The Long View
The Good, The Board, and the Ugly
This review is also part of an update to my top games geeklist:
My Top 152 Games; Detailed Reviews
Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is the ultimate civ game. Each player starts with a simple sufficient society and upgrades and expands it from antiquity to the Information Age. Everything is carried out on cards with no map. While you might wonder how you can feel like you're a civilization when you have no physical presence on a map to validate that. Let me just say that it's the map that has been holding back civ games from greatness all this time. The rules for managing the map become tedious and ultimately all the map just endows ample opportunities for some while cornering others in a wasteland. Through the Ages sheds the map and puts the focus on managing your resources.
Everything about the resource management interlocks. You'll need workers to produce resources and food, and you'll consume food each turn depending on the size of your population. To take actions, you'll use up white and red cubes dependent on your type of government. It's difficult to rest easy when you know that every time you spend an action and the associated resources you have neglected many other options. You start with all the basic options for allocating your population: science production, religion (happiness and culture, which are the "points") warriors, mines, farms. To obtain new technologies you'll need to save up some science points and grab a card from the drafting line.
Civil cards, ranging from new technologies to leaders to wonders, are all obtained from a drafting line. The longer a card is available, the less actions it costs. And you of course have a strict hand limit you may never exceed. The overall effect of the drafting line is to assist you in knowing what will be available in your next turn, offering some ability to plan ahead. Sure you can snag a great card for most of your civil actions, but cards worth that much probably aren't balanced. So there aren't any. And that's one of the big improvements in the new edition of Through the Ages. Gone is the Napoleon who made for huge and artificial jumps in military strength that would utterly disappear when he was released. Now the cards are all thoughtfully balanced while maintaining the same spirit they always had.
You don't start with any specific identity in Through the Ages, but you'll soon shape your own civilization using the building blocks of great leaders and wonders. Each of these gives you passive abilities or special actions that not only thematically tie into its history but also effect the game in a mechanically sound way.
The warfare in the game is a deterministic combat that mixes in cardplay reminiscent of Mage Knight. In the New Story, when attacked you may spend all military cards to add one strength. This makes military much less luck-dependent and limits crushing early game defeats. Even in the original game, the military system was one of its greatest accomplishments. Each civ has a military rating, and you may spend military actions to attack other players, but you'll need to have a card that allows you to do that. How do you get military cards? Unused military actions at the end of your turn allow you to draw. And outright aggression is not the only thing available in the military decks. Often you'll encounter event cards which grant bonuses and penalties based on military strength. These cards are a more passive aggressive option but still focus on maintaining your military. It's a beautiful system, and it just got better in the new edition. Tactics are less lucky because you may now copy opponents' cards once they've been known of for a turn.
Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is the best example of reworking of an established game. Literally every change is an improvement, some more dramatic than others. I thought Through the Ages was an excellent game before the New Story released. It was top ten material then, and now it's top 3. And I heard the catalyst for the redesign was that Vlaada had expansions in mind but knew he had to fix the base game first. I've never been as excited for the release of an expansion in my experience in hobby board games.
DARK IN HERE, ISN'T IT?
Great review. Never played old or new versions, but now I want to try it.