Through the Ages: A New story of Civilization is the newest version of a civilisation building game from Vlaada Chvátil. This is a game in which you get to control a people from the time of antiquities, help them discover science, industry, culture and war as you guide them into the future.
Through the Ages (TtA) pits 2 -4 players against each other as they try to mould their civilisation into a world conquering society. This is not a Dudes on a Map game where you have to crush your enemies into the ground. This is a more sophisticated game in which the winner is determined by the most cultured civilisation. Of course, you can burn down their libraries and theatres which will set your enemies back a bit.
For the TL;DR version click here.
Opening the box
Specs on the box:
- 2-4 players
- 120+ minutes (more like 180+)
- Ages 14+
CGE has done a wonderful Job on the insert. Everything fits perfectly, there’s even space for sleeved cards! I love the transparent cubes but I do wish the player mats were dual layered because the cubes tend to slide around if your board is bumped.
Another nice touch is artwork on the reverse of the player boards. Unnecessary but I like it. Also there are packing instructions on in the manual. If I had a gripe it would be that you need to separate cards for games at different player counts. The numbers you need to read are tiny and I frequently play with different player counts so sorting through the cards can become a chore.
All the cards use the same size sleeves:
In TtA you are responsible for guiding your small tribe of cave men into a world spanning civilisation living in the golden age of technology. You won’t tell that from looking at the game though. It actually feels a bit abstracted from what is really going on. You would expect map and tokens or models for armies and cities etc. There’s none of that in TtA.
The rulebook is very easy to read and does a superb job of explaining how the mechanics tie into the theme. It’s all very fitting and has a flow to it that just makes sense. I find myself drawing parallels to real life constantly.
Setup seems like it’s a lot but it really isn’t, because the insert works so well, it’s quite easy. The hardest part is having each player lay out all their starting cubes on their player boards. There’s quite a few and often people want to have them exactly laid out on their boards.
For the rest of it, you just shuffle the decks of cards, lay out all the boards and place the player pieces on them.
The very first turn of the game is a seeding phase so I’m going to skip that and just touch on a normal turn sequence.
To start your turn you may play a political action. This involves interacting with the other players. You could propose a pact or trade agreement, you could attack them or you could seed an event which will impact all players at a later stage in the game.
These events are interesting; you need to remember which ones you have seeded because they all impact the game differently. Some have criteria like the Refugees event can have the weakest (military strength) player lose people from his country and they flee to the strongest player. If you seeded this event then you had better make sure you’re not the weakest player!
Some are universally good or bad for everyone. A lot of them are newly discovered lands which you have to send your armies off to colonise, giving you some immediate benefit but also a long term benefit. However you lose military strength, what if you send too many units and the next player attacks you before you can recruit more troops?
The “central” board of the game is the card Row. This represents time flowing and technology advancing as it goes by. Cards travel down the board from right to left, starting off expensive and getting cheaper until they eventually fall off the board.
This is also the game clock, as the decks of cards that feed the board runs out the game moves from ancient times through to new times. As time advances things get more expensive, population is spread thinner and older technology becomes obsolete. When the last age (modern times) ends the game is over.
You will need to spend 3 of your precious actions (you start with 4) to purchase a card on the far right of the board, 2 for the centre and 1 for the left. These cards can be once off actions gaining you resources or culture or they can be technologies that you can develop.
To develop a technology, you will need to spend an action and science. This represents the efforts that your scientists went through to invent the fighter jet or computer. Science is gained by putting your population into labs, making them scientists.
You need to spend resources, and an action, to move your people into labs (to make science), temples/libraries/theatres (to produce culture) you can train them to become pilots/cavalry/infantry (generates military strength). To get these resources you need to send people into your mines.
To get more people you need to spend food. In order to get food you need to send people to farm.
I think you see where I’m going with this. You will never have enough of each of your resources. To increase your production of any of your resources you will need to spend the resources you do have to produce more in a future turn. It’s all about future planning and the future is always changing so you need to be adaptable.
You also get military actions which are used to train military units and make aggressions/declare war. They also determine how many military cards you draw each turn which give you political actions for the politics phase.
You might be wondering how you get more military and civil actions, just like any other resource you need to research the appropriate tech. A code of Laws will give you civil actions while a monument to your military strength will give you military bonuses. The type of government that you have will also give you different amounts of actions. You can also elect leaders for your people, Ghandi who will give you culture won’t allow you to be aggressive at all. In return he makes it more difficult for anyone to attack you too.
Scoring is a continuous process. Just like your resources you generate culture every turn, whomever has the most at the end of the game wins.
It’s a delicate balancing act of buying cards now and husbanding your resources so that you can use them later. Wait too long and the old cards in your hand are obsolete and you will need to discard them. Add to that you can appoint leaders to your civilisation which will guide how they grow and what they are good at so you need to play to their strengths. However, they don’t live forever and eventually will need to be replaced.
It’s important to note that there isn’t enough of each technology for all of the players. If you miss something, then it’s gone and you must go without. Deciding when to grab the expensive cards is critical to getting ahead or denying other players exactly what they need.
All of this adds up to a game that is dead easy to play but difficult to master. You’re constantly forward planning while dealing with current needs and crises. There even a mechanism for corruption of your populace so you can’t just stockpile resources and must play as efficiently as you can.
This means that games can go long. Very long. Expect an hour per player if you are playing with new player or anyone with an inclination towards AP. It is possible to get your play time to around 30 minutes per player but don’t expect it too often. That being said, I love this game and cannot recommend it enough.
Can I play this at a Braai?
Depends if you are doing one of those slow roasts or smoking something that will run on a timer. I personally wouldn’t as the game requires a lot of attention which can leave you feeling a bit burned out. You meat will probably end up that way too.