If you want to see how to turn a board game into a computer game, look no further than Hasbro's Risk, Scrabble, or Monopoly. If you want to see how not to turn a board game into a computer game, try History of the World.
History of the World is a popular and entertaining board game for two to seven people. It's best when played with a large, mostly drunk group and involves carving out an empire for oneself over seven historical epochs. Think of it as Risk for the anal-retentive.
Avalon Hill, however, has had notoriously poor results with conversions of its classic board games. Most recently, Third Reich limped to the shelves, three years out of date. Now History of the World is bunged into our hard drives with little more to recommend it. Avalon Hill is not alone in perpetrating this one. Colorado Computer Creations (of High Command fame) did the programming. Avalon Hill should have shown more care with one of its major game assets.
You begin an epoch by drawing a card. This card represents your kingdom and any special benefits you get from it (strength points, navigation technology, and so on). You also draw event cards that can be played at any point in the turn. These trigger specials events such as earthquakes that knock down an enemy capitol or rebels that try to overthrow a territory. Gameplay itself unfolds on a squished map of the world, highlighting the area from Japan to Western Europe as a series of lands grouped into regions. You're given an empire, you deploy army units into neighboring regions, play any special events, and then wait for your opponents to do the same. If an opponent decides to take over one of your regions, a simplified die-roll combat decides the victor. The key is to control enough landmasses to have the most victory points at the end of seven epochs.
On the dining room table, with plenty of beer and chips at hand, this is all rather fun in a Risk sorta way. On the computer screen, however, it dies a thousand deaths. It is just about one of the most lifeless board game conversions going, with any attempt to lighten the mood or add some color merely adding to the gloom. (Try the hackneyed tutorial or look at any of the AVIs if you don't believe me.)
The problems are many. First, it is programmed very badly, with a cumbersome, sluggish interface that is right out of Windows 3.1. The toolbar is a mystery, and the various windows are all separate rather than being integrated into a single, fluid gameplay environment. It runs like a dog despite being pretty short on chrome. None of the commands has hot text, so it's back to the manual each time you need to puzzle one out. There are two zoom modes for the game map, but the large zoom is half size and not all that useful. Not that this matters, since the map is only slightly better than the one found in Third Reich, which was only slightly better than playing lines-and-dots on notebook paper. In a word, it is a visual and technical turkey.
Well, okay, at least those low-bandwidth visuals can be put to good use, right? Fast Internet play! Live chat! A good place for this game to come alive. Maybe so, but we'll never know, since the only multiplayer element is the dreaded e-mail game, which only five guys in the applied physics department of Kalamazoo U. still bother with.
The implementation of Internet support may have saved HOTW. The gameplay itself, however, does not even remotely translate into a solo game. The abstract conquering of countries on the basis of drawing cards and placing chits on an ugly map does not exactly give us Civilization II or Imperialism. Military units have no special properties or skills: They are merely attackers and defenders, all with the same ratings. The tactical element is not only minor (die rolls), but badly handled, since an enemy just attacks and if he wins, your chit just disappears. No fanfare, no combat results. At least, none I could find on the oh-so-confusing screen.
Gameplay unfolds in a routine, predictable way no matter how many times you play. All of the joy of expansion and conquest has been sucked out of this game like the final drops out of a Slurpee cup. It is a shame that Avalon Hill, which happens to own the rights to some of the greatest board games in history, has never been able to bring those games to the computer with any degree of success (aside from the efforts of Atomic Games). History of the World is simply the latest in a long line of disappointments.