I got what I wanted for Christmas, Through the Ages (Eagle Games, 2006). But then it took a few weeks to find the time to play it! So read on to find out what I have to say about boardgamegeek.com’s # 5-ranked game (out of 5,889 games listed)…
If you knew me, you’d know that I love history and civilization-type games, so you know I’m probably going to like this game. In the interest of saving time for some of you, I’ll go ahead and cut to the chase: I do like this game. But was it what I expected? Is it worth the $69.99 price tag? Will it really take 4 hours or more? How complicated is it?
I’ll do my best to answer those questions, but the upshot is that it’s not what you would call a family game – it is, however, a great game for a hardcore gamer, thus its rank on bgg. You’ll find it prominently displayed (or sold out) at any independent game store, but you won’t find it in Target or WalMart.
Unlike its venerable Games Magazine Hall-of-Fame forebear, Civilization (Avalon Hill, 1980), Through the Ages doesn’t use a map. It is basically only a card game, but there is so much to keep track of that each player gets a player’s card and a certain number of Jujubee-sized counters with which to account for the changes in every category during each turn (see below). Each player is racing to construct the most influential culture through a combination of military, religious, technological, and artistic achievements. To procure these achievements, a player must allocate resources in the form of food, mined material, and people. These resources go towards strengthening the military, building urban buildings (such as libraries or temples), or improving technologies for mining and farming.
The basic mechanic of the game is “action point allocation” – which is a geeky way to say that you can only take so many different actions on a turn, and you must use them wisely… Actions consist of choosing a card, playing a card, or allocating resources to various tasks. There is a cost of one to three action points for each card, and the cards are laid out on a card “track” so every player knows what is available and how much it costs. The selection of cards, and the timing of that selection, is the biggest key to Through the Ages. The accumulation of “culture points” is the goal, and almost all of the culture points are on the various cards.
I won’t go into excruciating detail, but there are a few more important elements to consider. There are several different sections on the scoring board; beside the overall culture points track, there are sections for tracking technological prowess, military strength, and cultural strength. The point of all these tracks is to make accounting for each player’s development more streamlined; one simply has to refer to the appropriate track, instead of counting every piece each time.
Through the Ages can be played at three levels of complexity as well. The “Full” game uses every rule and moves completely through three epochs of world history (see epoch three cards, below). The “Advanced” game uses most of the rules, but moves only through two epochs (see epoch two cards, above). The “Simple” game only involves the first epoch, and leaves off important rules – such as the use of happiness indicators, and the use of the military. The rules
The rules recommend that first time players play the simple game in order to really learn the mechanics of the game and avoid frustration. That’s definitely a good idea, if you have the time or if you are not a serious gamer. I would avoid trying the full game on the first try, however, unless you want to spend half the game with your nose buried in the rule book. The rule book itself is helpful in general and has lots of pictures and examples – but it is difficult to find every little thing you might want to find.
So – there it is. Through the Ages has a very high production value. The art is attractive (enough), the cards and playing pieces are sturdy, and the playing aids are substantial. Does that justify a $69.99 price tag? For me it does. I would not recommend it to anyone who wasn’t absolutely sure they already wanted to play, but if it is on someone’s list, then I can’t imagine a better gift.
Through the Ages is good for any hardcore gamer, or any serious gamer with an interest in history (like me!). If you aren’t sure whether to get it, do a little research and find out who is really interested and who they might be playing with before purchasing it. Despite some claims to the contrary, it is not a simple game, especially to the new player. It is, however, very intuitive. Everything makes sense once you understand what different symbols and actions mean. The first game will take a very long time – even more with more players. Playing time would move down to about one hour per person after a few games have been played.