Updated: Aug 3, 2020
Designed by Gary Dicken, Steve Kendall and Phil Kendall – together best know as the Ragnar Brothers – History of the World is a game that has a history of its own. The first version of the game was developed and published by Ragnar Brothers way back in 1990. Subsequent editions were published by Avalon Hill and by Gibsons. In 2009, the designers returned to the game, tweaked and shortened it for publication as A Brief History of the World; an edition published by Ragnar Brothers and Spiral Galaxy. Now, with this edition, Z-Man Games have given the title another makeover.
History of the World is an area control game that follows in the footsteps of Risk and of Lewis Pulsipher’s Britannia (another game originally published more than three decades ago by Gibsons and Avalon Hill). Players in History of the World aren’t controlling or tracking a single civilisation but waves of imperial conquest washing over the map over successive centuries. In each player’s turn, an empire will rise and fall, though it will leave its mark affecting other rising empires.
The game is played over five rounds representing 'epochs'. This is fewer than in previous editions, helping to streamline this into a game that you can reasonably expect to complete in two hours (the original version could run as long as five hours!). Each epoch starts with card drafting from two sets of cards. The epoch cards determine which empire the player will control this epoch, its starting territory, number of armies and any special capabilities. Meanwhile, event cards typically give a one-use advantage (for example, an ability to reroll combat die) which can be deployed in that epoch or saved for use in a future epoch. For both epoch and event cards, there are more than are used even when playing with six players, so you won’t always find the same cards or even the same empires coming into play. Obviously this adds to the replayability of History of the World.
The epoch cards determine the order in which the empires take their turns (a factor to bear in mind in making your choice). In the player’s turn, they take the number of armies indicated on the card and place one on the empire’s starting territory. They then place out armies to occupy adjacent territories. If the territories are unoccupied, that's all they need to do. However, if an opponent’s army is there, then a battle ensues. Battles are resolved by rolling die, in a manner reminiscent of Risk. The attacker rolls two dice and the defender usually rolls one: to win (remove the defending army) the attacker’s highest roll has to beat the defender’s dice roll. Ties remove both armies but will mean that the territory is now unoccupied, allowing another army to be moved in there. Added to this, there are siege rules that allow the attacker to continue a battle they have initially lost.
Players build capitals and monuments which score them points. They will mainly earn points, however, for each region in which they have a presence. Provided it is a region with a scoring token (some regions only score in later epochs), players only need one army in the region in order to score for 'presence'; they score for ‘dominance’ (double the ‘presence’ value) if they have a majority; and they can score for ‘supremacy’ (triple the points awarded for presence) if they control at least three territories in a region and none are occupied by other players.
At the end of a player’s turn, all of their armies are ‘resigned’ (laid on their side). They are no longer active but they remain in place and still count towards scoring in future epochs. It will always be ‘resigned’ armies that players will be attacking because, at any point in the game, the only armies that are standing are those of the active player whose turn is in progress.
This edition of History of the World is attractively presented, with an odd but functionally accurate and commendably clear world map and with pearlescent plastic pawns to represent the armies. Although players complete all their actions on their turn, turns are over quite quickly so there shouldn't be too much waiting for your next turn to come around. That said, the only thing you’ll be doing during other players’ turns is possibly rolling the occasional die to defend against an attack. You won’t have any way of knowing what empire you’ll be building on your next turn or which territory it will be starting from so you can’t make any use of the downtime to plan ahead. This is probably the main negative in an otherwise very entertaining game.
History of the World has the look of a '4X' civilisation game. It isn't. This is not a game involving deep strategy. Think of it rather as a fairly light fun game that's a step up from Risk. If you like Risk, then this is a game you will certainly want to try.
You can find a longer review of History of the World on the Games Quest blog.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)