The computer game I've played more than any other is easily Sid Meyer's
Civilization series - I love the historical aspects to it, the combat
mixed with empire building, etc. I've longed for a board game
version, and while I enjoyed the Eagle Games version, it just didn't
hold up to repeated plays - it was too long with little payoff. 7 Ages from Australian Design Group came close to exactly what I wanted,
but has a high time requirement, taking days to complete a full game.
I was therefore cautiously optimistic when I first heard about
Through the Ages (Eagle Games, 2007 - Vlaada Chvátil), with so many
raving about this three to four hour civilization game. Same company
(sort of), but a completely different game!
After several plays, I must concede that the fans are true - this IS
very close to having Sid Meyer's game as a board game - and it's
actually a card game! Geography isn't quite as prevalent in the game,
but it's still very enjoyable, and offers players a ton of choices
while keeping everything very streamlined. I will say that some of
the accounting and manipulation of bits is a bit fiddly, and it may be
overpriced component wise - but the game offers a very deep and
fulfilling experience. It's the best of its genre, one of the best
games I've played lately - and an amazing amount of game packed in a
Rather than condense the rules down, I thought I'd just point of some
of the features of the game.
- When buying the game, it's certainly evident that you are buying
the system, not the components. I'm not sure why the game carries
such a hefty price tag, when it's basically just some decks of cards,
cubes, and tokens. I'm not complaining about the quality of the
components - it's quite good, it's just not at the level of the price.
I quickly insert that the game is worth the price, but the game still
feels a bit "bare bones". There have been some complaints about
mistakes in the game, and parent company FRED Distribution has made a
free kit that fixes these mistakes (although all of them but one are
incredibly minor - and I missed most of them.) The cards are very
functional, and the icons combined with reference cards keep
everything fairly clear. Incidentally, the game is being reprinted,
and all of the mistakes should be fixed in the new version.
- There are three sets of rules, although the "Simple" game really
isn't worth playing for any other reason than to teach the game (and
I've done that plenty of times!). The Advanced and Full Games are
actually closer to each other, and I'm perfectly happy playing either
of them. In fact, the Full Game only adds air forces and wars; and
since this causes the game to go a little longer - I may actually
prefer the Advanced Game.
- Speaking of length, Through the Ages is a decently long game -
lasting about an hour per player. Because this makes it perhaps a bit
too long with four, three seems to be the best number. Two players
can certainly have an enjoyable time, but three allows there to be
slightly more interaction, especially when it comes to combat.
- Civilization IV for the computer is currently my favorite PC game,
as it just amazingly encompasses history and allows me to change and
focus an entire civilization. I've always sought to see the same
thing in a board game, and it's very apparent that the designer of
this game did also, because many of the concepts are very close to
those in the computer games. From the "smiley" face used to indicate
happiness in a civilization, to the Wonders of the World having
massive effects, to the buildings having the same name and effect -
one has to almost wonder why the game isn't simply called Sid Meyer's
Civilization: the Board Game. Of course, I already know that such a
game exists, but this game does it better - much better.
- A complaint that is leveled against Through the Ages is a lack of
terrain, and indeed, it's the only Civilization game that I've ever
played that had no map. This was one the major reasons I had stayed
away from the game to begin with, because I simply couldn't imagine a
card game without a map sufficiently addressing the subject properly.
After playing the game, I still think that the ultimate civilization
game (if there is such a thing) will manage to incorporate a map into
the game. However, after playing Through the Ages, I see that a map
isn't essential to the actual building of a culture. There are some
pseudo-map features to the game, with different territory cards that
are fought over via combat; and for this game - that's enough.
Through the Ages might have the subtitle, "A study of culture",
because it's more about building up a Civilization than it is about
conquering the world.
- One should know that the civilizations are also perfectly
symmetrical at the beginning. Some games have limits on different
civilizations (such as 7 Ages), and players will have a mighty fleet
if playing the Vikings, and a propensity towards government if Romans.
Here, your civilization is unnamed, and all are the same at the
beginning. Players will be able to add leaders to their civilization,
change their governments, and basically follow their paths, but their
civilizations will always feel just a bit generic.
- That being said, the game offers a dizzying array of choices - so
many that players may be overwhelmed at first. Of course players are
going to concentrate on getting an economic engine running, and mines
and farms are a must. After that, however, players must balance
getting culture points (the way to win the game) with increasing
military strength, along with keeping everyone happy, having an
efficient government, and more. The tokens on the players' main card
are used for a variety of means, and it's about as efficient as it can
get without having a computer do the bookkeeping for you.
- Through the Ages IS a card game, and there is a line of cards that
makes up the game, with several of them discarded after each turn.
This helps bring the game to some sort of conclusion, but it also
keeps players on their toes - if they see a card they want, the time
to get it is now; because chances are high that another player will
snag it, or that it will be shuffled off the card line. Moving the
cards constantly can be slightly annoying, but it's a concept that
works well, although I have no idea how it fits in thematically. All
I know is that it works.
- There are various leaders in the game, from Moses to Maximilien
Robespierre to Albert Einstein; and a player is really a fool who
doesn't have one in their civilization at all times. However, while
leaders give a great benefit, it's going to be a tough decision which
to have in your civilization, since a player can only have one at a
time. There is great debate between some players as to which leader
is the best; but I've found them all useful, and they can help shape a
player's strategy. For example, Bach gives great bonuses to a player
for the amount of theaters they have; while Robespierre is there
simply to help more easily transfer between governments, and Napoleon
gives military bonuses. The faces and names help add to the theme of
the game (except perhaps the final leader - the "game designer") and
keep it from becoming too abstract.
- Having the right government is also important, since the
governments drive the game. Each government gives a certain amount of
military and non-military actions per turn. As the game progresses,
the amount of actions increase; but each government has a different
balance of war and peaceful actions. A player can ignore war but will
likely do so to their detriment. Since the goal of the game is not
really to conquer the world, it's not worth it to try and go that
route (and I'm thankful, because it's simply never happened in
history; so why dwell on it?); but one cannot ignore military options,
or they will forgo a good half of the game. Tactics cards, which
encourage different army formations, are one of my favorite parts of
the game and add a bit of interest to a system of combat which could
feel more like an auction than your typical dice-rolling affairs.
- The full game is divided into five basic eras, although the
first era - Ancient - is more of a setup time than anything else and
the last era (if you can even call it that!) just winds down the end
game. Technology increases, and things grow more powerful and
expensive as time goes by; and while it's not perfect, I'm very
pleased with the passage of time within the game. It gets rather
exciting, as it nears the conclusion.
- Not everything is peachy keen as the game plays out. As much as
it would be fun simply to build up a nice economic engine and build
wonders of the world and recruit powerful leaders, players must
constantly keep their happiness level high, or an uprising may occur.
Players also have to deal with irritating corruption the larger their
production levels grow, although an alternate rule helps keep
corruption lower for new players. As much as these travails pain me,
I think they both help keep a good focus to the game. Winning despite
your whiney population is a very good feeling.
There's a lot more I could write about the game, but despite many of
the things I said, Through the Ages is an amazing game. Much of it is
because the game has so many options and plays differently each time I
try it out. It's very immersive; and even though the typical game
takes around three hours, the time will fly by. Several decks of
cards and a bunch of small wooden tokens combine to be a very good
civilization building experience, one that is both addicting and fun.
"Real men play board games"