Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roll and Build - Roll Through the Ages Review

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age
  • Designed by Matt Leacock
  • Published by Gryphon Games
  • For 1-4 players
  • Plays in around 30-45 minutes

Roll Through the Ages is a fairly short civilization building game revolving around dice.  Players have to balance a limited food supply, workers to build cities and monuments, and resources to purchase developments, all while worrying about the threat of disaster.  It may not be the most satisfying civ building game, but it is an enjoyable dice game.

What you get inside the box
There aren't many components in RTtA, but what is in the game is superb quality.  The dice have custom images on them, I believe they're burned in with lasers, though I don't know that for sure.  The resource boards for players are made of solid wood, which is heavier than you'd think.  The only negative is the score sheets, which are use one per player per game and no more.  I ended up having 4 sheets laminated, so players could write on them with a felt pen and then wipe them clean.  This makes the game last a lot longer, and there's something about laminated pages that makes it more fun.

The 6 faces of the dice
The core of the game revolves around dice.  Players roll one die for each city they have in play (3 to start).  Each die can be rolled up to 3 times (think Yahtzee), but all disaster icons are locked in place.  After a player is satisfied with their roll, or out of rolls, they have to feed their cities (1 food per city).  Players then use workers to build cities or monuments.  The first player to build a given monument scores points (points vary based on the monument), while any subsequent builds yield less points.  Finally, players can use resources and coins to buy one development.  Developments do a variety of things, all of them useful in some way.  Play continues until either each monument has been collectively built at least once, or until one person purchases their 7th development.
I enjoy the balance between city growth and food requirements.  It brings a light tension to the game, while still allowing player choice.  There's a lot of different paths to take in the game when it comes to developments, and that's a good thing for RTtA.

How things look at the start of the game
There isn't much direct interaction in RTtA, but there are two ways to affect what other people do.  The first is the disaster rolls.  Disasters stack, and if you roll 3, it affects your opponents, instead of you, though the risk of rolling a 4 is far more hurtful to you than sitting on 2 disasters.  The other way is through monuments.  The drop in points for subsequent builds is significant, so if you see someone trying to build the Great Pyramid, you might devote your workforce to finishing it before they can.  If that sounds a little too mean, don't worry, it's not.  You still get something from the effort, and they've wasted a lot of resources to take a few points away from you.
The interaction is fairly passive, but it exists.  It is playable as a solo game, which tells you that the game does not depend on interaction.

I don't really feel that I'm running a civilization, or helping to construct it, but the civ building aspect does come through.  Sure, the theme could be several different things and still work, but something just feels right about the civ building.

Learning Curve
Things after a round
Here we have a tale of two parts.  The game isn't complicated to learn, less than a 5 minute introduction.  However, the odds are that you won't have much of a strategy until after you play through once or twice.  Now, for people who are familiar with civ-building games, they will have a decent idea of what to do, which makes things run smoothly.

Why I like Roll Through the Ages
Firstly, it was a gift from Secret Santa, including the laminated score pages for the base game and the expansion, so there's some sentimental value there.  As for the game itself, it's the luck of the dice with a fun game built around it.  You have to make the most of whatever you roll, which is easier said than done.  There are several different strategies to explore from game to game, which offers a lot of depth.

Why I don't like Roll Through the Ages
Luck of the dice.  Sometimes you really need 3 food and you roll 1 good two times in a row.  There's not much you can do about it, other than absorb the lost points and make something happen with the good you got.  The game can suffer from a runaway leader since developments make the game go faster, and once you get going, you rarely stop.

I've played RTtA 12 times with a couple different groups of people.  The different paths to take with developments and monuments keep it interesting.  Adding in the expansion also changes the arc of the game.  It makes it a little longer, but also gives players more opportunities to score points.  RTtA isn't something I want to play all the time, but I like it every so often.

My civilization at the end of the game.
Roll Through the Ages is a game I enjoy.  It's my favorite dice game, though there are some other dice games that challenge for that title.  I've liked the idea of Civilization building for a long time, I think there are a lot of great things to explore there.  The issue I've always had with them is how long they take to learn, and play.  RTtA scratches the itch, and does so in under an hour.  It is an innovative take on the genre, it streamlines Civ building to the core ideas, and it gives players options.  Overall, it's a 2 thumbs up, and a keeper.

Will you like it?
If you like dice games, you'll enjoy this.  If you like civ building, you'll enjoy this.  If you like well designed games, you'll enjoy this.  Of course I can't make guarantees that you'll enjoy the game, but I've yet to play with someone who disliked the game.  Some have been lukewarm, others have liked it.

What else is like Roll Through the Ages?
It depends on what you're looking for.  If you're looking for dice games, check out Can't Stop, Dice Town, Alien Frontiers, and other games on my Collection Building: Dice Games article.
If you're looking for the Civ-building games, there are some options.  Consider Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, Through the Ages, and Glenn Drover's Empires: The Age of Discovery.  I haven't played any of them, so I'm going on what I've read through BGG and other reviewers.

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