Civilization Building is one of my favorite themes. There is just something about starting out with a handful of resources and building up to a great empire that just really works for me. I think that part of the appeal is the idea of creating an infrastructure that gives more options and more oomph to do things as the game progresses.
The game that really gives me that feel is, unsurprisingly Advanced Civilization (I have yet to play regular Civilization) It’s a roller coaster of disaster management where the advancements you buy steadily give you more and more control and power. Unfortunately, it is also long enough that even getting in one play a year is a struggle.
That being said, Roll Through the Ages is just about as far from Advanced Civilization as you can get and still even vaguely call it a Civilization game. I am sure there are quite a few people who would argue most vigorously that it is not a Civilization game.
However, it is a game that uses a tech tree and resource management, as well as trade and disaster management. It arguably even has elements of building up an infrastructure as you add cities to get more dice to roll. So, even if you are firmly on the side of the “This ain’t no Civ Game”, you got to admit it does have Civilization elements.
On the other hand, the scope of the game feels fairly small. Your empire is never going to get out of the bronze age, will never have more than six cities and never develop more than five advancements. That’s a far cry from going from the stone age to the age of computers.
On top of that, the engine of the game is yahtzee dice rolling. And, to be honest, you get about half the number of turns that you do in yahtzee so there is less of a chance for luck to even out. You may be trying to develop a culture that will give the archeologists something to talk about but the random number generator gods could bring all your hopes and dreams crashing down on your head.
Yeah, between rerolls and some advances, you do get some influence over your destiny but the die roll is still pretty huge.
Honestly, going into Roll Through the Ages for the first time, I honestly did not expect to like it very much. While I like dice games, I just did not see enough that was different or deep to make think I would enjoy it.
Much to my surprise, I actually do like it quite a bit.
Now, to be perfectly honest, I’m not sure myself if I really consider this a Civilization game. I can’t see myself ever saying “Well, since we have fifteen minutes instead of eight hours, let’s play Roll Through the Ages instead.” And I think the game ending conditions are such that the game ends just as you are actually starting to get your personal culture up and running. You build your engine and the game ends before you get to start it up.
At the same time, though, the theme and flavor of the game definitely come through. While it is really as abstract as a game of checkers, all the pieces fit together in a way that makes sense and fit the idea that you are trying to put together a tiny little empire. And while the resources you get are blessed by the dice, how you use them does determine how you will play out the game. Random number generation bludgeons free will but it doesn’t wipe it out.
Roll Through the Ages is one of those games that seemed like it would be boring on paper. However, when the rubber hits the pavement, it ended up being a surprisingly tense and fun game. The arrogant Civilization lover in me wanted to bury it in scorn but the gamer in me ended up having fun.