Roll Through the Ages is a dice-rolling civilization builder, where players develop their infrastructure and build monuments while avoiding famine and other disasters. It is the marriage of a complex theme with light gameplay.
COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
4 wooden player pegboards, 24 plastic pegs, 7 large custom wooden dice, 1 large pad of scoresheets.
GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
On your turn, you are handed a die for each city you have (3, at the beginning of the game) and after rolling them, may twice pick up any number of your dice and reroll them. Each die has the same six faces:
*Choose: 2 food or 2 workers
*2 Goods and Skull -- cannot be rerolled.
When you are done re-rolling, you score your dice:
1) Gain all the goods from your dice, with the only way to advance the more valuable goods on your board being through having a single turn where you acquire 4+ goods.
2) Gain all food from your dice, and then pay 1 food per city you have.
For each food you are short, take 1 disaster point.
3) If you have more than 1 skull, multiple disaster points are awarded based on how many skulls you rolled.
4) Workers may be assigned to cities or monuments on your personal scoresheet.
Completing a city adds to the number of dice you roll (and your food upkeep). The first player to complete any given monument scores the full value, all other players who complete it only score half value.
5) Coins and goods may be spent to purchase infrastructure developments. These have a wide variety of costs, values, and effects, ranging from improving efficiency of various sides of the dice, to allowing the expenditure of stored food or goods in place of other resources.
When all monuments have been built by at least one player, or when any player has researched a 5th development, the game ends at the end of the round once all players have had an equal number of turns.
*High Production Value.
There is absolutely no reason this game needs to have the high production value it does. It could easily have had small plastic dice and a cardboard tracking board for the goods. But they decided to go for it with the production value, and the truth is that it is enjoyable and satisfying to roll the giant wooden dice, and the wooden tracking boards make the game feel a little bit more like serious business, even though it is actually
*Very Light and Easy to Learn
Through the Ages is one of my favorite heavy/long games, and one sufficiently complex that it involves a learning game to work up to the full rules, with full games lasting many hours. Thus it's quite different to play a game with the same name on the box that isn't too much more complicated than Yahtzee. This takes just a couple minutes to teach, and plays pretty fast especially after your first game.
*Skulls are well-mitigated.
One of the annoyances of many custom dice games is that if you frequently roll the "bad" side of the dice, you will always lose. But Roll Through the Ages very smartly pairs the skulls with a double-goods symbol, so in fact the fastest way to rack up valuable goods is to roll those bad skull symbols. Also, a single skull doesn't hurt you at all, and 3 skulls will trigger a pestilence that hurts your opponents instead of you. The combination of these two things adds a nice push-your-luck element to the skulls, and makes rolling a few of them not too bad. If that weren't enough, there are also upgrades you can get to stop any of the other bad skull rolls (2, 4, or 5+) from hurting you.
*Worth replaying to try different upgrades.
The fact that the game's final round is triggered if anyone researches a 5th development means that nobody is ever going to "tech up" with most of the developments in a single game. This means you have to choose your developments carefully and might try out different strategies in different games, whether it's buying agriculture early to raise food production, combos like increasing stone income and spending stone as workers, or making it so skulls never hurt you and you can try to roll as many as possible for massive goods income. (Of course, sometimes you're just buying whatever you can afford.)
*High Production Value.
Why is this a bad thing since we talked about how pleasant it was? Well, because this is a light yahtzee-style game with a MSRP of $40. Yahtzee itself goes for less than half that, and while the cribbage boards are pleasant and all, $20 would be a much more attractive price point for a light dice-roller. And speaking of which:
*Is Just A Light Dice Filler.
While the variety of developments certainly gives the game some replay value in terms of trying them all out, in the end this is still a light little dice game where you throw the dice and try to get more of whichever symbols you need. Strategy matters less than luck, you will lose if you roll poorly.
This is a great light dice game. Of all the light filler dice games I've played, this and Favor of the Pharaohs are probably the two best. What they both have is a sense of progress and interesting choices, both of which contribute to the replay value and enjoyment overall. So in the category of "light dice game", this game is one of the best out there.
On the other hand, because they called it "Roll Through The Ages", I was expecting at least a hint of the joys of my favorite epic civ game Through The Ages, and this game does not do that. Where Innovation manages to distill a civilization game into a smaller faster game, RttA basically just pastes the theme onto a dice game. A great dice game, but given the TtA pedigree I was really hoping for some meatier civ stuff here, and though the first few bites were delicious, I went away hungry.
IS IT FOR YOU?
It just depends what you want. If you're a Through the Ages fan and were hoping for something that offered the same feel in less time, or more generally wanted a streamlined civ game that gave you that same arc of civilization without all the complication, look elsewhere. This is not a lighter version of Through the Ages. This is a whole different game.
However, if you are in the market for a dice-chucking filler game, this is one of the best I've ever played. Too many dice games have almost no decisions, or no sense of progress, and this one is super-easy to learn and play, while still offering up a nice variety of options that will likely interest you in a second game immediately after you finish your first game.
I much prefer Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age, and its Mediterranean expansion. They did streamline things more, and provide more options and stuff going on. However, it was this game that got me into that!