Wednesday, 11 June 2008

non-aggressive Through the Ages

For a gamer, if you have a spouse willing to play a 3-hour Full Game of Through the Ages with you, there is probably not much else you can ask for. Michelle not only sat down to play a game of Through the Ages with me on Saturday afternoon (7 Jun 2008), she even beat me! 275 to 257. And we played a second game the next day.

We played the non aggressive variant, i.e. no aggression cards (you attack your opponent, and if successful, you grab resources, or destroy buildings, or take science, etc), and no war cards (potentially more destructive all-out wars where the severity of the outcome depends on the relative strength of the civilisations involved). This does not make military might irrelevant. It is still important, because there are many events rewarding the militarily stronger civilisation and punishing the weaker, and also there are colonies to fight over. In fact, I think removing the aggression and war cards make more colonies appear. We had about 6 colonies in both our games.

It was great fun! It was tiring for Michelle, since the games were long. The first game was probably around 3 hours, and this was after we spent the morning at the swimming pool with the children. The second game took maybe 2.5 hours. I skipped the Advanced Game and let her jump straight into the Full Game. It was probably a little overwhelming for Michelle, but I think she managed OK. Well, she did win the game!

Michelle and Through the Ages, near game end of our second game.

Michelle had the same comment as when I first played the game. This is a game where you cannot afford to neglect any single aspect of your civilisation. Ignore science, and you won't be able to keep up with your opponents' powerful buildings / efficient mines and farms / stronger military units. Ignore production, and you won't be able to build the new buildings / mines / soldiers even if you have the technology. Ignore food, and you won't have enough population to be turned into buildings / mines / soldiers. Ignore governments and related technologies, leaders or wonders, and you won't have enough actions to do all that you want to do.

Now that I have played 5 games of Through the Ages, I still like it a lot. In fact I may like it more than the Civilisation IV PC game. Or maybe I should say it removes some of the things that I don't like about the PC game. Two things that I find tedious in the PC game are warfare and the end game. Sometimes when playing on higher difficulty levels, I tend to need to wage a lot of war to gain an advantage over the AI's. This can be tedious sometimes (but not the time I meticulously planned to destroy the Greek because the warmongering Alexander the supposedly Great attacked me three times unprovoked). The end game can also be tedious when suddenly you switch focus solely to building your spaceship. Your civilisation is big and unweildy and a chore to manage, and usually by the time you get there either you are already the clear leader and victory is just a matter of spending much more time at the PC, or even when there is a serious contender in the space race, the space race itself is really not all that interesting. Either you have already set yourself up well (strong science and good production capacity), or you have not. By the time modern age is here, there are not many interesting decisions to make anymore.

Warfare in Through the Ages is very simplistic, but I'm satisfied with it. It is more about maneuvering and planning - developing military technology, training troops, drawing some defense cards, how many troops to sacrifice in case you need to spend them on claiming a colony. By the time you attack, or are attacked, you have already had the chance to prepare for it. You can only blame yourself if you are too poorly prepared for it. So the very simplistic battle resolution doesn't bother me.

The end game in Through the Ages is at least not as tedious as Civilisation IV. In the last few turns of the boardgame, you still feel there is much you have planned to do but time is already running out. It is not the case in the PC game. You feel like you don't have anything very interesting to do anymore. In the boardgame, there is still a feeling of having fewer interesting choices. There is usually not much point in improving infrastructure, increasing population, or discovering new technologies anymore, and the focus is solely on wringing that extra bit of culture (the victory points in this game) out of your civilisation. However the Age III events add some spice to the end game. These events award culture points based on various different aspects of your civilisation. You know which events that you have seeded into the event deck, but you won't know which are the ones you opponents have seeded. So at least you will feel that aspects other that culture do matter at game end.

One of the biggest advantages of PC games is they hide away all the boring accounting from you, saving you a lot of time and effort, and allowing you to focus on the fun bits. In Through the Ages there is some accounting that you have to do, but I find it simple and intuitive, so for me it doesn't get in the way of having fun. There are still times when I forget things though, e.g. I forget to make use of leader special powers, or powers of special technologies. And sometimes when Michelle's people eat a stored food, she moves the blue cylinder back to the yellow bank instead of the blue bank. Well at least that's easy to spot and fix.

There are still some things that I am not entirely sure of when I play, and occasionally I still have to refer to the rules. But overall I still think the game is quite intuitive and really is not very complex, just that there are sometimes some rare situations that you need to look up in the rules to make sure you handle them right. There is one thing I am still not sure of. With the Age III event card that awards culture based on your technologies, do you count cards that are covered by others? E.g. an older government card that has been covered by your newer government card, or an older special technology card that has been covered by a newer version of that special technology. I interpreted it as yes, you should count them, because you have spent science points discovering them. I wonder whether this is the official interpretation. It makes sense to me.

When Michelle first saw the fast food chain wonder card, she had a different interpretation from mine. I don't remember the exact text. My interpretation: you score 2pt for workers on mines + 2pt for workers on farms + 1pt for workers on urban buildings + 1pt for workers who are military units. Michelle's interpretation: you score 2pt for workers on mines OR 2pt for workers on farms, plus 1pt for workers on urban buildings OR 1pt for workers who are military units. From looking at the text on the card, I think my interpretation is the intended design. However, I think this way the fast food chain is overpowered compared to other Age III wonders, so we eventually agreed on Michelle's interpretation.

I guess I should check or ask on BoardGameGeek other players' viewpoints / interpretations on these.

My civilisation (1 of 3). I had 4 wonders, all mainly culture generating. Einstein was my Age III leader, but I forgot to make use of his power to gain culture when playing a technology card.

My civilisation (2 of 3). I was a despot most of the game and was stuck with 4 civil actions and 2 military actions for much of the game. Thankfully I eventually switched to a Monarchy, and I also had the Civil Service special technology card that gave me 2 more civil actions. I have only ever bothered to gain one more military technology, a rifleman. Not much variety there. I did spend resources in training troops, which was important for fighting over colonies. I had so many yellow cylinders, all because of my colonies (see next picture).

My civilisation (3 of 3). My 3 colonies and special technologies.

Michelle's civilisation (1 of 3). Michelle also had 4 wonders. Having many early wonders hinders you from taking the later wonders, because to pick a wonder card you need to spend additional civil actions based on how many existing wonders you already own. Michelle colonies have a bit more variety compared to mine.

Michelle's civilisation (2 of 3). Michelle has many blue cylinders. No worries about corruption.

Michelle's civilisation (3 of 3). Lots of good science and culture generating urban buildings.

A follow-up (Thu 12 Jun 2008):

I have checked on BoardGameGeek and confirmed that for Fast Food Chain, you indeed score for every worker, i.e. my interpretation. Other players do not find Fast Food Chain to be overpowered compared to other Age III wonders. So maybe it is just the way that we tend to play that makes Fast Food Chain seem overpowered. However I do remember reading somewhere else on BoardGameGeek that there are also some others who feel Fast Food Chain is one of the more powerful ones among the Age III wonders.

I have also found out that obsolete special technologies (e.g. Masonry when you already have Architecture) and obsolete government forms (e.g. Republic when you already have Democracy) should be discarded immediately and thus when you are rewarded for technologies, for example when building the First Space Flight wonder, you do not get rewarded for these technologies because they are no longer in your play area.


deck said...

Heh, I only got here by clicking on the Civilization 4 tag, but you mostly talked about Through the Ages. Anyway, I'm not sure if you still play the PC game, but if you still do, you should definitely check out the mods for it.

Fall from Heaven 2 in particular is really, really good. It beats base Civ 4 in every way. (Pimping my own review of it here:

It does need the Beyond the Sword expansion however.

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

I rarely play PC games now, but once in a (long) while I do fire-up Civ4. I'll check out Fall from Heaven 2. I'm not very much into the fantasy theme, so I never gave it a good look before. From your review, it sounds quite interesting.