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Subject: Problems keeping it from being perfect rss

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Dave Heberer
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Boy, that escalated quickly. I mean that really got out of hand fast.
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Some problems I perceive with through the ages. As a disclaimer, I have only played full games, but I have played equally with 2 3 or 4 players (about 2 or 3 each):

The civil cards dictate to you how you will play the game, or at least how effective you can be playing the game. It can be said ‘Oh you might just have to pay extra to get the card you want when it comes up on your turn’. And this might be true, but what if you always are making that sacrifice? Doesn’t it mean that the player who got lucky in the flip will do better, perhaps much better? Civil actions are pretty hard to come by early in the game, and ever thing you do matters for the rest of the game. This in itself isn’t a deal breaker, but it can have ramifications later in the game.

Example: I was playing in a 4 player game, and it’s the 1st age. I’d like to get my production up a little bit, since I just have basic miners working (4 of them), and I’d like to build a stronger military. Iron comes up on my turn, costing 3 of my 4 actions. I pass on that, there’s more of that tech to be had, and I can certainly do other things than take such an expensive card. I’d pay 2, but not 3. The next player takes it for 2. This decision happens once more on my turn, but now two iron cards in a row flip. I pass, thinking I’m likely to get one and the player right before me takes one and lets the other one burn. The last card comes up not on my turn and is taken for 2 by the last other player to not have iron. In age 2, bad luck for me continues and no coal shows up until almost the end of the age. In the meantime, every other player is attacking me, taking my resources and I can’t mount a proper defense as I’ve don’t make nearly enough resources to build as fast as they can. As fun as the game is, I wish to withdraw from it at the end of age 2.

Now, I had the technology cards to build better military units, but I didn’t draw a single tactic card in age 2 and was left with ‘Armed Band’ – A pair of infantry gets 1 strength. The military leader has the tactic ‘Mobile Artillery’ which gives 5 extra strength for a cannon and horse. So basically, 8 resources makes 10 strength. This leads me to problem number 2 that I have with the game…

The military cards are a complete crap shoot. You can get all pacts and defense cards, or maybe all events. Events (before age 3) are typically bad for you if you are losing in the military race. You can get a tactic card which gives you a 5 strength bonus for 2 units, or you can get something that requires 4 units to get 9. In age 3, you can influence the dispersal of 40-50 culture points, or you can get a pact which no one in their right mind will join you in. I’ve seen some very close games, and the deciding factor was drawing those age 3 events. If you controlled what went into the pile, you could build for it and eek the victory out. Hell, the last 3 player game I played the score was 217-217-213. Who wants to play for 3-3.5 hours to have the victory come down to what you happened to draw at random in the final 20 minutes of the game. You can tell me that good play should trump the luck, but I would tell you that it should but sometimes it doesn't. The age III wonders and events are worth a lot of points. If you control them/get lucky on the flip you are looking at 20 point jump. And speaking of point jumps, let’s talk about the ‘golden age’ effect that I’ve observed with a few leaders, it is kind of a subset of the ‘you could get really lucky on the flip’ problem…

There are 1 or 2 leaders per age that flat out rock. There’s nothing even comparable to them in terms of generating victory points or helping your economic engine along. If you want to be competitive, you need to have what I term a ‘golden age’, a time where your leader’s benefit is to give you bonus VPs or a big push in the engine. This of course my opinion and I’m sure I’ll be greatly derided for my ‘limited vision’. But if you think that Julius Caesar is equal to Homer, I’d like to play with you. Or perhaps you’d like to take Joan of Arc and I’ll take Michelangelo? Does that sound like a deal? How about you get Isaac Newton and I get Cook or Shakespeare?

My last problem with Through the Ages affects the ‘fun factor’ of playing the game. I like games that several possibilities present themselves, some better than others and you work with what you get. I find the first problem listed not a big deal, but it can lead to some very un-fun moments. Most of the problems center around the military problem. Most events favor the militarily strong and/or hurt the weak. Ways for a weak player to get kicked around are plentiful in the game. If you willfully choose to ignore your military power, punishment is fair. You spent your time and effort elsewhere, so you should be brought down a notch (maybe a couple notches) by the other player. What I see happen more often in the games that I play however is the weak player might have had to spend extra actions acquiring the same cards you got easy because of the flip. They might be just running up the point track because those are the cards that presented themselves when their turn came around. Corruption happens if you try to save up for later when your cards might come around. You are highly incented to take what comes your way.

The military problem gets more unpleasant the more I play the game. The more experience players gain with the game, the more they understand that being kicked around is definitely not fun. So, they arm themselves. Seeing their neighbor arm themselves, the next player tries to do the same. Escalation occurs until the player with the unfortunate draw starts to flag a little (or maybe a lot, those tactics cards can lead to some amazing leaps). Blood in the water, the weak is descended upon. All it takes is one person deciding that they want to play a military game, and the whole table takes up the arming frenzy.

I’d like to conclude that I definitely see the appeal. I’ve played probably 30 hours of this game, and it can be fun and interesting building your little empire and watching your guys get better at doing stuff. It’s neat. My rating of it is a 9. I’m not going to stop playing it, and I’m almost positive I will pick up a copy when it starts selling. I just wanted to let people that are being told that it is a game that has little luck and is just fun times for all might want to see some of the darker points about the game. There is absolutely crushing moments of people destroying your stuff, burning down your civilization just to throw away the gains to corruption. There are devastating moments where the card you really needed to tie your strategy together doesn’t come up until the last card of the age. Your strategy is now as good as toast. Hope you enjoy the next 2 hours, because the guy who grabbed Elvis right early is going to punch it down your throat.
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John Weber
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Good points, one factor that you really can't underestimate -- and this is a big one for many of the people in the group I play with -- is the learning curve coupled with the time factor. Also, the only way to really play the game is the longer (full) game, as getting Michaelangelo and the wonder that doubles is way too powerful if you end it after deck two. These factors cause me to disagree with the IGA selection of TtA as the best game of the year, as I believe Imperial is a much better game without some of these drawbacks.

On the other side, about the weaker players getting kicked around-- yes, that can happen, but if you play the full game, you really appreciate getting those colonies that get you extra yellow and blue tokens (particularly the yellow ones) as they help you manage your population and your corruption (blue bank). So, it's been my experience (based on about 15 games so far) that people tend to go up and down in military strength as they sacrifice to win those colonies (and in our group, the better ones tend to get bid up wuite a bit).

Having said all that, however, I still think TtA is very good, a solid 8 IMHO.
 
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Larry Levy
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You make a lot of interesting points, Dave, so let me discuss some of them.

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The civil cards dictate to you how you will play the game, or at least how effective you can be playing the game. It can be said ‘Oh you might just have to pay extra to get the card you want when it comes up on your turn’. And this might be true, but what if you always are making that sacrifice? Doesn’t it mean that the player who got lucky in the flip will do better, perhaps much better?

Yes, the cards could come up just so that every card you really need will cost you 3 actions. It's unlikely, but it could happen. But is this really so tragic? If you really need the card, take a deep breath and spend the damn 3 actions! The next player will undoubtably spend 2 to take it. So life sucks a little bit and it costs you an extra action; as I'm sure you're aware, a lot worse things can happen in this game. Or, decide that as nice as the card is, 3 actions are just too much at this point in time and pass on it. Do this with the awareness that you may never get the chance to get one the rest of the game. That's okay--there are no irreplaceable cards in this game. Iron can make your life a lot easier, but there are lots of Action cards which can help out (particularly if you're trying to boost your military).

It also helps to know your opponents. It sounds as if in your game, you were playing with some aggressive and ruthless hombres, so in retrospect, you probably should have grabbed the first Iron and thanked your lucky stars that you had the opportunity to do so. 20/20 hindsight, I know, but that's the best kind!

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The military cards are a complete crap shoot.

Here, you have my sympathy. I've seen games where players only drew one attack card, others where a player with Columbus couldn't draw a single Colony until Chris bit the big one, and one where a player (me, sadly) only drew one Age III Event card (and that at the very end) while an opponent drew half a dozen. The random draw of the Military cards can have a major effect on the game. Usually, you just adjust your play to the cards you receive, but sometimes the effects are so extreme that it really cripples your game. It's something I can live with, but it's a valid criticism.

Mike Chapel has posted a variant where you draft Military cards just like you do Civil cards. It looks sound, but would also add time to the game, so I haven't been tempted to try it. But you may want to check it out and see what you think.

If you are particularly concerned about the random way that the Age III Event cards can be distributed, I've come up with a variant (which is also posted) where you expose some at the beginning (just like in the Advanced game) and shuffle the rest back in. That should lessen that effect. It hasn't been played yet (at least, not by me), but you may want to look at that one as well.

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There are 1 or 2 leaders per age that flat out rock. There’s nothing even comparable to them in terms of generating victory points or helping your economic engine along. If you want to be competitive, you need to have what I term a ‘golden age’, a time where your leader’s benefit is to give you bonus VPs or a big push in the engine. This of course my opinion and I’m sure I’ll be greatly derided for my ‘limited vision’. But if you think that Julius Caesar is equal to Homer, I’d like to play with you. Or perhaps you’d like to take Joan of Arc and I’ll take Michelangelo? Does that sound like a deal? How about you get Isaac Newton and I get Cook or Shakespeare?

I've seen Joan of Arc completely frustrate and destroy opponents' plans. In my first victory, the key moment was when I took Gandhi (and when an opponent didn't take him as a defensive measure)--there's no way I could have won without him. I think all the Age A leaders are equally strong; Caesar is a righteous dude if used properly. And in my last game, J.S. Bach and I made sweet music together as he led me to a come-from-behind win.

It's true, some of the leaders lend more general assistance and can be helpful to more positions. But each of the leaders can be invaluable in the right position and it's an unusual situation that can't benefit from several. You (and possibly your regular opponents) like the VP-producing leaders. That's fine, but I guarantee you, there's lots of other useful abilities out there which can be indirectly converted into veeps. One of the times you're forced to take one of those "lesser" leaders, try using some of his abilities; you may be pleasantly surprised.

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The military problem gets more unpleasant the more I play the game.

The effect of the military on my games varies wildly. Some are slugathons and others are almost bloodless. This comes from a variety of things, not least of which is the unpredictability of the strong getting attack cards. That's one of the real problems with a military strategy: farms and mines always produce, harps always score, but you can't necessarily count on your weapons to bring home the goods. So weakness doesn't have to be the end of the world.

That said, I agree, many games become an arms race, if only to keep from getting smacked by Event cards (and to give you the freedom to score points by putting in Events). But it just seems like another aspect of the game. You want to excel at all facets--food, resources, labs, happiness, strength, culture--but it just isn't possible. It isn't pleasant to be trailing in strength, but somebody has to and if the other parts of their engine are running well, they should do well and might even flourish. Again, there are steps you can take to minimize the problems, including taking some of the leaders you scorn.

I haven't played this game nearly as much as some folks on this site, so I'm no expert. But some of the games I've played outside of my normal group have shown me new strategies and have made me aware that the designer has given us many tools for winning. Consequently, it's made me a bit humble with my assumptions about the play and willing to explore new ideas. Part of your problems may involve groupthink, not an uncommon issue with games like this. I'm glad you still like the game, in spite of what you see as flaws; hopefully, some of them will be resolved as you play further.
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Jan Sauerwein
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i7dealer wrote:
The civil cards dictate to you how you will play the game, or at least how effective you can be playing the game. It can be said ‘Oh you might just have to pay extra to get the card you want when it comes up on your turn’. And this might be true, but what if you always are making that sacrifice? Doesn’t it mean that the player who got lucky in the flip will do better, perhaps much better? Civil actions are pretty hard to come by early in the game, and ever thing you do matters for the rest of the game. This in itself isn’t a deal breaker, but it can have ramifications later in the game.


First of all, yes there is a random factor in the civil card row. But I think that is good. Here are some reasons why:

1. It prevents a player from using the same strategy all the time. That means that based on this random factor each game is different and you have to organize your civilisation different.
2. TTA is a game of managing the lack of everything. Civil and military actions, resources, sience, military strength. You always have to be creative and you always have to make decisions what you need.
3. Not only the civil card row is a random factor. Every other part of the game is randomized.

So at least this general idea of the game makes it that perfect. Even the best players will develop there civilisation differently all the time.

i7dealer wrote:
The military cards are a complete crap shoot.


Full acknowledge. But we found some really simple rule changes so that this factor is gone.

1. Split military actions (pacts, tactics, aggressions, wars, defensive cards) into one stack. And all terretories and events in another one. Noe you can decide whether you want some military cards or an event.
2. A second military card row. The military stack is handled like the civil card stack. That takes away much of the random. And it makes it possible to select what you need.
3. All discarded military and event cards (events are for me now terretories and political events) come together and will come in again if the military card row is finished before the age ends (civil stack is empty).

Try it and you will see that this point changes to additional fun immidiately.

i7dealer wrote:
There are 1 or 2 leaders per age that flat out rock.


Also full acknowledge. But not only the leaders also the wonders have this balance problems. A friend of mine created therefore new wonders and leaders and/or we changed the effects of the cards to balance them. But this is hard work and you need many or even more games to find this balance. But to deal or trade the cards destroys the game.

i7dealer wrote:
The military problem gets more unpleasant the more I play the game.


Maybe you try our rule changes sometime. If you have questions about that, simply write an email. I will try to answer as fast as possible.
 
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Paul Ripley
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I'm with those others that have said the randomness in the way the civil cards come out is not a problem in this game. For one thing if you miss out in one particular area then you can compensate elsewhere. So, say you have missed out on Iron then by becoming more efficient in other areas you can free up more workers to produce resources. One good way to do this is with the blue technology cards and wonders. I strongly suggest you do not neglect these as they can provide benefits without the need for workers. One thing I like to try and do is cover one of the areas requiring workers with blue and/or wonder cards so that I can concentrate them elsewhere. As an example, in the last game I played I built the Library of Alexandria and the Universitas Carolina giving me a nice bit of science generation that I didn't need to use workers to get.

A note on your example, you seem to be indicating the presence of four Iron technologies in your four player game. As far as I am aware there should be one less Iron technology than the number of players in the game; the same with irrigation. So the game itself is set up to deny at least one person Iron.

The military cards are another matter. They do swing the game, especially if you cannot find a decent tactics card in Age II or III. This has happened to me in my last two games where I have ended the game with my original tactics card giving a bonus of 2 per army. It is possible to compensate with technologies and/or wonders that add to military strength but it's so much easier to just put down a tactics card for a big increase in strength.

I'm not so sure on how much the randomness of the Age III events is important. If you have developed a nice empire up in an efficient manner then I don't think the events will cause much of a swing; with the exception of the events giving fixed points for your place in science production and military strength. For the rest just be aware of what can generate points at the end so you are not weak in any area and keep an eye on what the other players are doing. If you are still concerned about them then there is a variant in the rulebook about revealing some of the events at the start so you have something to aim for from the beginning.

Concerning the leaders it is certainly true that some are more favoured than others but whether any are bad I wouldn't like to comment on yet. That's the beauty of this game, the new strategies that can be learnt from experience.

So to summarise, the only minor quibble I have is that military strength is affected a bit too much by luck. Apart from that it's fine as it is.
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Andy Daglish
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Quote:
The military problem gets more unpleasant the more I play the game.


does the military side of the game work at all?

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That's one of the real problems with a military strategy: farms and mines always produce, harps always score, but you can't necessarily count on your weapons to bring home the goods.


perhaps a more pertinent point is military expenditures cannot then be spent on elements that drive the game, and losing these expensive military cards represents a total loss of resource, that causes the erstwhile owner to fall that much behind some of his opponents.

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So weakness doesn't have to be the end of the world.


it is the end of the game if you lose a conflict badly.

Quote:
That said, I agree, many games become an arms race, if only to keep from getting smacked by Event cards (and to give you the freedom to score points by putting in Events). But it just seems like another aspect of the game. You want to excel at all facets--food, resources, labs, happiness, strength, culture--but it just isn't possible.


but if you don't do "food, resources, labs" you won't get the military stuff. If you play the military game, you will consequently falter in the productive areas. Not for nothing are you given some military units free at the start of the game.

So far no one in our games has been able to buy the advanced military cards such as tanks, rockets, aircraft, not least because the game ends before economies develop far enough to be able to buy them.

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Again, there are steps you can take to minimize the problems, including taking some of the leaders you scorn


Its worth noting that miitary cards offer no protection from the Assassination event, which itself can be game-ending for strategies that depend on a top leader.
 
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Michael Leuchtenburg
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Thank you for posting this. It's nice to hear specific examples of the randomness that has put me off from trying Through the Ages.
 
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Siobhan Beeman
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aforandy wrote:
Its worth noting that miitary cards offer no protection from the Assassination event, which itself can be game-ending for strategies that depend on a top leader.

Do you mean the Iconoclasm event or the Assassination aggression? Assassination is a great card if you're lucky enough to grab it--I discarded it in the PBEM game Dave and I just wrapped up, and spent ten turns cursing Shakespeare. Iconoclasm is more problematic. It's a good way to kill Michelangelo, but not so useful against the Age II guys, since by the time you're in Age III to use it there's not a lot of time left anyway.

aforandy wrote:
So far no one in our games has been able to buy the advanced military cards such as tanks, rockets, aircraft, not least because the game ends before economies develop far enough to be able to buy them.

That's sure not our experience. We don't get to use them for very many turns, but those techs absolutely come into play as we maneuver for the final few aggressions and wars. As a point of reference, the strength track at the end of the 20-round game we just finished was 29-37-40-48; strengths for the same players were 12-20-27-19 just four rounds earlier.

 
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Ralph H. Anderson
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I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more luck I have.

Thomas Jefferson


Great thread and some very interesting points. I don't disagree with any of them as these are all real experiences. And despite having gone through them myself, I find that Through the Ages is my favorite game this last year and the one I have played the most. I have gone through a lot of stages with this game and at times have considered all of the issues you all have documented. But I haven't had a bad time playing this game yet.

Through the Ages is not for the faint of heart. It is a hard game and it takes a hard gamer to play it. devil (I'm just rattling your cage with this statement - don't take it too seriuosly!) devil

I offer the following comments based on playing a lot of this game this past year - mostly three player and many times playing it twice back to back.

Four Player
If you play four player the military becomes more important. I believe this is because there is more opportunity for there to be a bigger gap between strongest and weakest and also because the game is shorted giving the easy Culture Point combinations less chance to develop.

Miltary Deck
Of all the issues you mention, the only one that I believe needs a tweak (and I believe my group of players feels pretty much the same way) is the Military Deck. Too often we get either too many of one thing and/or not enough of another and it can have a large bearing on the game. We developed a simple tweak that we feel makes enough difference in card flow that it pretty much mitigates the bad draw and it doesn't really mess with the "normal" play of the game and adds no extra time.

We allow a player to discard pairs of Military Cards to draw 1 additional Military Card per pair discarded in the draw phase. You will note that early in the game you won't have the extra cards to do this very often. But if you are stuck, it can make all the difference. In the late game it increases the card flow so that players have more of a chance of finding event cards or tactics cards. And if players are doing it a lot, then the discards get reshuffled and discarded event cards can reenter the game - so you better be careful about what you discard!

Basically, you have more opportunities to more effectively manage your military cards - but nothing that takes a lot of time or that changes the core mechanism.

Card Drafting
I totally agree that if there is a card that you think you have to have for the strategy that you are playing, then 3 actions is CHEAP! The cost of not getting it is much higher.

That said, I don't think it is necessary or even desirable to upgrade your mines and/or your farms every age. If you get either iron in Age I or coal in Age III you should be fine. You don't need both as there are other ways to manage your resources using the civil cards, wonders and leaders.

Military Strategy
We tend to have strong armies in our games - at least in the 20's for the leader and frequently even higher. We always have strong armies by the end of the game. However, even a difference of 10 points between the strongest and weakest military does not make it easy to attack the weaker player. And usually that is not the player you really want to attack! And finally and I believe most importantly, if you have a good event card it is almost always preferable to play that so that you get your Culture Points for the play of the card, the event you like seeded in to the future events AND the opportunity to draw a current event to put into play for your turn. All three are beautiful things- especially if you are the top military power.

All told I believe this is a game of very limited aggression. However, if someone lets their guard down the military can be very powerful. The best trick I have seen is for the top military power to gather all the civil cards for rebuilding his military. Then they unleash a War of Culture and sack their army to win 20+ points (40+ swing over the victim). Then they totally rebuild their army on that same turn (fairly easy with the cards in hand and tactics and units already in play!) They are now poised to repeat the exercise if possible and are in no danger themselves. You don't want to be in the position of being the victim in this scenario.

Final Thoughts
I also want to point out that win, lose or draw, I have a blast playing this game. I love winning and am very competitive, but even when I don't win at this, I am eager to play again to take another try at cracking into a golden age as was mentioned earlier. For me, this game gives more pleasure per minute - and better remembrances afterwards - than almost any other game I could compare it to.

Through the Ages is not a perfect game; however, I believe that something perfect is just not as interesting. I like Through the Ages, warts and all.

I closewith another quote:

Quote:
I leave the merely beautiful women to those with no imagination.
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Eric Phillips
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The only tweak I might be interested in is removing the limit of three-cards-per-turn that can be bought with military actions. The randomness of the military cards is already greatly reduced for those players who get to draw and keep more. Removing that limit would allow them to reduce it further.
 
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Holger Hannemann
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I have 4 games of TtA now (one 4-player, 3 3-player games), and we somehow overread the rule that you are only allowed to draw 3 military cards at max. And somehow we never encountered the problem that you don't have the "right" miliraty cards. And it abolishes a military race up to a point. If you choose Constitutional Monarchy, you have 4 Military actions, and with the development of Warfare, we drew 5 military cards at the end (if the actions weren't spent another way). So even if your military is weak you have a much better chance to get some defense bonuses than a player having democracy (2 military actions). So somehow omitting that rule worked very well for us, and we decided to keep it that way. I like the pair-discarding rule as well, we might give it a try on our next game.
 
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stephen biggs
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The small round counters are one problem that keeps this game imperfect.
I recommend dumping all the round wooden discs. Replace then with counters less likly to end up rolling under the furniture.

The other problem is inbalences in the first couple of game turns.
 
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Darrell Hanning
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XAos wrote:
The small round counters are one problem that keeps this game imperfect.
I recommend dumping all the round wooden discs. Replace then with counters less likly to end up rolling under the furniture.

The other problem is inbalences in the first couple of game turns.


It's the imbalances that drive different players to pursue different paths; otherwise, each player's approach during the game would be pretty identical to that of the others.

While Player A is busy building that wonder you thought he was lucky to get, perhaps you should instead use your resources on building more mines, or more labs. If Player B grabbed a leader you wanted, maybe it's time for you to figure out how to put some other leader to good use. (BTW, there are no bad leaders in this game.)

I've played TTA literally dozens of times, now, and there have been games where I felt certain I was getting a truly raw deal with the cards, in Ages A, I, and even II, but still managed to win or come damn close. For every thing another player expends resources to capitalize on, that's resources he or she is not spending on something else that you could be.
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stephen biggs
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DarrellKH wrote:
BTW, there are no bad leaders in this game.

Why do I not believe that ? While it might in some sense be true that no leaders are actually bad. Some are a lot better than others.
If on turn-1, players-2 & 3 draw {Moses,& Aristotle) while player-I could only draw Alexander or Hamurabi.
And on turn-2 player-1 draws a couple of +1 resource action cards whilst players' 2 & 3 draw Monarchy or some other strong Age-I card. I'd call that imbalenced.
 
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Russ Meyer
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The MatrixCube wrote:
I have 4 games of TtA now (one 4-player, 3 3-player games), and we somehow overread the rule that you are only allowed to draw 3 military cards at max. And somehow we never encountered the problem that you don't have the "right" miliraty cards. And it abolishes a military race up to a point. If you choose Constitutional Monarchy, you have 4 Military actions, and with the development of Warfare, we drew 5 military cards at the end (if the actions weren't spent another way). So even if your military is weak you have a much better chance to get some defense bonuses than a player having democracy (2 military actions). So somehow omitting that rule worked very well for us, and we decided to keep it that way. I like the pair-discarding rule as well, we might give it a try on our next game.


I like the 3 card limit. Otherwise, if the actual rules were laid out the way you play the game currently, players might as well sift through the military deck at the end of each turn and pull out the exact 5 cards they want.

The fact that I don't know what my opponent has in terms of defense/colonization cards is a big factor from turn to turn on how I spend my military actions, or what cards I'm seeding in the deck. I know the frustration of having 3 fighting bands in my hand, but I wouldn't change the rules to draw more cards, I think that would make things silly and reduce strategy.
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