Game Buzz: Through the Ages

Vlaada Chvátil had already been designing games for several years when he really hit the international stage in 2006 with Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization.  It’s gone on to be a Top Five game on BGG, with its highest peak being #2.  Now, ten years later, there’s a new version of it, appropriately called

image by BGG user karel_danek
image by BGG user karel_danek

Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization is the 2015 revamp of the 2006 classic.  Published by Czech Games Edition, this 2-4 player game can take anywhere from 3-4 hours to play.  The game is a civilization builder where you are trying to balance science, military, and culture in order to achieve victory.  The game is based in large part on Sid Meier’s Civilization computer game series, which I was a big fan of back in the day.  I have played the original Through the Ages once, but it was a four-player learning game in a coffee shop, and I can say unequivocally that this is NOT the ideal way to learn how to play.  I’ve wanted to try it again, but have never had the chance.  The online rules for the original version were also pretty sparse, so I couldn’t get a good sense of how things were played.  Thankfully, CGE is one of the best in the business at putting together rules, so we’ll see how I do this time.

The game comes with a Card Row, a Culture board, a Science board, a Military board, a Current Age board, 4 player boards, 179 Civil cards, 150 Military cards, 250 plastic cubes, 28 wooden tokens, and a sticker sheet.  You also get a guidebook for learning the game, and a rulebook for reference while playing, as well as four reference sheets.  Each player gets a player board and 7 wooden pieces of their color.  You will sticker these to make them into a Tactics Standard marker, a Culture points counter, a Science points counter, a Culture rating marker, a Science rating marker, a Strength rating marker, and a Happiness rating marker.  Each player will also get 16 blue cubes, 25 yellow cubes, 4 white cubes, and 2 red cubes.  The red and white cubes are set to the side of your board, with the blue cubes entering your blue bank and yellow cubes being split between the yellow bank (18), worker pool (1), and technologies (6).  The yellow cubes not in your bank represent your initial population, while those in your bank represent available land.  The blue cubes represent food and resources.  The white cubes represent Civil actions you have available, while the red cubes represent Military actions.  The number you have are dependent on your type of government, which begins the game as a Despotism.  All of these actions aren’t available at the beginning of the game – on the first turn, the first player only gets 1 action, the second player gets 2, and so on.

There are two types of cards (Civil and Military), and each are split into four Ages – Age A, Age I, Age II, and Age III.  For the first game, you won’t be playing with Age III and will take some cards out of the other decks.  Take the Age A Civil deck and deal out 13 cards to the Card Row.  Everyone begins the game with 0 Happiness, 1 Science rating, 0 Science points, 0 Culture rating, 0 Culture points, and 1 Strength.  4-6 cards from the Age A Military deck are placed on the Current Events space.

image by BGG user Kaermo
image by BGG user Kaermo

In the first round, you are in the Age of Antiquity, and you are basically preparing for the rest of the game.  Basically, you’re just going to be taking one or more cards from the Card Row.  If you take one of the first five cards, it will cost you one Civil action (white cube).  The next four cost 2, and the next four cost 3.  There are three types of cards – Leaders (which provide special abilities when played), Wonders (which take time to build but provide big boosts), and Actions (which give one-time effects).  Leaders and Actions go into your hand, and may not be played until you can spend an action to do so.  Additionally, you may never take more than one Leader from the same Age.  Wonders go into play immediately as soon as you take them, but don’t have any effect until you have finished building them.

Once you have completed taking cards, you start the end-of-turn sequence.  You’ll move your Science and Culture points ahead according to their rating (which this first team will be 1 Science and 0 Culture).  Your two workers on your Agriculture card (printed on the board) produce one food each, so move two tokens from your blue bank to your Agriculture card.  Your two workers on your Bronze card produce one resource each, so move two tokens from your blue bank to your Bronze card.  Finally, reset your actions – they will all be available next round.  This end-of-turn sequence will be more involved after future turns.

image by BGG user PaulGrogan
image by BGG user PaulGrogan

From this point on, you will be taking a full turn every time.  The first thing you will do on your turn (and you can really do this while someone else is doing their end-of-turn sequence) is to Replenish the Card Row.  You’ll first remove cards from the first 1-3 slots (depending on the number of players), then slide all remaining cards to the left.  New Civil cards are drawn to fill in the end of the row.  When you run out of one Age deck, move to the next one.  If you haven’t run out of Age A cards by the end of the first replenish, just put the rest back in the box and prepare for Age I next time.

Next, there’s a Politics phase, which you only do with Military cards.  Here, you may play at most one political action, which in the full game includes aggressions, pacts, and wars.  In the learning game, however, the only thing you can do is Prepare an Event.  Take an Event card from your hand (drawn from the Military deck) and place it face down on the Future Events space of the board.  You then draw the top card of the Current Events stack and resolve the event.  If there are no more cards in the Current Events after this play, shuffle the Future Events and place the stack in the Current Events spot.

In the Action Phase, you’ll have all of your actions available.  There are 11 available Civil Actions:

  1. Take a Card.  This works exactly as it did in the first round, but beginning with Age I, there are Technology cards now available.  These will go into your hand and can be played later.  You have a hand limit equal to your total number of Civil Actions (so, 4 at the beginning).  This doesn’t apply to Wonders, but you can only have one unfinished Wonder in play at any time.  Also, future Wonders that you take will cost one more Civil Action per completed Wonder you have.
  2. Increase Your Population.  Pay an action, take the rightmost yellow cube from your yellow bank and put it in your Worker Pool.  You’ll have to pay some food for this, spending cubes that have been produced as food (they go back into your blue bank).
  3. Build a New Farm or Mine.  Pay an action, pay the required resources, then move an unused worker to the appropriate card.
  4. Build an Urban Building.  Pay an action, pay the required resources, and move an unused worker to a gray building.  You have a limit of urban buildings that is specified by your government card (the limit for Despotism is 2).
  5. Play a Leader.  Take a Leader from your hand and play it, paying one action and updating your statistics as indicated.  If you already have a Leader in play, you replace it and get your action back (but you do have to pay it first to play – you can’t do anything if you have no more actions).
  6. Build a Wonder.  Pay an action, then pay the leftmost uncovered stage of the Wonder.  Use a blue cube from your blue bank to cover that stage.  Once you’ve built the last stage of the Wonder, it is complete.  You get the blue cubes back and apply its effects, updating statistics as necessary.  You may then take a new Wonder whenever you like (you may not take a Wonder if you have one unfinished).
  7. Play an Action Card.  Pay an action, follow the text, discard the card.  Action cards are one-time use only.
  8. Develop a Technology.  Pan an action, pay the science cost, then put the technology into play.  If building a farm or mine, it is placed above the existing one.  Urban buildings, if the same type as one already in play, are also placed above, but new types are placed on their own.
  9. Upgrade a Farm, Mine, or Urban Building.  If you have a higher level card of the same type as one you already have out, you can upgrade by paying the difference between the costs, then moving workers up.
  10. Destroy a Farm, Mine, or Urban Building.  Pay an action, then move a worker from the chosen building back to the unused pool.
  11. Change Governments.  There are two ways to change governments.  One is to pay an action, pay the higher of two science costs, then replace your old government with the new.  The other way is to declare a revolution.  To do this, pay ALL of your actions (you must do this before spending any other actions).  Pay the lower science cost, then replace the old government.  You don’t get any actions back from the new government – a revolution effectively takes an entire turn.  In either case, you’ll update your statistics, gaining whatever new actions you

There are also five possible Military actions:

  1. Build a Military Unit.  Pay one Military action, pay the required resources, then move an unused worker to the appropriate card.  This increases your Strength rating.
  2. Upgrade a Military Unit.  Pay a Military action, pay the difference between resource costs, then move a worker up to the higher level card.
  3. Disband a Military Unit.  This works exactly like destroying a building, only it’s done with Military.
  4. Play a Tactics Card.  These are Military cards.  Pay a Military action, then play the card as your current tactic.  Mark it with your tactics standard piece.  You can only have one tactic that applies to you at a time.
  5. Copy a Tactic.  Once a tactic is played, it is exclusive to you for one round.  But then, it moves to the common tactics area and can be copied by anyone (it still applies to you).  To copy, pay 2 Military actions, then move your tactics standard to that tactic.  It’s now yours as well.

After you’ve spent all of the actions you can (or want to), you do the full end-of-turn sequence.

  • First, discard excess military cards.  You can’t have any more military cards than you have military action cubes.
  • Next, check for an uprising.  The more yellow cubes you use, the more happiness you need to produce in order to keep everyone content.  Unused workers can be used to cover some discontentment, but if you ever have more unhappiness than unused workers to cover it, there’s an uprising.  In this case, you skip the production phase and go straight to drawing Military cards.
  • Score science and culture, advancing each points tracker by its corresponding rating.
  • If you’ve got too many blue cubes out, you’ll start revealing corruption icons.  You’ll have to lose resources equal to the corruption number.
  • Produce food and resources as you did in the beginning.
  • As your yellow bank empties, you will have to start consuming food to feed everyone.  If you can’t pay food, you’ll have to spend four culture points per food you can’t use.
  • If you have any Military actions, you can spend them to draw one Military card per action remaining.
  • Take back all of your action cubes so you’re ready for the next turn.

At the end of each Age (other than Age A), you’ll discard all antiquated cards.  This means that at the end of Age I, you’ll discard any Age A cards.  You’ll also remove any antiquated Leaders you have in play, as well as antiquated unfinished Wonders.  You’ll also lose two yellow cubes.

In your first game, each player will have one more turn after the end of Age II.  Then you have a final scoring, with the objective being to have the most culture.  The full game uses Age III, as well as more conflict, but the goal is the same – the most culture wins.

image by BGG user Berghai
image by BGG user Berghai

So, this is a dense game.  I don’t often cover these really heavy titles because I end up losing interest in the rules explanation – if I’m going to take the time to learn them, I want to actually play them too.  But TTA is a bit of a blind spot for me.  As I mentioned, I’ve played once, but I think I missed a lot of the subtleties because, as I also mentioned, it was in a coffee shop.

I feel comfortable in saying that TTA is probably Vlaada’s masterpiece.  It was really a turning point in his career.  It brought him much more attention than he had previously gotten, and though it now seems kind of atypical for him (this was designed by the same guy who did Galaxy Trucker and Dungeon Lords?), it remains a high point in his career.  The way he managed to translate many of the aspects of the original computer game is pretty brilliant.  I was a huge fan of the Civilization series, even played the HECK out of Civilization III while I was in college.  While this doesn’t really have the exploration aspect (no map), it does really do a great job at simulating the balance between food, resources, and happiness that you have to deal with.

I don’t really know the difference between the new version and the old.  I know this one doesn’t use the tiny wooden discs, substituting plastic cubes instead.  There are some other rule changes as well, but I don’t really want to try and find them.  I will just say that this game looks absolutely phenomenal, and I really want to play it now.  But not with four players.  And not in a coffee shop.  Thanks for reading!

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