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Subject: Age of Gods - Game of the Month Review rss

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Chris Norwood
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Age of Gods


Designer: Croc (2004)
Publisher: Asmodée Editions
# of Players: 3-6
Play Time: 90 min
BGG Rank/Rating: #1087/6.10
Weight: Medium Light

(This review originally appeared on www.gamerchris.com)

Age of Gods took me a bit by surprise when I first discovered it. It had an interesting-enough looking theme and was selling for a pretty cheap price in my FLGS, so I took the chance and picked it up without first checking it out in detail on BGG (which is a very rare occurrence). After our first play, I was pretty blown away by the experience, which way exceeded my expectations. Now, after several more plays and a run as Game of the Month!, Age of Gods has faded a little for me, but remains an enjoyable game.

Components and Setup

The components you get with Age of Gods are more what I'd call adequate than anything particularly impressive. There are 151 race tokens, which are double-sided showing a picture of the race on one side and its name on the other. The art on these are fair, but they work well enough to accomplish their purpose. You also get 72 action cards and 12 god cards, all of which look really nice and are of good quality. The board is oddly shaped, being slightly shorter than a typical 4-panel folding board, which means that there is a piece of cardboard you have to use when it's folded up to fill in the space created between the longer and shorter board panels. the board looks pretty good, though, with nice fantasy art delineating the 60 different regions that will be contested during the game. The board also has a turn track, the "well of souls", and a reminder table that makes referencing the rules during play a rare event.

                
       

To set up, you place out half of the race token into their starting regions. I never managed to get this done without referencing the rulebook, but I may just be a bit slow in the head. Races come in four sizes based on the number of regions they control at the start of the game (1,2,3, or 4), and can grow up to double their starting size throughout play. All the extra race tokens are therefore organized by size in the "well of souls", which is on the edge of the board for easy access.

Each player is dealt 2 god cards, chooses one, and reveals it and its power to the rest of the group. Players are also dealt 8 Action Cards, which each depict one of the 24 different races and a special action associated with that race. During the first turn's Destiny Phase, every player finds out which size 4 race they control, but won't know about the smaller races until later in the game.... but let's get into gameplay to learn more about that.

Basic Gameplay (click here to download the full rules or player's guide: http://asmodee-us.com/games/strategy/age-of-gods.php)

The point of the game is to have the races that worship you control more of the world than anyone else's races. You get one point for each region controlled by one of your races at the end of the game, plus one additional point for any space that contains a city. The trick about the game, as I've already alluded to, is that you don't know all the races you're going to control until turn 7 of 9. Each of the 9 turns is broken down into 4 phases, all of which move really quickly:

Destiny Phase - During this phase in turns 1, 3, 5, and 7, each player is dealt a new Destiny Card showing them which race of size 4,3,2, and 1 (respectively) that they will control. Controlled races are kept secret unless the player chooses to reveal one of these cards to perform the actions listed on them (which I'll cover in the Action phase below). On turns 2, 4, and 6, each player instead makes an attack with one of the races which have not yet had their destiny cards dealt out (so on turn 2, any race of size 1, 2, or 3 can be used to attack since their cards haven't been distributed). On turn 7, there is also a special "predictions" event that occurs, but I'll get to that later. There is no Destiny Phase on turns 8 or 9.

Fortification Phase - At the beginning of the game, each player is also given 5 Fortification Tokens, and in this phase they may place one of these tokens in any region. Fortifications add 1 to the defense of the region they're in, but are destroyed in any successful attack.

             
      


Combat Phase - In this phase, each player makes one attack from any region on the board to any other region. Since races are kept secret, players may attack with any race on the board, whether they control it or not. To do this, a single six-sided die is rolled, with success being on a result of 3 or higher. Cities and fortifications add 1 to the defense, and certain other effects can add to either side. If a natural 6 is rolled, the attack succeeds and a second attack can be launched from the newly captured territory. Any time a space is defeated, the defending race token is removed from the board and placed on its spot in the well of souls, while a token for the winning race is taken from the well of souls and placed on the newly conquered area. If all of the tokens from a race are removed from the board, that race is extinct and may only return through a few special abilities or through the Divine Wrath table (which I'll get to later). If a race conquers a new region but has no tokens left in the well of souls, then it may either choose to move the token that made the attack into the new region or to leave the defeated region unoccupied.

Action Phase - During this phase, each player will play one of their Action Cards. Destiny Cards are also considered Action Cards, and may be played (thus revealing a race that the player controls) during this phase as well. If this is done, then the player may no longer make attacks with that race during the Combat Phase for the rest of the game. When played, Action/Destiny cards do one of three things:

1. Perform the action listed on the card. Even though each Action Card has a race listed on it, the action may be played on any race (which is the most confusing part of the game). Some of these cards allow extra attacks to be made (again, from any region to an adjacent region), some give permanent attack or defense bonuses, and some just give interesting and potentially powerful special actions.
2. Give a Technology Bonus to the listed race. In this case, the race on the card is important, because the card can be played to give that race (and that race only) a permanent +1 technology bonus to both attack and defense.
3. Roll on the Divine Wrath table if the race is extinct. If the race on the card has been completely wiped off the board, neither of the above options are available. Instead, you can play the Action/Destiny card to roll on the Divine Wrath table. Basically, this is just a way to let you use "dead" cards in your hand to produce semi-random events, and on a roll of 6, the race on the card gets to come back on any region on the board (thereby killing any race token already there).

            
      


Predictions - As I mentioned in the Destiny Phase explanation above, on turn 7, players may make up to two "bets" on races that they think will do well by the end of the game. To do this, they choose Action Cards from their hand and place them facedown in front of them (and you can't bet on races you control). If, at the end of turn 9, the race(s) on these cards are at their maximum size (i.e. all of their race tokens are on the board), then the player will score 3 bonus points for each correct prediction. This can be a game-changer, but it is rarely viable for the larger (size 3 or 4) races, and it removes one or two exra Action Cards from your hand, thus requiring you to play more of your Destiny Cards during the Action Phases of the last few turns.
Play follows each of these phases for all nine turns, and then everybody totals up their final points based on the regions and cities that their races control, plus any bonus points scored for successful predictions.

Strategy and Tactics

Essentially, there are two basic strategies that you can use in Age of Gods: to be either Secretive or Overt about which races you control.

The Secretive strategy is generally the best route to take. To do this, you use the chaotic nature of the game to make lots of random attacks with different races, keeping your actual races secret as much as possible. When you can and without drawing too much suspicion, you make small tactical choices that will better your races' positions, and then in the late game become more and more obvious to make big grabs for power. You can even push this a little farther, making certain bluffs in the early game where you consistently use a race that is not yours and possibly even attack your own races. Obviously, this can be detrimental if carried too far, but if you pull it off, the other players tend to go after a "sure thing" like a monkey on a cupcake.

            
     


The Overt strategy should only be used in certain cases. First, you have to be really lucky to get both Action Cards that match up to one of more of your big races. You also then need a few other action cards that give you extra attacks or possibly extra bonuses to defense. Basically, this strategy amounts to you using the Action Cards for one of your races to increase their technology very early in the game. You make attacks with them at every opportunity, and somewhere in the midgame (hopefully after you've maxed them out), you even use their Destiny Card to give them a third technology bonus. From then on, you'll only be able to attack with them using Action Cards, so hold a few back in the case where you lose a region or two. Concentrate on them grabbing regions with cities, and do your best to use your godly power and other cards to protect them. It's also important to use the distraction of your "buffed" race to make some subtle moves with your other races as well. Again, this is very hard to pull off, because you paint a huge target on your back very early in the game. And some Action cards can really ruin your day (such as the Amazons, which have a chance to reduce a race's technology).

In general, though, Age of Gods is a very tactical game, where you must make decisions that are best at the moment to get a series of small, incremental gains. But the biggest thing to remember is that it is not really a wargame. The skills that are most rewarded in Age of Gods are subtlety, misdirection, and bluffing, not grand tactics or strategy.

What I think...

Like I said at the start of this review, I really liked Age of Gods the first few times I played it. Once you get your head around the fact that it's not truly a light wargame, the game becomes a lot of fun and is unlike any other game that I can think of. All the hidden information and die rolling makes it really chaotic, but for me, that only adds to the allure and originality of this game. Phases and turns go really quickly, and once again, the chaos of the game removes any real possibility of the analysis paralysis you get in more standard light wargames.

And despite the chaos, what I tended to see in our games was that more experienced and/or more "skilled" players tended to do better than those that were new or who played it "incorrectly" (by which I mean, "like a regular wargame"). In fact (not to toot my own horn, but to illustrate this fact), I either won or placed second in every game that I've ever played. This speaks to the fact that the game is not as "random" as it seems, but instead reinforces how it simply rewards a different set of skills (which I mentioned above) than you would first suspect.

            
     


For me, the only downside of Age of Gods is that every game feels pretty much the same. Yes, there are lots of interesting tactical choices to make and tons of opportunities for bluffing and manipulation among players, but you're always doing the same kinds of things from one game to the next. WIth the rare exception of having the stars align and being able to try the Overt strategy, you're always just trying to lay low and be sneaky with your real motives. For a fantasy-themed game with lots of conflict, there is also a surprising lack of narrative throughout gameplay, which isn't a really big deal, but definitely makes specific plays of this game even less memorable and unique.

The Verdict!

Fourteen different people in the [url=http://www.boardgamegeek.com/guild/43]Hypermind BoardGamers have played Age of Gods, with their lowest rating being 7 and the highest being 10, averaging out to an 8.06 out of 10.

• Rules: Easy to explain and understand, but getting the "feel" of how to play the game takes at least one play.
• Downtime: Very little. Turns move nicely, and each phase is completed incrementally by each player in order.
• Length: We've played 11 games that averaged just under 79 minutes and with an average of 4.4 players per game.
• Player Interaction: Tons, both in direct conflict (even if you're not sure who you're attacking) and with bluffing and manipulation.
• Weight: Medium Light
GamerChris’ Rating: Age of Gods is a very chaotic yet unique and strangely interesting game with a cool theme, and even after having it fade a bit for me, I rate it a very solid 7.

     

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Breno K.
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Heh, out of the 4 people that have played this game in our group, the highest given rating was 5/10. You have 14 and the lowest was 7? Tastes do vary a lot, huh?
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nathan hayden
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Good to see this game getting some love. It's a blast. Lots of luck and a good dose of chaos (not the race). The fantasy theme, and over all game play just spells FUN to me. Entertains the same realm of my brain as Talisman, but a completely different game, same fantasy zone though.
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David Aubert
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Like said in the review :

Chaotic, yes, so everyone has a chance, but it is 'organised chaos' : tactics has to be found, and those who has a grasp on it win way more often than the others.

The only default is the number of players : At 6, it's a lot less fun, since all race are represented. Work best with 3-4 players.
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Chris Norwood
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BrenoK wrote:
Heh, out of the 4 people that have played this game in our group, the highest given rating was 5/10. You have 14 and the lowest was 7? Tastes do vary a lot, huh?
I'd attribute the high ratings to a couple of things. First, we have a pretty diverse group of gamers that came from several different gaming origins (CCG's, RPG's, traditional games, and then some primary eurogamers as well), and we're usually pretty friendly to chaotic and thematic games. Second, once a few people get excited about a game, it becomes infective and leads to a "group think" that is generally positive, even if the game wouldn't normally be your cup of tea.

In your group, I'd guess that the opposite thing happened.
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Rich Dodgin
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Great review! You've done an amazing job of explaining the game play and tactics involved... I'm seriously thinking of getting this as a result... thanks !
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