On Saturday September 1 was this year’s first weekend session of the IGS. The decision to play on Saturday was made because we knew that we were in for a marathon day. On the menu was Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization (Hereafter referred to as TTA) , by Vlaada Chvatil, a game listed as having a four-hour play time. Once you tack on the two hours it took to learn the rules and the six-hour practice game, it was a good thing it was a Saturday!
TTA is a civilization building game in which players lead their people from ancient times into the present while competing to accumulate the most culture by the end of the game. Players draft cards of improvements, wonders, leaders, special actions, and military units that are era appropriate as the game progresses. Although military is a very important aspect of the game, it is not the primary path to victory, as the defending player has most of the advantages. Players also have to manage their populations by producing enough food, as well as keeping their populace happy with religious and entertainment improvements. In addition to military, happiness, food, and production, players must effectively manage their civilization’s scientific development as to remain competitive with their opposition at discovering new technologies. The challenge in the game is to remain close to or ahead of the competition in all of those categories while starting from essentially the same position. By making decisions on what to do with their civil actions and military actions players will determine the destiny of their civilization!
IGS Play Report
The players in attendance for this Saturday marathon were Rich, Steve, and I. They both had some previous experience with TTA while I had only played the practice game earlier in the day. Play order was determined to be me, Steve, and Rich. The opening cards to drafted were spread for the first round of Ancient times and we began the game.
Ancient Times and Age One
Given that I was first player and only started with one civil action I took the only leader that I had access to, Aristotle. This placed me firmly on the science track and I planned to pursue it with a vengeance for the remainder of the game. In the second round I drafted my first wonder, and began construction of the Hanging Gardens. Science and happiness! Truly, my people were blessed to have a leader such as I!
In Age 1 I grabbed iron and irrigation as I had struggled with production and food during the practice game. I tried to get them both up and running as quickly as possible to avoid a repeat of my previous mistakes. I attempted to keep up militarily but, I found myself starting to lag a little behind towards the end of the first age. I built the Great Wall to help my strength a little but it was still not enough to compete with Rich and Steve’s superior tactics cards. Simply too many things to do and not enough actions with which to do them.
Steve drafted Caesar and planned to use the extra military action to have control of the event deck while forcing Rich and I to try to keep up militarily. He drafted the Pyramids and quickly began construction.
While he held an early lead in military strength, Steve began to diversify in a lot of happiness. I can only assume that this was reaction to the many events that were resulting in extra food production and thus population expansion. As you add people it becomes necessary to keep them happy and Steve was well ahead of the curve in this department.
He abandoned Caesar as his leader and added Leonardo Da Vinci to take advantage of a fair amount of science improvements that he had built.
Rich grabbed Hammurabi to gain an extra civil action and we were apparently playing a variant where his normal downside of losing a military action is ignored. Rich chose not to pursue an early wonder and instead, set about building up his food and science infrastructure.
Oddly, things shifted about half way through Age I as Rich became the player with the strongest military in spite of having one less military action due to Hammurabi. While he did not have a massive lead over Steve, they were both ahead of me as the events punishing the weakest military started coming up. He carried this lead through the end of the first age and well into the second.
Ancient times and the first age events were dominated by food supply expansion and later events that punished the player with the weakest military. (Me) In my efforts to correct infrastructure deficiencies from our practice game, I may have over compensated to the point that I was too weak militarily. In retrospect, I should have made certain to not be last in strength as those events basically negate the extra resources that you work to build.
During the second age I continued to pursue a strategy of correcting as many of my mistakes as I could from the practice game. In the practice game I finished the game with the same form of government I began it with in Despotism. This situation led to me being greatly outgunned in the action department, and seeing how the game is all about the most effective use of your actions I wanted to make sure that I had more of them the second time around. I drafted Constitutional Monarchy early and began looking for an opportunity to have a revolution. I drafted Robespierre who allows the circumvention of some of the negatives regarding a change of government and before I knew it I was a Constitutional Monarchy. I also drafted coal early in the age and although I played it right away I never actually managed to get a worker placed on it. I consider this to be the beginning of the end for my chance at victory. I kept meaning to upgrade, but I could never quite find the resources to spend on getting more resources. The irony is that of this is that I believed I was going to win at this point and if I had more experience I probably could have, but I failed to properly prioritize my actions and I let this early advantage in action and resource capabilities go to waste.
All of the effort that I put in to correcting previous mistakes and I still found myself drifting toward one of the worst from the practice game by having a weak military. I believe it was due to buying some buildings that could have been avoided that took up too much of my population and prevented me from shifting towards sufficient military forces.
During the second age Steve, and to a lesser extent I, attempted to close the military gap that Rich had managed to create. This led to Steve selecting Napoleon as his leader. Napoleon can easily be abused, but due difficulty filling up his formation cards with up to date units Steve did not gain a massive boost from him like in the practice game. He did, however, manage to pull even with Rich and the continued to trade back and forth for first in strength until close to the end of the game.
If I remember correctly, Steve acquired the other coal improvement and managed to take better advantage of it then I was able. Even so, he struggled with resources as well, and drafted the Kremlin wonder, but was never able to complete it. It is crucial in TTA to look ahead and predict whether you will be able to complete things you begin in time enough to take full advantage of them. Wasted actions and resources are an absolute killer in this game.
Rich took a short break in expanding his military to pursue science more intently by choosing Isaac Newton as his leader towards the end of the second age. This swing to science for Rich proved to be perfect timing and he began to pull ahead in science generation. Steve kept better pace than I did, as I felt like I could not advance the way I needed to. I think that is primarily a result of not having any experience with the cards. I simply had too little knowledge of what was coming in the future and had to make totally tactical decisions rather than strategic plays. I could easily evaluate quality cards that were face up and draft good one, but I lacked the information to compare them to the cards that I could not yet see. So while I was making high quality short-term decisions, Rich was making high quality long-term decisions and it was starting to show towards the end of the second age.
I was very happy with my use of Robespierre, but I believe it would be wiser to use him towards the end of the second age than I did. Yes, he provided me with an extra military action, but I really only used him for the switch in governments. If I dropped him quickly for an early third age leader I think it would have been better in the long run.
By the third age I was tired of being kicked around by Rich and Steve’s armies and Started to modernize up to rockets and modern infantry. Of course, The fortified my Great Wall and with a better tactics card that focused on infantry and artillery I was on my way to having the strongest army on the board. Sadly, I did not achieve this goal until after I was attacked and heavily damaged by Rich. My response was to switch from a pacifistic Robespierre to a militaristic Ghandi. Although I would not be able to attack it would protect me a little from further interference while I completed my modernization. I seeded the event deck for the end game with a card that rewards the strongest military during final scoring. I figured no one would suspect Ghandi, and I could sneak in the extra points as the had no fear of me attacking. Unfortunately, I never really got anything else accomplished in the third age. I felt like I was still building infrastructure when I really should have been set up already and looking to score points. I had too many resources spent with far too little return. I also had too many wasted action on cards that I could not use and did not need.
Steve’s transition from second age leader to third was almost as humorous as mine. He moved from Napoleon to the Rock Star and tried to chase the culture beast that was Rich. He tried to set himself up to crush with Napoleon via wars and aggression, but Rich and I actively denied him as many air forces and other modern military units as we could in an effort to keep him in check. When he realized that his edge would never be sufficient for a game winning attack he switched to the Rock Star, but it was too late for him. He, like myself, had too many wasted resources and actions, and it is very difficult to make up for those mistakes in TTA.
Rich pushed his scientific edge in the third age and chose Rudolf for his leader and built the first space flight. The combination of these things pushed his culture points up to around 15 points per turn. This couple with several cards in the events deck that rewarded him and that was all she wrote.
All that really happens in the fourth age is the scoring of all cards that have been seeded into the event deck. This is where foresight and long-term planning really pay off. After all of the points were totaled Rich was easily the winner with a score of 175. I pulled off a second place finish with a score of 144, and Steve finished third with 128 points. Congrats to Rich on a well-played game and a hard-earned victory!
My First Impression
Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, is most definitely the closest any board game that I have ever played has come to capturing the magic of the computer games in the Civilization series. I am an avid fan and admirer of those great games and have spent more hours than I care to discuss playing and enjoying them. TTA is among the most respected and highly ranked board games in the world and universally respected as a great game.
While I do agree that much of the praise that TTA receives is well deserved, based on my very small sample of games I can not give an extremely in-depth review, but I will say that my first impression is not as positive as I had hoped. I do rank it a 7.5 out of 10, but given how highly regarded it is by people whose opinions I respect, I was a little disappointed. I admit that it is a very well designed game, but I somehow feel like after 5 to 6 hours I should have conquered a map or destroyed all of my enemies instead of just totaled up points. At three or maybe even four hours I would rate the same game higher, but at six it runs out of steam for me. This is not because I am not a fan of long games, but I require a certain epic conclusion to feel like the time was well invested. I plan to play a few more times online at a website called www.boardgaming-online.com with the hope that it will shorten the game to a length that feels appropriate for a game of this type. This is, after all, a first impression review, and given my love of history and civilization games I do plan to give TTA a little more time to grow on me.
In conclusion, I would recommend TTA to any dedicated cube pushing euro fan. If you absolutely love Caylus, and wish that it lasted 6 hours instead of 2.5, then you will be a big fan of TTA. I would also suggest any fan of civilization games give it a try. If all of the accounting and logistics of planning a society are your favorite parts then you will be thrilled with the game. If, however, at the end of a six-hour plus session you require a little something more than the highest score for your effort you may want to try a different game.
If you are interested in Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization check out the link!