Designer Spotlight: Frédéric Henry

The Builders

Frédéric Henry is probably best known for designing Timeline, the simple card game where you have to place events from history in the right part of a growing timeline.

However, he has designed a number of other games and is a personal favourite of mine.  His games often have family appeal, but have enough strategy to appeal to me as well.

Like many other French designers it seems, he has collaborated with a number of other designers on several of his games, notably Guillaume Blossier.

If you’re not familiar with Monsieur Henry, let me tell you about some of his games…

Frédéric HenryName: Frédéric Henry

Age: 40

Nationality: French

Year of first published game: 2003

Highest ranked game on BGG: Conan

Known for:

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac with Guillaume Blossier (2009)

Rush n’ Crush with Guillaume Blossier, Charly Cazals (2009)

Timeline (2010)

Asteroyds with Guillaume Blossier (2010)

Wordz with Guillaume Blossier (2011)

The Adventurers: The Pyramid of Horus with Guillaume Blossier (2011)

Cardline (2012)

The Builders: Middle Ages (2013)

Conan with Antoine Bauza, Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc et al (2016)

Once again, collaborations make it tricky to identify Frédéric Henry’s unique style, but there are several games he has designed alone, so we’ll focus on a couple of those today and then attempt to draw some conclusions about his design style.

The AdventurersThe Adventurers: The Temple of Chac

Players: 2 – 6

Time: 45 mins

The Adventurers: The Temple of Chac perfectly captures the scene from Indiana Jones where he has stolen an idol from a shrine and is trying to escape while avoiding poison arrows, bottomless pits and, of course, a giant boulder that thunders after him.

It’s a light, family adventure game.  Each player takes a character and makes their way through the temple trying to grab as much treasure as they can from various alcoves.  However, the more treasure they carry, the slower they become.  Whoever escapes with the most treasure wins.

There is an ingenious action-allocation system, which involves rolling dice to decide how many actions each player gets.  The more you are carrying, the fewer dice you will be able to use, but the randomness of the dice means that you could get lucky and get lots of actions even if you’re carrying a lot.

It’s a push-your-luck game essentially.  The boulder begins chasing you almost as soon as you begin, but it moves very slowly as first: deceptively so.  You think you have loads of time, but then the boulder gradually gets faster and faster until you look at how many spaces there are to the exit and how many spaces the boulder is going to move next turn and you realise you’re not going to make it!

There is enough variety in the different ways that you can acquire treasure to keep it interesting and it always goes down well with children and adults alike.

It has a special place in my heart as it was the first game where I painted the miniatures (which are remarkably good quality).  Each character has a special ability and the characters themselves have lots of flair.

There was a sequel that came out a couple of years later, but I still think the original is the best.  I’m always surprised how few people are aware of this one, but if you like family games, this is a classic.


Players: 2 – 8

Time: 15 mins

Timeline was an instant hit when it was released and looks set to be an evergreen game.  There are lots of versions of Timeline with different themes (eg. British History, Inventions, Music & Cinema, etc.), but the principle is the same each time.

Players are dealt a hand of cards and whoever gets rid of all their cards first is the winner.  Each card has an event on it (eg. The Invention of the Washing Machine) and on the back of the card is the year in which it took place.

Each turn, players have to place one of their cards into the correct place of a timeline made from other events (the dates are visible on these cards).  The card is then flipped to see if it is correct.  If it is, it stays in the timeline (which makes it harder for everyone else as there are more possible places for cards to go).  If it is wrong, it is discarded and a new card is drawn to replace it.

It is such a simple idea and yet it works so effectively.  Games are short and accommodate a wide variety of player counts.  You obviously have to have a vague interest in history so it’s not going to appeal to everyone, but I’ve found it plays well with gamers and non-gamers alike.

There is a bit of randomness from the card draw (some cards are much harder to place than others!), but I see this as a positive – it means that the history buff isn’t guaranteed victory.

You might consider the potential lack of replayability to be an issue and indeed this appears to be the primary reason why more than one publisher rejected the game when Frédéric Henry first tried to find a publisher.

It’s hard to imagine that any publisher would reject what has proved to be such a great-selling game, but it just goes to show how difficult it can be to predict which games will be successful.

Personally, I don’t find the lack of replayability to be an issue.  The price point is low enough that I have bought several sets and you can just mash them all together for lots of variety.  There are far too many cards for me to be able to memorise the dates.  I may have learnt a few from playing the game, but it never seems to be enough to beat my brother-in-law!

Asmodee (the publisher) are onto a real winner.  You can understand why they have a clear plan to release a new set every six months.  They have themselves a cash cow and they’re milking it.

The BuildersThe Builders: Middle Ages

Players: 2 – 4

Time: 30 mins

This one is a hidden gem.  It’s a great gateway game and goes down really well with the family.  Players are trying to construct building cards that grant victory points.

Each building has a certain resource cost and you have to hire workers (who each provide different resources) to build them.  For example, a building might need 2 wood and 1 architecture.  You could attach a carpenter (who might provide 3 wood) to cover the wood requirement, but then you would need to attach another worker as well to provide the architecture.

Once all the resource requirements have been met, the building is completed and the workers become free to work on another building.

Each turn you have a number of actions that you can spend obtaining workers, taking building cards, assigning workers to buildings, etc.  The tricky thing is that assigning more than one worker to a building in a single turn requires extra actions, so you really need to be working on several buildings at once to be efficient.

Much of the interest in the game comes from planning to make the best use of your workers.  They each provide different combinations of resources.  How should you best assign your workers to the buildings that are available?

It’s nice and quick, gives you plenty to think about, has attractive artwork, an intuitive theme and plenty of replayability with the variety of cards.  It fills a similar niche to Splendor in many ways so if you’ve played Splendor too many times and are looking for an alternative, I highly recommend The Builders.

Frédéric Henry certainly doesn’t restrict himself to family-friendly games (Conan certainly isn’t!), but for me this is where he really shines.  His family games are short, engaging and fun for all types of gamers.

He is very good at creating situations that require you to evaluate a simple trade-off: “I want X and Y, but if I get more of X, I’ll get less of Y and vice versa.  Which do I want more right now?”  His games provide a great stepping stone into more in-depth strategy games.

What do you think of Frédéric Henry’s games?  Do you have any favourites?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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