Revolt to Theocracy

A blog dedicated to strategy discussion of Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.
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How not to lose in Through the Ages

Elli Amir
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My previous blog post discussed the importance of Food and population, and how I often miss the mark on incorporating that mechanic into my playstyle. As I was writing that piece, I was thinking about the most common way I lose in Through the Ages: I have less points than the winner. I might have better infrastructure, superior technology, and bigger army, but all of these things don’t matter if I don’t have points.

From the rulebook:

The goal of the game is to become the most culturally significant civilization in the world. The civilization with the most culture points wins the game.

This rule should be quite obvious. In fact, many board games are won by the player with the most points! However, I find that mechanic especially tricky in Through the Ages, since there are many things you can do in the game -- there are many things you need to do in the game -- and very few of them actually give you points.

Let’s consider a few other popular games. Caylus? Almost every action gives you points in some shape or form. Agricola? Same thing, many actions give you 1-2 points just for taking them. Terraforming Mars, Terra Mystica, Spirit Island, 7 Wonders, Race for the Galaxy, and the list goes on. While these games have an engine building aspect to them, they also immediately reward you for the engine itself by giving you the points you need to win the game.

Through the Ages, however, is the exact opposite. The game has a constant tension between developing your tableau and actually winning. You can convert military units to points via Events and Aggression cards, and you can convert economy to points via Wonders, Impact cards, and some buildings, but the mere act of building a unit, upgrading a mine, or researching a blue technology does not reward you with points. You could finish the game with a magnificent empire, swimming in science, resources, and the love of your citizens, and then lose the game abysmally.

The challenge is what to sacrifice to get points, and when. I regularly fall to the “Age III Fallacy”: When Age III comes I will transition my engine into point generation. That approach can work, however, it is critical to note what the other players are doing. There are certain strategies that pass on infrastructure in favor of attaining a near-insurmountable point lead. One common example is a Michaelangelo Wonder build, where you can chain St Peter’s Basilica and Michaelangelo into Eiffel Tower and one other Age II Wonder. Another is anything involving William Shakespeare or J. S. Bach, especially after their buffs in the expansion. Either one of these could get you to 70-80 points at the beginning of Age III, and then you just need to focus on military to dodge War on Culture, and you have a high chance of winning. Catching up with ~80 points when I have only 10 is an uphill battle, even with a shiny tableau.

Recently I’ve been going for a middle ground where I still focus on economy but mix in some points generation as well. One card that supports that approach well is Genghis Khan. Khan helps you get a military lead, which is instrumental in the early- and mid-game, especially in the context of event cards. Additionally, he supplies a healthy drip of points, which can add up to 21-30 points over the course of the game. Another favorite of mine is Journalism: one or two Journalism should be enough to take care of your Age II science needs (combine it with leftover Philosophy, the Library of Alexandria or Universitas Carolinas, or Leonardo Da Vinci or Isaac Newton) while giving a nice boost in points that will level the playing field when entering the late-game. Like everything else in Through the Ages, it’s a balancing act: Build your tableau, just remember to get at least some points as well.
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