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

Subject: First impressions & critique rss

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Paul Holman
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I really really like the Francis Tresham's original Civilization game. In fact my only problem with it is the length of time it takes to play - other than that it's brilliant! After reading about TtA I have been eagerly waiting to get this game for about a year. I got the impression that TtA would be a great card based Civilization game that can be played in an evening.

Sadly for me, many of my first impressions of this game are bad; partly in the design, partly in the execution of the design, and partly in the production. Problems I have:

Design: Too much micro-management: there is a hell of a lot of shuffling tiny counters about. I have reasonably slender fingers for a chap, and I'm pretty dexterous (I play bass guitar adequately), but I found all the moving of all those very small counters a bit annoying.

Execution: Rules don't say whether to deal the cards on the card row face up or down. OK, this is pretty minor and can be worked out by looking elsewhere in the rules, but this causes an unnecessary waste of time, irritates your new customer, and smacks of inadequate proof-reading, for the sake of missing out two words - "face up".

Execution: Inconsistently confusing terminology: there is a hell of a lot to learn to play this game, so every effort should be made to make it clear and straight forward. In some places the "Civilization Indicators" are instead referred to as "Ratings", which is confusing - stick to one term consistently.

Also, the Military technology cards are in the Civic decks and built using Civic actions, whereas Military cards are used for Political actions; again confusing and illogical, especially to new players. This could have been simply avoided by calling the Military cards Political cards instead.

Sometimes yellow counters are called workers, sometimes buildings, and sometimes they are military units; this is again unnecessarily confusing. Just call them one thing all the time (eg: workers or people), something like the way Phoenicia does. I appreciate that blue counters can be Resources or Food, depending on context (which type of card they are on), but I do not see this differentiation as necessary for the yellow counters.

Production: New counters not as good as old bead counters: the round wooden counters roll away very readily if they land on their side, which happens easily as they are so fiddly. Whilst I haven't played with the original game, I'm pretty sure the bead type counters would not do this. I really hate it when a re-print of a game is worse in some ways; this should not happen.

Production: Card curling/warping: during the very first game card warping was evident. Playing on a hard surface, the cards would often spin around when touched. I resorted to laying a blanket over the table for subsequent games, which seems to have solved the practical problems, but they still look a bit naff after only 3 games! The board is only very slightly warped after 3 games.

Production: Artwork colours unclear: the Population counter artwork on cards is not nearly yellow enough. It is easy to confuse it with Civic Action counters, which we all did. The blue and red counter artwork is also a completely different shade from the actual counters, which is aesthetically a little jarring, but at least it can't easily be confused.

Production: Rulebook does not appear to have been updated for the re-print changes: it still seems to refer features of the original print, which have now changed in the re-print! Not only is this confusing, but again makes me feel like I'm paying for something that has not been put together properly.

Much of the production problems imply that the changes for the re-print were not playtested. It feels like someone just decided to make the changes, assumed they would be fine, and went ahead and produced the game without checking them out.

Now, I must emphasize that these are first impressions. I write this because these problems are so numerous and conspicuous in such a highly rated game, and I wanted to get these points across whilst still fresh and clear in my mind as a new player. I buy a lot of games, and haven't reacted this way to any other; sure, some of them had problems, but none had so many and so serious. After playing more of TtA I may grow to love this game, and these problems may become inconsequential, but the point I'm making is that to get there I have to get over these hurdles. These problems are immediately apparent in the first few plays. So from an initial neutral opinion, the first reaction is negative, and the game has to work it's way back up to neutral before gaining a positive reaction, which is a shame. I suspect many buyers, those not as fanatical about games as some of us, would not get past these initial hurdles, and just give up on it

To be fair, these are my non-criticising first impressions, good, neutral and bad:

A fascinating game. Seems likely to have considerable depth that will require many plays and experience to explore, but may be overly complicated for my taste.

Antiquity feels a bit hurried - 1500 years all over in a couple of short turns. Blink and you miss it. It seems like you've just got Moses as your leader and built the Pyramids and all of a sudden it's the Middle Ages!? Thematically, it felt a little odd to me, but may get used to it, and from a gameplay POV it doesn't matter.

Didn't have a problem with cube counter shortage, as there are plenty of little round counters the same colours to use instead for scoring and pacts. If these were not enough in a 4p game then that could be annoying I suppose.

The 4 Overview Cards are very good. At first sight I thought they looked too dense with too much information crammed on to them. However, actually using them during the game they were very helpful.

Apart from the problems I cite above, I thought the rulebook is otherwise well written. Better than many. Writing the rulebook for this game is difficult as it seems to be one of those game were you only use 10% of the rules 90% of the time, but the rulebook has to cover 100% of the rules somehow. It is a difficult game to get across, and any permutation of the rules is likely to find it difficult.

To anyone thinking of buying this game, I'd suggest you research it a bit first, and try to get an idea of whether this is a game you'll like. First impressions may put you off, so you'll need to know you want to persist and find out more about this game.

Tough game to rate for me. The various problems definately lower the rating for me. Based on my initial impressions, both good and bad, it gets a middling rating from me, but if it proves to be the game of depth, etc, that many people say it is then I'll revise my rating upwards.
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Brad Miller
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I agree with a lot of what you are saying, especially with confusing terminology in the rules. But it's looking like an awfully good game in spite of these fairly minor issues.
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Lou Seelbach
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Almost all your points are minor. The only one that I really see as an issue (personally) is the fiddliness of moving the counters around so much. Especially when you have an upgraded mine or food production making sure that the correct counters are on the original or the upgraded mine and not accidentally knocking the counters from one to the other.

Also I don't like how close the scoring track is to the cards. It is too easy to knock the scoring cubes slightly when grabbing cards.
 
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Bruno Valerio
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The game production and design are not without it's faults but nonetheless Through the Ages is still a joy to play.

Even the fiddling around becomes natural after a turn or two.
 
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Treacherous Cretin
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Its a superb game, best Civ game i have played* ( except Civ which is too long to get on the table ) The management issue is not really an issue as the movement of chits in Civ can take longer, the movement phase sometimes drove me snore

However you are correct in some of you appraisal, there are some quality issues, hopefully to be addressed soon as promised. There are a few minor design issues as well.....the "counters" are in retrospect not ideal, perhaps moving away from "Eurocubes" was not such a great idea. Possibly the score track and card "racks" could have been on separate, or larger, boards but then we'd complain about costs or too many boards.

* Only played simple game so far, despite my concerns over being too short and "simple" it was fine. Can't wait to play the next "level"

 
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Darin Stephenson
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You are right about the problems with the rules and the physical components, and ordinarily, this would bug the heck out of me. Ordinarily. However, in this case, after one play I quickly bought my own copy of the game, despite the demonstrated problems -- because it is simply a terrific game. Best new game I've played in quite awhile.

I liken it to reading a great novel in which the typeface is a little too small and maybe smeared (but not illegible) in places. Maybe the page numbering is off -- page 89 is followed by page 100, for example. But I'd put up with these issues if the book was good enough.
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Tim Gilberg
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Pum_ wrote:

Execution: Rules don't say whether to deal the cards on the card row face up or down. OK, this is pretty minor and can be worked out by looking elsewhere in the rules, but this causes an unnecessary waste of time, irritates your new customer, and smacks of inadequate proof-reading, for the sake of missing out two words - "face up".


This critique might just belong in a hall of fame somewhere. Too bad thumbs down is no longer an option around here.

And while I agree that the round counters roll too easily, I still found them better than the original beads, which could be just about impossible to pick up. I just don't understand why small cubes weren't used instead.
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David desJardins
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Pum_ wrote:
Execution: Rules don't say whether to deal the cards on the card row face up or down. OK, this is pretty minor and can be worked out by looking elsewhere in the rules, but this causes an unnecessary waste of time, irritates your new customer, and smacks of inadequate proof-reading, for the sake of missing out two words - "face up".


Even more irritating, the rules don't say whether the tops of the cards that are dealt out to the card row should face in the direction toward the card decks, or in the opposite direction.

We had to give up playing the game because we couldn't find the answer anywhere in the rules. cry
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Paul Holman
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I'm disappointed at the facetious responses, and I don't think it does you much credit. I'm not trying to rubbish this game, and it seems childish to chide over measured valid criticism. I didn't claim the sky was falling or the end of the world was nigh. I merely pointed out a small, but valid annoyance that could have been avoided by the addition of two words. We are 3 intelligent and experienced gamers that were playing the game for the first time. We all were genuinely not sure whether the cards should be face up, or whether there was some turning over mechanism we were yet to read about, which we thought a reasonable interpretation of the rules as written at that point. We thought about it a bit, we spent a while looking through the rules, and checking on here. That's a lot of time to waste over such a trivial omission. When you are facing a massive learning curve for a new game you don't want that sort of time wasting distraction. How bad a problem? One player would not play the game until someone else could figure out the rules and explain them clearly.

Perhaps you had the game explained to you by someone who already knew how to play. In those circumstances I know how much easier it is, and how trivial my concern my seem. I know this because I had to explain the game to the others in our group, after learning it on my own, with no one to explain to me. Conversely, try to imagine 3 people who don't know the game at all trying to learn it for the first time. Each playtester and proof-reader can only test this only once, if at all.

I want to like this game. After some more playing I may do so. Comments like that leave a bad taste and can only serve to drive me from this game, which is strange coming from someone who is presumably a fan of the game, and would want people to like it and help them enjoy it.
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Alex Treacher
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KentuckyKid wrote:
You are right about the problems with the rules and the physical components, and ordinarily, this would bug the heck out of me. Ordinarily. However, in this case, after one play I quickly bought my own copy of the game, despite the demonstrated problems -- because it is simply a terrific game. Best new game I've played in quite awhile.


This is broadly my feeling on the game too. The problems with it are annoying, not least because they could have and should have so easily been avoided. These days, especially since everyone is on the net, getting a game playtested and rules proof-read shouldn't have been hard.

The issues with the game mean you start off with a damaged opinion of it, which - although the game itself is very good - needs to be overcome. I think that this could have been a great game; however it's shot itself in the foot and drops down to merely being a good game.


Unrelated to the replied-to quote, it's a shame to see the childish comments of other respondents; I'd thought BGG to be largely troll-free.
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Keziah Herbert
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Being one of the three people involved in the said game above i'd like to add an all but brief response. I completely agree that the facetious comments were complete unnesessary and unhelpful. This is a review, and not an attempt to slander the game, why leave comments that are blatantly trying for attention?

I was extremely unkeen to try this game. I'd read good reviews for it but all of them were filled with warnings about the rules being unclear, the cards warping, and the differences between changes to the board and rulebooks. Despite all that, I enjoyed the mechanics of the game that we managed to easily decipher. Yes, there is a lot wrong with it, trivial things perhaps, but as Pum says, they all go towards making it a pretty annoying experience for anyone new to the game.

This is the second print I understand, and shouldn't most of these glaring mistakes have been sorted? Isn't it just that more disappointing because the game has obvious potential and was so eagerly awaited? I still rated this a 7 out of 10 on the first play, and was looking forward to trying it again despite the faults, but it doesn't mean it didn't annoy the living hell out of me.


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Tim Seitz
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Pum_ wrote:
...it seems childish to chide over measured valid criticism

Complaining about a "missing rule" when the answer is self-evident is not "measured valid criticism." Surely you can see that no one seems to be giving you a hard time over your other comments? I learned the game by myself by reading the rules. Not sure why, but I didn't have any problem with this.
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Larry Levy
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Gilby wrote:
Pum_ wrote:

Execution: Rules don't say whether to deal the cards on the card row face up or down. OK, this is pretty minor and can be worked out by looking elsewhere in the rules, but this causes an unnecessary waste of time, irritates your new customer, and smacks of inadequate proof-reading, for the sake of missing out two words - "face up".


This critique might just belong in a hall of fame somewhere. Too bad thumbs down is no longer an option around here.

Oh, I wouldn't give it a thumbs down, but I did keep looking for that "slapping your hand against your forehead" emoticon that people keep requesting!

Sorry for the snarkiness, Paul, but here's the thing: it's a card drafting game. Ain't no point in drafting cards if they're all face down. You'd just draw them from the top of the deck if that was the case.
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Eric Phillips
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There are some component errors in the reprint, and the card-curling sounds very annoying (though my own FRED cards are still fine after 3 plays, so that one's not universal), but it is GREAT game all the same. People have been hoping a long time for a Civ game that could capture the complexity of the Tresham/AH game without requiring an entire-day commitment to play, and TTA--not content with being the first game to meet those expectations--has actually exceeded them. If you think about it, it's actually a good bit deeper and more complex than Civilization, AND gives you a lot more control, but the mechanics are so good that it still plays faster than Civ does. Much faster, if you go with 2-3 players, which is quite feasible. That's just all kinds of impressive.

I mean, even if I had to raid the medicine cabinet for playing pieces (Advil for military actions, Bayer for civil actions) and draw my own scoring track, the design would still "go all the way to 11."
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David desJardins
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The second line of the rules says

The Card Row is the long strip from which players will select their cards. Place it so that everyone can reach it and read the cards easily.

It's hard to understand how players could read the cards, if they are face down.

The rules for the First Round say

You can only take one Leader card from each Age.

You can not take a new Wonder card if you already have a Wonder "under construction".


and so on. Such rules obviously imply that you can see which card you're taking!

Then they go on to give a complete example, with illustration, of a player choosing among face-up cards.

I don't see how it's even slightly plausible that someone could read these rules and think that the game is played with the card row face down.
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Tom Thingamagummy
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OMG - nothing works the way it should!

First game I tried to upgrade Warriors into Calvary.
The next game E tried to do the same thing.
N thought it was completely obvious that they were two different things.

Then there's things like: What's an Urban Building versus non-Urban? If you gained tokens to your bank and you filled up all your two spots, do the leftovers cost 0 or 2? How come this card doesn't say MINE on it? Oh... looking at the same card in the card row, that one does say MINE on it. This one is a misprint. (Age 2 Metal upgrade... Copper maybe?)

Okay, I thought I HAD to spend military to do an aggessive action. But NO, I only have to spend military to do a colonization. UGH! When things are so different when they look similar, it means you have to know all these little details. For example... if you upgraded your food to 3 (selective breeding), and you spend 1 food, do you just move it down to your 1, thus losing one, or do you get to add another one from your bank to show you have two left over?

There's so many things that just aren't that clear and I kept running into the "but that's not how it works!"
 
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David desJardins
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arkibet wrote:
if you upgraded your food to 3 (selective breeding), and you spend 1 food, do you just move it down to your 1, thus losing one, or do you get to add another one from your bank to show you have two left over?


You get to add another blue bead from your bank. This is explained on page 15 under "Higher Level Farms, Mines, Buildings, and Units".

I can see why you chose the title "Drama Queen".
 
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Tom Thingamagummy
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DaviddesJ wrote:
arkibet wrote:
if you upgraded your food to 3 (selective breeding), and you spend 1 food, do you just move it down to your 1, thus losing one, or do you get to add another one from your bank to show you have two left over?


You get to add another blue bead from your bank. This is explained on page 15 under "Higher Level Farms, Mines, Buildings, and Units".

I can see why you chose the title "Drama Queen".


We're also using the first edition, they had the wood tokens not the beads.

But yes, I reserve the right to be the drama queen at any given moment. It's a gay thing.
 
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