Full disclosure: A review copy of Similo: History was provided by Flat River Games.
I’ve actually just been plugging away on all six Similo sets in various orderings and combinations for the last several months; Similo is becoming one of my all-time most-played games. It’s just … so easy to play that I almost don’t even think about it. I’ve been playing on Board Game Arena, so it’s time to break out the cards for a physical version for y’all. Get excited. The next few weeks or so will be taking us through the various Similo sets, starting with Similo: History!
In Similo: History, players have a deck of 30 cards featuring various characters from world history. Writers, government officials, the occasional pirate; they’re all here, and your goal is to use them to help your coplayer determine the secret identity of one card in particular. Using what they have in common and what they don’t, you’ll have to reason out what your clue-giver is thinking if you want to succeed. Will you be able to find out the secret character?
This one’s pretty simple. Shuffle the deck of cards:
Deal one to the clue-giver, face-down. They should look at it and remember which one it is. Then, deal them eleven more. Have the clue-giver shuffle them and reveal a four-column, three-row grid. Deal the clue-giver five more cards to serve as their starting hand, and you’re ready to start!
A game of Similo is pretty simple, no matter which set you’re playing from. As a result, my reviews of the other sets will be pretty short, limited to just Strategy and Pros / Mehs / Cons. Let’s talk about how they work.
To play Similo, your goal is to either get your co-player to guess the secret card (as the clue-giver) or to guess the secret card (as the guesser). Each turn, the clue-giver will play a card face-up below the grid in one of two orientations:
- Vertical: This card has something in common with the secret card.
- Horizontal: This card has something different from the secret card.
The guesser, then, chooses some number of cards to eliminate from play:
- First Turn: The guesser chooses one card to eliminate.
- Second Turn: The guesser chooses two cards to eliminate.
- Third Turn: The guesser chooses three cards to eliminate.
- Fourth Turn: The guesser chooses four cards to eliminate.
- Final Turn: The guesser chooses one card to eliminate.
After each turn, if the guesser has eliminated the secret card, both players lose! Otherwise, the game continues. After the final turn, if only the secret card remains, both players win!
Playing with Multiple Sets
Rather than just sticking to Similo: History, you can combine multiple sets for hijinks! To do so, choose one set to be your clues and one set to be your grid. Set up the grid with one set, and deal clue cards from the other set’s deck. Play normally! Keep in mind that this is usually considerably more difficult, so good luck!
Player Count Differences
Ostensibly, not many. With games like these, where you have a clue-giver and a guesser, there’s often just an increase in the number of guessers as you increase the player count. You can either play by committee or entrust each guesser with turns, allowing them to each take a stab at guessing. In the latter case, it does get more exciting as you add more players (to a total of four guessers), I suppose, but in the former case I don’t really care for having additional guessers. I’m not the biggest fan of the “guess by committee” strategy in a lot of games (Codenames included). I’d just rather play 1-on-1, I suppose. To that end, I play most of my games of Similo at two players, but I also play most of them on Board Game Arena. That suits me just fine.
- Don’t try to get too clever with your clues. Remember that some of the cards are subject to interpretation, and if you give the wrong clue or aren’t thinking about the potential implications of your clue, your coplayer might just knock out the secret card unintentionally. This is particularly dangerous in the fourth round, since the most cards are removed (and the fewest cards remain); do the work to ensure that your clues form a comprehensive through-line to the correct answer.
- Make sure you read the text on the sides of the cards. There’s a lot of information there, and more importantly, your coplayer might be reading that information and factoring it into their guesses. You don’t want them to infer something incorrect from information that was readily available, so make sure you at least give all the cards a quick skim.
- Helpfully, everyone in here is a real person, so think about where they’re from, what they did, and when they were alive. There’s a lot of context! Make sure you’re taking it all into consideration. For historical figures, there’s so many different ways that they could be linked together, and that can often be challenging, but it also gives you a lot of options for similarities and differences! I’d tend to lean more towards things that are obvious to help prevent any mishaps, though.
- It may be worth holding on to certain cards until later in the round; as your coplayer clears out cards, they may make it easier to give more specific clues. There’s a similar strategy in Codenames where you avoid cluing certain words until they’re covered up, and it works in Similo the same way. Sometimes the board isn’t set up to let you play a certain card very well, but it’ll work super well later in the game. In that case, it might be worth holding on to until that later point.
- Just keep in mind that a clue you hold on to is useless if your coplayer loses the game before you get a chance to play it. This is the crux of that dilemma. If you hold on to the perfect card and your coplayer guesses incorrectly, then you’ve lost the opportunity to play it because the game’s over. If you play it before it’s useful and your coplayer guesses incorrectly, you probably should have waited. Understanding when to give a clue is as important as (if not more important than) understanding what clue to give.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- There’s a really nice, diverse set of folks from across history in this, which I like. I wouldn’t necessarily call it “comprehensive” (it doesn’t include anyone past 1941, for instance), but it’s definitely a nice set of historical figures from a lot of places! There are a few I wish were in here, but that’s a different conversation.
- I actually like the idea of using this as a way to teach some basic history to kids, and I think it could work. At the very least, it can get kids (or adults; I learned something from playing) to engage with history and comparing / contrasting various figures, which I think is a pretty nice way to make educational stuff entertaining.
- It’s actually pretty fun, which also helps. I think what I like about it is how quickly it plays, and how vulnerable you are to misinterpretation. Half of the fun, for me, is listening to the clue-giver explain their reasoning when we lose, or me trying to justify an obviously bad selection. There’s a lot to do, there. I think it’s a clever, limited guessing game with a lot of interesting applications, and I’ve enjoyed it enough to play various iterations of Similo a hundred times, so there’s clearly something to that.
- It just sets up and plays so quickly. You’re really just making a grid and guessing some cards, and with only twelve cards in the grid, it moves super fast. That’s definitely a major reason I’ve played it so many times.
- The simplicity of the clue-giving also takes a lot of heat off of the clue-giver. I find that not having to generate a clue, just identify some pattern and go with it has made the game a lot easier to play (and less stressful).
- I like the art style a lot, as well! It’s somewhere between cartoony, pleasant, and realistic, and I really like it. I think what works really well for it is also that the art style looks good for every set I’ve seen, and finding something that bridges the gap between natural, historical, and mythical is pretty hard to do well. They all look good!
- This is also a really fun set to mix with some of the other Similo sets. I’d recommend avoiding mixing this with any of the Animal sets for Potentially Problematic Associations reasons, but this is such a challenging set if you mix it with Myths or Fables or Spookies! It really takes the game up a few steps in difficulty.
- I am gently annoyed that Frederick Douglass and Bessie Coleman got relegated to promo cards. Just a strange choice, though that’s partially my American bias showing. I also just … like seeing more African-American characters present in history-themed games, as an African-American, myself. It’s nice.
- They used the absolute smallest text possible on the cards, which is frustrating, especially here, where players may not be familiar with every historical figure and reading them in a flash can be challenging. I think this is particularly problematic for the History / Fables / Spookies / Myths sets, as there are bound to be some characters that players might not know about (especially in the History set). The text on these cards is extremely small and easy to miss, so players might misread it or, honestly, just as soon not notice it at all. I assume this was done to not encroach on the (very nice) art, but it does mildly hamper the gameplay.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I figured I’d lead with my favorite set, and I think Similo: History is just that. I really like the core gameplay of Similo, for starters. It’s simple, it’s straightforward, and the game has great art to back it up. I think it makes for a great two-player game, though I can imagine how the debating may make other people happier at higher player counts. For me, it’s been an ideal game to play with one of my best board game buddies on Board Game Arena during the pandemic, and we’ve logged some obscene number of Similo plays of various sets in various combinations (we’re just about to start the Spookies mash-ups). I think History is one of my favorites because it’s challenging and I learned something from playing it! Not that I didn’t from the others, it was just pleasantly surprising. I think I also appreciated that they incorporated many different world cultures into the game. I could see this finding a great home in some early history courses: it’s fun enough that kids can engage with it, and you can really set some structure around it from just recognizing the characters to actually having to explain what two people have in common or don’t have in common, to scaffold the learning as part of the game. But beyond that, I think the game’s just a good, simple, fun game to play, and that’s why I keep coming back to it. If you’re looking for a light cooperative game, you’re a fan of history, or you just like Similo and are looking to mix up all the sets, I’d recommend checking Similo: History out! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.
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