Monday, 13 October 2008

improving in Through the Ages

I have now played 14 games of Through the Ages, and am still loving it. There are many shorter games in my collection that I have not played more than 10 times, or even 5 times. Michelle is a tough opponent to beat. Based on play records, we are quite evenly matched. Recently she had a 304VP game, which was the highest I have ever seen in the games I have played. Although we don't play the No-Aggression variant anymore, we tend to be rather peaceful. We do build up our military, but mainly just for gaining an edge when events are resolved or when colonies are up for grabs, and not for aggressions or wars. We still have not played a single war card, ever. Yay. Peace.

Since I only play games within a small circle of friends, I don't really get a lot of exposure to different tactics and strategies. I tend not to read strategy articles on Boardgamegeek, because I prefer to explore them myself. I sometimes read them, after I have done some exploring myself, when I am interested to see how others play. So my new relevations on Through the Ages are probably just basic strategy for other better players.

(1) I only recently realised that I should make use of my knowledge of the card deck to plan ahead. I actually have been doing this to an extent, but have not thought of applying this to the whole game. James Cook is the first example of how Michelle and I have been planning ahead. Cook, if you have him as a leader, gives 2 culture points per turn per colony. He can be a big culture boost. If we colonise a lot in Age I and Age II, we start to anticipate him appearing, either to claim him to help ourselves, or to deny each other. We even start to hope to draw the Iconoclasm event card (which retires - let's not use the word "kills" - leaders not of the current age, i.e. it can force Cook into early retirement once Age III is here). We have been doing this for quite a few games, and I did not realise that this same principle can be applied to many other situations.

In our latest game, I had 3 Level II labs. When Sid Meier (oops... I mean Game Designer) appeared, I took him as my Age III leader, and he gave me 6 culture points per turn! (at the expense of 3 science points per turn, which I could afford) I didn't plan for this beforehand. I was just trying to be clever (by having a lot of science points) (heh heh... bad joke...). When I realised how great Sid was, the light bulb lit up. I could have planned for this. This applies to all the other leaders too, and wonders, and to some extent special technologies and governments too. All the while I have been playing a rather reactive game, just browsing the card row for what looks nice to have, instead of actively planning ahead for what will come up. So, hopefully learning to do planning will help me to improve my game.

(2) Your game needs to be balanced, but not too diversified. I can only think of calling this "efficient diversity". One of my early impressions of the game is you need to be diversified. You cannot ignore any specific aspect of your civilisation. You can't ignore food production, because otherwise you won't have enough population to do all things you want to do. Ignore stone (resource) production and you can't afford to build anything. Ignore government form and you won't get enough actions. Ignore science and you'll stay a caveman. Ignore culture and you lose (culture = victory points). And so on. Now I find that you not only have to diversify (now I'm not even sure this is the best word), you must do it as efficiently as possible. You need to do less to achieve the same. If you need more science, get some labs, OR get some libraries, but don't try to do both. I wouldn't make this a hard-and-fast rule. I'm just using this as an example to illustrate. Another example is the blue special technologies. These technologies, e.g. the warfare / military strategy ones, have different versions for the different ages. The version for a later age is costs more science but is also more expensive, and if you have an old version when you obtain the new version, you must discard the old one, i.e. the effects are not accumulative, you are just enhancing the effects. As a general rule, I'd say once you have obtained one technology in the family, don't bother to upgrade it. The cost to do so may not be worth the additional gain. You might as well go for another technology from a different family. For cards with an upgrade path, like the urban buildings and special technologies, and to an extent government forms, you should try to do more with less. I think it's better to have fewer types of urban buildings, so that you can focus on upgrading them to be more efficient. I think it's better not to change governments too many times, because these are expensive.

(3) Don't depend on your crutches. This is something I should have learned from the Civilisation PC game. Wonders in the PC game are, well, wonderful. And they are fun to build. When you beat all other civilisations in building a wonder, you feel great. You have a big sense of achievement. The benefits of the wonders are usually significant. However one pitfall of wonders, especially when you are progressing to a harder difficulty level, is that you become dependent on them. At higher difficulty levels when you are unable to build as many wonders and you tend to like to do at easier levels, you may suffer because at the easier levels the wonders have spoilt you. You are not playing efficiently. The same applies to Through the Ages, and I only realise it now.

When I had Moses as my leader at the start of the game, I tend to ignore improving my farms, because with Moses I needed less food to increase my population. The moment that I reached the saturation point (no surplus food), or when Moses "retired", I suddenly found myself struggling with food production. So in my latest game, when I had Moses, I consciously told myself not to ignore my farms, and throughout the game I didn't have any problem with that aspect of my civilisation.

My most recent game played on 5 Oct 2008. I had four colonies. Unfortunately I don't think I had Cook as my leader (who would have given me 8 culture points per turn). But I do remember I made use of Columbus to get a "free" colony. I unconsciously applied the "plan ahead" technique. I got Columbus in my hand, didn't play it until I had a decent colony card in my hand, and soon after making use of his power, I "fired" him and took on a new leader. I'm not a very compassionate boss.

We still play with our own house rule on the Fast Food Chains. Score for military unit OR urban building, and score for farms OR mines. But now I'm starting to see why this card may not be so overpowered afterall. Competent players probably won't have so many workers out because they don't need to. Their buildings / farms / mines would probably be quite efficient, thus needing fewer workers.

Another new thing that I learned recently is that I don't like Hammurabi very much after all. He used to be my favourite Age A leader, giving an extra civil action at the cost of one military action less. In the early game, one civil action is a big deal. Now I think it is better to gain the extra civil actions by other means. The penalty of one military action less is big. Not just because it makes raising troops slower, but also I think more importantly you get to draw only one military card per turn (assuming you didn't use the military action). That limits your choices a lot. You have much less influence on the event deck. You have less chance of drawing suitable tactic cards. Also Age A leaders don't last very long. When you suddenly find yourself back to 4 civil actions at the end of Age I, that's bad. When Age II come around, you need more civil actions. I guess the lesson of not depending on your crutches applies here too.

I wonder what's the next thing I'll learn in Through the Ages. Although this is one of the more expensive games, I am happy to have bought it. I have enjoyed it a lot and continue to do so.

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