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Review: The Flow of History

3

Time is a force to be reckoned with. It is uncaring and relentless. It cares not for the worries of man. The problems of the individual fall to the wayside as the needs of the masses move ever forward. You can swim against the river of time or you can help forge the path. Either struggle against or go with The Flow of History.

How it Plays

The Flow of History is a card based game that has players guiding their respective civilizations from the agrarian age to the modern. Whoever has accumulated the most culture by game’s end will be the winner. But before learning how the game plays, it’s important to know a couple of things about the cards themselves.

There are six types of cards categorized by color. Whenever you gain a card you will add it to a stack in front of you arranged by type/color. Each card will have at least one production symbol on it as well as an effect written out in the middle. When a new card is placed over an existing one, it will overwrite the previous effect, but leave the production symbols showing.

Every player starts with a single card in their civilization and 4 resource tokens. The rest of the cards are placed in a deck arranged by ages. Cards are drawn off the deck and placed in the middle of the table to comprise the market. Players take turns taking a single action until the deck is depleted. Whoever has accumulated the most culture at this time will be the winner.

Setup for 3 players. The player aids are well laid out and very helpful. Bowl not included.

There are five actions you can take, though you can only do one per turn. You can Invest in a single card in the market by placing your pawn on a card that has not been invested in by anyone else and placing any number of resource tokens, as well. You can only invest on a single card at a time and you cannot move your investment later.

You can Complete a previously invested card by taking your pawn back and moving the resource tokens on the card to the supply. Then you you check your civilization for productions icons that match the bonus on the just completed card and take a resource from the supply for each match. Then you add the card to your civilization and carry out any effects that card may have.

Sniping is a way to add a card to your civilization without first investing. You choose a card that another player has already invested in and pay that player the same amount of resources that they invested. The resources on the card are then placed in the supply and the player who was sniped gets half of the resources in the supply while you get the card.

If you’re low on resources, you might consider Harvesting. First, add a number of resources to the supply from the box equal to the number of harvest icons you have. Then you take half of the resources from the supply.

Finally, some cards have special actions on them. Simply follow the instructions as printed on the card and hope it leads to victory.

Investing in some agriculture.

History in a Deck

My interest in civilization games actually started in video games with series like Sid Meier’s Civilization, Endless Legend and Sins of a Solar Empire. These are grand, hour-consuming affairs that are notorious for their ability to incite one-more-turn-itis, the compulsive need to keep playing even though it’s 3:00 in the morning and you have to go to work in four hours. It’s the constant treadmill of new discoveries and achievements that keep me playing. Whether it’s inventing the wheel or discovering diamonds, it’s the constant revelation of the unknown that keeps things exciting and keeps me coming back. And while I enjoy these experiences, they take dozens of hours to complete and playing with other people is cumbersome, not to mention an epic commitment of time.

So with my affinity in mind, I must admit to being disappointed with the board games that I’ve played that try an recreate the video game experience on the table. I have, however, been more impressed with games that take a different spin on the civilization genre rather than try to recreate their digital counterparts. I’ve been much more pleased with games like Patchistory than something like Clash of Cultures. The scope of a digital civ game is so vast and grand that attempts to capture them in board game form have let me down. The sprawling tech trees, varied terrain and sheer amount of units and civilizations is hard to compete with. And that’s why The Flow of History intrigued from the onset. Trying to capture civilization building and a modestly sized deck of cards? Now that’s different.

So does The Flow of History manage to cram an epic civilization building experience into a box the size of book? Not entirely. It’s more of an engine building, combo seeking, bidding game with civilization window dressing. And that’s OK. Actually, it’s more than OK. It’s quite a bit of fun once your expectations are in line.

Competing investments in the market.

The Flow of History employs a bidding system unlike any I’ve encountered before. Investing in a card on the market is a declaration to all the players what your intentions are. It also cuts everyone off from investing in it themselves, forcing them to snipe it if they really want it. It can sting to have your investments sniped from you, but getting your investment back, plus additional resources from the supply makes that sting short lived. You can even successfully cater a strategy around being sniped by building up trade icons. For every trade icon you have when sniped, you take that amount of resources from the supply. You can make quite a bit of profit from being sniped. Of course your opponents know this and might think twice about targeting you for a snipe, letting you get away with acquiring cards for a low price.

It’s this kind of doublethink and posturing that really gives me a thrill. Every investment is a player putting themselves out there to be scrutinized. Do they really want that card? Should I snipe it from them or is that what they want? Maybe I can tempt them to snipe me by investing in something else! There really is a good amount to consider for such a simple bidding system. This kind of layered decision making spiders out to just about every decision in the game and creates a really satisfying game experience.

The resource economy is another example of the multi-layered decision making. The only resources in play at the start of the game are the 4 that each player starts with so resources are almost always tight. Every time one of your actions puts money into the supply, it’s an invitation for someone to harvest or find some other way to raid it. Investing a large amount into a specific card may guarantee you can complete it later, but it will also empower whoever can swoop up those spent resources. There’s a nice ebb and flow as the resources move around the table.

Another pleasant surprise was just how many viable strategies to victory there were. You can focus on trying to have a stranglehold on the resources and win by taking the cards you want through sheer riches. Or you can set yourself up for sniping or getting resources back from investing. Perhaps you want to focus on an endgame bonus strategy and collect cards that grant culture based on unique and specific conditions like having lots of wonders. Maybe a military strategy is more to your liking and you want to attack the competition a little more directly. Even more surprising than the amount of legitimate strategies there are is how nimble the game is. It’s not uncommon to switch up your game plan mid-stream and it doesn’t really hinder you too much since you can still take advantage of everything you’ve built up until that point.

So I’ve talked about what an interesting and satisfying bidding game this is, but that’s not to say it’s completely devoid of feeling like a civilization game. There is a true escalation in scope and abilities as the game progresses that truly follow that growth of civilizations. Resources enters the game slowly as people harvest, and people will throw around large amounts of resources towards the end of the game where that would have been unthinkable in the beginning. Stronger cards come out due to the way the deck is stacked by eras. Your wealth and capabilities will escalate just like a growing civilization. So it’s able to invoke some of what I look for in a civilization game, but it fails it one vital area.

It’s an admirable feat to fit an entire, satisfying game experience into what is essentially a deck of cards and some wooden tokens but after just a few games I wanted more. Every card comes into play every game, just in a different order. It’s nice to become familiar with what’s possible and plan for certain cards to come out, but it gets stale in the context of civilization game. I would like to be surprised every once in a while.

A civilization mid-game.

Conclusion

The Flow of History is a good game! I’ve enjoyed my time with it and the decisions I’m faced with when playing. There’s a nice sense of escalation and feedback from your actions. The bidding is tense and thoughtful. I just wish there was some more variety to be had. As it is, The Flow of History is a good game to pull out every once in a while, rather than a regular gaming staple. And really, I think that’s enough because that time you spend with it will be well spent.

Review copy provided by Moaideas Game Design.

  • Good 7.5
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Summary

Pros
Nice sense of escalation
Tense bidding with some clever mind games and posturing

Cons
Lack of variety in the cards dampens long term excitement

7.5 Good

I love board games. The more esoteric, the better.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Joseph E. Pilkus III

    Alex,

    Great review! It looks to be a good little game to to the table, when my go-to, Historia, would take far too long. It’s interesting that you mentioned seeing every card, as that’s one of the things that turned me off of Through The Ages (among myriad other reasons).

    Anyway, it’s apparently a very accessible game with enough depth to make it interesting.

    Cheers,
    Joe

    • It’s been a long time since I’ve played Through the Ages and even though they are both card based civ games, they are quite different. I think most people would enjoy The Flow of History and should definitely give it a shot.

      Thanks for reading!

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