The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

Through the Ages

Now that I’ve played three times, some thoughts. I’m not going to bother with a full review, because you can just read the one by Moses.

I disagree with Larry here and there … much of the design ideas seem ripped straight from the Civ computer game. Still, if someone dissed me by saying I “wrote like The Bard” I wouldn’t issue a fatwa. But many of the mechanics have a direct component (unhappiness, ‘entertainers’, ideas, population, resources, food, leaders, wonders, technologies). Through the Ages is novel, yet familiar.

The Showmanager-esque card drafting works, but also leads to the easily noticed flaw — it shouldn’t be played with four. It’s a fixed fun game. With three, you have your turn (fun!), the player after you (analyze your general problems … “I need better production”), and the player before you (“I can get X, Y and Z to do my production”). Excepting the odd aggression or colony auction, you sit around when others play. And you can’t really start to plan your turn (beyond generalities) until you see what cards the player before you has grabbed (and left behind) for your turn. So the 4th player adds 1.5 dead hours.

Through the Ages is about scarcity, but each player will be scarce in different areas — food, ore, happiness, military strength, or something else.

I thoroughly enjoyed my last game, when we played with 3 (and did the full game in 3.5 hours).

The game’s other lurking flaw — You play for 3 (or 5) hours. and win or lose on a simple card draw. If you are weak in military and Gandhi shows up early, great! Late? Not so much. (Chris alluded to this in his comment to my earlier post). At heart, Through the Ages is not strategic, but tactical and reactive. You plan in generalities, but spend half (or more) your time just grabbing ‘the good stuff.’ (The stuff you’ve been neglecting earlier … which leads you to neglect something now, which makes other things ‘good’).

Decisions about how to grab, management issues, and the like all play a part, but my suspicion is that after 10 games, I’d pitch this out like Age of Renaissance — games where the card deal determines a lot should be short, not long. And then there’s the issue of piling on the leader (tough if the leader has a strong military, but that’s often not the case … and in any event, you can take some indirect shots).

But I’d probably enjoy the trip to 10 plays.

One other note: awkward graphical design. In particular, you read right (without crossing a line) to find the corruption or food loss during production. You read right, but cross a line, to read off happiness required. This alone took me three hours to really grasp. And moving the tiny pieces around is annoying. [I’m told someone went to kinkos, magnified the player mats, and used bigger glass beads. Good idea, albeit expensive].

If I can snag a copy at retail (or trade), I will. The mechanisms (once you grasp them) do convey the core of Civ (the computer game), and with the large number of cards there’s plenty of combinations to try out. It’s an enjoyable experience … but I like economic games, experience games, and long games. I’m a little surprised it’s gotten such acclaim from people who don’t normally like those categories.


Written by taogaming

April 10, 2007 at 10:38 pm

Posted in Reviews

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12 Responses

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  1. I agree to an extent, but there are so many paths to what you need to do that waiting just for individual cards is a huge mistake. If you’re weak in military increase your military by buying military units, or getting military technology, or getting blue techs that increase military, or change your tactics. Gandhi is great but far from the only way out of the dilemna. There are enough paths that I think it’s seeing the way to get what you need rather than complaining about what doesn’t show up.


    April 11, 2007 at 12:24 am

  2. I think Brian has correctly identified the “problem”, such as it is, in that it’s just too long and complicated for the luck component, which is considerable (one helpful thing might have been to go with 6 age decks of half the size instead of 3 huge ones, but I digress).

    It’s easy to say, “switch your strategy to military”, but everything revolves around being able to produce people and rocks. Those are the two core resources without which nothing is possible. And of the two, people are far more important. If you don’t get the agriculture tech upgrades, increasing your population is painful as you run into fairly hard limits (due to the grain drain), so you can’t increase your military to pursue that strategy (because you don’t have people to put in the armies), you get behind the 8-ball on research (because you don’t have people to man labs), etc. It’s certainly possible to succeed with x1 agriculture if you can make everything else really efficient, but it’s a very tough row to hoe. x1 resource production until late in the game makes things quite hard too, but it’s not so much of a constraint.

    Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the game, and it’s on my list to buy when it gets reprinted. But I liked it in sort of the same way I liked Antiquity or Roads and Boats, as a fun activity more than as a real, functioning game. I think its serious audience is ultimately going to be fairly limited.

    Chris Farrell

    April 11, 2007 at 4:15 pm

  3. I completely disagree. Rocks are much more important than food. It’s easy to reallocate your effort or improve your agriculture late with a strong resource foundation. You can also build wonders, which require no pop. and will often make up for other deficiencies. Upgrading resources with a strong agriculture is an exercise in pain, as you store rocks (potentially hitting corruption) trying to upgrade the mines. Pushing the agriculture will frequently force you to allocate more effort toward happiness as you build people to avoid corruption, devaluing the resources that you do have.

    I’ve won several games and always been competitive with a minimal investment in agriculture. A couple of times I made a late investment in Agri to keep my economy going or to score VP, but it wasn’t until late Age II at the earliest.


    April 11, 2007 at 4:59 pm

  4. Obviously one of the strengths of the game is that it’s tremendously varied. Based on what wonders are available or not, and what tech you get or not, the game develops in very different ways each time. Inability to upgrade your production in either people or rocks is very bad. But in the games I’ve played, the players who got behind on population are the ones who felt hard done-by, while people who got behind on rocks were able to compensate somewhat. Honestly, though, I think missing out on a 2x upgrade in Age I combined with a significant delay in the availability of a x3 upgrades is a game-loser, and there just isn’t much you can do about it.

    I should say though that I’ve only played the 2-epoch game with four players. I can see things might be quite different if you played the full 3 epochs or played with 3 players.

    Chris Farrell

    April 11, 2007 at 5:19 pm

  5. I’m with Mark on this one. I’ve done fairly well with minimal pop (and without wonders). If you get the better Ore/Temple/Military that frees up people quickly. (Two people on the 2nd Iron equal four people on bronze, and suffer less corruption).

    But the basic problem is the same if Ore is more important … someone is getting shafted and will have to react.


    April 11, 2007 at 5:50 pm

  6. I agree that long term you are advised to improve one or the other if not both. Long term though is very long (at least 1 1/2 ages) provided other parts of your economy (tech, military, culture, civil/military actions) are competitive in the short term. I think it is a mistake most of the time to take a Mine or Farm at the 3 action level, but it should always be snapped up at the 1 and 2 is a question mark depending on the situation. I’ve seen people overvalue Mines or Farms, pick up the card for 3 civil actions and then not have the tech or resources to use them for 3-4 turns. Effectively they took an early Age I card and turned it into a late Age I card, or worse a late Age I card into a lousy Age II card.

    I’ve pulled a two player win without ever upgrading farms or mines. Admittedly it was early in our play experience so it may be an outlier. Still, there’s enough ways to get bonuses to food and resources that I think it isn’t as desperately bad a situation as it’s being painted. If farms, mines and civil actions aren’t improved, limiting the number of yellow cards or Wonders you can take, then you are hosed.

    To me the greater randomness in the game comes with the Age III Wonder timing. Those can generate close to 40 Culture a pop while not interrupting the flow of Age III Culture Event play, unlike Military strategies which make it tough to control the Event deck. If one player gets an Age III Wonder completed when the others don’t they’ll probably win.


    April 11, 2007 at 9:30 pm

  7. Hey, beat on Chris day! Glad I got the memo…

    But I liked it in sort of the same way I liked Antiquity or Roads and Boats, as a fun activity more than as a real, functioning game.

    I saw you said something like this in your Geek rating, Chris, and it puzzled me then, too. It sounds like you consider TtA, R&B, and Antiquity to be “experience” games, and I just don’t see it. All these games are very hard (Antiquity might be too hard), but they’re very much games to me (as opposed to something like New World or Lords of the Sierra Madre). In the two Splotter games, you have complete control and clear objectives. There’s more luck in TtA, but it’s situation luck, which I much prefer to resolution luck. Besides, I’ll have to play the game a lot more and get a lot better before I come to feel that the most important element is who gets lucky with the cards.

    Larry Levy

    April 11, 2007 at 9:33 pm

  8. I consider R&B, Antiquity, and TtA more as experience games just because they are so hard they defy reasonable analysis (perhaps Antiquity less so than the other two). With a game like R&B, you go in, you try something, you do the best you can, but there are so many ways to hose yourself and such a ridiculous amount of advanced planning that you could do, but probably aren’t going to just because it’s only a game, you can’t get too upset about it. Any time your production line gets hosed up in R&B, you could have forseen it if you had only been willing to spend half an hour plotting out your moves ten turns out, but since – as I say – it’s only a game, and pretty much competitive solitaire anyway, you have to be willing to live with avoidable suboptimal play to enjoy it.

    I get the same feeling from Through the Ages. There is so much going on, and your resource pipeline stretches so far into the future, and it takes so many steps to get anything done, you have to be willing just to try stuff and see what happens for the game to be fun. You could theoretically calculate everything out, but then the game would be not fun (and your fellow-players might threaten you with bodily injury). So you do the best you can with the plan you’ve got and a reasonable amount of analysis, and enjoy the ride.

    Chris Farrell

    April 12, 2007 at 12:43 am

  9. I think the combat system of TtA is pretty organic to the game. It isn’t designed to be focused on combat, it’s about building up civilizations. A system with randomness would enourage aggression or wars when civs are close to even in strength, something that is heavily discouraged now.


    April 12, 2007 at 8:40 am

  10. Just to (rock) pile on, I also agree (after one 4 and 3 player game) that ore is much more important than food. One set of cards that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the colonies. At least two of the Age I colonies give +2/+3 yellow tokens, which significantly reduces your food needs.

    Fortunately more of the yellow cards provide rock discounts than food, so that even if you miss the Age II ore upgrade you can compensate with some extra yellow actions. Although I agree that without the Act II or III ore upgrade you are going to have a big problem due to corruption.

    I loved TtA, although I do have a few concerns, all in act three. As Mark noted the timing of the Act III wonders (and, I feel, leaders) can cause huge swings. By Act III it isn’t unlikely to have >6 civil actions, so it becomes practical to pounce on a card that just flipped from the top of the deck. I’m also concerned about the balance of a aggressive military strategy. It seems like it can be very effective at beating someone down, but it seems like it doesn’t do a good job raising you up at the same time. I look forward to trying again and exploring military power more.

    All things considered I do agree with Brian that TtA has a similar fun/skill/luck mix to Age of Renissance…but that’s fine with me! I love AoR, but it’s a 4-6 player game and TtA is 2-4…seems like they complement each other well.

    Lou Wainwright

    April 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

  11. There’s already great risk in military attacks, if they have defence cards or are able to grow their military greatly after a declaration of war you can get hosed. I’ve found the few times I didn’t beat on the militarily weak enough they ended up winning. There is very little that stops a player from building up their military, they are free to allocate workers to military as much as anyone else. If you spend your effort on military and other players don’t, they are effectively ahead of you in resources, food, culture or tech production. If you fail to exercise that military advantage you’ve already lost by wasting time and effort on a pointless activity. Even if you do, if too much is spent on military compared to what you gain on attacks you’ll end up behind anyways.


    April 12, 2007 at 6:53 pm

  12. There is the alternate rule that limits ganging up on a single player.


    April 13, 2007 at 4:48 pm

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