Buzzworthiness – Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age

Happy Reviewsday.  This week’s review is for…

image by BGG user earache
image by BGG user earache

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age is a 2008 game designed by Matt Leacock and published by Gryphon Games.  The game (1-4 players, 30 minutes) takes its name from Vlaada Chvátil’s Through the Ages, but the games aren’t anything like each other outside of a civilization theme.  The game takes more of its mechanisms from Yahtzee, although it made a much deeper and more interactive game.

RTTA comes with four wooden player boards, seven wooden dice, 24 wooden pegs, and a score pad.  Each player takes a board and, using pegs, sets each resource to zero.  Food is set to three.  Each player also gets their own score sheet to track points.

On your turn, you roll all dice you are able to (three at the beginning of the game).  You get up to two more rerolls, but you must keep any skulls you roll.  After the third roll (or earlier if you decide to stop), you’ll start resolving your dice.  The first thing you do is collect food – increase your food supply by one for each wheat symbol you rolled.  Next collect goods, one per vase rolled.  There are five different good types, and you’ll start on the bottom row and advance one a single space per vase.  So if you have six vases, you’ll advance every row one space, and the bottom row an extra space.  If you have four vases, you’ll advance every row except the top one space.

The next step in the resolution process is to feed your people.  You need to spend one food per worker (die) you have.  So, five dice, five food.  If you don’t have enough, you mark one negative point on your score sheet for each food you couldn’t spend.  Next, if you rolled any skulls, you have to resolve disasters.  One skull has no effect.  Two skulls is a drought, and you lose two points.  Three skulls is a pestilence, and your opponents all lose three points.  Four skulls is an invasion, and you lose four points. Five skulls is a revolt, and you lose all of your goods, even the ones you collected this turn.

Next, it’s time to build cities and/or monuments.  Each worker symbol you rolled gets put either in a city or a monument.  When monuments are completed (all boxes filled – this may take several turns), you score points, with the first player to finish them scoring more.  When cities are completed, you get extra dice to roll on subsequent turns.

The next step is to buy a development if you want.  Developments give you certain advantages, and you spend any combination of goods to raise the price.  You don’t get change, so any overage is lost.  You might as well spend the goods, because at the end of your turn, you’ll have to discard down to six total (that is, six holes across all tracks).

The game continues until one of two things happens – either one player has built five developments, or when all monuments have collectively been built.  The game continues until all players have had the same number of turns, and then the player with the most points is the winner.

COMPONENTS: The most striking thing about Roll Through the Ages is that everything is made of wood.  The player boards are all peg boards with wooden pegs.  The dice are wood.  The score pad is paper, which comes from trees, so it still counts.  It’s very appealing.  Also, if you buy the game and hate it, it burns really well (I assume – I like the game, so I haven’t tried).

Some changes have been made from the original edition.  The original dice were heat stamped and faded very quickly.  Also, there were different color pegs for the different goods.  In my edition, the dice were much darker, and the pegs were all made a uniform brown color.  I don’t know if anything has changed since then.

The scorepad is really good.  Not only do you have a big pad for a lot of games, but the sheets (double-sided) all do a great job of laying out all the information you need – turn sequence, disaster consequences, all the effects of the developments, and even which monuments are available in your game (depending on the number of players you have, some monuments may not able to be built).  You can print out free replacements if you ever run out.

I love the components in this game.  I love that it’s all wooden.  Plastic or flat boards with cubes might have been cheaper, but the wood just makes this game very distinctive.  I’m a huge fan of any game that uses a peg board as I think it is absolutely the best way to keep track of information without the risk of someone bumping the table and ruining everything.  I don’t know how balanced the dice are, but I don’t care.  I love the feel of those chunky wooden dice in my hands.  The components alone make this game stand out as something unique in my collection.

THEME: This is a billed as a light civilization game, which is true to an extent.  You are building up your civilization, trying to race others to complete monuments, trying to put your efforts towards the right scientific developments to make, hoping you don’t get hit with disasters, and trying to raise enough food to feed your expanding population.  But you’re not going to feel like you’re actually building a civilization.  You’re going to feel like you’re rolling dice, marking off boxes, trying not to roll skulls, and keeping your pegs at an appropriate level.  The theme is very thin, but it does help to frame what you’re doing somewhat.  It helps to not look at it as a historical game where you’re building a civilization from scratch to win the space race.  It’s more like a moment in time – the Bronze Age.

MECHANICS: Roll Through the Ages uses the Yahtzee mechanism of rolling dice up to three times, saving the dice that you want and rerolling the rest.  This mechanism has been used many many times in games, and it has proved to be an effective means of trying to manipulate dice results.  Yahtzee itself is really a solitaire game dressed up with multiplayer rules and no interaction, but RTTA is able to add some interaction in the race to construct monuments, as well as the pestilence disaster that affects other players.  The game uses the popular “feed your people” mechanism that so many games use these days, and it works pretty well – every turn, each die needs a food or you lose points.  I think it works better here than in other games that I won’t name here (cough cough Agricola cough cough).  You’ll need to use a die or two for food each turn, but it’s also possible to store some up for later.

The collection of goods to spend on development is a bit convoluted.  Each good has different values as they go up in quantity – the bottom row is the most plentiful, and also the least valuable, while the top row is scarcest and most valuable.  This makes good thematic sense, but it can be confusing when trying to count out how many you receive each round.  Also, spending them on developments is going to require some math on your part – since you don’t get change, you want to maximize what you can get without losing too much potential income.  Many times, you’ll have to eat some profits just because you don’t have an exact combination.

The process of building monuments and cities is well laid out through the use of checkboxes.  As you complete a city, you circle it so you know you now have an extra die.  As you complete a monument, you circle the amount of points you are getting.  The first person gets top points, and everyone else can then cross out those high points so they know they’re out of the question.

The end game is pretty clear – all monuments have been collectively built, or someone has five developments.  This five development rule can lead to some games that feel really short, something addressed in the Late Bronze Age expansion.

RTTA has some good resource management as you try to determine the best places to assign your workers and which developments will be the best for you.  But the game is really driven by the Yahtzee mechanism, and what you can do is determined by what you can roll.

STRATEGY LEVEL: As with any dice rolling game, there is a lot of luck involved, particularly early in the game.  However, the game offers ways to mitigate that luck through developments.  There are developments that give you extra workers, extra food, extra resources, and extra coins.  Others give you the ability reroll, or allow you to keep your goods, or help you avoid disasters.  So there is some definite strategy in determining how you want to spend your resources, to figure out what advantages you will have.  There’s also decisions to be made about how to distribute your workers – more dice or monuments (hint – go for more dice at first).  The biggest decision you have to make in the game, however, is what to do after your initial roll.  You see what you rolled, and make a determination about what you can do with the results.  Do you go for food or workers?  Do you try to maximize your goods so you can get a more expensive developments?  Do you try for more skulls so you can hopefully hit three and nail your opponents?  You then decide what to keep, and hope your next roll helps you out.  After the second roll, you may need to adjust this strategy.  You also need to keep an eye on what others are doing and not let them outrace you to the end.

ACCESSIBILITY: The Yahtzee mechanism makes this a pretty easy game to get into.  The addition of the civilization theme gives it just a little more oomph than a basic dice roller.  I think it makes a good gateway game – it introduces you to some civilization concepts like resource management and a race for expansion, but remains simple enough for anyone to grasp.

REPLAYABILITY: RTTA has some good replay, but it can start to feel the same after a bunch of plays.  The saving grace is that dice always roll differently, but players will have their favorite combinations of developments they like to use, and as those never change, it can start to feel static.  However, it’s a quick game, so that’s not a major issue.  The Late Bronze Age expansion extended the game by adding a few developments and making the end condition building seven of them instead of five.  I haven’t played it yet, but I imagine that helps with replayability.  And it’s a free download from the website – you just have to print out your own score sheets.

SCALABILITY: This game plays with up to four players.  It is turn-based, which means you’re going to have downtime in between turns.  Other than pestilence causing you to lose three points, there’s nothing to do between turns, and as a player’s options increase, there’s a potential for some AP.  The game probably works best with two players, but it’s not terribly long with four.

FOOTPRINT: This is a pretty compact game.  The style of components means that it can be played pretty much anywhere – outside, on a plane, in line for a movie, and so on (I’ve done all of these).  The only space you need is for your board, which is fairly compact.

LEGACY: Yahtzee style games are everywhere, and some are better than others.  RTTA is one of the better ones.  It’s certainly better than Yahtzee, which is fine as a solitaire puzzle experience, but pretty bad as a competitive game.  RTTA adds theme and strategy, and that makes all the difference.  It also offers a different experience than something like King of Tokyo, which is much more confrontational – this is more of a Euro game.

IS IT BUZZWORTHY? Yes.  This is a game I would highly recommend to anyone looking to get into civilization games, or just looking for a good dice game.  You can play online at Yucata.de, or you can get the app for $2.  But I would suggest getting the game – it’s got great components, and is a very good game.  Thanks for reading!

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