Roll Through The Ages

Posted on August 18, 2012 by Jack Kelly
Tags: gaming

Tonight, I was at the Hobart Games Society’s Winter Games Fest. I missed most of the fun (since Saturday is almost always a work day), but I managed to play a couple of short games with a lot of very friendly people. The highlight of the evening was a round of Roll Through the Ages.

Essentially, it’s empire building using dice, designed by the mind behind Pandemic. The game is set in the bronze age (or, if you’re using the free expansion the late bronze age). The dice are special D6s, with faces for food, workers, disasters, coin and so on. There’s a pretty good review of the mechanics over at BoardGameGeek. Each player gets a pegboard to track their stockpile of food and goods, along with a score sheet to cross off their constructions and technological advances.

The design works remarkably well. It’s set up so that you never need to un-cross anything on your score sheet. Further, the game’s subsystems balance each other out: if you have more cities, you can roll more dice. If you have more cities, though, you need to find more food to feed your population and you’re more likely to roll disasters. To generate the more valuable goods, you need to roll multiple goods in a turn. Dangerously, the rolls that give you the most goods are the ones that expose you to the worst disasters. Another satisfying feature is that none of the rolls are outright bad: disaster rolls also give you the most goods, extra food can be stored across turns and spare workers can construct monuments.

The theme overlaid on the game makes me think of Avalon Hill’s Civilization. The ancient world is a pretty interesting place for empire-building: some of the basic technologies are paradigm shifts for an ancient civilisation, which means that it’s sensible for them to have strong effects. The ancients were also fans of building great monuments, which provides a thematic sink for leftover worker power.

Is it a deep strategy game? No, but it has a surprising amount of depth for such a random core.

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