Board Game Gumbo: Spice it up with The Flow of History
My gaming sweet spot are small box games with a lot of depth that play in about an hour. I love to discovering them! If you can promise me a civilization building game that fits those parameters, I am all in.
So my latest search has been for civilization games that fit the bill. Let’s face it, it is a tough design challenge to put together a good civilization building game that gives you the thrill of an Age of Empires or Civilization but takes only about an hour.
For years, 7 Wonders by Antoine Bauza was my go to game in this category. I liked the way that players could build upon the cards they bought in the first age, and how different strategies could win the game. (For the record, I have come to like 7 Wonders Duel much better, but admittedly don’t have any of the expansions for the original game that could probably change my mind). However, in the original version, I have not been a big fan of the military mechanic or the fact that you really felt like you were only playing the two people on your left and right. Still in all, 7 Wonders is a great light civ game.
But when I heard that Jesse Li was doing his take on a card based civilization game that promised a play time in around an hour to an hour and a half, I was very intrigued. Ponzi Scheme is one of the Krewe de Gumbo’s favorite games because it is so tense and even the best players struggle to win.
Does your game group like civilization games? Do you want a card based game about building up a nation that looks amazing on the table and plays in about an hour?
The Flow of History takes 3 to 5 players on a journey starting with a very early civilization and advancing that nation through the ages all the way to The Future. Along the way, they will have to decide the nature of their nation. Are they scientists or builders? Are they warriors or peaceful agrarians? Are they traders or philosophers -- or some combination of all of the above?
HOW DOES IT PLAY?
Players play as one of six random civilizations, each with their own focus. Your nation may start out as militaristic, or focus on trading, or be enlightened philosophers. But do not fret, if you do not like your starting nation, the decision as to how your civilization develops even including their basic tendencies is all up to you. Players will do this using one of five actions on their turn (Investing, Completing, Sniping, Activating, or Harvesting)
Over the course of five ages, players will draft card from an open market using a very unique bidding mechanism. Players will assign resource tokens to the card they want to purchase. The twist? The player does not get that card right away. Instead, they have to wait at least one turn to “complete” the card, giving other players a chance to “snipe” the card out from under them. If they do, the sniping player will pay the invested player the value of the card. Plus, the sniped player will also get extra resource tokens from the supply, especially if their nation is invested in the trading symbols on cards in their tableau.
Need more resources? Then it is time to harvest. Harvesting can be an effective way to gain a resource advantage over the other players, which at least temporarily, can give you a position of strength in terms of the cards you will choose. The agriculture based cards are few and far between, however, so this can create unique bidding situations.
Finally, players can activate special abilities on their cards as part of their turn. That creates some very delicious decisions for the players. Will you activate one of your juicy cards, leaving one of your invested cards vulnerable for one more round? Or will you snipe a card knowing that the price is cheap for you but adds a lot more resources into the economy? Decisions like this happen almost every round, starting right from the get go.
Once the future arrives, players tally up their culture points (which is essentially victory points in this game.) They will add to that total one half of any other resource symbols in their nation. Finally, they will add any special bonus culture points based on wonders that have been built. The winner, not surprisingly, is the player with the most total points, with the size of the tableau and number of resources tokens as back up tie breakers.
COMPONENTS AND PRODUCTION QUALITY:
Tasty Minstrel has had a lot of success with their marketing campaign for “Deluxified Editions”, and that’s the edition I’ll be talking about today. (Bradly is getting a retail copy, so I will add some thoughts on the difference once I see his version.) The deluxified editions started -- at least on my radar -- with their “Emperor’s Edition” during the Colosseum project, and has continued through Gentes. The Flow of History is no different. The box size was upgraded from the small box retail (although in truth, it is still a small box just a little bigger than retail), with special UV highlights on the box cover and a cool box sleeve (KS edition only.)
The KS edition also comes with the smallest heavy coins I’ve seen representing the resource tokens. Everyone who has played with the tokens have been really impressed. They are almost like tiny buttons, but they have unique artwork on both sides and have been weathered for effect.
The cards are nicely produced with a good solid thickness and very pleasing artwork. These are not big bold Magic: The Gathering style paintings, but rather stylized versions of the ideas, people and places contained in the game. Simply put, the artwork completely matches the game theme.
Plus, you get a great insert which really helps not only to hold the game but is VERY useful during game play. It sits right onside a very small but functional card market board, and has two spots for cards and two unique wells for the supply and the reserve for the resource tokens. It also has a nice see through cover for the cards and resources, although you will probably store those in the included embroidered pouch.
All in all, this is an A+ production from Tasty Minstrel Games.
Yes, I have read the criticisms of the plastic insert, and frankly, I cannot disagree with those critics enough. If you look at the picture below, you will see what I think was the intention of the production team from Tasty Minstrel. The long well that comprises the "supply" is meant for the tokens to easily slide in and out. I don't want a deep well that would make it tough for us to dig the tokens out. Verdict -- excellent insert.
BUT IS IT FUN?
I'll make this easy. The Flow of History fires 7 Wonders in my collection.
That's right. If I want to scratch the itch of a quick playing, civ-building game, I will break out this game instead of one of my old favorites. No more long, tortured explanations to new gamers about the way the 7 Wonders card system works, or how the military only affects your neighbors, etc. I'll pull out The Flow of History, do a quick run down of how the tableau building and bidding system works, explain the five actions, and geaux.
Here are some of the reasons why The Flow of History will kick 7 Wonders out of my collection.
First, the game looks amazing on the table. (Again, I am referring to the Deluxified edition, but the cards are the same in both games). The art and iconography are so well done in this edition. Each card is colorful, and the designers have thoughtfully included icons in the middle of the cards to distinguish each type of card for those with color blindness issues. The components are well done, and the player markers and coins really stand out. Plus, do not listen to the boo birds -- the insert is well made if you know how to use it.
Second, and even more important than the production, the game play is fantastic. Sure, bidding games with a tiny little bluffing element are some of my favorites, so I am a little biased. But I can honestly say, the designer has come up with a twist on the bidding system (the investing / sniping actions) that really intrigues me. In fact, the more you play, the more you will appreciate the different levels of strategy that are uncovered.
And I love the thematic elements in the game. I'll bet the first time that you play, you will feel a little bit like this is just a card game where you build a nice colorful tableau in front of you. But that second game -- ah -- you will start to see the patterns that emerge from each age, and how each card's mechanic really fits into the theme of the game.
John Lennon helps you take out your military cards for more innovation in your nation. Ghandi brings peace to the region, while Ghengis Khan most certainly does not. Upgrades in military dramatically change the game play in most games, and leaders can change the thrust of your nation overnight. All of the elements of the cards neatly fits into the meta of the game, but more importantly, the actions of the cards feels right.
Plus, I love the player interaction in the game. Now, this is the part where other reviewers will likely quibble. There may be some complaints that this game is a little too mean. I can totally understand that complaint, because in almost every game, someone will have their plans changed dramatically with a snipe or two of their card choices. I find the level of player interactivity to be just right, because the designer included a way for the sniped player to be recompensed for her loss. Not only does she get resource tokens, but if she invests in "handshakes" (as we call the trading icons), she can really increase her personal supply or make it tough to snipe from her. This is a good example of a designer thinking deeply about how to integrate player interaction in a game without overburdening the game play with too much "take that."
Finally, I am a big fan of the time taken in the game. I can usually teach brand new players how to play in about 10-15 minutes at most, and the turns go by very quickly. The second and third age seems to slow down a bit as players began understanding the connections between the cards, but that fourth and fifth age zooms by (especially since there are only about half the cars in Age V as there are in Age IV). As expected, the Internet and the Future can completely change the way the game ends, as befitting their disruptive nature in real life. All in all, we have been running between 60-70 minutes for our game times, and anytime I can get a meaty game in under 90 minutes, I am a happy gamer.
The Flow of History has been an excellent addition to my collection of small box games with big game play. The limited actions, easy teach, and quick play means it will be a staple of game nights, while the production value in the upgraded art on the cards, the resource tokens, and the player markers all make it a visually appealing game on the table. Finally, The Flow of History fits the bill of a civ building game with a innovative twist on bidding and card selection, and with just enough player interaction for almost any play group. The Flow of History fires 7 Wonders in my collection.
Have you tried The Flow of History? Do you agree that it is the right level of interaction and quick game play for your game group?
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!