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Geeky McGeekface
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[This review originally appeared on the Boardgame News website]

Last Saturday, four of us gathered at the usual gaming place. One of the day’s priorities was to finally play one of the most anticipated games to come out of Essen, Czech Board Games’ Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization. I have a lot of things I want to cover in the column this week, so let me briefly state my feelings about the game.

Wow.

About a month ago, I commented in a Geeklist that not only has there never really been a game that fits the description of the mythical “Civ Lite”, but that there very likely never will be. Well, I guess never doesn’t last as long as it used to. Then again, I don’t really think Through the Ages is truly “Civ Lite”. More like “Civ Alt”, or “Civ-with-a-mess-of-cards”, or even—dare I say it—“Civ Improved”.

Knowing that this was both a long and very detailed game, we planned our schedule carefully. One of our members had played it at Great Lakes Games the week before and recommended that we play at least some of the Simple game first (which turned out to be an excellent suggestion). We set the game up, played the Simple game for about an hour, until we all felt we had a good grasp of the basics. We then broke for dinner. Unfortunately, by the time kids were put to bed and various domestic crises were dealt with, it was 11:30 before we could get started with the Advanced game. Of course, people born with the Gamer Gene are notoriously lacking in the Common Sense Allele, so we started despite the late hour. It was almost 4 AM before we finished. None of us regretted it for a moment.

Designer Vlaada Chvatil obviously retains very happy memories of the classic games of the eighties and nineties and seems to show his love by trying to improve them. His 2002 design Proroctví (Prophecy) has been described by more than one gamer as “Talisman done right”. Another Essen release, Graenaland, is a spin-off of Settlers. And the inspiration for Through the Ages is obviously Civilization. Not the Civ board game, designed by the brilliant Francis Tresham, but the computer game Civilization, created by the equally brilliant Sid Meier.

It’s impossible to fully describe a game of this scope in an article of this size, so I’ll just do my best to try to explain the main mechanics. What you get when you open the box is a central display and four player displays (each made of flexible cardstock), a bunch of tiny tokens in four colors (I’ll call them “gems”), some scoring pieces, and a whole lotta cards—365 of them, to be exact, one for each day of the year. Hey, you want to portray an entire civilization, you’re gonna need more than just one or two decks of Bicycles.

The cards are divided into four ages: Ancient age (these cards are just used for getting started), Age I (which extends from the Fall of Rome to the Renaissance), Age II (which continues up to about 1800), and Age III (which takes the game to the present). The Simple game just uses Age I cards, the Advanced game includes Age I and Age II cards, and the Full game uses the cards from all three ages. After the Ancient cards are used up (which only takes two turns), you begin by using the Age I cards, followed by Age II cards, and then Age III cards, thereby allowing history to proceed in a somewhat predictable and realistic fashion.

The way you get things done in Through the Ages is with actions. The number and type of actions each player gets per turn is determined by the kind of government they have. Each player begins the game with Despotism, which gives them four civil actions and two military actions. More advanced forms of government can be acquired during play. The civil actions are the ones used most frequently, so I’ll just refer to them as “actions” from now on.

One of the things you can use actions for is to draft cards. On every player’s turn, she is presented with 13 face up cards. It costs a number of actions to draft a card. Similar to Showmanager, the most recently revealed cards cost the most actions. So the last four cards revealed cost three actions, the next four cost two actions, and the oldest five cards cost one action apiece. You simply pay the action(s) and put the card in your hand. Multiple cards can be drafted on the same turn. Occasionally a player will go for one of the more expensive cards, but the main reason for the long display is to allow players to plan ahead better and anticipate what might be available when their turn comes around.

Drafting a card simply reflects that your civilization has the potential to move forward in that direction. You need another action to play the card, often along with other costs. Many of the cards are technologies , which is simply a generic game term for knowledge which can be applied to affect progress. So you might have cards like Agriculture or Theology. In order to play such cards, you need to expend a certain amount of research (it differs depending on the card). The unit of research is light bulbs . Some of the things you build during the game give you light bulbs each turn and you store them in a running total. When you play a technology card, you subtract the bulb cost from your total and the card can now be used.

However, just because the card is in front of you doesn’t mean you’re gaining any advantage from it. Most technology cards allow you to build structures and it is those structures which give you the benefits. So, for example, the Agriculture technology allows you to build farms and Theology allows you to build temples.

It takes two things to build a structure. The first is raw materials, which has the unit of rocks . Rocks are produced by mines and you signify this by placing blue gems on top of the producing mine (the gems come from a pool of blue gems that each player begins the game with). In order to build the structure, you return the necessary number of stored gems back into the pool.

The other necessary element is population. Structures must be manned in TtA (in fact, if the population unit is removed after the structure is built, the structure ceases to exist). In order to create a unit of population, you have to have food . Food is produced by farms and the same blue gems are used to show how many munchies you’ve stored (blue gems on a mine represent rocks, blue gems on a farm represent food). Population is represented by white gems and like the blue ones, each player begins the game with a pool of them. The further into the pool you have to dip, the higher the cost in food. After a population unit is created (which takes an action), you can build a structure by spending the rocks and then placing the white gem onto the technology card. So the population unit itself represents the structures you’ve built. (These multiple uses for the blue and white gems may sound confusing on paper, but after five minutes of play, it becomes second nature.)

Just as in the computer Civ game, more isn’t necessarily better for population and resources. People gotta eat, so each turn you’ll have to spend food to feed your active population. Moreover, once higher levels are reached, unrest is a possibility. You fight the latter problem by creating structures which produce happy faces (which is kind of the equivalent of the Elvii from the computer game). If you try to store too many blue gems (which, remember, can represent both food and rocks), you’ll trigger corruption , which will force you to return some of those hard earned gems back to the pool. These are just two of the balancing acts you must maintain in a game filled with them.

So over the course of the game, you’ll be building structures that give you food for your people, rocks for your buildings, light bulbs for research, and happy faces to fight unrest. There’s one other very important product that some structures produce and that’s culture. The unit of culture is a lyre, but to avoid the possibility of accusing each other of fibbing, we started calling them harps . The object of the game is to create a civilization with the most influential culture, so harps are victory points. As in many building games (or what Valerie Putnam likes to call “snowball” games), it’s more important early on to focus on your infrastructure than your VPs. As is usually the case with these games, one of the key skills in Through the Ages is deciding when to switch to the big production of harps. What makes this a greater challenge than usual is that the infrastructure in this game is so very multi-faceted.

As the game goes on, players will research technologies which improve their earlier ones. So, for example, you start the game with Bronze technology, and those mines produce one rock a turn. But in Age I, you can acquire Iron technology, and those mines (which are costlier than bronze mines) produce two rocks a turn. You can upgrade older structures to newer ones by paying the difference in rocks, or you can just build the newer structures directly. Either way, newer structures are more efficient than older ones, which makes better use of your population and your actions.

Besides technologies, there are several other types of cards. Actions are one-time events that give you a special ability (like gaining a discount on a structure) when you play them. These can be helpful when you’re saving up for a big-ticket item, but their biggest function seems to be to give you something useful to spend your actions on when you have one or two left over at the end of your turn. Leaders are very important. They come into play immediately at no cost after you draft them and each one gives you an important ability. For example, Moses gives you a one food discount on population and Einstein increases the output of your labs and gives you harps whenever you play a technology card. The catch is, you can only have one in play at a time. Wonders give you even more elaborate abilities, but they’re expensive, both in terms of rocks and actions. The special powers of your current leader and your wonder cards go a long way toward determining the type of civilization you’ll try to build.

Finally, there are government cards. More advanced forms of government can give you more civil and military actions, which is obviously extremely useful. They can also increase the number of structures you can build. With Despotism, you can only have two of each type of structure—so only two libraries, two labs, etc. This is true even if you’ve added an upgraded technology to help build those structures. Other government types increase that number to three or more. Governments either cost a huge number of bulbs or all of your actions for a turn. It can be hard to find time to introduce a new government, but the additional actions and building capability can make it well worthwhile.

Okay, there’s plenty of things you can do with civil actions, but what about the military actions? They’re pretty useful as well. One other type of card is military advancements. These work just like technologies (they’re drafted with civil actions, cost bulbs to play, and you can build structures on them by expending rocks), but when you play these cards and build their structures, you use military actions to do so. The structures represent military units and each one has a strength . You keep track of your total strength on the central display. In addition, there’s a deck of political cards , which is also divided into the three ages. If, at the end of your turn, you have leftover military actions (as you often do), you use them to draw political cards.

How is all this used? Some political cards allow you to attack other players. This is done quite abstractly and fairly bloodlessly, but it still works quite well and can have a pretty significant effect on the game. You play the card, declare an opponent, and then compare your strengths. You can sacrifice military units to increase your strength for this attack, but then they’re gone, so your strength will be correspondingly lower in future turns. The defender can also sacrifice units, as well as play certain political cards which temporarily increase defensive strength. If the attacker’s adjusted strength is higher, the effect described on the card is carried out—the defender might lose some structures or rocks, for example, while the attacker might gain some resources or harps. A well timed attack might really screw up a defender’s plans or provide some much needed resources for the attacker. If the defender can at least match the attacker’s adjusted strength, there’s no effect, other than the attacker wasting a card and some actions.

In addition to this, there are some political cards which reward players with the highest strength (or culture or bulb income). Some of them also hurt players who trail in these areas. The political cards introduce most of the player interaction in the game.

Each Age deck is kept separate. When one deck is depleted, the next deck is then introduced. When the last deck runs out, the game ends. The player with the highest total number of harps wins.

Believe it or not, there’s still plenty of things I haven’t mentioned yet. But that should give you a pretty good idea how this game plays.

There are several reasons why Through the Ages was such a hit with our group. First of all, it’s a wonderful challenge. Balancing the different aspects of your civ is mighty tough, particularly when you have to worry about starvation, corruption, and unrest. And while you’re doing that, you still have to worry about your military. And, oh yeah, you always have to keep an eye on the cards in the display, because without new advances, you’re sure to fall behind. And on top of it all, you have to find time to crank out those harps. Even if this was multiple solitaire, which it decidedly isn’t, it would be a lot of fun trying to build up your civ as efficiently as possible.

The military subsystem works very well. The designer’s stated goal is not to have the game center on combat, but for it to be merely another aspect of play, one that can effectively be used to mess with other players or pull down a leader. A high strength yields some rewards, but they aren’t overwhelming, since you often have to weaken yourself in order to ensure victory in an attack. A low strength, however, is usually a sure road to disaster, as eventually you will attract a lot of attention. So it’s easier to lose the game by ignoring your armies than it is to win it by focusing on them. One nice aspect of combat in TtA is that the dreaded “pile-on” effect, where a player weakened by a successful attack is feasted upon by the other jackals in the game, isn’t particularly a concern, since an attacked player needn’t lose any strength due to an attack. If you know when to fold ‘em as well as when to hold ‘em, you shouldn’t fare too badly following an attack, unless you were very weak to begin with.

Then there’s the design itself. Through the Ages is just bursting with good ideas and is one of the most innovative games I’ve played in a long time. The mechanics are complex, but the rules divide them up into reasonably sized pieces, making it less of a chore to learn. After a few turns, things progress fairly smoothly, allowing the players to focus on the very difficult task of managing a civilization, rather than worry about how each phase should progress. There are a few rough spots, but overall, this is a very professionally designed game.

Best of all is the shear epic scope of the game. It is really is an unbelievably ambitious undertaking, but based on our first game, Chvatil was somehow able to pull it off. TtA has obviously been thoroughly playtested and painstakingly balanced. The end result is a game where you truly feel as if you are building a civilization, not just slapping down cards. The structures, the leaders, the wonders...it’s all there.

And here’s where I think Through the Ages has the edge over that gaming paragon, Civilization. Civ is a great game, but despite its superb theme, it always felt somewhat abstract to me. The economic engine is brilliant, but it doesn’t feel like I’m managing finances, just that I’m flipping counters. City building is more about grouping pieces of cardboard than experiencing the sweep of nomadic tribes. And the heart of any civ game is the advances themselves, but in Civ, they’re awfully vanilla—most of the abilities they confer are either disaster avoidance or simple discounts on future purchases. That’s why so many players take a mathematical approach to Civ, because it yields to it very well.

Compare that to TtA. So many of the cards have distinctive, quirky, and downright delightful effects. Look at the Bill Gates leader. He makes your labs more productive, but he also makes the cost of your opponents’ labs more expensive! Not only is this a unique effect, but it’s hilariously appropriate! This is a game with a soul , that is truly worthy of its all-encompassing subject matter.

Having said all that, this is clearly not a game for everybody. Some people just have no interest in 3+ hour games. The intensity required to play well will not sit well with others. Player interaction is not particularly high, but I think that’s a feature, not a bug. When you’re struggling to piece together an effective infrastructure with many different opposing parts, the last thing you need is your friendly opponents throwing a monkey wrench in your plans every other turn. I think TtA gets the level of interaction just about right, with the effects of the military and the other political cards. But if you’re looking for a laugh-a-minute partyfest—well, this is not that game.

In any planning game like this one, replayability is always an issue. Will certain strategies always dominate? Will the game tend to play the same almost every time? I think the answer is no, for two important reasons. The first is the effect of the leaders and wonders upon each player’s decisions. Your tactics are truly shaped by these cards. For example, the very first card I drafted in my game was the Julius Caesar leader, who gives a bonus to the strength of each military unit you build. Obviously, this encourages you to invest in the military. Even after Caesar was discarded (leaders have a limited lifespan), I felt the necessity to buttress my war units, to make use of the investment I had already made. This is exactly the kind of decision a real life civilization might make, but my point is, it’s completely different than the sort of plays I might have made with a different leader. These cards should go a long way toward keeping this game fresh play after play.

Even more significant is a part of the game I haven’t described yet. There are 14 “Impact” cards which list VP bonuses that are awarded at the end of the game. These run the gamut from awards for structures and wonders to population and science levels. Four of these cards are revealed at the beginning of the game and those will be the bonuses used for that session. The bonuses can be quite significant and can easily determine the outcome of the game (which is exactly how our game was won). More importantly, the cards in play will change the way you approach that game. With over 1000 different combinations of cards possible, I think you’d have to play quite a long time before you started to see much repetition. It really looks like Chvatil was fully aware of the possible problem of replayability and took strong steps to make sure this was a non-issue. Bravo!

There are some other potential issues, but I don’t think any of them are terribly serious. Duration is obviously one of them. As great as our game was, I’m not sure I’d play this all that often if each game logged in at over four hours. But it’s clear that the duration will lessen with experience. Moreover, I think the game may play better with three than with four. The fourth player may not have added all that much to our game and it certainly would play quicker with three. I think 3 hours or less is a very achievable goal for a three-player Advanced game and the game is well worth that investment in time. At that rate, the Full game is certainly worth thinking about and the designer claims that that’s the best way to play the game. Playing with three would also go a long way to answering another objection, downtime. I found that if I started to think about my options while the player across from me was taking her turn, I’d be pretty much ready when my turn came around. In a four-player game, that still leaves a reasonable amount of downtime, but with three, you’d either be thinking or playing just about all the time. That ain’t downtime, friends, that’s fun!

There have also been some complaints about the components and how fiddly they make the game. I honestly think the physical production is quite good for a small independent publisher. The artwork on the cards is quite nice and the use of color and iconography is very good. The cards themselves are appropriately sized (they’re small and they need to be) and they should be sturdy enough—I don’t expect to play this game twice a week. A lot of people have complained about the tiny size of the gems. They can be a bit hard to pick up, but we really didn’t have too much trouble with them. The record keeping can delay the game, but with experience, we should have no problem adopting the designer’s recommendation of having the next player start his turn while the preceding player adjusts her game levels. To be frank, I think these complaints have been a bit overblown.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been this excited about a game. It’s nice that I can finally declare that I’ve found a design that I consider great (it’s been over a year and a half since my last such announcement), but there’s more to it than that. The last game I played that fit that description was Louis XIV and I actually consider it to be the better game—shorter, more focused, and much more interactive. But as much as I like Louis, it’s nothing more than a really good game. Through the Ages has me jazzed ; I’ve been thinking about it since I played last week and that just doesn’t happen very often with me. Maybe the last time I truly got this excited about a game was when I first played Funkenschlag back in 2001. Like true love, it doesn’t happen very often, but it’s wonderful when it does.

It’s actually very dangerous to review a game after only one play and it’s doubly so when the game is this complex and has such scope. But I really think this is one I’ll be enjoying years from now. Vlaada Chvatil has burst onto the scene as a designer that must be watched; both Proroctví and Graenaland are well rated and TtA, easily the surprise hit from Essen, is maintaining a Caylus-esque rating of 8.3 on the Geek (granted, it’s only 80 ratings so far). Now, I want to check out his other two games, Arena and Sherwood, and will be sure to investigate anything else he comes up with. Thanks to all this attention, the Czech Republic suddenly finds itself a hot spot in the world of gaming. I know there’s very few copies of this game in circulation, but if you have the chance to play it, do yourself a favor, set some time aside, and give it a shot. Like me, you may find this truly is a game for the Ages.
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Joe Casadonte
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Hi Larry,

Great review! I only played the basic game, but I read through the Advanced rules and it sounds like it played out well.

Larry Levy wrote:
A lot of people have complained about the tiny size of the gems. They can be a bit hard to pick up, but we really didn’t have too much trouble with them.


We found them easier to pick up if we flipped them upside down. Of course, they were then also easier to kock around......

Now I can't wait to play it again. Only problem is, no one in the area owns it, that I know of.
 
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Great review!

I tried this a couple of times (Simple and Advanced) and have to agree - GREAT game! Maybe even better than Trehsam's, although I'd need to play it some more. A 4-hour civ game seems about right to me ... much shorter and it wouldn't feel epic enough in scope. I agree, too, that the production is very good for a small independent publisher. However, I did find the tiny little gems too difficult to work with -- maybe it's just something about my fat fingers!

Still, I would love a copy; I hope someone reprints it (with cubes instead of tiny gems)!
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Jim Cote
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Larry, can you comment on tactics vs strategy? Do you find yourself grabbing and playing "what you can" each turn (like in Magic), or is there some sort of long-term goal you can actually make and implement? In other words, are you hindered by the cards or enabled by them?

Also, how much of a player's decisions are affected by other players' civs? Do you ever grab a card to prevent another player from getting it?
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Geeky McGeekface
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Well, Jim, keep in mind I've played all of one game and was not nearly as efficient as I expect to be in future contests. But I have a general sense of how to answer your questions, answers that I well may change after getting in some more plays. I'll also assume that we are using the same definitions for tactics and strategy: the former are moves that help you out immediately (playing by the seat of your pants), while the latter is long-term thinking and choices for how you want the game as a whole to proceed, doing something that will help you down the road.

I think TtA is a very nice mix of strategy and tactics. The tactics comes about through your use of actions to satisfy your immediate goals. Most of these goals will be preceded by the phrase, "Oh my God!". As in, "Oh my God, I need more farms or I'll never be able to buy another population!" Or, "Oh my God, if I don't build something this turn, I'll be losing stuff to corruption!" Other, less PG phrases can be substituted for the "Oh my God". I assume once you get more experienced, these crises (which occupied a good deal of our time) will become less common. But there are still basic things you will always need (food, rocks, bulbs, etc.) and getting those up to subsistance levels is necessary no matter what strategy you carry out.

Tactics also comes into play with the card display. Some turns there was boring stuff there and you could either ignore it or grab stuff that fit your immediate needs (there were also turns in which you took things simply because you had left over actions). But on other turns, really cool stuff was available, forcing you to weigh spending actions on drafting vs. building up your civ. This felt very tactical, since you can't control what is going to appear when. To me, it was a positive, as it gave the game variety and provided some fun decisions. The problems came when the cards on the display didn't solve your immediate needs. This is probably a matter of experience: in the future, I know I'll have to upgrade my farms, mines, labs, temples, etc., so let me snatch that card at this early stage, even though I can't use it now (and even though it may cost me two actions). This is clearly a strategic decision and I suspect the cards will usually allow you to make the necessary ones. All this is somewhat speculative though; I'll have to play a few more times to see if I'm right or not. There's also a hand limit in the game, which rarely was a factor in our contest, but it will be interesting to see if with more enlightened play , it does become important (I suspect it will).

Tactics is also found in the use of the Politics cards. You can't attack a player unless you draw the appropriate card and there are other nice effects that require specific cards. Strategically, you can plan for this by drawing as many of these cards as possible and beefing up your military. You'll probably eventually draw the cards you need, but of course, there's no guarantee of this, since it's a blind draw. So not a problem, but a bit of a mix between strategy and tactics.

However, when all is said and done, this may be a mostly strategic game; say a 60/40 mix. However, it isn't classic strategy, since you may have a hard time deciding at the beginning of the game, "I'm going to play Strategy X." The strategy you wind up implementing will probably be determined by the leaders and the wonders you draft and you may not have much choice of that. However, all of the leaders are cool and there's a sufficient supply of wonders that you should be able to grab one that carries out your master plan. So I don't think you'll be frustrated by limited choices, but you will have to tailor your strategy to some early choices. I view this as a huge positive; you may feel differently.

Once you have your leader and wonder in place, there's lots of scope for strategy. Do I focus on production? What about research? Will I be a military nation? Or can I start cranking out the culture points sooner rather than later? The game clearly forces you to play to your strengths, and the main distinctions between the players are the special abilities your leaders and wonders give you. Take those into account and plan your action usage accordingly. You'll probably choose both a leader and an initial wonder to build during the first two turns, so you can start planning almost immediately. Your strategy will not only include your building decisions but also the cards you draft for future turns. I'd be very surprised if everything always goes according to plan, so you'll still have to make tactical compromises, but I would think that Through the Ages cannot be won without good strategic play.

The final use of strategy comes from the four Impact cards drawn at the start of the game. This gives all the players a group of strategic goals that will be unique to that game. It's very easy to put off satisfying these goals as there always seem to be more immediate concerns. But the good player will probably always have these goals in mind, since they can add beaucoup Victory Points at the end of the game. You'll need good strategy to maximize your returns from these cards, but different skills will be needed for each game. That, IMO, is wonderful design.

So to answer your overall question, the cards will hinder you because there will never be the exact ones you want available. But a good tactical player will make the best use of what comes up and a good strategic player will plan so that he already has the cards he needs or can use just about anything that is presented to him. Unless you work yourself into a corner through poor planning, the cards will enable you to a great extent, because there's almost always multiple useful things to take. Also keep in mind that it will take several turns to actually make the cards you draft turn into something useful. So I think you'll find drafting to be a fun and challenging experience.

Your last question was how much of your actions are affected by the other players civ. In our game, not much. We were just too focused on what we were doing to pay much attention to others. I think in a three-player game, it will be easier to check other folks out and, of course, with two it will be not only simple to do, but essential. Once again, though, I think with experience you'll find it important to keep your eye on your neighbors. Check out your left-hand player's needs and consider swiping a card to make his life hard. This may not come up that often, as actions are precious and there's a good chance that it will cost you more to grab the card than it will cost him (because cards are shifted down in the display to fill gaps at the end of each turn). But you might consider not taking a borderline card if it means he'll have to spend an extra action to take the card of his dreams. Similarly, look at your right-hand opponent and try not to have his needs match yours--he'll have first crack at the golden card when it comes up. This may never become a big part of the game, but I think it will have some effect. And with two players, I think it will be pretty significant.

I think fans of strategic play will love this game. Of course, first they'll need a strategy for how to get hold of a copy!
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Jim Cote
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Thanks, Larry. I thought of one more question. This might be more directed at experienced players, but I'll throw it out here anyways.

Consider the possible "final civilizations" that can result. Some will have focused on one factor more than others, some maybe two factor, some more balanced. There's of course a natural tendency to evolve towards more technology, more "modern" forms of government, etc. How much of this evolution is forced and how much is choice? Can you choose to remain relatively backward in one or more areas and still be able to compete?

By way of examples, consider St Petersburg and Ra. Some would claim for St Petersburg that Nobles are they key. They will always go for as many as possible. Thus the game for them always has the same goal (I don't necessarily feel this way). However, in Ra you can go for Pharoahs, or Rivers, or Monuments, etc. and always be in the running.

I don't know much about Through the Ages cards, so I'll just make up examples. Could you win if you ended the game with a Dictatorship? Or very little Population? Or negligable Military? Or do the interlocked mechanisms force you to constantly improve everything or die?
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Ron K
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'80' maxlength='250'> </td> </tr> <tr> <td width="15%" align="right"><b>Avatar OverText</b></td> <td width="85%"> <input type="text" name="overtext[avatar]" value="Train Game anyone?
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Having played a few times, let me add a few thoughts that compliment your excellent review:

The white gems you refer to in the game are yellow in the one I have played. The white (clear) gems are used to represent civil actions, the red for military actions, the blue for resources and food, and the yellow for people, structures, and military units. I'm clarifying so the pictures on BGG will make sense.

There is an underlying strategy of maintaining a balance within your civilization between population, production, and inventory. If you do a poor job of that, you get into economic spirals that cripple your ability to act. Too many farms or mines at a low level of technology generates many blue gems causing significant corruption. Too much inventory (nothing to buy due to lack of population) causes significant corruption. It is all very well done and an enjoyable puzzle to keep solving as you work on the real strategy - getting 'harps.'

From an interaction perspective, one has both economic pacts and political actions (military aggression and territorial expansion competition). However, one of the key strategic aspects is keeping an eye on what your opponents are doing - especially with respect to culture (harp) production. You can't let someone start to pull away. You need to keep them in check to some degree by taking political action.

As was stated, one also needs to stay in the cold war arms race to avoid being easy pickings by others. If someone expects to need to sacrifice a unit or two for a military aggression, they will likely not take the action (you have a sufficient deterent).

One other aspect to the game engine which was not mentioned is that the number of civil cards you can have in hand is equal to the number of civil action points your government has. This prevents taking cards off the display for no reason (and limits taking cards to deny others to just once or twice per game). The number of Military actions which remain unused per turn become military cards (political action cards) but the total in hand gets reduced to the total military actions your government has per turn. This causes the military options offered to you to change frequently and not get bogged down - a very nice feature given that you don't get to see the military options from which to pick.

In the games I've played, each player typically takes one card from the display (with zero or two much less frequently). The civil card display acts as the game timer by ensuring at least one card is removed per player turn (more with less players). Having a plan in mind and spending your downtime eyeballing the new cards to adjust your plan works very well.

The two player advanced game can be played in 2 hours and while a bit different in grand strategy, still offers the same feel - but more of a super power cold war.

I've found playing on a felt surface (the back of the dining room table mats) works very well as the cards don't slide around. This way, I can slide the gems between cards rather than pick them up. I am testing a player mat which would have the cards lay out adjacent to it and the gems would stay on the mat so I won't have to slide the gems over the card edges (nor pick them up).
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Geeky McGeekface
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Well, my lack of experience is making it harder and harder to answer these questions, but here's my guess. First of all, there are many different strategic paths to victory. You could win with a relatively low population if you went with the latest tech and upgraded your structures as quickly as possible (allowing you to neglect your food and happy face production). You could win with a so-so military, never attacking, but maintaining a high enough strength level (and defensive addition cards) to keep the other players from attacking you too often. I think you could definitely win with despotism (your original government), although it would probably be necessary to have picked up a wonder or two that added to your number of actions. The game encourages you to have a balanced approach, but I don't think it's necessary.

That said, there are probably some absolutes you can't ignore. You will need minimum levels of food, production, research, happiness, and culture. Ignoring your military will probably doom you. I'd think it would be very hard to win if you never raised your initial number of actions. There's probably some areas of the game you can completely ignore, but there aren't many.

This is anything but a one dimensional game. But there are some strategies which are simply non-starters. I don't think you or anyone else will find that limiting.
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Geeky McGeekface
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Thanks for the comments, Ron. I agree with everything you say. You're right about the yellow gems, of course--I skipped a groove.

With regard to the politics cards, the hand limit isn't enforced until the beginning of your next turn. This allows you to keep more cards than the limit between your turns, making it even harder to attack successfully, since there's a greater chance that a player will have a defense card in her hand.

In my game, the winner frequently took two cards from the display a turn, including lots of the Action cards. I'm not saying I'll play like that in my next game, but it seemed to work for him.
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Ron K
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Larry Levy wrote:
I think you could definitely win with despotism (your original government)


I agree, one can definately go with the 'once a despot, always a despot' approach. The government change mechanic is you either burn an entire turn (all civil actions) and a few light bulbs for a peaceful change or a large number of light bulbs and one civil action to convert via revolution. I don't see folks converting to the latest fad each age as it gets quite expensive. However, where the government happens to show up at the right time and compliment your strategy, you will pursue it. I can see folks skipping the Age I governements and looking for the Age II for the late game push.

The game does tend to produce at least one military meglomaniac due to the early military enhancing leaders Julius Caesar and Alexander the Great.
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Ron K
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Larry Levy wrote:
In my game, the winner frequently took two cards from the display a turn, including lots of the Action cards. I'm not saying I'll play like that in my next game, but it seemed to work for him.


I think we had sufficiently screwed up our economies to the point that the action and tech advancement cards we had didn't help so we ended up backed up with civil cards in our hands which forced us to miss key cards on the display (not enough actions to toss cards, grab cards, and adjust our economies to avoid uprisings).
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Jim Cote
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What is the physical card-flow like? Is there a way to discard (ie not use) cards in your hand if you change your mind or simply want another card more? Do you find yourself saving cards for some far-off future objective? Can any action you take affect gems (move, remove) and/or cards (remove, back into hand, replace, steal) of the other players?
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Steve
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Fantastic review. I'm very intrigued by this game.
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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Quote:
Is there a way to discard (ie not use) cards in your hand if you change your mind or simply want another card more?

With the regular cards, I think the answer is no. As I said, this was never a problem for me (for all the wrong reasons). Maybe Ron can verify this. Without discarding as an option, you have to be reasonably precise with your drafts and be careful with your defensive play.

Quote:
Do you find yourself saving cards for some far-off future objective?

I don't think so, because the cards get progressively better as time goes on. But I think you should be drafting for an anticipated need a few turns down the road. Experience and good planning should make this possible.

Quote:
Can any action you take affect gems (move, remove) and/or cards (remove, back into hand, replace, steal) of the other players?

A successful attack can force the defender to lose food, rocks, structures, or already scored harps. There are also some events (which I didn't even mention in my review, but it's a very innovative system, where the players seed the event deck) which can force players who are doing poorly in some area to lose these things. I don't recall anything which can force players to lose cards that they've played or that they have in their hands.
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Ron K
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Larry Levy wrote:
Quote:
Is there a way to discard (ie not use) cards in your hand if you change your mind or simply want another card more?

With the regular cards, I think the answer is no. As I said, this was never a problem for me (for all the wrong reasons). Maybe Ron can verify this. Without discarding as an option, you have to be reasonably precise with your drafts and be careful with your defensive play.

On page 7 of the rules at the very end of the Summary of Civil Cards is a tip: "Think carefully about the cards you take. If you are holding cards you can not play, then you may be unable to take the cards you need and you may be unable to use all of your Civil Actions."

Larry Levy wrote:
Quote:
Do you find yourself saving cards for some far-off future objective?

I don't think so, because the cards get progressively better as time goes on. But I think you should be drafting for an anticipated need a few turns down the road. Experience and good planning should make this possible.

I will grab an advanced farm or mine if I intend to play it in a turn or two - there are a limited number that come up.

Larry Levy wrote:
Quote:
Can any action you take affect gems (move, remove) and/or cards (remove, back into hand, replace, steal) of the other players?

A successful attack can force the defender to lose food, rocks, structures, or already scored harps. There are also some events (which I didn't even mention in my review, but it's a very innovative system, where the players seed the event deck) which can force players who are doing poorly in some area to lose these things. I don't recall anything which can force players to lose cards that they've played or that they have in their hands.

As Larry says, playing an aggression card during your political action step can cause a target to lose stuff and for you to gain stuff (blue and yellow gems representing particular structures, food, or goods).

Also, one of the events causes all player's leaders not from the current age to be discarded. So if you played that into the future events deck as your political action, then you know it will be coming up and can take advantage of that (potentially screwing other players with prior age leaders).
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Jim Cote
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It all sounds really interesting. Can't wait to see the full rules.
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Vlaada Chvatil
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Great review, Larry. Good comments, Ron.

Reading that, I am sure YOU are the players we were preparing the game for :o)

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Well I had the honour that I was allowed to test the game before it was finallized. Many players from Czech had played it before and a lot of changes has been done to improve variability. To allow player to win through military, through your science research and also using building things that straightly gives you cultural points
 
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Evertjan van de Kaa
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so far in the two games we played (4 player age 1 and 3 player medium game) we found that the player who went for the culture always (two times) won. the player who went first for production never won (one time second and one time third). Interesting was our last game where one player realy had a good position (also through the posibility to conquer some area's as other people had no armies) and then the game ended. It would seam that depending of the duration of the game different strategies are needed.

Evertjan van de Kaa

(interesting was that both times the players were not that far appart)
 
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Dave Eisen
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RaDiKal wrote:
Larry Levy wrote:
Quote:
Is there a way to discard (ie not use) cards in your hand if you change your mind or simply want another card more?

With the regular cards, I think the answer is no. As I said, this was never a problem for me (for all the wrong reasons). Maybe Ron can verify this. Without discarding as an option, you have to be reasonably precise with your drafts and be careful with your defensive play.

On page 7 of the rules at the very end of the Summary of Civil Cards is a tip: "Think carefully about the cards you take. If you are holding cards you can not play, then you may be unable to take the cards you need and you may be unable to use all of your Civil Actions."



This killed me the one time I played.

I had up to my hand limit of civil cards, really useful civil cards. But these cards all required more science points to spend to get them on the table than I had in place or even could get for another turn or two. Not only could I not discard cards to allow myself to get more immediately useful cards, I found myself there with no useful way to use my actions on a late midgame turn. Maybe even two turns in a row. I think this is why I ended up losing.

 
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Evertjan van de Kaa
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Quote:
Is there a way to discard (ie not use) cards in your hand if you change your mind or simply want another card more?


It would make for a different game, the discarding of cards. it would make it easier to take cards just to make sure someone else does not get is. Example:

three player game with two players having monarchy on hand. one of those two players could take republic but is that usefull?, yes in that it screws op the game play of the third player. (this actualy happened to me).

Now imagine how strong this would be if you then could discard that card.

also the game (card flow) might go faster.

Evertjan van de Kaa
 
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