Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The Gentlemanly Art of taking their stuff


Last night Sean, Chris and I were getting ready to start a game of Through the Ages, when Raab showed up. He wasn't ambivalent, but RSVPs were sparse so he joined up. (Later on Al, Ted and Jon did show up, but no other games were played).


Through the Ages is, if you don't know, basically a boardgame version of the computer game version of civilization (loosely based on the Tresham game). Most things are abstracted away into lots and lots of cards, and counters. Each turn you get one political action (propose or break a pact, play an event, or agress against your neighbor), then you get some number of regular actions. Civil actions include taking cards, playing cards, building stuff, increasing your population and working on your wonders. Military actions involve building troops and training them. Your form of government (itself a card) determines the number of actions you get. Then you have some book-keeping for happiness, food and money, then refill any cards taken (and ditch the 'oldest' card or two, if it wasn't taken) then slide cards down the track and refill.

At it's heart, this is just a game where you don't have enough time to do everything. It costs actions to train workers, and you need to increase your agriculture, economy, happiness, military, science, get leaders, colonize new lands, react to events, modernize, and grab good action cards. Oh, and get culture (VP). Action cards get cheaper the longer the stay on the board, so there's always that "Do I pay 3 actions to get X, or wait and hope to get it next turn for 1?" feeling.

Anyway, our game started off with Raab writing the Homeric epics, which let him get some cheap military units and then write up stories about their glories, when really they just got drunk. That put him out to a huge VP lead (something like 30 to 5, 8 and 3). But the VPs only count at the end....I managed to get Carolinas University, which produces science and a bit of culture. Chris got Hammurabi, and (sadly) saw the high point of his empire peak about 6,000 years too soon.

In Age II, things took more concrete shape. I managed to acquire Napoleon and build an overwhelming army, and proceeded to use it to take other people's stuff. A big complaint about Through the Ages is that's it really a military race. That's certainly true to some extent, but I'm not sure if it's a flaw. (I've discussed TtA on my blog). Chris suffered due to a few random events that hit the weakest country, and eventually snapped and declared a Jihad against the rest of us (via the Terrorism event). Sean's Pyramids ran into the typical government delays and were eventually abandoned unfinished, several thousand years over budget.

By the end of Age II I was firmly in the drivers seat with a VP lead, solid military advantage, and strong technologies and wonders. Despite the early setbacks, Sean decided to become an artistic empire and started cranking out culture for 2nd place.

All in all, a fun game although it was long. We spent about 5 hours playing. Partially that was because most of us were new or rusty, but the sweet spot for this is three players. When it's not your turn you don't do much (a "fixed fun" game) so dropping one player will speed the game up by 60-90 minutes. Still, I hope to get this to the table again soon.

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11 Comments:

At 11:44 AM, July 01, 2008, Blogger seanp said...

My 2nd place strategy - employ Bach as a "leader", watch everyone smirk at my misfortune, propose a BINDING non-aggression treaty with Napoleon's worldwide army of doom (OK, it was more like "protection money"), and then try to rule the world through musical theater. The last few turns of the game I had to switch to rock'n roll and movies to keep up with the changing times...

You think guns will control the world man? Guns won't rule the world - MUSIC will rule the world! (OK, guns still ruled the world, blowing the daisy straight out of the gun, but music was a distant second).

The game is interesting, but long. I'm sure I contributed to that with my newness, but I generally dislike games where 3 hours into a 5 hour game it's clear who first and last place will be.

 
At 6:23 PM, July 01, 2008, Blogger Chris said...

Last night, I kept hearing in my mind this quote from The Matrix.

Yeah, I got knocked around pretty early and wasn't prepared at all for the events that penalize the weakest player. The game is not forgiving and does not help players that are behind play catch-up. It didn't take long before I was essentially out of the game and shifted from "figure out how to win this game" to "figure out how to play this game."

I started off making too many resources and couldn't feed enough people to allocate them. Later on, I had the opposite problem where I made too many food and didn't have enough resources to employ them. You really have to have a balance. I spent most of the game trying to get a feel for that balance, because it can get pretty unbalanced pretty quickly. Sacrificing military to try to restore that balance clearly doesn't work either, as I was not at all prepared for the deluge of first age events that penalize the player weakest in military (which I was during the time that I had any chance to get back in the game).

There is a definite tempo to this game. Because of this, it pays to be able to think at least a couple of moves ahead. I was really surprised that Brian formed a viable and even dominant strategy with wonders and military and without significant upgrades to his rural or urban technologies, which I thought were vital.

Hopefully next time I'm not the weakest player and can better balance out early food and resource production.

 
At 8:41 PM, July 01, 2008, Blogger Brian said...

I keep hearing "There is no spoon" quote, followed by "I see you've played Knifey-Spooney before."

To each their own.

You can be weak in something and use the yellow cards for that to tempo. I got 4 (I think) of the "Build a wonder stage at a discount" card before the halfway point (I used two on the Eiffel Tower), as well as using Agression cards to steal what I need.

If you aren't in last, but not in first, you'll probably wind up losing some resources due to various agressions. 3-5 ore/food isn't bad, although the "two urban buildings" can be painful, since that's effectively 6 food + 6 ore + a turn. A reason to not double up until the late game.

Now that I think about it, you were really hurt by Hammurabi. Those military actions give you a nice flow of events and defense cards . By Age III, my 5 military actions meant I'd usually play a 2 action agression and draw three cards, which would give me an agression.

And it becomes even more important when you toss the wars into the deck.

But yes, the four player game card flow means that unless everyone is experienced, odds are you'll have a whipping boy. We can start using the "Withdraw honorably" rules to let said whipping boy bow out.

 
At 9:03 PM, July 01, 2008, Blogger Chris said...

For what its worth, I'm glad I stayed in. It really helped to learn what cards come out, with what frequency, and so on. All part of my grand scheme for world domination.

 
At 9:00 AM, July 02, 2008, Blogger Brian said...

What's funny is that (at least, if you peruse the forums on BGG) there are so many "k-k-k-iller combos" and "broken" cards that it's really just a question of which one.

Napoleon + a big tactics card. Colombus (to grab a colony directly from your hand) then Cook (who earns 2 Culture/turn per colony). The weak guy can grab Ghandi. A poor farmer can get ocean liners to get free population.

(And there's a thread where someone asks if Napoleon is useless, since nobody ever plays him ....)

And (with the full game) happiness becomes a much bigger issue, so you need to deal with those.

 
At 9:34 AM, July 02, 2008, Blogger seanp said...

It's not a bad game - and with fewer people I think it could improve. My biggest gripe is the runaway leader/loser, with a long timeframe to sit and suffer. It probably reflects the "sim" aspects they are shooting for more realistically (early mistakes will take time to dig out from under), but if I'm going to finish last, I don't want to sit there for four more hours waiting for it.

Fewer people also adds some more strategy to the tension of the decision to leave a card for now to hopefully pick it up on the cheap - with four only the last few cards are likely to be around on your next turn.

I also see this as a game where a more experienced player will have a large advantage over a newbie - knowing the upcoming card abilities and combos could be killer...

 
At 9:35 AM, July 02, 2008, Blogger seanp said...

Which brings back to the forefront why Race For The Galaxy is such a killer game - a LOT of this game's elements exist in Race, but you have nonstop action for 20 minutes to achieve a similar effect.

 
At 10:03 PM, July 02, 2008, Blogger Ben said...

Through the Ages, 7 Ages, or the classic Civilization.... which would you pick?

 
At 10:28 PM, July 02, 2008, Blogger Ben said...

Lock 'n Load: Day of Heroes finally arrived today. Ah, the smell of Chinese ink!

 
At 10:09 AM, July 03, 2008, Blogger Brian said...

Depending on mood and time, 7 Ages or Through the Ages. TtA is a better game, 7 Ages is a better experience. Civ is a classic, but dry.

 
At 12:41 PM, July 06, 2008, Blogger Jonathan W. said...

Brian, you have a lot of free time on your hand now right? Michael is getting home later this week, we should plan a 7 ages game.

 

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