Thursday, 8 May 2008

more Through the Ages & Race for the Galaxy

Through the Ages and Race for the Galaxy are my two latest game purchases, both of which I decided to buy immediately after I played them. And I'm thankful I made that decision quickly, because when Han helped me to buy them, he found that they were the second last and last copy in stock respectively. Here are some more thoughts after playing these two games a few more times.

I read through the rules of Through the Ages myself. Previously Han taught me. I found there were a few rules which I wasn't aware of. Most are small details though. After having played two games, an Advanced Game (medium length) and a Full Game (longest version), Han and I also discovered that we made some rule mistakes. Thankfully those mistakes did not spoil our overall experience. I really like Through the Ages.

One thing that I feel when reading the rules is that this is a game that probably should be taught and played at the same time. There are quite many rules, and it is difficult to remember them all without putting them into practice. So, I think the right way to teach the game is just to set it up and start playing. It is much easier to teach and explain when all the components are set up. Also since most items (except the military cards) are open information, this makes teaching along with playing easier.

In our second game (2 player, Full Game), Han and I used almost the opposite strategy from our first game. This time I invested a bit in military, while he decided not to bother. He stayed a despot till the modern age, using technologies / wonders to give himself more civil and military actions, but I changed government to a republic. He started focusing on wonders and culture earlier that I did, while I focused on science earlier. Han suffered quite a bit because of neglecting military. I robbed him and burned his buildings quite a few times. Evil deeds indeed. Probably in the Full Game it is not a good idea to do neglect military, because there is more time for you to be bullied by stronger opponents. In our previous (shorter) Advanced Game I ignored military but still did OK, probably because the game was shorter and the damage done didn't add up to too much.

In this game I worked hard on science. One of the early wonders I built was the Library of Alexandria. I had plenty of science, and could even afford to change government peacefully without any bloodshed (to change your form of government you need to spend science; there are two price tags, the lower one means you get a revolution and you lose one whole turn, the higher one means you have a peaceful transition with only spend one civil action). In contrast, I kept burning down Han's labs (or libraries?), which didn't help his scientific growth at all.

My second time playing Through the Ages. It was Age III now, but I was still a despot. I later changed to a republic. My leader was now Albert Einstein - good for science obviously. My people were well entertained. My "happy face" level was at 7 (red cube on my board).

From left to right: My farms (I have invented selective breeding but have not built or upgraded a farm to make use of this technology), my warriors (similarly I have not retrained them to become swordsmen), my leader the genius and my two wonders.

Now that we have played Age III (only played in the Full Game and not the Advanced Game), I find that there are two aspects of the game that may be a bit unbalanced. I looked up BoardGameGeek and apparently there are people who feel the same. The first item is the Age III wonders, in particular the fast food franchise, which gives culture points depending on your number of urban buildings, mines, farms and military units. I built it, and it gave me a crazy 24 culture points! I'm concerned whether this is too big a swing. The other item is the Age III event cards. These event cards reward players based on different criteria, e.g. science, population, military units, etc, and if you are lucky to draw one that suits you and plant it into the future events deck, then you can score big time. I guess these possible big scoring opportunities allow for some uncertainty and excitement at the end game. But there is also the risk of a player doing relatively well throughout the game, and then losing the game because of bad luck with these two things near the end of the game. I'm not sure how big the swings can really be. Maybe it really is not that big. Maybe if you have been doing well throughout the game, you would be better positioned to take advantage of these wonders and event cards in the first place.

On the top right, the start player card and a red military action token. Here I was halfway building my fast food chains "wonder" (the blue tokens mark the progress). I wonder why that's a wonder.

One thing that I find is that in Through the Ages you really need to balance your 5 resource types. Technically there are only two resource types in the game, stone and food. But I also consider these your resources: population, civil/military actions, and science. You cannot afford to fall behind in any of these, because if you do, that resource will be your bottleneck. Your other resources will become useless, or you won't be able to use them optimally. If I am rich in resources (as in stone and food), but do not have enough civil actions to do all the things that I want to do with them, then I'm wasting my resources. If I have lots of civil actions and stones, but I do not have idle workers to be converted into military units or buildings (or mines or farms), then I am wasting. And of course if I don't have knowledge, I will be stuck using inefficient ancient age technologies. This feels like the scoring system in Euphrates & Tigris and Ingenious. It doesn't matter if you have a lot of one resource. It is your poorest resource that will hold you back.

Another thing that I wonder about the way we played is we have little military build-up, few events planted into the future event deck, and few territories to be conquered. There was some effort spent on military, but that was rather minimal, probably because in both our games one player basically decided to give up on military, so there was no arms race. There were few events planted into the event deck too. I wonder whether this is the same for other players / groups. In our two games, there was only one territory that was ever planted into the event deck. I wonder whether this is because ours were 2-player games, and whether with 3 or 4-player games there will be more events / territories. I suspect we were a bit conservative in planting events into the event deck compared to other groups, and this was probably because we were wary of whether the events will end up benefiting our opponents more than ourselves.

I still like Through the Ages a lot after 2 plays. I hope to be able to play this with Michelle. Long games are not her thing, but she was intrigued by the game when she saw Han and I playing it. But I think in her first game I probably should play the no-aggression variant.

After a few more games of Race for the Galaxy, I continue to like the variety in the game. By now I think I have seen every card in the game, but I definitely have not used all of them. I still find that I rarely get stuck with a completely useless hand of cards, and this is one thing I quite like about the game. I also continue to feel that this is a game about focus, quite different from Through the Ages which is about balanced development of your civilisation. In Race for the Galaxy, you really should have a coherent and focused strategy, and not waste time or resources dabbling in many different things. It's about specialisation.

I also find that the games move quicker than we realise, probably because we are so engrossed in it. Often we are surprised when realising that we have reached 10 or 11 cards (game ends when one player has 12 or more cards), because we still feel that we are in the middle of the game, having still quite a number of cards in our hand that we have planned to play, but cannot, now that the game end is approaching. And this is fantastic! It is a great feeling being so absorbed in a game. I still find Race for the Galaxy very interesting and have no doubt I will play much more of it, especially since Michelle likes it too. And she is winning more than a fair share of the games. This may turn out to be another San Juan, i.e. a game that she'll tend to do better at than me.

1 comment:

Aik Yong said...

aaaaaaiiiiieeeee.... such interesting mechanics... such hefty price tag.... really need to try Through the Ages soon.