- RandatollahUnited States
Before I get into the review, let me explain something. I have written a few cheeky reviews, but this is not one of them. You may have looked at the title and thought, “he has got to be kidding!” I’m actually not. For more on why I think Yahtzee is a good game, see my review of it here.
It’s not that I think Roll Through the Ages is a bad game, either. I have logged 58 plays of it so far, and have no regrets. I will readily admit that Roll Through the Ages brings some things to the table that Yahtzee does not. However, all things considered, I prefer the ubiquitous, mainstream classic to its fancy designer descendant.
One area where I do feel that Roll Through the Ages leaves Yahtzee in the dust is the components. Roll Through the Ages is packed full of wooden bits. The seven dice are made of wood. So are the peg boards, and the pegs. I don’t know of another game quite like it. Adding to the quirkiness, there is none of the colorful, immaculate art design you tend to find in designer board games. The dice have symbols burned into their sides, meaning that the images are just dark brown on a light brown background, and the symbols on the peg boards are small and functional. It may sound drab, but I love the look of this game to death. In a sea of beautiful, colorful games, somehow I find the presentation here downright charming.
In addition to the pile of wooden bits, you also get a large pad of scoresheets. These are more utilitarian than pretty, but they get the job done, and it is highly unlikely you would ever run out. Even if you do, replacements are freely available for download. There is also a free variant score sheet if you get tired of the original.
So if I don’t have a problem with the components, surely there’s something I object to in the gameplay, right? Well, not really. I would be hard pressed to find anything objectionable to the flow of play. Your turn consists of rolling dice up to three times, setting aside the ones you want to keep, just like in Yahtzee. Unlike Yahtzee, though, the goal here is engine building. You get one die for each city you have. The dice give you resources each turn: goods to buy developments, workers to build cities and monuments, and food to feed your people.
Most developments are little power-ups that make you more effective as the game goes on, although there are also the obligatory expensive ones that score you a bunch of points. You build new cities simply to roll more dice for the rest of the game. Monuments, for the most part, have no effect other than to score you points. Food is mainly just something you have to collect enough of to avoid getting negative points.
The game ends after the round in which someone bought their fifth development, or after all monuments have been built. Each monument can be built by more than one player, but everyone after the first only scores half points, and the endgame is only triggered by each type of monument being built by someone at the table. To be clear, the monuments do not all have to be built by the same player to trigger the endgame, as long as each of the seven has been built by someone at the table.
As for the dice you will be rolling to collect all of the resources you need, each of them has the same six faces:
1. Three food
2. Three workers
3. Two food or two workers (you choose after you are finished rolling dice)
4. Seven coins
5. One good
6. One skull (with two goods)
I find the coins more annoying than anything else, and almost always reroll them when they come up. Coins are basically like goods, but you have to use them RIGHT NOW or they go away. Goods you keep track of with your cool little peg board, and can save up until you are able to buy something nice.
The single goods are also rather lackluster. I also reroll those, unless I am afraid of getting another skull.
The most interesting die result is the skull, which represents disaster. On the down side, these take away points from you if you get more than one on the same turn. And when you do roll them, you have to set them aside. You can’t try to roll something else, you are stuck with them. On the plus side, each skull gives you two goods. Thematically, I’m not sure why disasters make you rich, but it’s fun that way. Also, if you get exactly three skulls on your turn, they affect your opponents instead of you.
As with any engine-building game, the power-ups you can buy are key to victory in Roll Through the Ages. There are ones that prevent bad things from happening to you. There are others that make your dice more effective by giving you extra food, workers, coins or goods on dice that provide those results. There’s one that lets you ignore the limit of having six goods at a time, to help you save up for the big end-game developments. There are two of those big point developments: one that gives a bonus for each monument you’ve built, and another that gives a bonus for each city you have.
The game has seven monuments, ranging in point value from 1 to 12. Depending on the player count, one or two of these may be unavailable. Basically, the point value for each monument will be three fewer than the number of workers required to build it. This holds true for all but the cheapest, the lowly step pyramid that gets you a single point for three workers.
It’s important to note that you don’t have to build monuments all at once. You can devote a few workers each turn to them until they are built. However, you don’t want to take too long, because someone else could swoop in and finish it before you, leaving you to score only half-points.
Most monuments have no effect other than to score points. However, the great wall prevents the effects of an invasion, which is a four-skull disaster. I may have seen one or two invasions in the course of my time playing Roll Through the Ages, but they are extremely rare, and I don’t recall anyone ever having managed to build a great wall before getting that result. It is the second-most expensive monument, requiring 13 workers to complete. Considering that for the first few rounds, you will be devoting your workers to building cities, I wouldn’t expect anyone to have a great wall built sooner than the midway point in the game, so the chance of it coming into play is fairly small.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Roll Through the Ages. I have fun when I play. And I should say that engine-builders are not necessarily my thing, although I do love Race for the Galaxy and Jump Drive. However, the choices in this game strike me as a little too obvious. Do you want to get rich collecting goods? Buy Quarrying to collect extra stone, and Caravans so you don’t have to discard down to six goods. Do you want to build a lot of monuments? Buy Masonry so you get extra workers. As you play this game, you will probably land on a favored strategy pretty quickly. For a while, I was in a rut of buying Agriculture and Granaries each game, allowing me to collect tons of food, and then sell what I didn’t need to buy more developments.
As a result, while I’ve had fun with Roll Through the Ages, it hasn’t stood up to repeated play as well as lowly, mass-market Yahtzee. Part of the reason for this is that I find Yahtzee much more tactically interesting. In Yahtzee, you are faced with a number of options for combos to try to roll, and it is often not obvious which is the best one to go for right at that moment. That is something I really enjoy. Roll Through the Ages sacrifices that tough choice, though, in order to allow you to build toward what you want over multiple turns. Those frustrated by the possibility of going bust might consider this a clear improvement over the Yahtzee method. Personally, I would rather have the tactics and the risks to go along with them.
All of this is not to say that Roll Through the Ages is devoid of tactics. You are faced with such decisions as whether to accept a lackluster result, or risk another skull. Additionally, you may find yourself in a situation where you really want the workers you’ve rolled, but you’re not likely to get enough food unless you reroll some of them. One tactic I have enjoyed using in this game is to buy the Irrigation development, which protects you from the harmful effects of a two-skull disaster. Then, every single turn, I try to roll three skulls. If I only get two, that’s fine, because I’m still getting a bunch of goods without the negative consequences. Even if my opponents buy the Medicine development to block three-skull results, I’ll be swimming in goods.
Overall, though, I find Yahtzee offers me more interesting choices. This is the case even when you look at longer-term strategy. I find the strategic paths available in Roll Through the Ages to be just a bit too obvious. In contrast, since each combo can only be scored once in Yahtzee, the game really tightens up toward the end. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but usually a bit of prudent planning will help you make things easier on yourself. Roll Through the Ages, on the other hand, is usually smooth sailing all the way through. Sure, you may have to take a few negative points for disasters, but the main risk is someone ending the game before you have a chance to save up enough goods to buy Empire.
That kind of game may be your preference. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Also, the components of Roll Through the Ages are really cool. However, I would rather be playing Yahtzee.
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- Russell InGAUnited States
- I think I have thought exactly the same thing about this!
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- United States
Hmm, I suspect Roll Through The Ages: The Iron Age may end up being the "same difference"... you'll enjoy for at least a few dozen games, and it may have more replayability than BA (Bronze Age), but may end up coming to the same conclusion.
BTW, did you get a chance to try The Late Bronze Age expansion for this game?
EDIT: If you're interested in trying out the Roll... Iron Age solitaire version of the game, I created an implementation via spreadsheet here....
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