Anno Domini

Urs Hostettler
2 - 8
10 - 199
InteractionComponents & Design

This week’s review is of a game, or rather, a series of games, that is smaller, quicker and older than most of our recent reviews. But we’ve been having a lot of fun with it lately, so it does deserve a mention. I’m talking about Anno Domini, a series of small card games by Urs Hostettler, better known internationally for Tichu and Kremlin, that he started in 1998 and that includes around 30 rather small boxes so far. Each box contains around 300 cards, and that’s it. That’s enough to play. You can mix boxes, if you like, but unmixing them is a bit of a pain. You have been warned.

Each card shows, on the front, an historical event from the general theme of the box, like Law, Inventions or Show Business. Those events range from the mundane – “Pope introduces the christening of church bells” – through the interesting – “The common motive of stepping into another world through a mirror is realized for a movie with a pool of mercury” – to the abstruse – “Iranian TV gives in to modern tendencies, allows applause”. That’s actually far from the most abstruse, but it’s a nice and short text. Each player starts with nine of those cards, which by the way are text only, another one is placed on the table to start the game.

The Truth Revealed
The Truth Revealed

The game is now incredibly simple. When it’s your turn, you have two options. Mostly, you will place one of your hand cards on the table. The goal is to have the events on the table in the right order, from earliest to most recent. You can place cards anywhere in the line, not just at the ends, hoping that they fit in where you place them. That’s pretty easy when one card on the table is about the moon landing, the other mentions pharaohs and your card involves the inquisition. But don’t expect to be that lucky often, many cards are not so easy to place. Or do you have any real clue, from the top of your head, when seven sheikdoms, including Abu Dhabi and Dubai, were unified? Could be any time in the last 1200 years or so, right?

It’s those cards that make the game really interesting, because they make it hard to decide when to pick the second option on your turn: doubt. If you think that something, anything in the line of events is out of order, you loudly express your doubt. All cards on the table are then turned over, revealing the actual year the events happened in. If everything is in the right order after all, that’s bad luck for you and you have to draw more cards to your hand. If, however, there is a mixup in the timeline, then the previous player draws cards. Even if the mistake wasn’t his, by not doubting he accepted responsibility and draws the cards. Either way, you then clean the table, reveal a new starting card and keep playing. The game ends when someone gets rid of their last card.

Anno Domini sounds like a trivia game at first, but fortunately, it’s a rather different affair. Trivia knowledge does help of course, but the ability to make a rough estimate is more useful. But most important of all, you have to sound convincing about the cards that you play. Anno Domini is, most of all, a bluffing game. Even with a good grasp of history, most of the events in question are not easily placed and many are downright surprising, so nothing is more important than giving the impression that you know exactly what you’re talking about.

Like I said at the start, Anno Domini is smaller and quicker than our usual fare, and with its text only cards it doesn’t look like much. But it’s a fiendish amount of fun with the right people, and the more bizarre cards are entertaining in themselves. One downside of the game, at least for many of you, is that there is no English edition yet. There is a German edition with many boxes and an Italian one with, so far, two boxes. But maybe someone could be convinced to adapt this game to the English-speaking market, because you guys are missing out on something.

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