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Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Through the Ages

I've had the opportunity to play several games of Through the Ages and I must say I am disappointed. TtA looked like a promising game and I was eager to get a copy. It is not a bad game, but it is not nearly good enough to meet my expectations. I find it to be an average game that I will probably never play again. Not only is it disappointing, it is a long game. Too long to justify the effort of playing.

TtA is a civilization building game in which there is no map. Players have a mat in front of them on which they build their respective civilizations. Players develop technology and build their civilizations keeping in mind that their citizens must be happy, fed, prepared for aggression from other players, and prone to corruption. Sounds like it should be right up my alley. I love empire building games where you start with little and build into a large empire. Win or lose I always feel a sense of accomplishment at the end. Not so with Through the Ages.

Without giving a review of the game I find it to be overly luck dependant, especially in a four player game. In a four player game it is possible that the good farming and technology cards never get around to you or get around to you much too late. This makes it quite difficult to keep your civilization advancing at the same rate as your opponents.

I find the final scoring to be overly luck dependant and entirely out of proportion to the scoring that occurs during the game. Each player has opportunities to secretly add cards to the deck that will determine what bonuses each player will earn on final scoring, but the possibilities are numerous. Because the final scoring is very much an issue of luck, I would say that final scoring should add no more than 10% to one's final score. It may add 70% or more to your score.

The rulebook is a mess, a horrible mess. The rules were written for a simple game, rules were added for an advanced game, and more rules were added for the full game. Sounds simple enough, but finding a particular rule in the book is not easy. On top of that the rules are wrong in several spots, do not clarify certain basic questions, and are confusing.

I give it a six. Through the Ages is the first of its kind. There is the kernel of a great game here. Someday, someone will take that kernel and make a great game with that system.

In my experience, the amount that the final events add to your score is nowhere near 70%, usually closer to 20%. The actual percentage (and thus the collective final scores) depends greatly on who draws which events; I have seen 3p games with as few as 2 events because players kept drawing events that benefited others more. Also, many of the events will benefit all players somewhat, so the expected margin between the players is much smaller (e.g., "2 points for each content worker over 10", "2 points for each happy face).

With more players, they add more technology cards to the deck. In my mind, there is only one truly necessary tech - Iron - and there are more copies per player in a 4p game than a 3p game. If anything, the card flow control applies more so to the unique cards (leaders and woners); if you are abandoning building culture generators in the expectation of getting Napoleon, that's risky business.
In my half dozen games I've seen the final scoring add anywhere from 20% to nearly 100% to the final score.

In some instances the cards revealed for what I am calling "final scoring" are revealed before the end of the game and the scores are adjusted accordingly.

I have no doubt that if we were more familiar with the game our scores would be higher before final scoring and the percentage the final scoring added to our scores would be less.

Improved science, and either improved farms or improved mines, and preferably both seem to be a must early in the game. If your opponents get theirs and the remaining ones are at the bottom of the I deck you can be screwed beyond all hope.
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