Players: 2 to 4
Game Length: 3 or more hours
Best enjoyed: With 3 players who want a long and involved civilization-building strategy game and enjoy managing economic systems
Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization is a complex yet compelling strategy game about developing a civilization from ancient times to the modern era, through discovering technologies, constructing wonders, developing infrastructure, growing population and waging war. At the end of the game, the civilization who has made the greatest impact on the world – measured by their Culture Point score – will be the winner.
The gameplay of Through the Ages is driven largely by cards, and unlike other games of similar scope, it does not feature any map. Through the Ages makes use of an innovative Card Row market system, where players may claim any card on the row by spending actions. The cost to claim a card gets cheaper the longer a card has been on the board, meaning that if you want to guarantee yourself a particularly desirable card when it first appears, you’ll need to be willing to give up a large part of your turn to claim it.
Players will need to develop their infrastructure if they want to stay competitive by researching new technologies. These will need to be claimed from the card row, too, so they will be competing with their opponents for these. Players will develop their civilizations in different directions as they play the game – do they want to go for military, giving them their pick of territories and letting them walk over their weaker neighbours, or would they rather focus on science to claim the technologies they need and stay on the cutting edge of efficiency? They’ll need to think about setting up a steady income of culture points at some stage, too – otherwise, by the time the game approaches the end, they may find themselves completely unable to catch up.
Through the Ages does have a lot of fiddly rules that take getting used to. For example, you may claim any card from the card row (unless it’s a leader from an age you’ve already claimed a leader for) which goes into your hand (unless it’s a wonder) and may be played that turn (unless it’s an action). You’ll also be spending a lot of time moving the population and resource tokens back and forth to track your economy – the tokens themselves being small, round and easily knocked off the table and across the room. The extent to which you shuffle these tokens around can make the game feel like an exercise in economy management rather than an exciting game of conquest and development.
The game can be difficult to learn through the rulebook, too – there are no less than three different gameplay modes of increasing complexity, and rules for these are described in exhaustive text that can be laborious to read. Introducing a new player to the game will be a daunting task, as they’ll most likely need to play a round of the Advanced game before being able to participate in a Full game. However, once the game is taught and all the rules are internalised, Through the Ages is a compelling strategy game well-deserving of its high rank on the Board Game Geek game rankings.
Through the Ages plays best with three players. With four, there is an extended wait between turns that are already long and involved, and with two a player who is ahead militarily can attack their opponent without fear of reprisals.
If you are looking for an involved and thoughtful strategy game, and don’t mind economically-minded gameplay or having to learn extensive rules, Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization comes highly recommended.