Through The Ages 2.0? - Nations Review

Portsmouth On Board - my local haven of games. Always a place where I'm guaranteed to get one of my new games to the table. Especially when it's the new hotness in the Cult of the New.
This is good news for myself, who has been on a bit of a binge-buying rampage lately trying to catch up on the gaming hobby while filling up my new EXPEDIT shelf. A good Civilization game was missing from my collection so I grabbed Nations based on BGG recommendations.

"A relatively unknown publisher and the box is a bit over-sized"


Designer: Rosen & Hakansson (2013)
Publisher: Lautapelit.fi
# of Players: 1-5
Ages: 14+
Play Time: 120+ minutes
BGG Rank/Rating: 51/8.03
Dice Tower 2013 People’s Choice Rank: n/a
Category: Civilization Building Game

Build A Civilization In 10 Minutes

This game plays much in a similar way to Through the Ages, but incorporates a simple worker placement mechanic. Everyone starts off with a basic Nation ranging from Greece to Persia to China and receives a player board depicting starting buildings, workers and available spaces for future upgrades. Players can opt to instead use the reverse side which differentiates each nation with alternative buildings, special abilities and even a difference in the number of available upgrade spaces and workers.

The game plays through four ages with two rounds in each age. During each round, every player takes actions in turn which include:
- putting a worker to use on a building or military space to improve military strength/civil stability or gain resources
- constructing a stage of a Wonder using architects (a resource in short supply issued each round)
- purchasing a Progress card

"Nice chunky, colourful resource tokens - note the boxes don't come with the game, grab yourself some"

The bulk of the game revolves around a board where rows of Progress cards are laid out much like in Through the Ages. These come in a wide variety of types from historical advisers, battles, colonies, building upgrades, military upgrades, Wonders and more. Players will purchase these cards using gold depending on how they wish to develop their Nation and each one will produce a different effect.

A few for example's sake are:
- buildings (upgrade an existing building for your workers to use)
- battles (gain resources based on the level of military technology you have such as food, stone and books which is like heritage points)
- advisers (grants a special action or resources for your Nation, but you're limited to one)
- Wonders (a multi-stage building that has to be constructed after which you gain a special bonus)

"Lots of different types of Progress cards available - plenty of options available"

As each round plays out, players are seeking to acquire resources to allow their Nation to flourish, but also to maintain a level of military strength and/or civil stability so that they are not penalised by wars that can break out (another type of Progress card). Events occur each round that act as objectives for players to achieve to gain points or to avoid losing resources.

By the end of the game the winner is (you've guessed it) the player with the most victory points by having the most prosperous Nation.

A Unique Artistic Style

In general, the game is very colourful and artistic, but we're not talking top grade here. The artwork is of the "hand-painted" kind and while I think it's perfectly functional and nice to look at, it gets a few divisive opinions from other gamers. It does the job of showing the player what it does, but it's not going to win any graphic design awards.

Everyone gets a player board . . . . well when I say board, it's actually thick flexible cardboard. It would have been nice to have had a proper solid wooden board, but it's not liable to damage so it does the job I guess. The cards themselves are adequate, but because you only have to shuffle the decks at the start of the game and they're mostly laid out on a board during the game, sleeving isn't a major concern which coming from me is saying something as I'm usually a compulsive sleever.

"Good, sturdy boards and fairly intuitive"

The rulebook is laid out well although some rules can still appear slightly confusing and there is always an official FAQ out on BGG to correct some glaring errors. I do wish publishers and designers would proof read their rulebooks better.

Consider Options A Through Z

The game runs very smoothly as each action is played out in turn, so the downtime is kept reasonably low for a Euro game, although players with AP can hold things up still. My first four player game not including rules explanations didn't take any longer than most Euro games at around 3 hours taking AP into account. It's certainly not a short game by any means, but then find me a proper Civilization game that is with four players. Reduce the player count and the game flies by. You try playing Through The Ages with 3+ players in that time, I dare you!

The sheer variety is where this game excels. There are a LOT of Progress cards that are laid out in round but you have a separate deck for each Age - the same applies to the Event cards to which only two appear in each Age. Even in a four player game (as the number of cards used is player-dependent) we only used half a deck per Age so no game is ever going to play out the same.

Everybody's starting Nation is unique if you use the "B" side and as the game plays on you really do feel that your Nation is unique to the others and it's amusing to watch when some civilizations struggle, mean as that can be. What's really cool is that you can even adjust the difficulty settings for individual players that have had more or less experience in gaming - a concept that is not seen enough in games, but really should be particularly in Euro's.

"China is the A side, Persia is the B side - as you can see, there are significant differences"

The game is slightly solitaire-ish as you can't directly attack someone else's Nation, but with the War cards you can affect the other players who haven't managed to obtain enough strength or stability to handle the effects of the war. The Progress cards are also limited (no more than 1 copy of ANY card in this game) so naturally there's a lot of "Arrgg you took the card I wanted" banter going around.

It's going to burn the brain at times though with the amount of decisions you need to make every round. Do I get more resources, do I improve my military units, should I grab that Advisor before Jim steals him, oh no a war has started - should I increase my civil stability to compensate, do I have enough food to sustain additional workers, can I grab some bonuses on the Event this round . . . . . the list goes on and on, and that's one of the things I like best so far. You have a plethora of options to consider and you can never get them all done fast enough, so you have to pick your battles and be as efficient as possible with your resource management of which no resource is taken lightly, they're all essential. However this can bring the best of AP out of players who might feel overwhelmed with the decision making they have to do so be warned.

"2 player game example at the start - Red has had one turn, Blue is set to begin"

Also the way the Progress cards come can mess your plans up if certain types don't appear. Now I'm fine with this as you have to think tactically as well, but you might consider house ruling some way of distributing the cards out - one I was tempted by was to set a cap for each type of card based on the number of players so if you drew too many of one type, you put it aside and drew again. That might work to spread the load out a bit.

Useless Workers I'll Just Build It Myself!

I was surprised to find that this game had a solitaire variant, but I like it when games include one and do it well so it had to be tried out. I live alone, I don't have a missus (where's that violin?) and I can't always get the gaming friends together easily so when a club night isn't on I have to make do some other way.

The solo variant follows the same rules as described earlier, except that instead of the event cards you have a set of tiles that you flip over each turn that represent the movements on specific items like military and heritage books for a "shadow" player. Your decisions each round not only have to focus on building up your civilization, but also on reacting to what the shadow opponent does particularly with regards to books and military force.

The progress card rules however change significantly. To reflect the opponent stealing cards, every time you perform a certain type of action, you roll a die and that column of cards is removed in full! You can really get messed over if you want several cards, but one column containing them gets taken out. So accept that there is a little bit of luck involved in a solo game, but it's a unique challenge and forces you to play a little more tactically rather than strategically - a useful skill to have in any worker placement game.

"An Age 3 Solo tile - contains set values for opponent, increases in books and dice-based effects"

Verdict

 I don't regret buying this at all. It's a detailed and streamlined game that doesn't take an eternity to play like TTA, but provides a great deal of re-playability, multiple decisions every turn and feels like a solid Civilization game for my collection that ticks the boxes.

However there are some nitpicks that should be highlighted again. It's not as in-depth as Through The Ages, but then that game is insanely complex and long so you might not be looking for that kind of experience.

"4 player game in motion"

It's a very long game unless you all know what you're doing - new players or AP-prone players can slow this game down, but because you take your actions in turn, you're not waiting around for too long and if a typical game is too long, you can always cap the game length by a certain age.

The Progress card distribution can also swing the game in different directions, but then you shouldn't be the only player that has to deal with this so it's a minor nit-pick and Through The Ages has a similar problem.

All this game is missing really is a map, but you can't have everything. . . .



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