Friday, May 1, 2015

Game review: Through the Ages

Through the Ages
This is probably the most challenging and stressful game that I own.  It is also one of the most rewarding and fun games.  The biggest problem is the length of the game (about 90 minutes per player).  The current price on Amazon is $70 which is too rich for my blood. I believe that we purchased this game for approximately $50. 

Number of players: 2-4
Style of game: Worker placement and civilization building
Set-up time: approximately 10 minutes
Playtime: 90 minutes per player (3 hours for 2 players, 4.5 hours for 3 players, etc.)
End game/counting points/clean-up: 5 minutes
Complexity (1-10): 10
Category: Non-essential, good addition for heavy strategy

This game is definitely not for everybody.  The sheer amount of time that you have to devote to this game is staggering.  If it wasn’t for nice California weather, my girlfriend and I would have never been able to get through this game.  Our first game probably took anywhere from 5-8 hours.  After that, our game time went down to three hours.  We’ve played this game 1.3 times since our baby was born (we had to quit the second time we tried to play due to lack of brainpower).  Why does it take this long?

You are trying to build a civilization complete with wonders, technologies, leaders, government, and military.  During a couple sections of the game, you even start colonies.  Your goal is to end with the most culture points (victory points).  You start from near biblical times and work your way up to modern times. 

During your turn, you are limited to a set number of actions determined mainly by your government.  Your leaders, wonders, and technologies can influence the number of actions but mainly it is your type of government.  You work your way from despotism all the way through fascism, communism, and democracy.  During your turn, you can take cards from the card rows, play cards from your hands, or place workers to help gain resources.  Then you have your military actions where you can build up your military, play military cards, or draw an even card.  Each turn for each person consists of at least 6 actions that are pretty stressful.  As you advance your government, you gain more actions, which in turn makes the game longer.  There is a small dig at communism insofar as that it costs you happiness when you switch to communism.

The leader cards that you get change your strategy throughout the game.  They can make it easier to get new workers or give you extra military strength.  Once you get to different ages, the leaders get more powerful and give you various bonuses.  My girlfriend employs the William Shakespeare strategy where she uses him as the leader and gets extra culture points per turn for each of her theatres and other cultural buildings.  She nearly maxes out the amount of culture points you earn per turn in the middle of the game.  This has been hard to counteract outside of taking the William Shakespeare card before she can.

Your wonders give you culture points, happiness, extra actions and are just generally used as bonus cards.  They cost resources and actions to build but are generally worth it. In the two player game, the military strength advantage is not nearly as important as it was when we played with three players.  The military advantage is mainly used for colonizing which gives you extra resources, victory points, or population.  In the three player game, there is an option to declare war.  Like the rules say, you can’t win merely by having the largest military but you can lose merely by having the weakest. 

There’s a lot of moving parts to this game which provides for a lot of strategy.  It reminds me a lot of playing Age of Empires on the computer except with a board game.  It starts off slow while you are building your resources and your initial civilization but by the time you get through your 1st age, you can see it really take shape.  Because of the time that it takes to play this game, you won’t find yourself playing this game back to back and because of the mental exhaustion it takes, you probably couldn’t even if you had the time.  Once you have played it a few times, you begin developing your own strategy to try to win the game.  After a few more, you are ready to counteract other people’s strategies.  Since the game is scored with culture points which are added at the end of the game and are added turn by turn, a three hour game can turn into a one or two point game.  There is nothing more depressing than seeing your civilization lose by 1 point after a three hour affair.  It’s a great game if you can afford both he price and the time.  If you don’t play the game consistently enough (at least once a month) you may find that you forget how to play just based on how many rules and moving parts there are to every turn.

Why it should be ranked higher:  Through the Ages is heavy on the strategy and very low on luck.  This is typically a type of game that I would love.  The civilization building aspect of the game is well-developed.  With all of the moving parts in the game, no two games are going to be the same and you can change your strategy on the fly.  At the end of the game, it really feels like the best player actually won the game.

Why it should be ranked lower: Time, time, and time.  In all honesty, I’m not sure when the next time I will be able to play this game, again.  It’s mentally draining to play this game.  As much as I like this game, I don’t have three hours to spend where I can play this game without neglecting my daughter.  It also is pro-capitalism with its forced unhappiness with communism.

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