Introducing Through the Ages
I confess: I've always liked civ games. And I've long been hunting for the ideal civilization type game that is playable in 4 hours or less. I even created a well-received GeekList as part of my quest: The ideal medium weight civilization game: a quest for economic, military and technological bliss. If this type of game interests you, you'll want to check out some of the excellent comments and suggestions that many users contributed to that list.
Well I tried many of the entries on the list: Serenissima (first edition), Antike, Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean, Mare Nostrum, Pax Romana, and more. But nothing quite scratched the itch like I was hoping it would. They are all good games in their own right, mind you! But were these the best candidates that would meet my criteria for an ideal medium weight civilization game? Here's what I was looking for:
● strong historical flavour & theme
● economic and military elements
● civilization technology with some kind of development/progress
● solid and meaty game without being overly complex
● playable in 4 hours or less
● 2 to 4 players
● bonus points for a great map and high production components
● readily available from retailers
I'm pleased to report that with Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, my quest is almost over. Granted, this is not a holy grail of civilization games and devoid of any minor blemishes. Any game that plays in under 4 hours has to sacrifice something that one gamer will be looking for in a civ game. In the case of Through the Ages, it is a map that is lacking, and arguably the down time can become an issue when played with four players. But as far as medium weight civilization games go, Through the Ages is good. Very good. Check out the back of the box and feast your civ-loving taste-buds with this:
All the essential ingredients seem to be there!
But before we get to the review, a quick disclaimer: There are already several reviews with strong opinions about this game. It's not my style to try to sway you by forcefully expressing my own view. Over time I've come to realize that gamers are all different, and so for me to gush with emotion about how I love the theme or game-play of a game won't be very helpful to people with different tastes if all I'm telling you is how much I love a game. Instead, I prefer a "show-and-tell" approach, where I show you what the game looks like, tell you something about how it works, and try to let you make up your own mind, based on what you're seeing and in view of your own tastes. And for that, of course, you need pictures. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a 1000 words, and no amount of plain text will make up for what you can see in the blink of an eye in a picture. I realize that not everybody appreciates this style of review, and to the harsh critics, I respectfully say: you're entitled to your opinion and I won't be offended if you don't give this a thumb - feel free to move on to the type of reviews that you do appreciate. But for those of you who want to see what you're getting, and have an overview of what the game looks like and how it works, this review is for you. Or if you've bought the game and trying to figure out how it works, this review is also for you.
The building blocks of your civilization
Before we start looking too closely at everything, let's introduce you to the basic elements of your civilization, since we'll be referring to them throughout this review.
Population (yellow tokens)
Every civilization needs people! You add new "workers" to your population by spending food. When they're placed on technology cards, the workers are considered as representing that building and being employed there. You'll also need to feed your population each turn, so the more people you have, the more food you'll need to produce, or else they will go hungry. You also need to keep your population happy (see below under "Happiness").
Food (sack icon, blue tokens)
Food is produced by your farms, and is needed to add new workers to your population, and to feed your existing population. Without food, your people grow hungry and a famine will have serious consequences for your civilization!
Resources (rock icon, blue tokens)
Resources are produced by your mines, and are needed to build new buildings, or build new military units.
Science (light-bulb icon)
Science points are produced by your laboratories, and as you build up scientific knowledge, you can "spend" this knowledge to invent new technologies that will make your civilization better, such as an improved government or improved buildings. In most cases you will first invent a new technology with your science points (by playing the card for that technology), then increasing your population with an extra worker (by spending food), and then build that new technology building by moving the extra worker onto the technology card (by spending resources).
Strength (sword-shield icon)
Your strength is the combined power of your military units. Some Leaders, Wonders and Urban buildings will increase your strength as well. Strength is important when attacking or defending another civilization, or when competing with another civilization for a lucrative colony.
Culture (harp icon)
The goal of the game is to produce as many Culture points as possible, so these are essentially the same as victory points. Amongst other things, Culture points are generated each turn by certain Wonders and Buildings.
Happiness (happy face icon)
As your population increases, more effort is necessary to keep them happy. Entertainment technologies or religious technologies will boost their happiness, otherwise you will find yourself with an uprising on your hands, and your discontent workers will refuse to work or produce anything for you!
Government (government card: white icons = civil actions; red icons = military actions)
Every civilization needs some form of government! This specifies the number of civil and military actions you may do each turn. If you have enough science points and the right card in hand, you can change and upgrade your government (by a revolution, or a peaceful change), in order to gain more actions each turn.
Running your civilization efficiently will usually involve a delicious juggling act of managing all the above elements at the same time, as well as dealing with random events and cards, or military interaction with your opponent. Since your opportunities will largely be dictated by the cards as they are drawn from the deck, the game will be different every time, and you will have different opportunities and different decisions to make every game.
Through the Ages has already been through several editions since it was first published in 2006. The most notable changes between editions relates to improvements of the components. It's still not perfect, but the third edition is certainly very good and is definitely the one to get. It was published in 2008 by FRED Distribution and the cover has a discernible linen finish:
The rear side of the box introduces some of the cards in the game, and some of the concepts: warfare, technology, religion, art, science:
So what do you get inside the box? Since Through the Ages is primarily a card driven game, the bulk of the components are cards, along with some cubes and tokens for keeping track of your civilization. Fortunately, the game comes with a fantastic plastic box insert to help keep the cards organized. When you de-shrink the game for the first time and remove the rulebook and other accessories, here's what you will find:
A quick summary of all the components:
● 1 game board
● 4 player mats
● 4 reference cards
● 350+ cards
● 315 tokens
● 1 rulebook
Let's check out everything a little more closely and see if we can figure out how it all works!
Components: Rule book
The rulebook consists of 20 pages of fairly small print:
But have no fear, it is divided up into three sections: the Simple Game (pages 2-10), Advanced Game (pages 11-16), and Full Game (pages 17-19). This means that you can start learning the game without having to grasp the full complexity it offers, and once you've mastered the initial concepts you are ready to crank up your playing experience to the next level. The rule book has many illustrations that accompany the instructions, clear headings, and highlighted sections in different colours to mark key points or strategic tips. On the whole, it's a job quite well done, considering how involved the game can be at its hardest level. Want to know more? Download the rulebook here.
Components: Reference Cards
Each player gets their own reference card, which illustrates the basic flow of play in the game:
One side of the reference card illustrates the flow of play for the Simple Game, while the reverse side illustrates the flow of play for the Advanced and Full Game.
Components: Game board
Next we get the game board:
The different parts of the game board helps us to introduce some of the main concepts of the game.
Culture score track
Around the edge of the board, is a culture score track that will be used to track each player's "Culture" points.
The player with the most Culture points at the end of the game is the winner. In the picture below, Blue has 32 culture points, and White and Red are tied at 17 culture points.
Along the top of the board is the Card Row, on which civil cards are placed. Players can select a civil card from the Card Row as one of their actions in their game, and use them as part of their civilization.
The lower part of the game board is the Score Board. The right hand side of the Score Board provides a place to put the various decks of cards that are used in the game:
The left hand side of the Score Board is used to keep track of points:
The four scoring tracks are, from top to bottom:
Science Points: The top scoring track indicates how much Science Points a civilization has to use (Green has 1, Orange has 4).
Strength: The second scoring track indicates how much Strength a civilization has (Orange is 2, Green is 3)
Culture Points and Science Points: The lower two scoring tracks indicate how many Culture Points and Science Points each civilization generates each turn. This is just done for convenience, to save you the trouble of figuring it out by adding up individual amounts from all your buildings and workers.
At the start of a three player game, the Game Board might look like this:
Midway the game, the situation might look like this:
In this example, Red is currently the strongest civilization with a Strength of 7. But note that White and Blue have the advantage of generating more Culture Points and Science Points a turn.
The game comes with a huge pile of counters and cubes.
40 player cubes
There are ten cubes for each player, in four different colours.
These correspond to the colours of the Player mats:
The cubes are used to keep track of Culture points, Strength Points, Science Points, etc, on the Game Board, as we have already seen earlier. Note that the second edition of the game came with different coloured cubes - pictured above are the orange, green, purple and grey of the third edition, whereas pictured in earlier images are red, white and blue of the second edition.
275 wooden counters
There's also a massive pile of 275 wooden counters (120 yellow, 90 blue, 35 white, 30 red).
The white and red tokens are used to keep track of your civil actions and military actions.
The yellow and blue tokens are used to keep track of your workers/buildings and your food/resources.
The small tokens are used on the player mats, so let's check those out next!
Components: Player Mats
Now we come to some of the more important components in the game. Each civilization gets their own play mat.
Second edition player mat
The earlier editions of the game had an inferior player mat, which looked like this:
Third edition player mat
In contrast, the third edition has much clearer boxes for the Resource Supply and Population Bank, and there's explanatory text to make the Player Mat easier to learn and use:
But this is only part of the enhanced player mats from the third edition. The new player mats also include the initial technologies that you begin the game with (lab, temple, farm, mine, infantry, and government cards):
In previous editions these were separate cards. So this is a great improvement that makes the game much less fiddly!
How the player mats work
So what is the meaning of all this? To explain how the Player Mat works, let's check out the reference included in the rule book:
Food and Resources: The Blue tokens correspond to Food or Resources. If they're on a mine, they are considered as resources, if they are on a farm, they are considered as food. The "Blue Bank" just represents food/resources that are not part of your civilization. When you consume Food or use Resources to build new buildings, blue tokens are returned to your civilization's Blue Bank.
Population: The Yellow tokens correspond to Workers/Buildings and represent your Population. Here's an example using a player mat from the second edition:
Here's another example using an enhanced player mat from the third edition. In the picture below the Orange civilization has a Population of 7 (one worker in a lab, two on farms, two in mines, one warrior, and one unemployed worker in the worker pool):
As yellow tokens are added to the Population, the amount needed to feed the Population each turn increases. If you don't feed them, they get hungry!
Happiness: At the bottom of the Player Mat is a track representing Happiness. As your Population increases (and yellow tokens are moved out of the Population Bank onto buildings or to the worker pool), you need to keep your population happy by increasing their happiness. If you don't, they get discontent, and you run the risk of an uprising!
Technologies: The technologies/buildings on the Player Mat are the ones each player begins with. As your civilization gains technological know-how, you get the ability to invent more advanced technologies, which are represented by additional cards.
A starting civilization
So what does each player begin the game with?
● a basic government (despotism): this is the orange card on the right of the player mat. The four white tokens mean that with this system of government, you get four civil actions each turn; the two red tokens mean that with this system of government you get two military actions each turn.
● one infantry (warrior): this is represented by the red coloured card on the top right of the player mat. The single yellow token indicates a single warrior, which means that your civilization currently has a Strength of 1.
● two farms (agriculture) and two mines (bronze): these are represented by the brown coloured cards, and the two yellow tokens on each indicate two workers/buildings of each.
● one lab (philosophy) and temple technology (religion): these are urban technologies represented by the grey coloured cards on the top left of the player mat. At the start of a game each player has one lab, and although they have the technology for a temple, there are no yellow tokens on the temple card, meaning that there is currently no temple.
The Player Mat merely indicates the cards/technologies that you begin the game with. Since cards are the heart of the game, as your civilization grows and expands, you can invent and add new technologies and abilities. Altogether the game has 341 cards (185 Civil, 155 Military, 1 Start Player). These come in eight shrinkwrapped decks like this:
Start Player card
The single unique card is used to help keep track of who is the start player:
The cards with light coloured background are civil decks, used for the Card Row:
The cards with the dark coloured background are military decks:
The cards are classified according to the Age in which they appear:
A - Antiquity (500 BC - 1000 AD)
I - Middle Ages (1000 AD - 1500 AD)
II - Age of Exploration (1500 AD - 1900 AD)
III - Modern Age (1900 AD - present)
So let's open the shrink wrap and find out more about the cards that the game uses!
Components: Civil Decks
The Civil Cards available in the card row are different types:
The Leaders and Wonders will give special on-going benefits to your civilization, while Action cards give special one-time benefits. All the remaining cards require science points (technology) to be invented. The Mines and Farms help with producing Resources and Food, the other technology cards help advance your civilization in other ways.
Leaders (green cards)
You can choose one historic personality to be the Leader of your civilization, which will give your civilization various abilities and benefits.
Wonders (purple cards)
Wonders are elaborate constructions that provide your civilization with significant benefits, but usually require considerable time and resources to build.
Action Cards (yellow cards)
These cards have an immediate one-time effect.
Production Buildings (brown cards)
Farms produce Food, and Mines produce Resources:
Urban Buildings (grey cards)
Players begin the game with technologies for Temples (religion) and Labs (science), but there are more advanced technologies available that will be improvements over these initial technologies, as well as new types of Urban Buildings, like Theaters, Arenas, and Libraries:
Government (orange cards)
More advanced Governments give more Actions, higher building limits, and sometimes special bonuses:
Special Technologies (blue cards)
Special Technologies give you immediate bonuses and don't require a worker:
Military Units (red cards)
Unemployed workers can be turned into military units that will increase your Strength:
The game is suitable for 2 to 4 players, but when playing with just 2 or 3 players, certain cards are removed from the deck. For convenience, these are marked clearly with a 3+ or 4+ on the top left of the card:
You begin with with seven workers (one of whom is freely available in the Worker Pool) on your player mat, but no food or resources:
At the start of the game you also have the Depotism system of government (4 Civil actions, 2 Military actions), one infantry, two mines (to produce resources) and two farms (to produce food), and one lab (to produce science points).
Civil cards are laid out in the Card Row, and the cubes and decks are placed in their starting positions:
(Note that this picture shows the second edition of the game, the only difference being the colours of the player cubes)
We're ready to build our first civilization!
Game-play: Flow of Play
The Reference card shows the order of play that is followed each turn.
Each player completes their full turn, which consists of the following main elements:
* Add cards to the Card Row
* Take Political Actions: like Events, Aggressions, Pacts, and Wars (this step only applies in the Advanced and full game)
* Take Civil and Military Actions: this is the biggest part of a player's turn.
* Perform Production and Maintenance: produce your culture and science points, and your food and resources
* Draw Military cards (only if there are unspent Military actions)
Play then passes to the next player, who does the same thing!
Let's look at all the elements of a typical turn in more detail.
Adding cards to the Card Row
The places on the Card Row are marked with white circles corresponding to the Civil actions players have. Cards on the left hand side of the Card Row cost 1 Civil action to take, while cards on the right hand side of the Card Row cost 4 Civil actions to take. At the start of each turn, a few cards in the front of the Card Row are removed, and all the cards moved to the left with no open positions between them, and new cards are dealt from the Civil deck on the right hand side.
Taking Political Actions
In the Simple game, Event cards are flipped from the Military deck and resolved. In the Advanced and Full game, this phase offers many more possibilities, such as adding a card to the Future Events pile, or playing Aggressions, and making Pacts or declaring Wars.
Taking Civil Actions
At a cost of one action each, a player can choose from the following possible civil actions (depending on how many white civil tokens he currently has):
● Take a Civil card from the Card Row
● Increase Population (by paying the appropriate cost in Food)
● Build, upgrade, or destroy a Mine, Farm, or Urban Building (Build: by paying the appropriate cost in Resources and move an unemployed worker to that card; Upgrade: by paying the difference in cost between a less and more advanced form of the same technology; Destroy: by moving the worker from the building to the Worker Pool)
● Construct one stage of a Wonder (by paying the appropriate cost in Resources)
● Put a Leader into play (by playing a Leader card from your hand - limited to one Leader per Age)
● Invent a technology (by paying the appropriate cost in Science points, and playing a technology card of any kind). This is also the way that a change of government happens.
● Play an Action card (for its immediate effect)
Taking Military Actions
At a cost of one action each, a player can choose from the following possible military actions (depending on how many red military tokens he currently has):
● Build, upgrade, or disband a Military unit (by paying the appropriate cost in Resources, and moving an unemployed worker to that card and then increasing your Strength- this works in precisely the same way as building, upgrading, and destroying Buildings)
● Play a Tactics cards (to increase the Strength of your army - only applies to the Advanced & Full game)
In the Advanced and Full game, unused military actions allow you to draw cards from the Military deck at the end of your turn.
Production and Maintenance
● Happiness check: production only happens if your population has sufficient Happy Faces corresponding to the size of the population
● Farms produce: each farm produces food, and one blue token is moved from the Supply to the Farm for each worker
● Consumption: depending on the size of your population, food tokens are returned, which represents feeding your people
● Mines produce: each mine produces resources, and one blue token is moved from the Supply to the Mine for each worker
● Corruption: if you are stockpiling your resources, you may need to return some resources to the Supply bank, which represents corruption
Game-play: an example
A sample civilization
Here's an example of a civilization at the end of two ages of play. James Cook is the current leader. Two wonders have been built (Colossus and Universitas Carolina), which give two additional Culture points and Science points a turn, as well as increasing the civilization's Strength by 1. Improving the government to a Monarchy has meant 5 civil actions and 3 military actions a turn. The population consists of 14 workers, and more advanced technologies that have been developed include a farm and mine, an arena and a lab.
A sample turn
So what might this player do on his turn? After adding cards to the Card Row, and taking Political Actions, the biggest part of the turn is about the Civil and Military actions, so let's walk through that, along with the production and maintenance.
Political actions: Players only "seed" events in more advanced forms of the game, but let's just illustrate how this might work. Let's say that instead of playing a military act of aggression, you decide to "seed" a future event, which means you turn up the current event, for example Cold War. Assuming you are the strongest civilization at this point, you'd increase your Science points by 6!
Civil actions: With 5 Civil actions, you might do the following:
1. Increase population: spend 4 food (1 food token worth 3 and 1 food token worth 1 are returned from the farms to the Blue Supply) to recruit a worker (one yellow token is moved from the Population Bank to the Worker Pool) at a cost of four food.
2. Upgrade a farm: spend four resources (2 resource tokens worth 2 each are returned from the iron mine to the Blue Supply) to upgrade a farm (move one yellow worker from the Agriculture card to the Selective Breeding card) at a cost of 4 resources (the difference between the cost of the two buildings)
3. Take a Civil card from the Card Row: take a yellow "Efficient Upgrade" action card at a cost of one action - this card can only be used on the next turn.
4. Take a Civil card from the Card Row: take the "Opera" card at a cost of one action.
5. Invent technology: pay 7 science points and play the Opera card from your hand.
Military actions: There are still 3 Military actions available, so you might do the following:
1. Build a military unit: spend 2 resources (2 resource tokens worth 1 each are returned from the bronze mine to the Blue supply) to get a warrior (move one yellow worker from the Worker Pool to the Warriors card) at a cost of two resources. This will increase your strength by one.
Production and maintenance:
1. Culture points: Your overall culture score would increase by 6 points (1 for Colossus wonder, 1 for Universitas Carolina wonder, 2 for James Cook, 2 for two temples)
2. Science points: Your science points would increase by 5 points (2 for Universitas Carolina wonder, 3 for Scientific Method lab)
3. Farms produce: Your farms produce a total of 8 food (move 2 food tokens from the Blue Supply worth 3 each to the Selective Breeding and 2 food tokens worth 1 each to Agriculture).
4. Pay consumption: Given the size of your population, your people consume food worth 2 (move 1 food token worth 3 from the Selective Breeding to the Blue Supply).
5. Mines produce: Your mines produce a total of 4 resources (move 1 resource token from the Blue Supply worth 2 to the Iron mine, and 2 resource tokens worth 1 each to the Bronze mine).
6. Pay corruption: Your Blue Supply has enough tokens, so no corruption needs to be paid.
If using the Military Deck, you'd get to draw two military tokens (for the two unused Military actions), and then it would be the next player's turn!
Taking it to the next level: the Military Deck
The Simple Game of Through the Ages is already a whole lot of fun, but you really take the game to the next level when you add the Military deck and start playing the Advanced and the Full Game. The Military Deck is a separate deck from the Civil deck, and here's an overview of the cards it contains and how they are used:
Political Action Cards (green/brown/blue cards)
Several cards can be played during the Political Action phase at the beginning of a turn. These include
a) Future Event cards (green cards) Territories (green cards) are a special type of Future Event, and when they are turned up they indicate that a foreign territory can be colonized, giving special benefits to the civilization that colonizes them.
There are all kinds of events, and these add a lot of flavour to the game:
b) Aggression Cards (brown cards) can be played on weaker opponents, if your military strength is superior:
c) Pacts (blue cards) can be made and broken in this part of the game:
d) War Cards (black cards) allow you to make enemies in advanced forms of the game:
Tactics Cards (red cards)
These describe how your civilization organizes its military units, thus increasing their strength:
Defense/Colonization Bonus Cards (two-color cards)
These give a bonus when defending against Aggression cards played by an opponent, or when competing for a new Colony:
I won't go into detail about the rules for using military cards, except to say that they are primarily used for the Political Action phase of the game. Events are particularly interesting: they do not take effect immediately, but appear later in the game. This gives strategic possibilities: should you play an Event which gives a bonus to the strongest civilization, since yours is currently strongest? Or will another player become the strongest civilization by the time this event is triggered? The way events work adds an extra level of fun and strategy!
Taking it to the next level: the Advanced and Full Game
Part of the beauty of Through the Ages is how the game can be played at different levels. With the Advanced Game, you use the Military deck and play two Ages. But if you want the full experience of Through the Ages, then you take on the Full Game, using the Military deck and playing the game over three Ages from Antiquity to Modern Times. With the Full game you have the opportunity to build up your civilization with modern inventions, and can use current technologies like Space Flight, Satellites, Fast Food Chains, and more.
You can even get the Internet and Movies into play!
I'm still waiting to see a custom "BoardGameGeek" card as a new Wonder! Meanwhile there is an unofficial Barack Obama card if you really want a present-day leader!
This last picture is a joke, of course. For the most part what the cards in Age II and and Age III do is ramp up the opportunity for developing the building blocks of your civilization to new levels. To illustrate this, let's take a quick pictorial tour through the ages, to see how the different technologies and possibilities increase in power as the game goes through Ages I, II and III
Leaders through the ages
Wonders through the ages
Production through the ages (farm, mine)
Urban Buildings through the ages (temple, lab, theater, arena, library)
Government through the ages
Special technologies through the ages
Military might through the ages (infantry, cavalry)
The effect of the cards in the Military Deck increases as well.
Events through the ages
Territories through the ages
Aggression through the ages
Military tactics through the ages
Defense/Colonization Bonus through the ages
Clearly there are lots of possibilities for developing your civilization in all kinds of different ways as the game progresses!
So are there many possibilities for strategy? Absolutely! The game involves much deeper decisions than just choosing a card or two from the card row. Should you focus on culture points? Should you adopt a military strategy? Should you focus on developing your infrastructure of farms and mines? What leader should you choose and what Wonders should you build, and how can you maximize their benefits? There are lots of interesting decisions to be made, many of which can have long-term implications. Consult the Strategic Primer by Eugene Hung if you are looking for more ideas.
To illustrate some of the possibilities, let me just highlight one crazy combo:
Michelangelo as your leader along with the St Peter's Basilica wonder quickly becomes ridiculous - and when combined with two Theology (temples) gives 12 culture points a turn! This can earn a lot of points in the Age II, but meanwhile your infrastructure may not be strong enough in Age III, and other players might use military might or other strategies to overtake you in the closing stages of the game. See here for some good discussion about whether Michelangelo is too powerful.
One of the things I like about Through the Ages is how flexible it is. Play the Simple Game, the Advanced Game, or the Full Game. And even that doesn't exhaust the range of possibilities. The last page of the rule book has a section on "Other Ways to Play", with several possible variants that you can use to customize the game to meet your own tastes. There's the "Easier Variant", "No Ganging Up Variant", "Peaceful Variant", "Bonus Points Variant", and more. This is a smart move, because people do have different tastes. For example, after my wife and I had mastered the Simple Game, we wanted to try the Advanced Game, but we weren't quite ready for the full hostilities and conflict of the military deck, so we just played with the "Peaceful Variant" that removes all Aggression and War cards. The result was an experience just the way we wanted it. As we became more confident with the game, we were eventually ready to move to the Advanced Game as it was intended. We can now enjoy a two player session of the Advanced Game in under three hours, but fortunately we could work up to this point, rather than starting with this level of complexity right away. Being able to tailor the game to your own needs and tastes is a real advantage, to make it work best for you.
So what does the game offer in terms of theme? Does it really give a civilization feel? I think so, particularly because it brings to life many famous Wonders that will benefit your civilization in various ways, and real historical Leaders, all of which add flavour and contribute to your civilization in different ways.
Through the Ages allows us to lead our people with artists like Leonardo da Vinci:
Or statesmen like Winston Churchhill:
We can have our civilization led by scientists like Albert Einstein, musicians like Johann Sebastian Bach, or lesser known geniuses like engineer Nikola Tesla (whom clearly not everyone appreciates!):
For more examples, see: Through the Ages: A Gallery of 15 Great Leaders of Civilization.
The events also contribute greatly to the theme, as do the many different components of the game: religion, politics, science, agriculture, culture, and more. This is certainly a long way from being an abstract game!
Game-play: Example of play
To get a sense of how strong the theme is, one only needs to read some of the many session reports of Through the Ages. Here's a sample from one session report, written by yours truly about a three player game, which we take up towards the beginning of Age II:
Mr Troubadour completed his Universitas Carolina, meaning that if his people wanted an education, not only could they visit the now famous Library of Alexandria with its factory installed fire extinguishers, but also his Universitas Carolina! With the continuing progress of his civilization, it should be noted that his University not only had fire extinguishers, but also an automated sprinkler system and the latest technology smoke detectors.
Meanwhile the Masked Man had finally completed his life long work on the Taj Mahal. At this point Mr Troubadour (blue) had achieved a superlative lead over his rival civilizations, and would there be enough time for them to close the gap before the close of the Second Age?
It was time to start pushing cubes in earnest. Under the happy leadership of Joan of Arc, his new leader, the people of Mr Ender began embarking on a new project: the building of the Eiffel Tower. With the Pyramids starting to draw attention world wide, and attracting legions of Japanese tourists with cameras, his people knew that by building large triangular objects, they were sure to achieve glory.
But wait! There was news of revolution! Have you heard? Mr Troubadour has employed the famous revolutionary Maximilien Robespierre! Immaculate in attire, impeccable in manners, and with a perfectly manicured goatee, what changes would this revolutionary bring? Apparently, he had been spending too much time in Mr Troubadour's Library and Universitas, reading the works of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In no time at all, he persuaded Mr Troubadour of the advantages of a new form of government: a Constitutional Monarchy!
The appearance of a figure known from alternate histories as an influential figure of the French Revolution would not only bring good news, however. CNN reported that a Reign of Terror was in effect, and being the weakest civilization, the people of the Masked Man's civilization suffered an immediate decrease in their population as a result of this atrocity. Such terrorism, it would seem, would appear later in an alternate history of the 21st century.
Read the full story here: The Masked Man helps usher in a new error* in the anals* of human history
What editions are there?
You'll find different ways of designating different editions of the game, which can be very confusing. Technically, these are the correct designations:
● 1st English edition (2006) - by CzechBoardGames (a "limited edition" that virtually sold out at Essen)
● 2nd English edition 1st printing (December 2007) - by FRED
● 2nd English edition 2nd printing (November 2008) - by FRED (commonly referred to as the 3rd Edition here on BGG)
You'll find a lot of discussion about the components of Through the Ages, so it is important to understand the differences between the different editions and printings of the game.
What is the 2nd edition like? (= 2nd edition, 1st printing)
The first printing of the 2nd edition of the game was the first vesrion of the game put out by the publisher FRED Distribution. It contained several improvements, but there were also some significant issues with components: an insufficient number of tokens and player cubes, an error with the culture scoring track, and issues with card warping. In an effort to address most of these issues, FRED distributed a Fix Pack.
What is the 3nd edition like? (= 2nd edition, 2nd printing)
Most of the errors have been corrected in the 3rd edition (the publisher's website officially calls it: the 2nd edition, 2nd printing) that was published at the end of 2008. Several components have been upgraded in this edition as well, including the play-mats and the card stock.
This doesn't mean that the 3rd Edition is perfect. You should be aware that the "3+" icon was accidentally omitted on two of the Mine cards, and the Oil mine should also have the cost (9 light-bulbs) added to it:
This is a minor glitch that can easily be fixed, and is no worse than some of the edits required to certain cards in Agricola. There are a couple of other minor issues that sharp eyed gamers have noticed in the rule book of the 3rd edition, but these are definitely on the nit-picky side of things. If you want a complete list, check out these threads: #369188, #363964, #374325.
How can you distinguish between the 2nd and 3rd edition box?
That the 3rd edition isn't easy to distinguish from the 2nd edition by looking at the box. Both have a 2007 copyright date on the back, but there are two ways to tell the difference:
- the 2nd edition has a smooth finish, whereas the 3rd edition has a textured linen finish
- the 2nd edition states it has 265 wooden counters, whereas the 3rd edition states it has 315 wooden counters, and has the label CE (marked in red in the image below)
On the whole, the production values of the 3rd Edition (technically: 2nd edition 2nd printing) are fantastic, and in my estimation the minor glitches are insignificant and no reason to deprive yourself of a fantastic and quality game. In particular, the enhanced playmats of the current edition are especially outstanding, and I'm very pleased with the overall quality.
What do I think?
To be honest, I was on the fence for quite a while about whether or not to get this game. But the more I play it, the more I like it, and the more I want to play it! The game-play grows on you, and I find that a good meal of Through the Ages only increases my appetite for the game!
In the interests of full disclosure, when you read reviews and comments on the game you will find that this game has many critics. Typically the criticisms usually boil down to one of the following points, which I will briefly address in turn:
● Is Through the Ages too fiddly and is there too much micromanagement and book-keeping?
It has to be admitted that there is some fiddliness in managing the blue food/resource and yellow population tokens. But excessive? No. It's not significant enough to detract from most people's enjoyment of the game. In fact, it could be argued that the euro mechanics give the game a great deal of elegance.
● Does Through the Ages take too long for what it is?
Not in my estimation. After a three hour game, I'm never tired of playing - if anything I'm just itching to play again!
● Does Through the Ages have too much downtime?
I don't find this a real issue for a two player game, but I can appreciate that it might be the case in a three player game, and certainly in a four player game. I mostly play Through the Ages as a two player game, so it's not an issue for me, but if you expect to play only with four players on a regular basis, it could be a consideration for you.
● Is Through the Ages essentially multiplayer solitaire without enough interaction?
The amount of interaction depends on the extent that players adopt a military strategy. Those who enjoy multiplayer solitaire type games can opt to avoid aggression if they wish. But there's there's certainly lots of interaction when military might is used to its full extent! If anything, the game's strength is that it can be enjoyed with the full measure of conflict and interaction, or with the variants that scale down the level of aggressiveness by eliminating these aspects for those who prefer a more peace-loving type of game.
● Is warfare too abstracted in Through the Ages?
The fact that warfare is a matter of comparing overall strength will be a weakness in the eyes of some, but those who can't bear to manipulate stacks of counters and constantly calculate leadership bonuses and combat dice rolls would argue that the level of abstraction is perfect. I happen to be in the latter category. True, Through the Ages doesn't have a map, and I can appreciate that those who like a tactical combat experience on a map will find something lacking and will regard this as a weakness. But along with many others, I personally don't find that the absence of a map detracts from the game.
● Are the Through the Ages components poor quality?
This objection might have had some validity with earlier editions, but I don't think it's a fair assessment of the Third Edition of the game. I don't hear people whining about the few glitches that marked the publication of Agricola, and if anything, the quality of Through the Ages is significantly higher than that. I concede that Through the Ages is not a cheap game, but the system that you get and replayability it offers arguably makes up for that. Believe the hype, play the game, and then decide whether the price tag is too high.
Enthusiasts who own and enjoy the game will also be pleased to note that it can be played online using VASSAL.
Is Through the Ages the ultimate civ-light game? It may not be perfect, but it certainly is awfully good. While the mechanics of the game will appeal to eurogamers, the theme is much more involving than your average euro game, and there's enough random elements in the cards and events to give the game rich civilization flavour. There's no real geographical element, but I count myself as one of those who doesn't think that the game is lacking anything as a result. Judged on its own merits for what it is, it certainly has to be admitted that Through the Ages provides an excellent civilization building experience in a 3-4 hour game.
What do others think?
Don't just take my word for it! Here are some comments from those are are particularly enthused about Through the Ages:
"I'm completely blown away! Simply put, this is one of the finest economy building games out there! There are lot of variables to juggle and a huge amount of options to ponder every single turn. Build farms, explore mines, discover new technologies, send your armies to crush your foes and impress the world by building amazing wonders! And in the end the strongest culture will prevail." - pitris
"A Civholic's dream!" - Thom Denholm
"Best civilization building game I have ever seen. Everything from Leaders, Wonders of the World, Government, Science, and Military." - Roger Byelick
"This game has a great story arc. You feel a sense of accomplishment after taking your civilization through the good times and the bad. The hours just fly by with lots of meaningful and agonizing decisions to be made." - Matt Albritton
"Oh boy, oh boy, what a game! So many different things to think about and manage. So many possibilities. Culture, technology, resources, food, happiness, corruption, military strength, colonization. And all of it packed into a reasonable playing length for a two or three player game." - Dave de Boer
"Easily the best civilization board game I have ever played, trumps Avalon Hill's Civilization for me. Definitely a jewel in my collection." - Stuart MacAleese
"So many ways to win and so many choices to be made. Absolutely the best civilization building game I've ever played." - Krisse Holm
"It's not just that the game has a great, cohesive system, but I really get excited about playing it! I love how the historical figures and wonders have effects that are right in line with their actual historical abilities and impact upon history. There's lots of different resources in the game, and you are forced to keep a close eye on them all." - Clinton Paris
"An immersive civilization building experience with multiple pathways to victory and great replayability." - John Lapham
"Now this is a fantastic civilization game! While very thematic, this is a game of efficiency and engine-building, not tactical conquest. War and the threat of general aggression are part of the equation, but not the primary focus. Politics and economics, science and art... each plays an equally important role in the growth of your civilization. Just plain "wow"." - Stan Mamula
Clearly there's good reason that Through the Ages is in the BGG Top 10!
The final word
Is Through the Ages for you? As always, that will depend on your personal taste. I hope that this pictorial overview has helped you learn something about how the game works so that you can make up your own mind. In my mind, it's met most of the criteria I'm looking for a civilization type game: strong historical flavour & theme, economic and military elements, civilization technology, playable in 4 hours or less, a solid game without being overly complex, and decent components. Now excuse me, while I make myself a cup of coffee and go and build myself a civilization!
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Tue May 4, 2010 5:29 pm (Total Number of Edits: 12)
- Posted Tue Mar 3, 2009 8:11 pm
Now THAT'S a review!!
Thanks for the thorough review.
However, it seems my suspicions are confirmed and this is pretty much the Civilization PC game ported into a card format. And while I've played my share of Civ on the PC, I never enjoyed the whole mini-maxing your food/production/happiness thing. So I'll be passing on Through the Ages.
WOWWWW the review I was expecting so I dón't need to read the rules and come back to see pictures of the game, everything is integrated in this essay...thanks Ender
Gosh, I love your reviews. Keep 'em coming!!
That`s a really nice "Work of Art" !
Nice review. Superb game...despite the cost, despite the errors, despite some of the poor graphical choices. I actually think the game can be too short, even at 5 hours. Just get it.
Rob Doupe wrote:
Thanks for the thorough review.
However, it seems my suspicions are confirmed and this is pretty much the Civilization PC game ported into a card format. And while I've played my share of Civ on the PC, I never enjoyed the whole mini-maxing your food/production/happiness thing. So I'll be passing on Through the Ages.
Your loss. This is by far one of the best boardgames I have ever played in my life. PC Civ: The Boardgame is a grail that has finally been achieved.
Wow, totally worth tipping. Amazing review.
Edit: I want to print it, that's a 46 page review!!
- Last edited Tue Mar 3, 2009 11:06 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Mar 3, 2009 11:04 pm
That's Karl on the left. Eternity on the right.
I love Melissa, but don't tell her. It's a secret if she can find this. Shhhhh....
Ender, Stop doing such insanely incredible reviews. It puts the rest of us reviewers to shame. I don't know if I'll ever be able to do another review...
Sao Joao do Estoril
Ender I HATE YOU!!! Please stop with this infernally excellent and brilliant reviews!!
Because of you I had to buy Roll Through the Ages, now I have to buy this one also!!! I'm giving your address to my wife when she asks me why I'm buying another game!!!
(PS: please keep writing this reviews!!)
I didn't know what to do with my UberBadge, so I left it as a GeekBadge.
I feel like I could have played a game of TtA in the time it took to read this review. Moreover, you could have played a best-of-three in the time it took you to write it.
You can delete all other reviews, this one made them obsolete
Sao Joao do Estoril
You can delete all other reviews, this one made them obsolete
I second this!!!
Come and play it real time on Vassal!
- Last edited Wed Mar 4, 2009 6:03 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Wed Mar 4, 2009 6:00 pm
Wow. You should write manuals. What a great review. Thanks for taking all the time to put it together.
Over 50 Gamer
Wow. I had no interest in this game at all until I read this. Now I have to go buy it. You got my remaining GG just for all the hard work you put into it. Geeks like you are the reason I love BGG and the reason I decided to become a paying supporter; this site is an amazing resource (and is contributing greatly to my ballooniong visa bills )
2. Science points: Your science points would increase by 5 points (2 for Universitas Carolina wonder, 1 for Scientific Method lab)
Shouldn't that be 3 for Scientific Method?
- Last edited Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:55 am (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue Mar 10, 2009 4:54 am
Rio de Janeiro
Master of Magic rules!
Outstanding! This review is so good that should made into a Wonder card. Ender should also be entered as an Age III Leader.
As always, an excellent review! By any chances, have you done one of these in-depth reviews for Age of Empires III?
Handsome devil huh?
Outstanding review. I'm considering buying this for a friend, and this review was just what I was looking for.
The Seal of Approval
This review scores 8 culture points!
This review scores 8 culture points!
I'm sorry but I have to contradict here. It produces 8 culture points per turn and doesn't score immediately. Here's the proof:
But it is indeed a special technology!
If I could cuss in a review, it'd be a HOLY *****. Wow, what a review.
I can only find this game at amazon (UK), but I am not sure whether it is the Third edition (ie. the one that has 316 cubes and errata fixed) or not.
If it is the the 3rd edition, I would buy it without hesitation.
Does anyone know anything re: the edition being sold at amazon UK ?
Would really appreciate some help.
Thanks in advance.