I am a bit of a trivia nerd. I used to love taking on anyone willing to play me at Trivial Pursuit when I was growing up. My pub trivia team regularly attends quiz night at Sneaky Dees in Toronto and sometimes we even win. I host a monthly Seinfeld trivia night. I even listen to an excellent trivia podcast, Good Job Brain! All in all I like to geek out on random, useless information. Trivia games are a bit of an anomaly in the board gaming world. They rely on a different skill set than most strategic games and until recently, most suffered from some sort of roll and move mechanic to get you to the real meat of the game, the questions. There have been some interesting recent attempts that have tweaked the way you use a board in a trivia game, such as Fauna, and some that have done away with the board altogether like Kwizniac. Trivia games that let people focus on showing off their brain power rather than aiming for the next ‘roll again’ space are making the genre fun again. So, I was really interested/wary when one of my favourite trivia games in recent years, Timeline, introduced Timeline Challenge. Not only a new way to play, but also the reintroduction of a board.
The original Timeline is beautiful in its simplicity. Players have a number of cards that they are trying to get out of their hand by adding them to an ever-growing timeline. The cards are double-sided, with the front showing some event/invention/discovery etc. and the back showing the same thing, but with the year included. Players can only see the front of the cards and on a turn they will try to find the right place in the timeline to insert them. It’s not too tough when there’s only a few cards out, for example if the timeline only consists of ‘the extinction of the dinosaurs’ and ‘the invention of the internet’, most cards will fall somewhere in-between that. It gets a bit trickier when you’re trying to figure out if the invention of the pencil occurred between the first modern circus and the invention of the waistcoat, or maybe it was around the time of Billy the Kid’s first crime and the invention of the button up shirt. If you pick the right spot in the timeline, then hooray! You’ve gotten rid of one of your cards and the timeline has gotten a little bit longer. Pick wrong and the card gets discarded, but you have to draw another. The first one to get rid of all their cards wins.
Timeline has come out with a number of different editions that can all be played separately or mixed together for a huge game. Now Timeline Challenge is hitting the shelves. Challenge is still going to call upon your knowledge of historical events, but instead of simply building a timeline together, the players are all going to take part in different showdowns in an effort to move forward on the time track or Clock. The first person to get to the final space in the Clock will win the game.
The board that has been added is actually quite big. The Clock takes up the centre of the board, across the top is a timeline depicting different eras in succession and the rest of the space is used for the five different types of trials you’ll face throughout the game. The eras on the timeline all have a number associated with them, so from 1300-1600 is era 3, from 1930-1970 is era 8, etc. The trials all have different symbols and colours associated with them. The type of trial the players will face is determined by the player or players in the first position.
One of the cool elements in Challenge is the individual historical boards each player gets. The historical boards are what the players will use to set their guesses during the trials. Unlike the original Timeline, in Challenge each player will take part in the entire game. The historical boards allow you to set a year or guess which era a card might fall into. By turning the individual wheels players can set the number for each of the four windows to a number between 0-9. The windows also correspond with a shape, used for some of the trials. There is a smaller fifth window that allows for a number to be set with a + or – indicating before or after CE.
The trials are pretty fun and give players a new way to approach the Timeline cards. In The Split, two cards will be placed face down on the board and players will use their historical boards to guess the amount of time between the cards. For example, how much time was there between the invention of the bikini and the fall of the Berlin Wall? The player closest to the right answer moves forward four spaces. The Bet has players draw one card and then use the historical board to try and guess the era of the card. You can guess four times, so if you’re pretty confident, you might bet the same era each time. If you’re not sure you can hedge your bets a bit. Players move forward one space for each correct answer. Timeline 4 has four cards laid out on slots matching the four shapes on the historical boards. Players will set the each shape’s window according to the era they believe the card falls into and move forward one space for each correct answer. The Right Date has players place one card and then set the wheels on their historical boards to guess the exact date of the card. For each correct digit in the year they chose, they will move forward one space. Finally there is The Combination. In this trial four cards will be placed on slots matching the four matching shapes of the historical boards. Players have to set their wheels from 1-4 indicating the chronological order of the four cards. Each correct answer advances them one space.
There are two challenge lines in the game that act as a catch-up mechanic. Sudden Death has the players compete in a game of essentially the original Timeline. In turn everyone takes a card from the draw pile and adds it to the ever growing line in the place they think it occurred. As soon as a player makes a mistake they are eliminated. The last player standing will advance three spaces. More or Less has the leading player take the top card and check the date. Each player will make a guess to the date with the leader replying ‘More’ or ‘Less’ indicating the year was before or after their guess. This continues until one player gets it exactly right and moves forward three spaces.
Timeline Challenge is an interesting twist on the classic, simple original game. At the end of the day it still comes down to your knowledge of dates and events, but it’s a much meatier approach to the theme. It’s not just building a timeline, it really is challenging you in different ways. Now, you won’t want to pull Challenge out in a pub or restaurant as you might Timeline, but it certainly adds something to the play experience. The historical boards are awesome and the fact that everyone plays each trial keeps people involved throughout the course of the entire game. I think because of it’s more board game-like approach, Challenge may have a broader appeal. You’re still going to have to appreciate trivia style games to enjoy it, but there is a bit more of a gamer element to Challenge. A new way to flex my trivial knowledge is perfect for a historical nerd such as myself.