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Through the Ages From £8.99
Game description: Turn-by-turn civ-style digital board game
Value for money
A brilliant board game conversion that acts as training wheels for those looking to get into Civilization 6 and its ilk
- Tremendous, funny tutorial
- Immaculate presentation
- More depth than first meets the eye
- Delivers Civilization-style gaming in hour-sized chunks
- Struggling to think of any
There is something wrong with me. I’m still sucking on the pipe of a Football Manager addiction while simultaneously eyeing up other life-sapping games that will eliminate the tiny fragments of free time I have left. I’ve long yearned to get into the Civilization series, for example, but have until recently managed to keep the safety lid on the bottle. Then someone introduced me to Through the Ages.
Through the Ages is Civilization Lite – a digital board game version of the computer game that’s all over within an hour or so. And this snack-sized version of Civ has become my gateway drug to the opioid overdose that is Civlization 6. I’m in deep, deep trouble. Call FRANK. But first, let’s deal with why Through the Ages is brilliant in its own right.
Through the Ages review: the tutorial
Even though Through the Ages is far more simple than full-blown Civilization, there’s still plenty to get your head around – especially if you’ve never played a Civ-style game before. Any game like this will live or die by its tutorial, and Through the Ages has one of the best in-game tutorials I’ve ever waded through.
It explains all the game’s key concepts immaculately, starting with how cards are dished out, through to how to build up your empire, the nuances of government and how to choose a leader. If you don’t get a concept first time, you can dip back into a particular chapter of the tutorial and do only that bit again, instead of having to wade through the entire 45-minute lesson. There’s an in-game wiki to provide further help too.
The tutorial’s attempts at humour stay just the right side of the amusing/irritating border, which is handy, because you’ve got more chance of winning Wimbledon with a table-tennis bat than you have of winning a game of Through the Ages without bothering with the tutorial. Don’t skip school, kids.
Through the Ages review: gameplay
There are both local and online multiplayer parts to Through the Ages. The great news is the local games are offline – you don’t need to be hooked to the internet to play. Better still, if you’re playing the iPad version like I am, Through the Ages won’t lay siege to all your free storage, either. It takes up a mere 128MB on my iPad. By comparison, Civilization 6 needs about 4GB.
(Note that it’s also available on Android and PC.)
Locally, you can play against friends (it supports Pass and Play) and up to three AI opponents. There are four different difficulty levels to choose from, but if you’re new to civ games I’d strongly advise you to not get too cocky – it took me two or three attempts to tumble even the training AI in a one-on-one game.
There are two types of ‘actions’ in Through the Ages: civil and political. For each of these you need to collect cards. Civil cards upgrade your buildings, build wonders, choose a leader. Political cards are more interesting – they’re what you use to start wars, form pacts or conquer territories. In each round of the game, you’ll have a set number of civil and political actions, and deciding what you spend these on is what separates a Winston Churchill from a Theresa May.
Talking of old Winnie, he is one of the real-life leaders in this game. All the eras, wonders of the world and leaders are authentic, which turns the game into the most enjoyable history lesson you’ve ever sat through. Knowledge of your historical figures is also a slight advantage, as you’ll know broadly which type of leader (military, artistic, bit of a bastard) you’re dealing with, although you can always tap on them to find out precisely which leadership bonuses they confer on an empire.
Through the Ages review: picking a strategy
If you’re thinking the use of cards makes this game more luck than strategy, you’re wrong. Sure, it helps if the cards fall in your favour, but you need to decide on a strategy and decide on it quickly in this game.
There’s no way to knock players out of this game – every player will stay in until the final round, but it’s pretty easy to kill your game early on if you don’t settle on a strategy and execute it.
The winner is the player that earns the most culture points. They’re misleadingly named, in my view, because you can earn culture points for all sorts of things – attacking another player, colonising territories, choosing Joan of Arc as your leader. You pick up culture points throughout the game and – crucially – at the end, when factors such as the technologies you’ve developed, the number of wonders you’ve built and the number of colonies you’ve acquired all earn bonus culture points.
The easiest way for beginners to chalk up a victory or two is to beef up the military and kick the culture points out of your opponents, but you’ll need more advanced strategies to tackle the more intelligent AI.
Through the Ages: the verdict
Through the Ages is one of those games where you’ll look up and it’s suddenly 2am and your wife has left you for Boris Johnson. It made a ten-hour transatlantic flight feel like a short hop to Ibiza. Even with the superb tutorial, the learning curve requires a few hill starts, but once you’ve nailed the basic concepts you’ll discover a game with enormous depth and charm.
And I forgot to mention the one killer feature: the Undo button. Screw up a turn that ends in your population revolting and you can turn back the clock and replay all the civil actions again. It lets you work out the consequences of different moves and decide what’s best before you commit. Purists might regard that as “save scumming” – letting you try and try again until you get the desired outcome – but I think I’d have given up on Through the Ages a long time ago if it weren’t for that feature. It’s a genius stroke of digital adaptation.
Perhaps the best thing I can say for Through the Ages is it’s great training for Civilization 6, introducing you to many of the same gameplay concepts and strategies that you’ll need in the bigger game. And if you love Through the Ages, then ring work and tell them your grandad’s died (again), because you’ll need a good few days of uninterrupted solitary when you embark on Civ…