Human civilisation is undoubtedly well-trodden turf for board games, with every designer and their dog seemingly having a take on the subject. However, it is not often that a game arrives with a genuinely fresh take on humanity’s societal development. I must, therefore, congratulate The Flow Of History designer Jesse Li for the inventiveness with which he’s approached the task of condensing six thousand odd years of human history.
The Flow Of History sees players guide the sweeping brush of time across the table, altering history with their ability to deftly manipulate the cards they’re dealt, encountering biting conflict, unbearable tension and the sweet satisfaction of seeing your opponents crushed by the weight of your strategic might!
The Flow Of History centres around a single deck of cards, which players will be collect in order to improve their abilities in several key areas. The cards fall into six categories; Construction, Knowledge, Government and Military cards constitute the foundation of your civilisation, while inspirational Leaders can provide massive boons and Wonders offer unique bonuses and a long-lasting impact on the landscape of the game. The cards represent one of The Flow Of History’s key, unique mechanics, namely the way in which they impact the game. When acquired, a card can have one of six types of effect:
- Instant Effect: As soon as a player takes the card, the card’s effect triggers.
- Attack Effect: Also triggers instantly but involves direct conflict with one other player.
- Attack All: Another instant trigger, this time involving conflict with all other players.
- Permanent Effect: The benefit remains as long as the card is visible.
- Turn Action Effect: The player can choose to activate the effect during a future turn.
- End Game Scoring Effect: This effect triggers at the end of the game, giving the player another method of scoring points.
Alongside effects, cards also have several production icons, which serve as the muscle of your empire. Attack and Defence icons provide military might, while Science and Industry will allow you to better take advantage of the potential benefits of Wonders, Leaders and technological advances. Harvest and Trade icons boost your economic capabilities, allowing you to gain more resource tokens than your opponents at various points in the game. But remember to collect as many culture icons as you can, because they’re worth more victory points than other icons come the end of the game.
Thanks to these different effects, The Flow Of History offers a wide range of tactical approaches, but a lot of the strategic meat comes from the mechanics surrounding the market, which serves as the central nervous system of the game.
The market holds five cards, which players can bid on, placing their player marker and some resource tokens showing that they have invested in the card, which will allow them to add it to their civilisation at a later point. However, The Flow Of History proves to be more satisfyingly complex when you understand the other actions that a player can take on their turn:
- Invest: Placing your player marker and at least one resource token on the card you would like to acquire.
- Complete: Taking a card that you have invested in during a previous turn and adding it to your civilisation.
- Snipe: Immediately take a card that another player has invested in, paying them resource tokens in compensation.
- Activate: Utilising the Turn Action Effect on a card in your civilisation.
- Harvest: Gain resource tokens from the supply.
From this suite of possible actions, it’s the ability to snipe that gives The Flow Of History a lot of its bite. The look of anguish on your opponents face as you knock their player marker from a card is delightful, however the victim’s ability to gain extra compensation depending on how many trade icons they have means that the players who come out worst from snipes are those who haven’t properly prepared, which is very satisfying.
While all of this is mechanically exciting, what makes The Flow Of History a great civilisation game is the marriage of mechanics and the wonderful theme. As players progress through the five ages present in the deck, cards become more powerful, with shifting abilities and a plethora of production icons. Players whose civilisations still rely on oxen at the time of computers will struggle, while the nation led by Gandhi will be immune from attack by any other player.
I remember falling for the brand of civilisation building offered by The Flow Of History at one specific point. The player to my left had made poor economic decision after poor economic decision, and was struggling in comparison to the economic powerhouses seated around him at the table, but I remember the look of glee when the Communism government card was drawn from the deck, offering the possibility of a complete redistribution of wealth and a fresh start for his struggling citizens.
This complete involvement in the game is symbolic of a game of The Flow Of History, with players being swept up in the beautiful card art, which borders on a sort of ancient iconography, as well as the immense joy inherent in the tactile click of tokens passed from player to player. The Flow Of History is a game with mechanics simple enough to teach to almost anyone, which taps into an addictive competitiveness that will have almost anyone raring to give it a second try.