Could you make history?

It started out with a dab. My son let me know that he dabs on the haters. I retorted that the dab is old news. It’s sooooo old… wait, how old is it now?

I looked up the origins of the dab. And then I made a version of Timeline of dance moves using index cards for for my kids to play.

The game didn’t take long to make and it didn’t take long to play. My kiddos now know that the Macarena is very old but not nearly as old as The YMCA.

Timeline (Diversity) – from Board Game Geek

Timeline is a great game that I recommend to pretty much anyone looking for a simple card game that can be played by a group of people. Unlike many trivia games, Timeline allows players to guess and as most of us are not historians, there is a lot of guessing involved. I have had much success playing Timeline as a casual and fun game with university students. There is some risk that a player might tease another for a particular gap in their knowledge, but all games based on shared knowledge comes with this risk.

The rules are very straightforward. Each card in a Timeline deck has a description of an event on one side and a description and a date on the other. To start the game, players are dealt four cards with their dates sides hidden. Then a card from the deck is played on the table with the date side revealed.

The youngest player begins the game and their task is to select a card from their four and then to place that card either as ‘before’ or ‘after’ the card on the table. After their decision is made, their card is turned over so that the date will show whether the player was correct. If they are correct, the card remains and the next player starts their turn. If the player is incorrect, the card is sent to a discard pile and the player draws a new card from the deck. As the game progresses, the timeline of cards on the table gets longer and playing cards can be more difficult. The first player who successfully plays all their cards wins the game.

Even if you don’t own the game, you can play Timeline for free as there is short demo version of Timeline Classic is available from this collection of Print and Play games made freely available for these unprecedented times.

You can make your own version with pen and paper. Or you can get fancy and using card making software such as nanDeck which allows you to create PDFs of printable cards using a spreadsheet of data and some code to format the cards.

screenshot of my nanDeck generated deck of Windsor-Timeline

I think asking students to make their own version of a game using the Timeline mechanic would make for a good history assignment. I think this for two reasons. First, like many educational games, the person who often learns the most from the experience is the game designer.

The family that playtests together…

And secondly, I think combining all the students different decks of their various history projects would make for a remarkable game of Timeline. That’s because what a good game of Timeline does is to help us integrate our various understandings of knowledge together and surprising us when history brings together disparate events into the same moment of time…

When pilgrims were landing on Plymouth Rock, you could already visit what is now Santa Fe, New Mexico to stay at a hotel, eat at a restaurant and buy Native American silver.

Prisoners began to arrive to Auschwitz a few days after McDonald’s was founded.

The first wagon train of the Oregon Trail heads out the same year the fax machine is invented.

Nintendo was founded in 1888. Jack the Ripper was on the loose in 1888.

1912 saw the maiden voyage of the Titanic as well as the birth of vitamins, x-ray crystallography, and MDMA.

1971: The year in which America drove a lunar buggy on the moon and Switzerland gave women the vote.

from Unlikely Simultaneous Historical Events, kottke.org

Timeline knows this, which is why their packaging asks these questions: Could Darwin drink champagne? Could Queen Victoria take the London Underground? Did Einstein wear jeans? And perhaps, most importantly, Did Cleopatra play cards?

I feel I could create an entire Timeline deck of what happened in 2020 and I still think I would get most of the cards misplaced.

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