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

Subject: Shame there's no themed civilisations rss

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Jonathan Rowe
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Just discovering Through The Ages and liking it so far. Only onto the Advanced Game, yet to try out the Full Game.

I don't miss the geographic detail of a 'map' - I like the abstract way your civilisations interact - but I do miss the themed nature of civilisations in games like, well, Civilisation.

In TTA, your civilisation has no name or identity. Maybe you had Aristotle and Shakespeare as your leaders, but who are you? Are you an ancient Asian city culture, all baked bricks and desert, or are you and jungle civilisation with lost cities and obsidian arrowheads? Are you the Greeks or are you the Chinese?

Now I know that, in a way, the unfolding of your Technology Cards and Events helps tell that story, but I still wish there was some way of pitting civilisations of certain _types_ against each other.
 
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Jonathan Challis
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What you want is fundamentally opposed to what TTA gives. That's it's strongest/weakest point depending on your point of view.
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Bryan Thunkd
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TTA is a very abstract civilization game. What you're talking about is a completely different game.
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Michael J
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I think you want Imperial Settlers. TTA lets players develop their own national advantages. Elect Ghengis Khan or Napoleon? Your going to spend a thousand years with huge military bonuses that affect everything you do. Start with Aristotle? Your civ is going to have an edge in knowledge and science and it will allow them to jump ahead in the tech tree, which is certainly a benefit that will survive for centuries. The wonders have similar effects, but last all game long, adding theme and flavor to your culture and affecting how they are shaped. Not to mention the difference between a culture that thrives on theater techs verse temples.

There are plenty of ways to give each civization personality in TTA. I don't think national advantages are needed at all. Let the players create the story and use their imaginations. I think this is one reason fans of TTA love it so much. It's minimalist in many ways, and doesn't tell you how to play it.
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Larry Levy
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I actually think TtA has more of a Civ "theme" than Civilization does, Jonathan. The different civs in the latter game each have a name and a geographical location, but there's very little other tailoring. Additionally, the underlying game really is quite abstract when you look at it carefully. Whereas in TtA, you have named leaders, techs, and events and the effects are much more varied and specific than they are in Civ. A lot of it has to do with what you're looking for in a Civ game, but I honestly think that TtA has more of an epic feel than Civilization does.
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Vic R
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You should look in the variant forum:

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1289370/trait-each-4-boards

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1289760/lord-rings-version

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/870293/traits-quick-and-eas...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1386886/revolts-wars-intern...

https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/805925/traits-variant-incre...

And lots of other

As you see you are not alone. Maybe with the new edition we will see some (optional) traits, who knows.

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Chris
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That's what TtA needs... Variable player powers. whistle
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Jonathan Rowe
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These are certainly along the lines I was heading. Others have commented that theming a board is some betrayal of the guiding principles of the game, but I don't see that.

One option in my mind is a 'Small World' style mechanic that would give you a pair of modifiers, different each time.

For example, an Agrarian civilisation would pay 1 less Science for Farm Technology and an Industrial one for Mines; similar themes might benefit developing Libraries, Temples, Cavalry etc.

My thinking is, the Full Game plays itself out in a grand sweep and doesn't need this sort of tinkering, but often the Short Game is what you want (time constraints, etc) but the Short Game is too simplistic, essentially just a card turning exercise.

If I could tie in themed civilisations to Short Game victory conditions, it might make a Short Game variant that was a bit more engaging and playable in 2 hours...

vica8081 wrote:
 
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Paul Grogan
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TTA already has variable player powers

I.e. The decisions you make and the cards you pick up. These are what define the Civilisation. And my empire always has a thematic name when we play. The Glorious Empire of Paul!
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Jonathan Rowe
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Well, I hope the Empire of Paul endures for a thousand years

But really, _all_ civilisation-style games let you individualise your civilisations as you go.

The thing with TtA is that you're all vanilla to start with.

Moreover, there's no pattern to the way you develop, beyond building strategically on your prior choices.

Now, I think in the Full Game, that's OK, because over that sweep of time the civilisations will all end up different and distinctive. Moreover, any themed penalties or buffs would end up becoming tedious: you would outgrow the need for them by Age III.

In the Short Game and even the Advanced Game, this isn't so. In the Short Game, there's very little distinction between civilisations by the end of Age I. In the Advanced Game, those distinctions are only beginning to show by the end of Age II.

There are reasons to choose to play the Simple Game but I think, if you do, then theming the civilisations becomes more desirable. In a 1-2 hour Simple Game, I don't mind being the Agrarian Celts (or whatever) and getting a -1 Science discount on Farms and a +1 Strength buff on cavalry but losing -10 Culture at the end if I haven't developed Monarchy. This gives me a target in the Short Game and the means to reach it as well as a strategy for my opponents.
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Jonathan Rowe
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mjacobsca wrote:
Elect Ghengis Khan or Napoleon? Your going to spend a thousand years with huge military bonuses that affect everything you do. Start with Aristotle? Your civ is going to have an edge in knowledge and science and it will allow them to jump ahead in the tech tree, which is certainly a benefit that will survive for centuries.


True - but Antiquity leaders like Aristotle disappear at the end of Age I and a shrewd player changes their leaders routinely. If you really have settled for Aristotle in the opening turns and kept him as your leader all the way to the start of Age II, you've probably missed some opportunities along the way. There were turns where you should have ditched Aristotle for Genghis to cash in on the buff you get from your horsemen.

And this is the point: play TtA as a strategic game and any sense of narrative or theme goes out of the window. Its immensely abstract. Some people like abstract games (I do) but part of the appeal of a civilisation-style game is the sense of emergent narrative (and TtA has the word "Story" in its title).
 
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Josh Zscheile
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I honestly do not see what the thematic or narrative benefit of starting powers is. What makes us today think that the Egyptians were great builders are the monuments they left behind, but they also were successful militarists, great traders, inventors and producers. Every notable nation or civilization has something they do better than others at most points in time, but what you do well compared to others changes - on the grand scale - fairly regularly. In this way, the TtA system with leaders giving you bonuses for their age is much more thematic and realistic than e.g. Sid Meier's Civ nations, that never change over thousands of years.
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Jonathan Rowe
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The idea that cultures have essential characteristics got a real boost from Samuel P Huntingdon and Francis Fukiyama's sociology in the 90s, work that had a big influence on American foreign policy and continues to inform many people's views of the Middle East, Russia or China, for example.

Of course, Huntingdon's thesis is that there are cultural meta-blocks (which he calls 'civilisations') rather than anything as discrete as the Egyptians or the Romans.

TtA embraces Huntingdon's outlook, with the idea that you can be a discrete civilisation with its own defining achievements and that you are in an irreconcilable clash with other civilisations.

Given that the whole _premise_ of TtA is Huntingdon's 'Clash of Civilisations', it's rather odd that the game doesn't endow these civilisations with the inherent outlooks or philosophies that Huntingdon and his followers would ascribe to them.

For the record, the 8 civilisations that Huntingdon claims to discern in history and geography are:

Western civilisation (North America, Western Europe, Australasia)

Latin American civilisation

Orthodox civilisation (Russia, Eastern Europe)

Buddhist civilisation (Bhutan, Cambodia, Laos, Mongolia, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Thailand)

Sinic civilisation (China, the Koreas, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam)

Hindu civilisation (India)

Muslim civilisation (Middle East, northern West Africa)

Sub-Saharan African civilisation
 
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Josh Zscheile
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Okay, there is this thesis from Huntingdon, though I do not see what exactly connects it to TtA in general (as there are many games that might embrace this 'blocky' view much more - e.g. risk). As I understand his thesis from what I read in your post, Huntingdon separates the nations of the world in blocks of similar religion and culture. Though I think that this is stereotyped thinking that oversimplifies nations' relationships, I wonder what exactly you hope for here. Do you wish to play the 'western civilizations' or the 'buddhist civilization'? Which other 4X game has this notion?
My point still stands here I think, because every one of these blocks developed through the past and they will migrate, break apart, fluctuate etc. in the future. There is no stable culture, civilization, nation or whatever through history, so why bother?

Well, if you think TtA would work better with naming factions, you are free to do so. If you feel every faction should have a distinct advantage over thousands of years of history, you can surely work something out or even just look at fanmade variants. If you like to include something that did not make sense to the designer (as well as to me), you can always house rule it in.

Sorry if that sounded harsh, but I honestly wonder why people want (especially established) game systems to include the notion of what they personally expect them to be? How is it that TtA as it is does not seem thematic to you?

Meaning no offense,

Josh
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Jonathan Rowe
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No offense taken Josh!

My view is that, if a game invites you to play the part of some sort of Agent, it normally gives you to points with which to relate to that Agent. If it doesn't, then the Agent is purely cosmetic.

For example, in a game of Clue/Cluedo, it makes no difference if you are Miss Scarlet or Rev Green - it's just a picture. The game plays the same whoever you are.

TtA positions you as a civilisation and during the course of the Full Game you acquire a distinctive set of traits. It almost works as a test case of how four 'vanilla' civilisations can develop in different directions over time. I like that and I think it works.

However, if you play the Advanced and (especially) the Simple Game, you _don't_ get that differentiation. By the end of Age I, the civilisations will have only the crudest distinctions. Even by the end of Age II, they'll only just be settling down into their developed form.

The Simple Game, in particular, suffers as a result as this. Yet I often want to play the Simple Game because I just don't have the time to set aside for all three Ages.

Now, if the civilisations _weren't_ vanilla: if they had built-in agendas (like a propensity to aggression or spirituality) and their own quirky victory conditions, this would make the Simple Game much livelier even for experienced players.

I agree, on reflection, that theming the civilisations runs counter to the intent of the Full Game and may even interfere with its characteristic enjoyments.

But I think there's something to be said for a Simple/Advanced Game variant using themed civilisations. I think there's an academic basis for it (though Huntingdon's thesis is hotly contested) and it would give the shorter games a focus and strategic depth they currently lack.

BTW, I don't think Risk is a fair comparison. Risk posits the existence of _current_ power blocs in conflict. Now, no one would deny _that_ is a feature of the world. Huntingdon (and Vlaada Chvatl, TtA's designer) proposes something more radical - that behind these power blocs are enduring civilisations whose precise geographic boundaries may fluctuate but who are locked them into irreconcilable conflict in every period of history. Huntingdon goes further than Chvatl in proposing that this conflict stems from irreconcilable differences in outlook and THAT, it seems to me, would be worth incorporating into the game. Moreover, far from diluting or perverting the game's essential genius, it would be drawing out the game's deeper implications.

The reason why I don't think these distinctions matter in the Full Game is that, over the course of the Full Game, the players generate these differences in cultural character themselves as a result of their strategic decisions - although those results aren't usually apparent until the end of Age II.


 
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Kris Boyen
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One thing to get it out of the way, I wouldn't personally play the simple game. That one is only for learning the game to other people. If I have the time, I would play the full game, if time is short, the advanced game, and if there would be only time to complete the simple game, I would play something else. The simple game just doesn't bring enough depth to the game that I would like.

Personally, the reason I see why there isn't much difference in development in the advanced game is because your scoring is fixed. Since everyone scores points for the same things, and it is known before, there really is no reason to develop your culture in a different direction then the others.

Personally, I would change the scoring (of the advanced game) if you want to have specific focus for the players. Giving the civilizations itself different start advantages would only benefit those who are in line with one of the scoring for that game.
I have 2 ideas to work with, but none of this is tested, so don't blame me if it isn't balanced.
- Play with the availability of the scoring cards. don't reveal them to all players. In a 2 player game, giver each player 2 cards that he can look at. In a 4 player game, put the cards between the different players, and you can only look to the cards next to you. this gives every player the knowledge of only 2 of the 4 scoring opportunities, and a reason to focus for those things.
- Play with specific scoring opportunities for players. Have some (or all) scoring cards going to specific players, and only they can score for it. e.g. Deal 2 cards for everyone, and give people 2 scoring cards, visible to all players that only they can score. I would let them score double the score of the lowest scoring card, so that focus should be put on investing in both paths.
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Josh Zscheile
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Hey Jonathan,

now that is a point we can totally agree on: the simple and advanced rules for me both are just there for learning the game. In fact, I gifted this game to one of my best friends (also a gamer), and he disliked it because we started with the simple game and to my knowledge never touched it again, because there were next to no meaningful decisions to do. This game clearly is meant to be played the full three ages. This should be made more clear in the rules I think. I could agree an a 'advanced game' (without wars), if it still lasted all three ages, because in my experience wars rarely have a significant change on the game unless there are unexperienced players at the table. I could also maybe agree on a version where you skip age I and draft cards somehow to simulate some differing starts.

As Kris already (similarly) wrote, I'd play something else if I did not have the time to play a full game.

Cheers!
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Jonathan Rowe
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The Simple Game is clearly a sort of Tutorial Mode. The Advanced Game stands up better, but screeches to an abrupt and sometimes unsatisfying halt.

Nonetheless, it seems a shame to say "The Simple Game is dull and I'd just play something else rather than alter it"

My view is

(i) I like Through The Ages
(ii) Sometimes my gamers want something they can play through in an hour-and-a-half and the Simple Game fits that bill
(iii) the Simple Game is an unsatisfactory experience as it stands

I think themed civilisations might be a way to make TtA rewarding in its Simple Version.

I'll put together some rules and post up a file for discussion next week
 
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Jonathan, I think you are right about the basic and advanced game, and maybe the different traits is what they need to be a good (fun) game.
To tell the truth I was also interested to try different traits, just for the sake of it. (there are not need to any other reason, only "why not?") but then got against two important facts
1. The game is quite long
2. You dont want to play a long game, in a variant that is most probably unbalanced (because have not be tested yet)

In other words you can devote a couple hours and play a 30 minute game 4 o 5 times playtesting, setting and trimming a balanced variant for a short game, but you must devote several long evenings, just to see if this TtA variant is interesting enough, so at the end is not worthy. So even if I liked some of the variants that I show you previously I have not played any of them
However, as you said, probably these variants are better suit for basic and advanced game, providing more differentation between players and a shorter length of play which made playtesting and balacing the variant a lot easier.
 
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Chris
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Like the late war variant in Twilight Struggle, isn't the obvious answer to play the last era, or middle, rather than the first and create some broadly balanced starting positions based off of the first (or first and middle) era?

That surely gives you your different cultures without artificially fudging in crappy starting powers?
 
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TheRocketSurgeon wrote:
Like the late war variant in Twilight Struggle, isn't the obvious answer to play the last era, or middle, rather than the first and create some broadly balanced starting positions based off of the first (or first and middle) era?

That surely gives you your different cultures without artificially fudging in crappy starting powers?


Well, I'm proposing adding in starting powers of the non-crappy sort...

Why is it 'artificial' to run the Simple Game as-written but with starting templates (which are ALREADY proposed in the faster game section - where you begin with an extra worker and an extra building allowed and I'm simply proposing variations on that) and victory bonuses linked to these (which you already get in the Advanced Game).

I mean, don't get me wrong, a set of templates for people who want to jump straight in to Age I or Age II would be a really valuable resource as well. In fact, since those templates would presumably be different from one another, it would be another way of introducing themed civilisations - and I can see why you might prefer it to altering the starting conditions in Antiquity since it imitates the effect of a civilisation that has actually been through 40 minutes of game time.

I'll see if I can come up with both variants, but it might take longer than a week....
 
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Interesting discussion, although I agree with the counter-posters that the OP's assumptions seem a bit off. In particular, the Simple Game: I don't think it was ever meant to be anything but a learning tool. The game is complex, and you might play that game once to learn it. If you're an experienced gamer, I wouldn't even bother with that -- jump directly to the Advanced version. Even that, though, is largely a stepping stone to the Full game. Anyway, why bother fiddling with the Simple Game? It's more a learning exercise than a game, really. No one is going to stop you, of course, from doing what you want ... but for the larger audience it doesn't seem like a useful way to spend their time (as opposed to moving on to the Advanced and Full versions of the game).

As to your larger point about each civ having some kind of core concept: do you think each civ knew that they were type so-and-so? Or do you only see that in retrospect? In TTA, the players themselves are that core; their decisions over the game will show some kind of core. In the game, the leaders provide some of that as well -- they last 2 ages, and once you go down one path (e.g., science/tech) you may benefit from continuing on that path when it's time to switch leaders. At the end of the game, you can look back to see what your civ's core values were. If you insist on knowing all of that from the start, and believe that a civ cannot develop or change to something else -- or if you just want to experiment and play specific civ types against one another as you posted originally -- you could alter the beginning: instead of letting players decide for themselves what kind of civ they'll be (by choosing their own leader/wonder in Antiquity), you could just give everyone a specific combination. If you insist that civs can't change their core beliefs (and that those beliefs are known in advance), you could try a variant where you pre-define every player's leader upgrade path (so military, for example, goes with Caesar/Barbarossa/Napoleon/Churchill; religious/spiritual with Moses/Joan/?/Gandhi; scientific with Aristotle/Leonardo/Newton/Einstein).

Now, having stated that the other responders are correct -- the simple and advanced games are merely learning tools to get you to the full game -- if you absolutely positively have to have TTA and if it absolutely must play in 1-2 hours (and you refuse to just play a different "civ" game designed for that shorter time frame -- I put "civ" in quotes because I don't believe you can have a civ game play and feel like a civ game in less than 2 hours), and really want to find a variant that works for your group, some things that might be interesting:
- I still wouldn't bother with the Simple game!
- play the Advanced game, simply removing cards to shorten each age
- create leader and/or wonder paths for each player, as described above. At the start of each age, you could just replace one leader for the next.
- if you really want to go crazy with the civ specialization, you could divide the deck amongst all the players so that they each have their own card row, with leaders/wonders specific to their civ type. You could do this alone, or in combination with the previous variant. Either way, the game should speed up considerably since you can plan your actions much better -- since there will be no changes in the card row while other players take their turns.

It all seems like a lot of effort, though! You could instead try Nations (board or dice game; board game gives you the different civ starts, and has a short game option)? I've heard good things about The Golden Ages, too.
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