. It also lends a hand as to when to place the card which is a nice touch.
- Timeline: Diversity is an educational game. You will learn something new every time you play (unless you don’t really retain dates – I’m a bit like Dory from Finding Nemo with dates so it’s a new game every time for me!)
- The game plays in around 15 minutes, although leaving it open to discussion does make it last longer.
- There are lots of different versions of Timeline meaning there is something for everyone, including Music and Cinema and a Star Wars Timeline (arguably the least educational of the Timeline games). The latter is a real challenge since it uses stills from the films, but a lot of the shots are more or less just of space! There is also a Science Museum version that uses scientific events and I imagine that is incredible from an educational perspective, but impossible to play. Needless to say, it has been added to the Amazon wish list.
- Generally speaking, Timeline costs around £15. I believe we got Timeline: Diversity at the UKGE two years ago for £11.
- Once you’ve played a few games, it can get a bit repetitive.
- The mechanics aren’t innovative but that doesn’t detract from the game.
- Some of the cards can get a bit repetitive. The different versions obviously have different cards, but I can’t help but notice that Timelines: General Interest/Diversity has a lot of “the invention of” cards. Out of the five versions we have played, this seems to be a problem that is specific to Timeline: Diversity.
Conclusion – Timeline: Diversity Review
So, how do we round of a review of a game like Timeline: Diversity? I think the way to do so is to compare Timeline: Diversity to a puzzle more so than a game. Yes, it is competitive but, for a lot of people I know who have played it, the joy of the game comes from trying to work out where things are meant to go rather than the competition itself.
If you enjoy history and enjoy trivia, and if you have space on your shelves for a quizzy little filler game, then Timeline: Diversity is a good buy. It is a filler game that requires a fair amount of brain power, and we really like breaking it out. It is for that reason that we recommend Timeline: Diversity (Timeline: General Knowledge).
So, what are your thoughts? Have you played Timeline? If so, which version or versions have you played? What did you think? If not, would you like to play or wouldn’t you? Let me know in the comments below.