Review of Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

February 25, 2009


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

A well-designed and fun dice game that gives you all the enjoyment of building a Civilization to last the ages in 45 minutes or less.

Shannon Appelcline has written 675 reviews (including 9 dice game reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of Catan Geographies: Germany.

This review has been read 7332 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age
Publisher: Gryphon Games
Line: Gryphon Games Bookshelf
Author: Matt Leacock
Category: Dice Game

Cost: $29.95
Year: 2009



Review of Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age
Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age is a dice game of civilization building by Matt Leacock.

Players: 1-4
Playing Time: 30-45 minutes

The Components

Roll through the Ages comes in a box jammed with high-quality components, including:

Pegboards & Pegs: These are what you use to record the current resources of your civilization. The boards are made of sturdy wood, sort of like a cribbage board. They contain tracks for the five goods--wood, stone, pottery, cloth, and spearheads--plus food. These peg boards, which include little painted symbols around each of the spaces, are a hefty and truly impressive game component.

The pegs are decent-sized plastic pegs that fit into the peg board. Each player gets pegs in six colors, to help differentiate among the six resource tracks.

Scorepad: Roll through the Ages comes with an enormous pad of score sheets. Each of these shows the various things you can build (cities, developments, and monuments), gives you spaces to record disasters, and also reminds you of important rules like what the dice faces mean and what the disasters are.

There's been quite a bit of work put into the iconography of the scorepad, all to the good, and thus you also have iconographic reminders of what you have to spend to build each sort of thing.

My only complaint about the scorepads is that the monuments aren't named. For the record, they're: a step pyramid, a stone circle, a temple, a great wall, an obelisk, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and the Great Pyramid.

The Dice: Seven wooden dice which have icons depicting food, goods, skulls, workers, and coins. The icons are heat-burned into the dice, which means that they're actually imprinted into the die, not painted on it. The good news is that these symbols aren't going to wear away with use. The bad news is that they're not colorful, and some are a bit dim (though I never had troubles reading any during the game).

Rules: The rulebook is a short, 4-page explanation of the game.

You also get two cardboard sheets which explain all of the dice results, disaster results, and developments. Some of this material should have been in the rulebook, but it's nonetheless a great reference.

Overall, I was amazed by the components in Roll through the Ages: The Bronze Age. The huge wooden boards are particularly amazing. When I said the box was "jammed" earlier, that was a literal statement. Everything just barely fits back into the box.

Add that to the good usability, and I definitely give the game a full "5" out of "5" for Style.

The Gameplay

The object of Roll through the Ages is to earn the most points from developments and monuments while avoiding disasters.

Setup: Each player is given a pegboard to record his resources, which start at 3 food and 0 each of wood, stone, pottery, cloth and spearheads.

Each player is given a sheet to represent his civilization. It starts with 3 cities, but is otherwise blank. He puts his name on it.

Order of Play: Players each follow these actions during their turn:

  1. Roll Dice
  2. Collect Goods & Food
  3. Feed Cities
  4. Resolve Disasters
  5. Build Cities & Monuments
  6. Buy a Development
  7. End Turn
Roll Dice: A player gets to roll a number of dice equal to his cities, which will initially be 3. After he rolls the dice, he can reroll any dice except those that show disasters (skulls). Afterward he can once more reroll any dice, except those showing skulls. Then he has his final results.

Each die will show one of six things: 3 food; 1 good; 2 goods and 1 skull; 3 workers; 2 workers or 2 food (a choice for the player); or 7 coins. The player will add up the results he got for each icon (food, goods, workers, skulls, and coins) and will then use that to resolve the rest of his turn.

Collect Goods & Food: There are five types of goods: wood, stone, pottery, cloth, and spearheads. Each good has a value in coins that goes up the more of it you have. So, for example, 1 wood is worth 1 coin, 2 are worth 3, 3 are worth 6, 4 are worth 10, etc. For spearheads, 1 is worth 5, 2 are worth 15, 3 are worth 30, and 4 are worth 50.

Clearly you want to have more of the more valuable goods, rather than the less valuable goods. That's where the method for allocating goods comes in. If you rolled 1 good, then you gain 1 wood. If you rolled 2, you gain 1 wood and 1 stone. If you rolled 3, you gain 1 wood, 1 stone, 1 pottery. This same formula continues, wrapping around back to wood if you rolled more than 5 goods.

Food is simpler to mark: you just increase your food by the amount of food you rolled.

Feed Cities: You must now decrease your food 1 for each city you have. If you have insufficient food, you mark off 1 disaster box for each food you were short: you had a famine.

Resolve Disasters: Now you get the bad news for those skulls you rolled. If you just rolled 1, no problem, but if you rolled more, there was some sort of disaster. Most disasters affect you, typically cost you 1 disaster box (and thus, eventually, 1 victory point or VP) per skull you rolled. However, if you rolled exactly 3 skulls, there was a pestilence, which costs every player but you 3 VPs, and thus gives you an incentive to roll neither 2 skulls nor 4 and also offers one of the hard decisions of the game.

Build Cities & Monuments: You can now build cities and monuments with the workers you rolled. Cities cost 3-6 workers (depending on which city it is). They'll give you more dice to roll in later rounds. Monuments cost 3-15 workers (depending on which monument you decide to build). They give a higher number of VPs to whomever builds the monument first and a lesser number to anyone else who builds it.

In both cases, you can spread out the worker cost over multiple rounds: you just mark down workers on your scorepad as you use them.

Buy a Development: Finally you can build no more than one development on your turn. These are things like Leadership, Coinage, and Architecture. They provide you with VPs and each has a special power too. For example, Medicine protects you from Pestilence, while Masonry adds 1 worker to each worker result that you roll.

Developments cost from 10-60 coins. You can pay those with coin results you roll (which provide 7 coins each, and can't be saved) and/or by turning in goods for their cash value.

End Turn: At the end of your turn you must decrease your total count of goods to 6. Then you hand on the dice to the next player.

Ending the Game: The game ends either when a player builds his 5th development or when the players collectively have built all the monuments. Now players add up all their points. This includes victory points for developments and monuments, plus bonuses from certain developments (e.g., Architecture, which gives +1 VP for each monument you've built). You then subtract 1 VP for each disaster box you checked; the player with the most points afterward wins.

Relationships to Other Games

Roll through the Ages is named after Through the Ages, Eagle Games' long, dense civilization game. However, the two only really share a theme: they're by different authors and have different mechanics.

Fundamentally, Toll through the Ages is a dice game, with all the brinkmanship and risk-reward tradeoffs that you'd expect from such a design. More specifically, as a game that's about collecting resources and using them to build stuff, Roll through the Ages is what I thought the Catan Dice Game should be. Though quick, it's fulfilling with lots of options and many decisions. Though it use dice, it's not a "dice fest". As such, I think it ended being a much better gamer's game than the Catan Dice Game (which was more directed toward families).

The Game Design

My primary criteria for the success of a dice game is usually: are you excited when the dice are rolled. Here, Roll through the Ages succeds well. Perhaps the first roll isn't that exciting (unless you get some very lucky results), but after that you're trying to build your roll in a specific direction, and the results of those additional rolls can be quite nerve-wracking.

There's also a lot of tactical thought that goes into figuring out what sort of dice roll you're looking for. All things being equal you have to decide between workers, coins, goods, and food. These represent a tough balance, as you have to keep on top of some issues (such as your food consumption) and then you have to decide what results will be optimal in the short term.

This builds into some nice strategy: goods can get very valuable if you manage to warehouse them correctly, and developments can give you some real advantages: either by increasing the results of rolls for you or by immunizing you from the risk of certain disasters.

A lot of dice games end up being "multiplayer solitary", but Roll through the Ages suffers from the problem less than the average dice game. Sure, a lot of your building only affects you, but you do have to interact with other players for monument building and for determining end game, and you also have to react to the disasters that other players might potentially throw your way (depending on their developments). I think it's a pretty good balance.

Putting everything together into a 30-45 minute package makes Roll through the Ages really shine as a filler: I've given it a full "5" out of "5" for Substance.

Conclusion

I expect Roll through the Ages to be one of the top filler games for 2009. It packs a lot of strategy and tactics into just a half hour of play, has fun theming that gives you the feel of really building a civilization, and contains nice components. Especially if you like "civilization" games, you'll really like this civ-lite-lite release.

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