The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

7 Ages

I got to play 7 Ages again today. I haven’t ever done a full review, since there are plenty to choose from (I prefer Moritz Eggert’s review). Still, a summary.

Each player controls 1-n empires at a time, with no more than 15 (or 16 with a variant) on the board at once. Apart from a large map (and counters for each empire, and all sorts of markers), the core of the game is in the 110 card deck. Each card has several parts of interest:

  • A complete description of an empire (when it can start, where, how it earns VPs, special abilities, and the like),

  • An artifact/technology/government/religion/disaster (from a list of 20-30).

  • An event, often of the “Take that!” type

  • A number 0-7

As is typical, each time you use a card, you can only use one of the four parts.

Each player has a set of action chits, and can play one for each empire (plus an extra, if he’s under the maximum allowed). These chits let you:

  1. Start a new empire

  2. Generate income and buy new units

  3. Trade a card with another player (and advance along the technology track if you give a better card than you recieve).

  4. Move (and fight)

  5. Draw new cards

  6. Play artifacts and events (and do some infrastructure growth)

  7. Throw an empire away

The trick is that each empire gets it’s own action. So if you want to have the Romans move around, you can’t have your Japanese do the same. There is a ‘Wild’ chit, but using it to ‘double up’ actions imposes a cost.

After all those phases, you score victory points. A typical condition will be something like “Most spaces in Asia:3.” If an empire has that and has the most spaces in Asia (either counting land only, or land and sea areas bordering Asia, depending on the exact icon) you earn 3 points. If you are in 2nd, you earn 2, third gives you 1. A great empire may earn 5-7 points a turn, a mediocre empire may only earn 3 or so. A terrible empire can cost you a point a turn. (Those tend to get disbanded quickly).

So you assign your actions, then you go around resolving them. In general, the rules are fairly easy, but there’s a ton of chrome. We don’t have cheat sheets, we have cheat pamphlets. Lots of modifiers to combat, a terrain chart, all the artifacts and religions. What do the leaders do? Not to mention all the events. But we taught a new player today … he read the rules, we went over it for 15 minutes, and we’re off. A nice part is that 7 Ages unfolds. Your first turn will show you how to start an empire. Your next turn will show you how to maneuver. The artifacts start coming out. Even with much more chrome than Struggle of Empires, it feels manageable since it starts small.

For today’s game, we again did our typical “Start in the morning and play until roughly dinner.” Roughly seven hours, although an hour break in the middle. This let is get from the start of Age 2 until a bit into Age 4. A full ‘historical’ game starting at Age 1 and going until Age 7 or 8 could take a while.

As you may guess, I enjoy the game. I even won today, which doesn’t happen often but didn’t add to my enjoyment. Still, the game has flaws:

  • The cards (and particularly empires) aren’t balanced at all. To be fair, there are Empires that dominated history and those that are footnotes. If you get a bad card draw you’ll probably lose. Ironically, if you really hate that you are better off playing the full game, which gives it more time to balance out.

  • Balance is achieved (if it is, in fact) by ganging up on the leader. There’s every incentive to do so. But that means not only recognizing who is ahead on the VP track, but also who has a good position. And if you are playing “until dinner” then you can get some very big “last turn” effects.

  • For a board game, (and there’s a honking board with tons of cardboard chits), too often a card will wipe you out. For a ‘sweep of history’ game that’s reasonable … it means that even a dominating power can be quickly wiped out, but that can be annoying. In general, when I play a 7 hour board game I’d prefer that it not be decided by 1 minute of card play. I don’t mind the events like the “Volcano” (or “Flood”) that destroy an empire. I like combos. On the other hand, there are some cards that (in the future) I’d like to defang, because they mainly deal with ‘the game’ instead of ‘the pieces on the game.’

  • The combat system is controversial. There are some times when it’s quite interesting (particularly when you have two moderate-to-large armies fighting). However, it’s a bit tedious when you have many “3 units versus 1” fights. Perhaps we should just concede those battles, but there are often a chance to get a lucky draw (and mutual).

Overall, Seven Ages strikes me as a great experience game, and I’m looking forward to the expansion (although I fear that the game may crumble under the weight of even more chrome). Given it’s size I only play once a year or so, but I do enjoy the sessions.

Variants I’m thinking about:

A few cards alter Victory Points. This last game had 9 turns (I think) but one turn didn’t score any VPs, and two turns had the “cancel all VPs except for one empire.” Given that a turn takes half an hour (or more), it does annoy me to see it ‘wasted.’ There is also a ‘double the VPs this turn,’ and ‘Give one player 1/2 the VPs necessary to move him up a spot in VP order’, which don’t bother me as much.

Empires are also exceptionally fragile until they’ve maneuvered. Before they spread out, any card that can nail one space can (effectively) destroy them. This usually happens in every game, and it short games it’s particularly devastating. I would be tempted to add a house rule that states “No event can be aimed at an new empire.” (Empires would cease being new once VPs were counted, even if it didn’t score any). (I would still allow Empires to get nailed before that point by play of an disaster, board play, or the like). This would weaken a few events, and completely remove the “Shooting Star” event. (I’d be willing to make these events minor counterspells, although too many of them would weaken the game, alternately, I’d be willing to errata them into event like “Take a free maneuver with a new empire” which would also make the game more dynamic).

I can appreciate the “Limited Chaos” variant, where you have to be ‘near’ an empire to hit it with an event, but I’m OK with chaos.

As mentioned above, I’d like to see some variant rule that gives people room to quickly negotiate/resolve small battles.

And I do want to try this with 6 or 7. I think it would be much more dynamic; undoubtedly there’s some ‘fixed fun’ issues, but I suspect the game would go by a bit faster, as some compensation.

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Written by taogaming

October 19, 2007 at 9:10 pm

Posted in Reviews

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