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Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Nice but not great rss

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Eric B
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When I first heard about this game, I had the following concerns about games of this type:
- victory is usually determined by policy
- luck plays a big role
- small differences in the early game become large in the end

I find this title guilty on all three accounts. In order to win, the other players have to let you win (i.e. not attack you, not take the cards you need but instead take those good for the opposition), you have to build a stable base early (the longer the game lasts the smaller the impact from errors gets), and you need the right cards at the right time. IMO these problems lie in the genre. Since the original civilization boardgame I'm wondering whether there might exist a remedy, but so far the answer is no.

Besides these fundamental issues, this is the best game of its genre I know (and I know quite a few ).

I have played it two times with four players, full version. The first game took 8 hours (due to the new rules), the second about 5.

Of course this is not enough of a basis for a final verdict, but here are some finer points in random order:

The first two actions of each nation seem to be set in stone - build a worker and put him either in a mine or farm (although mine seems to be better).

Since there are several events in phase A which are useful only for civilizations with unemployed workers, keep one guy unemployed until there are no more A events possible.

Science (light bulbs) seem to be the most important resource. Investing early in labs and libraries is a must. In all of our games guys with high science ratings won, whereas people with a resource-oriented (or even worse military) strategy failed. The "interesting" decision is to find the correct point to swing from science (libraries) towards culture (theaters).

The main advantage of a high science rating is that it's easy to switch government form. Switching early to any form which allows three urban buildings of the same type is a great advantage.

Following from the high usefulness of libraries and theaters, Shakespeare is a very important factor in a winning strategy. We have seen a position where Shakespeare alone produced seven culture each turn - the highest culture bonus from a single leader we have seen so far.

A military strategy doesn't seem to work. It seems that a strong military is a natural by-product of an otherwise strong civilization, whereas a strong military never by itself makes the civilization strong.

In our games, the culture leader sooner or later became one of the leading military powers, and the one guy who tried a military strategy didn't gain any advantage from it (because he didn't get enough aggressive cards until the others were too strong to attack). Surely it's not a good idea to neglect the military (being weakest really hurts), but concentrating on it isn't the way to go either.

In summary, I will play this again a few times, just to prove my prejudice, and I congratulate the designers, and especially the playtesters. It's just that I would like to love the genre, but can't .
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magnus johansson
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I like your review, it´s pinpointing some important factors of the game. But to promote one resource, science, to be a winner is somewhat misleading. I find the game is balancing the different resources beautyfully. Food, mineral, science, civil actions and military. You will not survive if you don't balance all of them wisely.
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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Eric, I haven't played enough to address all of your critiques, but I think I can talk about these concerns.

Quote:
In order to win, the other players have to let you win (i.e. not attack you, not take the cards you need but instead take those good for the opposition),

If you're playing against inexperienced players or close relatives, your opponents may let you win, but what if everyone's playing well and no one gets a free ride? Certainly if you have a weak military, you'll be attacked, particularly if you're doing well otherwise. And good cards have a habit of disappearing before they drift too far down the board. Yes, there are times when the player to your right has all his actions mapped out and can't afford to grab that juicy card, leaving it to your grateful hands. But it's a long game and those opportunities will tend to even out. While we've found valuable cards in the deck, there's been nothing like a killer card you HAVE to have, so I'm not too concerned about this.

Besides, you can arrange to increase the odds that your right-hand opponent will leave you nice pickings by trying to specialize in a different area than hers (a necessary tactic in many other games). If the cards that you want are attractive to her as well, you'll be frustrated more often than not, since she'll have first crack at them. But if she has little interest in your favorites, it will be harder for her to grab the cards strictly to screw you. After all, there is a hand limit. Taking advantage of that fact isn't luck, of course, but good play.

Quote:
you have to build a stable base early (the longer the game lasts the smaller the impact from errors gets),

That sounds like a feature rather than a bug to me. It certainly adds to the game's learning curve, but who wants an easy Civ game? Figuring out how to efficiently get your infrastructure in proper order is a very enjoyable challenge. There still seems to be plenty of ways of accomplishing this, so I don't see standard openings in the game (there's too much variety injected through the beginning leaders and wonders, not to mention the randomly chosen objectives).

Quote:
and you need the right cards at the right time.

This may be true, although I think good players will arrange it so that they can be helped with many cards. I often found myself in a hole where I absolutely needed an advanced farm, or a particular wonder. But the fault was letting myself get into that situation; with experience, I now know enough to avoid such traps, or at least to have an appropriate card in my hand before the problem develops. Even if golden cards appear at the right time, they'll cost you 3 actions if they appear just before your turn, and if they don't, someone else has the opportunity to snatch it from you. The way the display is set up, you have to pay a steep price to take advantage of good luck.

Quote:
Science (light bulbs) seem to be the most important resource. Investing early in labs and libraries is a must. In all of our games guys with high science ratings won, whereas people with a resource-oriented (or even worse military) strategy failed.

I suspect you have a bit of groupthink going on here, as this doesn't match our experiences. But have you considered choosing objectives at the start of the game that give bonuses to things other than science? Since your group is disposed to favoring research, this might make the game more balanced for you. There's nothing wrong with choosing a scenario if it will add to your group's enjoyment of a game.
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Eric B
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Larry Levy wrote:
Eric, I haven't played enough to address all of your critiques

Neither have I
Quote:
If you're playing against inexperienced players or close relatives, your opponents may let you win, but what if everyone's playing well and no one gets a free ride?

That's the standard reply to this concern. In theory, if all play well enough, everybody plays "correct" - still the problem of player interaction remains. I have seen many a game of civilization ending with everybody bashing the perceived (or real) leader, and a guy winning who was honestly surprised.
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While we've found valuable cards in the deck, there's been nothing like a killer card you HAVE to have, so I'm not too concerned about this.

My concern isn't about unbalanced cards. Assume that one position would greatly profit from the next library, and another could use the next mine. It's a matter of pure chance which of the two gets his "best" card, no skill involved. Sure it's possible to count cards and keep probabilities in mind, but a rather important element of luck will always remain.
Quote:
Quote:
you have to build a stable base early (the longer the game lasts the smaller the impact from errors gets),

That sounds like a feature rather than a bug to me. It certainly adds to the game's learning curve, but who wants an easy Civ game? Figuring out how to efficiently get your infrastructure in proper order is a very enjoyable challenge.

No question about that, but I don't like the different weight on errors. It's a very fundamental issue, basically a matter of taste. Some like games to stabilize after some time, I don't. Funkenschlag (Power Grid) is my personal favorite, I like it if a game is a constant challenge for the leader. Be careful not to mix this up with my first point - there's a big difference between a game mechanic which prevents "safe" positions from occuring, and giving this control to politically manipulable players.
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Mark Delano
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I've played three games now, a basic, advanced and full. I don't think technology is as completely critical as you think, but it is deceptively easy to ignore when the necessities of military, happiness, resources, food and culture are pressing on you.

Staying at the minimum 1 lightbulb is a very bad idea, but you can get away with 2-3 lightbulbs for a long time (til mid-late age 2). In those situations it's important to snag the other cards that give bonuses to lightbulbs when available, and to be very careful on the Technology cards that you take. Wonders and Leaders are your friends, giving you powerful benefits without requiring lightbulbs.
 
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Philippe D.-P.
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Mecki wrote:
- luck plays a big role


ahhh, I really thought I had found the perfect game, but I really hate games where luck plays a big role.
 
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Geeky McGeekface
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Freidenker wrote:
ahhh, I really thought I had found the perfect game, but I really hate games where luck plays a big role.

So do I, Philippe, and I rate Through the Ages a 10. Try it out if you can and judge for yourself.
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Roberto Ullfig
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The game looks promising (after only 2 games played) but the lack of direct interaction between players bothers me quite a bit. For instance, there is nothing even close to Trading from the original Civilization. In my first two games there has been practically no interaction between players. Each player is doing his own thing - all the time. It's as close to being multi player solitaire as you can get. It feels a lot like a single player computer game actually. I am just hoping that after 5 or so games under my belt that the indirect interaction becomes the centerpiece of the game. When I play a FTF game I expect a certain amount of social interaction - so far I don't see much if any.
 
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Scott Everts
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I got to play this last weekend. I think its good but need more plays to see if its great. The basic rules just get interesting then the game is over. So hopefully the full game will be more fun.

And I have to say this is NOT worth $70. What you get in the box is very little for your gaming dollar. This is a $50 game at most.
 
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James Ludlow
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robo wrote:
The game looks promising (after only 2 games played) but the lack of direct interaction between players bothers me quite a bit. For instance, there is nothing even close to Trading from the original Civilization. In my first two games there has been practically no interaction between players. Each player is doing his own thing - all the time. It's as close to being multi player solitaire as you can get. It feels a lot like a single player computer game actually. I am just hoping that after 5 or so games under my belt that the indirect interaction becomes the centerpiece of the game. When I play a FTF game I expect a certain amount of social interaction - so far I don't see much if any.


What version of the game were you playing (basic, advanced, full)? What were the military levels at the end of the games?

 
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Matthew M
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ScottE wrote:


And I have to say this is NOT worth $70. What you get in the box is very little for your gaming dollar. This is a $50 game at most.


I have the same issue with Picasso's work. Apparently they sell for millions, but I can't imagine the paints cost more than $20 back in his day! What a rip off!

-MMM
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Massimiliano Santuari
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I don't completely agree. Picasso's works are single ones, not copies. And I'd like to know, anyway, the "value" of the components. Then, if I like the game so much, I am going to pay 70$ for a "40$ components value" game. For 70$ I'd like to have both good gameplay and good components, but it's just my opinion. And don't forget that a "40$" game does NOT have 40$ in "components value", it's just the "standard" value compared to other standard games.
 
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stephen biggs
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Mecki wrote:
Science (light bulbs) seem to be the most important resource. Investing early in labs and libraries is a must. In all of our games guys with high science ratings won, whereas people with a resource-oriented (or even worse military) strategy failed. The "interesting" decision is to find the correct point to swing from science (libraries) towards culture (theaters).

The main advantage of a high science rating is that it's easy to switch government form. Switching early to any form which allows three urban buildings of the same type is a great advantage.

This point seems to be self contadictory.
If you play "Libraries" early, you can get enough sciece from a combination of labs & libraries without needing 3 urban buildings of a single type. A similar effect can be achieved for happy-faces without needing 3 temples. It's only if you fail to develop alternative technologies that you need to build 3 of the same urban building.
 
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