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Roll Through the Ages - Board Game Review Roll Through the Ages - Board Game Review Hot

Roll Through the Ages - Board Game Review

Developing a new civilization has to be one hell of a tricky day job. I mean, my day job is to make catalogs, and that can sometimes be tough, but taking a civilization from stone weapons to the Great Pyramids just seems like it would really be a bitch. Between famine and pestilence and sex scandal in the White Palace, being in charge of an emerging civilization must have been harder than a job as Christian Bale's anger management coach.

Now, if those ancient tribes of primitive leaders had just had a set of wooden dice, things might have been a lot easier. I mean, when I played Roll Through the Ages, we managed to build cities, erect monuments, and develop irrigation in less than an hour. Can you imagine how much more difficult it would have been if we had actually been required to hire slaves and make them drag big stone blocks around? God, the paperwork alone must have been a nightmare.

Roll Through the Ages makes the whole thing easy. You start off with three cities, and each city lets you roll a die. The dice are all the same, but they have crazy stuff on every side, like one side will have three pieces of wheat, another has a jar of something-or-other, another has some people on it, and other sides have coins and skulls. The skulls are the ones to watch for, though - roll a few of these, and you might get invaded by Huns or give all your opponents smallpox (OK, that's actually kind of fun).

Every turn, you have several things to manage. You need food to feed your cities, and the more cities you have, the more food you need. You need goods and coins to develop stuff like medicine and granaries and architecture. You need workers to build more cities, and erect those gaudy monuments that must have seemed totally unnecessary at the time, but ended up being used by enterprising locals as tourist attractions for centuries (showing that the Bronze Age rulers had an incredible amount of vision). And all the while, you have to keep ahead of the Joneses, because it would be just like those damned Babylonians to go and build the Great Wall first, and leave the Chinese looking like copycats. Let's face it - nobody goes to visit the other Machu Picchu.

As the game progresses, bad stuff is going to happen. You'll roll too many skulls and wind up with drought, or invasion, or really itchy scalp way before anyone invents Selsun Blue. And when that happens, you lose points. You have to keep track of all these lost points, because at the end of the game, you subtract all those points from your achievements. It doesn't do much good to develop masonry if everyone revolts before you even get to build a brick outhouse.

When all the monuments have been built, or someone finishes five different developments, the game ends and everyone counts up their scores to see if they were the most impressive budding civilization. The player who built the most impressive civilization, as shown by adding up all your good stuff and subtracting all your disasters, gets to pretend he's King Tut. Everyone else gets to hit him with an orange in a sock for pretending to be King Tut.

By and large, I really enjoy Roll Through the Ages. It's a ton of luck, what with all the dice, but it's still fairly even. Poor planning at the beginning can sink you at the end, and a few bad rolls will ruin your day, but for the most part, the luck works out. In fact, the luck is part of the game - you roll and make the best of what you get. Since you get three or four rerolls (though you have to keep skulls), you'll have a chance to do something, even if it does end up being getting invaded and making an incredible number of clay pots.

There are a few problems, though. For one thing, there's virtually no player interaction. In fact, the game includes rules for solo play, because you never really get to stick it to your opponents (or invade them and use them as slaves, which would be way more fun). There's a little competition - you want to build the big monuments first, and you can hurt everyone else with pestilence if you roll just right - but mostly it's a bunch of people all taking turns playing a solo game and comparing scores at the end.

The biggest problem, ironically, is a direct result of multiple competitors. I haven't done an in-depth study of the game (because I have a job and a family and a television), but it seems to me that the best way to win is to build a bunch of cities really fast and then build the biggest monuments as quick as possible. You can have all kinds of calamities if you can go hide inside your pyramids. This means that there's not much reason to devote much time to the developments, which is kind of disappointing because the developments were one of my favorite parts of Roll Through the Ages. It does make the game go fast, but that's not always what I want in a game. In this case, I really would have liked the option to develop engineering and coinage before I went off to build the Parthenon. Instead, I can just spend two turns dumping all my workers into a monument and rack up a huge score for it.

But even with the lack of interaction and the abbreviated ending, Roll Through the Ages still barrels of fun. It's a fast-paced dice game where it pays to take risks and you can't ever have enough food (kind of like being a teenager). You can break it out and finish in less than an hour, and if you really just like the way it works, you can play all by your sad, lonesome self.

Summary

Pros:
Really neat wooden components
Quick and intuitive
Risky - who dares, wins (unless they die)
Lots of chances to plan ahead and still be flexible

Cons:
Not enough opportunity to ruin your friends
Ends before it really gets going


Matt Drake is a regular contributer to Fortress: Ameritrash and the author of the Drake's Flames blog, where you can read more of his crassly opinionated reviews.

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Comments (12)
  • avatarSan Il Defanso

    Have you tried the trading variant? I like this game, but I think that with 3 or 4 people the trading version might be the only way to play.

    It's definitely a good one though.

  • jävel

    I prefer Yahtzee (and a flan for that matter)

  • avatarword_virus

    Yeah, I couldn't get in to this one at all. No interaction... don't think I even looked at my opponent during their turns, and it doesn't do anything better than Yahtzee Cosmic Wimpout.

  • avatarInfinityMax

    Hell, I haven't played this game in a very long time. This is an older review, and I don't even have the game any more. It was fun, but I had a lot of games I liked more. I do know that I never tried the trading variant.

  • avatarMsample

    Is the original "real" game THROUGH THE AGES any more interactive? It seems pretty popular, but also whenever I see people playing it, seems long and they are all kind of quiet and engaged in deep thought.

  • avatarFrohike

    Well, I'm glad someone's enjoying this game, I guess. I find it to be a rather dry, light, solitaire game. I was dissappointed by it when I finally got around to playing it.

  • avatarInfinityMax

    Dude, the real Through the Ages is the most difficult game I ever played. It can be a lot more interactive, but it can also take eight hours. Hell, you can declare war on your neighbors and steal their stuff. Doesn't get a lot more interactive than that.

  • avatarsgosaric

    The free to download expansion "late bronze age" is a must.
    - Makes the game come to its fruition: more combos to choose from and more time to make them work. It feels like this is the way the game was meant to look like in the first place.
    - monuments have NAMES now! (whose stupid idea was to leave them out in the first place? I build 5 squares?) Some developments have also been a revelation of telling me what some goods actually represent.
    - trading phase is obligatory. Makes a game a bit longer, doesn't make that much of an influence BUT you actually look at other player's boards! It's worthy just for that opening of horizons: We play a game together. Yay.

    So yes, if I ever play this game again it's with expansion. I still don't like anything about it's graphic design and components, they don't evoke the theme for me and idea of building something doesn't come through (I want to see what I build) and for me the wooden pieces are just plain ugly. (I got the game by mistake, it's too heavy to trade by post ...).

  • avatarSan Il Defanso  - re:
    sgosaric wrote:
    The free to download expansion "late bronze age" is a must.
    - Makes the game come to its fruition: more combos to choose from and more time to make them work. It feels like this is the way the game was meant to look like in the first place.
    - monuments have NAMES now! (whose stupid idea was to leave them out in the first place? I build 5 squares?) Some developments have also been a revelation of telling me what some goods actually represent.
    - trading phase is obligatory. Makes a game a bit longer, doesn't make that much of an influence BUT you actually look at other player's boards! It's worthy just for that opening of horizons: We play a game together. Yay.

    So yes, if I ever play this game again it's with expansion. I still don't like anything about it's graphic design and components, they don't evoke the theme for me and idea of building something doesn't come through (I want to see what I build) and for me the wooden pieces are just plain ugly. (I got the game by mistake, it's too heavy to trade by post ...).

    That sounds really good.

    Also, my copy of the game does have names on the monuments. I think it's just a second edition thing.

  • avatarmikecl

    I liked this game for about the first five plays. (And I played with Late Bronze Age) But after that, I couldn't stand it.

    There's just not enough going on.

  • Steve Weeks

    I like this one. Good experience with many players. Players have even bought the game after playing.

  • avatarcdennett

    I've actually played this game enough times to have a strong opinion on. I enjoy it, though my feelings for it have waned over time.

    I disagree that monuments are the way to win. In fact, I'd say the majority of the time the developments win the game, especially with the expanded rules. Monuments only seem to win if you end the game early with them. For this to happen, multiple people must be chasing them. If multiple people aren't building them, you don't have a shot going the monument route.

    My biggest disappointment with this game is that there are a couple of ways to win that appear unstoppable unless you get unlucky (which does happens). It's hard to experiment with new strategies once you figure this out.

    I still enjoy the game, but it doesn't get pulled out much. It is, however, a great game to play on a plane, just pass the game box lid around with the dice. We played a 4-player game both to and from Gencon last year (first time I had played it) and it made the trip fly by (pun intended).

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