With social distancing and us isolating ourselves, apps are becoming even more important in our boardgaming lives.
While I’m here and while this blog is getting tons of hits for online gaming, let’s rectify that little issue, shall we?
Through the Ages is one of the more complex games I’ve played, but the app makes it so easy. The original base game came out in 2006 and was designed by Vlaada Chvátil and was published by (hey, this sounds familiar) CGE.
When the app came out in 2017, it was based on the revised edition of the game, Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization (2015) that reworked a bunch of the cards and rebalanced the game some.
In a nice switch, when the New Leaders & Wonders expansion came out in 2019, it came out for the app first.
The app is brilliant and the game is pretty damned good too.
Let’s do a short overview of the game before I go onto the app (while you already know it’s awesome, read on to find out just why it’s so great).
Through the Ages is a civilization game that’s done all through cards. There is no board whatsoever. All of the buildings and population that you build during the game, as well as the resources, will be placed on those cards.
You start the game with a Warrior unit, some farmers, some mines, and some science.
The game goes through the Ancient Age, and then through Ages 1, 2, and 3.
On your turn, you have a certain number of civil actions and military actions that will let you get new cards, build things, and increase your military strength by building military units or playing tactics cards.
There’s a row of cards at the top of the screen that are available to pick with your civil actions. You can pick them and then you can play them for another civil action. You also have a number of military actions that you can use to build up military strength, which can become very important.
Every card you have is public knowledge, except for your military cards, because you visibly choose them. The app keeps them public though in the regular game I guess you keep everything hidden. It’s a sort of “known hidden” information that drives some people nuts.
The mines and farms that players have will be producing resources and food to allow you to increase your population and to build your other buildings or wonders. You can increase the amount of glory you produce each turn by building theaters, or perhaps increase your glory and your science by developing Printing Presses and Journalism buildings.
At the beginning of your turn in the Politics phase, you’ll have the option to seed an event card. This card won’t take effect immediately, but will be seeded into the deck and a previously-seeded event will come out instead. These events can be very good at the beginning of the game (build a Warrior for free if you have a population prepared), but as the game wears on they can be bad depending on what your situation is (the strongest civilization can take a population from the weakest, for example).
Also during this Politics phase you can either do aggressions against other, weaker players, or you can even declare war on them! Aggressions can be countered and are resolved before your turn continues while wars go on until your next turn. Once a war is resolved, whoever is stronger gets some stuff while the loser loses stuff.
Don’t be like me and declare a war and then do something to dismantle your military so you end up losing all the glory instead of taking it.
That kind of sucks (what can I say? I don’t declare wars so I forgot about it).
Each age you can have a different leader bringing your civilization to new heights. They each have a special ability that will give you some benefit. Saladin, for example, lets you either increase your strength between turns (so you’re not as weak, maybe?) or can give you a civil action if you’re already the strongest or just need the civil action that badly.
There are also Wonders that you can build that will give you some advantages, or maybe more glory or resources.
Your buildings will be gaining you things, including glory, each turn. As the game goes on, your glory will increase, until you get to the end of the game.
Throughout the Third Age, there will be events (Impacts) that will give everybody glory based on the comparison of whatever it is, and then at the end of the game, seeded Impacts will take effect for end-game scoring.
That’s a very simple overview, but this game was the #1 ranked game on Boardgame Geek for a long while, and having played the original, I much prefer the “New Story” to the old one.
But maybe that’s because I got bored with the fiddly nature of the game on the table and am really giddy about how the app takes care of all that bookkeeping.
Or it could just be a better game (I think that’s it).
Yes, the app is marvelous, but let me tell you why.
First, the graphics are amazing. Crisp and clear, easily readable, as you can see above. As civilizations move from pastoral early civilizations into more industrial and modern ones, the excellent music changes from a soft country sound to a more modern sound.
Secondly, the user interface is wonderful with everything easily accessible on the main page or with just a tap/click.
Your resources, yellow tokens/population, and your happy faces are on the bottom left. Your remaining civil and military actions are on the bottom right.
The card row is easily seen at the top. There’s a friends button on the top left which will also open the chat for the game if there is anything there.
Tapping/clicking the arrow under all the players will show all of the statistics for each civilization: glory, how much is produced, resources, happy faces, cards, wonders, colonies, pretty much everything.
Tapping on a card will bring it up and give you what your options are with that card.
You can also do the same to your (or anybody else’s) civilization to get a good overview of where all the buildings are (though it’s also pretty easily seen without doing that).
As mentioned above, the tutorial is great. It’s humorous with the designer as a “leader” in the game as it walks you through the first few turns and tells you what you can do.
Most tutorials are dull and boring and also don’t necessarily do a good job of teaching you the game. This is true in most of the more complex games where you end up having to check the rule book to learn some of the deeper things you can do in the game.
Given the complex nature of Through the Ages, you might expect the same thing here and it is true to some extent. However, the tutorial pretty much tells you everything you need to know to get started.
The rest you will learn as you get pummeled by your enemies.
Going back to the game for a moment, this is a complex game with excellent design. It does not coddle you as a player. You don’t have to become a military powerhouse, but you do have to keep up.
If you don’t, you will pay for it as the other players will attack you and plunder your civilization for vital resources that will help them win the game.
In the game above, I managed to keep pace with green. He kept wanting to attack me but my military was roughly equal to his so he had to plunder poor blue instead. With all of the aggressions and wars he inflicted on blue, he was winning the game in glory (mainly by stealing glory in the wars).
Yet I had higher glory scores when many of the Impact event cards came up and I ended up taking the lead by two points on the final card.
If I hadn’t stayed mostly equal, I would have lost really badly.
The game does have an option to forfeit/withdraw, so if you are getting destroyed then you can withdraw gracefully and stop feeding the other players all of your stuff. It’s an integral part of the game, so it’s not a “flip the table” moment that will make people not want to play with you any more. It’s more of a mercy than anything else.
I’ve done it a couple of times myself.
Just come back next time and play better!
This is an example of an app that makes it so that I will probably not want to play the original game on the table, at least not much. All of the bookkeeping involved in moving track markers and collecting resources, making sure you put them on the proper cards, is all done brilliantly by the app so you don’t have to think about it.
You just have to look to see what you have available.
You also don’t have to spend 3-4 hours at the table, either.
Which brings me to the very best part of the app for me: online multiplayer.
CGE has made an app that has the smoothest asynchronous online multiplayer I’ve ever seen, even better than Playdek. It’s as smooth as… a thing that is extremely smooth. Notifications work wonderfully, the app shows replays of all your opponents’ moves before getting to your turn, and you can choose between the base game, the expansion, or a mixture of the two.
It’s very intuitive and also handles things that would normally happen immediately very well too. For instance, if everybody has to lose a population due to some event and you have to choose, it doesn’t hold up the game while everybody makes their choice (I’m looking at you, Boardgame Arena). It moves forward and lets you make that choice on your turn.
For colonies, they have both the regular boardgame option (everybody takes turns bidding until only one bid is left) as well as a “digital” option which has each player say the maximum they will bid and then the highest bidder will pay the minimum amount it would take to win the colony (so if I say I’ll bid highest of 5, Joe says he’ll bid highest of 7 and Anna says she’ll bid highest of 10, Anna will win it and have to pay 8).
It truly seems like CGE has thought of everything.
I have many asynchronous Through the Ages games under my belt. Through those games I’ve learned a lot and I think I’m fairly decent. Not top tier, of course, but not a rookie.
This is one of my favourite apps and it’s well worth a purchase, especially in these times where we’re all staying at home and isolating ourselves.
What better way to spend your social isolation than building a marvelous civilization and bringing another player’s civilization down to a smoldering ruin?
I can’t think of any, to be honest.
It’s a premium app so you’ll be paying a premium price (unless you jump on the Steam sale), but it’s well worth it.
I can’t think of a much better combination of great app and great game than Through the Ages.