Friday, November 4, 2016

GJJG Game Reviews - Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age - by Eagle-Gryphon Games

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age
Designer: Matt Leacock
Publisher: Eagle-Gryphon Games
1-4p | 30-45m | 8+
GJJG Game Reviews - Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age - by Eagle-Gryphon Games

Game Overview:
Daniel over at Eagle-Gryphon Games was generous enough to send me several games from the Eagle-Gryphon library to review.  Since I love civilization building games I decided to play Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age first.  This is the first Matt Leacock game I've played that hasn't been a cooperative game, so I was very curious to see how I'd like it.

Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age is loosely based on the Vlaada Chvátil classic, Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, however it plays in about 40 minutes instead of 4 hours.  Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age has minimal components, just seven dice, four player boards, a handful of cribbage-like pegs, and a score pad, and is for one to four players age eight and up.

As I've mentioned in other reviews, I really love civilization building games.  I've played the Catan dice game and wasn't thrilled with it (too much reliance on lucky dice rolls and not enough decisions to mitigate the luck), so I was really curious to see how Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age would stack up.  I had heard good things about it and it had been on my wishlist for a while, so when I received my box of review games from Eagle-Gryphon, Roll  Through the Ages: The Bronze Age was the first one I cracked open.  It wasn't long before I had a few solo games under my belt and then started pushing it on my friends and family to play with me.  So, did the game stand up to my expectations?  Read on!

Components & Packaging:
The components for Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age are fantastic!  I knew the dice and player boards were wooden, but when I opened the box for the first time I wasn't prepared for just how nice they'd be.  I literally said "Wow" and then immediately showed my wife.

The seven wooden dice are nice and large and feel great to roll.  Even when I'm not playing the game I like to open the box and gaze at them or just play with them for a bit.  OK, so not a whole lot, but I did that a few times right after I opened the game for the first time...  My wife did complain a little that they were a bit too big to fit in her hands nicely, but if that's the case you can always roll the dice in two or even three rolls.  Or, do what she did, and pursue a strategy that doesn't have you building all seven cities, then you don't have to roll so many dice.  She beat me with that strategy, so it works!  I really love the tactile feel of the dice and the size makes it super easy to read the faces, even in lower light.
Awesome, awesome dice!
The wooden player boards and pegs are also super nice.  The wood is nearly 1/2" thick, so it doesn't feel cheap.  Everything has a nice finish on it, so nothing is rough.  All the printing on the boards was clean and crisp.  The pegs' colors are easily distinguished and the pegs fit cleanly into the holes on the player boards.
The pencil and die are not included.  I added the pencils to my copy and the die I used to count turns in the solo variant.
Even the score pad is very nicely done.  All the sheets are printed on both sides, which will extend the life of the game significantly.  And there was no skimping out on the number of score sheets either.  The pad is nice and thick and will provide enough sheets for many, many plays.  I love the layout of the sheets, too.  Almost all the pertinent in-game information (like how many skulls equal each calamity, what the steps in each turn are, etc.) is contained on the sheets so they double as great reference.

I think the only gripe I have with the components is that the game didn't include any writing utensils.  I know it's not critical since pens or pencils are readily available.  But four mini pencils would have been very welcome.  Luckily I had four from a Goodwill game that I had scavenged for parts, so I threw those into the game.  Now I have a very nice, matching set of pencils with the game and don't have to worry about not having a pen or pencil when I want to play, or having a bunch of random chewed eraser and sparkly pencils shoved in the box.

Score: 9/10 x1

Rules & Setup:
The rules of Roll Through the Ages are very straight forward.  Basically, you roll one die for every city you have built (everyone starts with three cities) and then decide what you want to do with the results.  You have up to two rerolls to try to get what you need, and then you allocate each result to its appropriate area on your player board or score sheet.  There's a bit more than that, which I'll get into in the Gameplay section of this review, but that's the crux of it.

Players use the dice to generate food, which is used to feed the cities, manage resources, earn money, and use workers to build cities and monuments.  With the resources that are collected and money earned you can gain new developments for your civilization (like Agriculture, or Medicine) that offer points and various benefits.  Depending on dice rolls you may experience different disasters, like Drought or Pestilence, some of which will affect you and some will affect your opponents (usually through negative points).  But some developments can fend off these bad events.  At the end of the game the player with the most points in developments, monuments, and bonuses is the winner.
The score sheets also serve as a rules reminder.
So the rules are fairly easy to learn (the game can be taught in about five minutes or less), but the setup is even easier!  Setup takes all of 30 seconds.  The seven dice are set to the side, each player receives one of the four player boards, and six pegs to track resources on the player board.  The pegs are different colors in the version I received, but I've seen pictures online of games with the pegs all the same color.  Personally, I like having the different colors, but that's not very critical for the game and having all the pegs the same color would cut the setup time even more - no sorting the pegs to get the right colors.  The last step of setup is to give each player a score sheet and pencil.  They can write their names at the top of the sheet, determine a starting player, and you're ready to begin!

Score: 9/10 x2

So we know the game looks gorgeous, the rules are pretty straight forward, and setup is a breeze, but does the gameplay stack up to what I'd hope for from a civilization building game?

Each turn is divided into six steps, all nicely listed on the score sheets.  The first step is rolling dice.  You get to roll one die for each city you have, and you start the game with three.  Each die has six symbols on it.  One side produces three food, one produces three workers, another gives you the choice of two food or workers, one provides two goods, one gives two good and a skull, an the last is a coin.  You'll have the opportunity to reroll any or all of your dice up to two times (for three total rolls), until you are either happy with your dice or stuck with the outcome.

There's a second part of step one, where you produce food and goods according to what you rolled.  This is tracked with the pegs on the player board.  There's an interesting mechanic for goods production that ensues some goods are more prevalent than others.  For each vase on a die you'll advance one row one space on the goods chart, starting with the bottom (wood) and working your way up (stone, pottery, textiles, and weapons).  Then it wraps back to the bottom.  So if you produce six goods you'll get one of everything and two wood.  But if you only produce three goods you'll get one each of wood, stone, and pottery.

After you've produced all your food and goods the next step is to feed your cities.  Every city you have requires one food and if you don't have enough food you receive a disaster (-1 point at the end of the game).  You'll adjust your food appropriately.  Then you'll resolve any disasters caused by any skulls you've rolled.  Roll one skull and you're safe.  Roll two and you'll experience a drought (-2 points), unless you have developed irrigation.  Roll three though and your opponents will have to deal with pestilence (-3 points) unless they have developed medicine.  Four skulls and the disaster is back to you with a -4 point barbarian invasion, unless you have built the great wall.  If you get five or more skulls you'll be faced with a revolt.  You don't lose any points, but you'll lose all the goods you have stored up, including all the goods you produced that turn.  Unless you have developed religion, in which case the revolt affects all of your opponents that don't have religion.  The combination of press-your-luck and player interaction that the disasters provide makes for some interesting turns with players that are willing to push their luck to the limit.
Looks like it's time for Kevin to try and develop medicine.  He just got hit with another pestilence!
Next you'll put your workers to work building cities and monuments.  As you complete cities you'll gain more dice to roll and as you complete monuments you'll gain points (and protection against invasions with the great wall).  Each monument awards a number of points to the first player to build it and a smaller number of points to each other player to complete the monument gets the smaller number of points.

Fourth you'll get to buy one development, with a cost ranging from $10 to $60.  Each development provides points as well as a special ability.  Agriculture gives you an extra food for each die that has food on it.  Engineering lets you trade 1 stone for 3 workers.  Empire gives you an extra point for every city you have at the end of the game.  There are 13 different developments that can be purchased with revenue earned from goods sold and coins.  Purchasing developments requires selling goods or turning in coins that you've rolled on your dice (each coin is worth $7 or $12 if you've developed coinage).  To sell goods you'll look at the small number on the player board under the peg for each good you have.  Selling all of that good (moving the peg down to zero) will earn you that much money.  You have to sell all of a good if you sell any of it.  You can mix and match goods and coins to get as close to the cost of the development as you can, but you don't get any change if you overpay.
Here I have $15 in wood, $12 in stone, and $3 in pottery.  I can buy a development worth $30.  Or I can spend my stone and
pottery, plus a coin on a die for $22 that will let me buy a development worth $20, and save my wood.  I can't save everything
because I'll have more than six goods, unless I have developed caravans.

Finally, to end your turn you have to discard any goods you have in excess of six, unless you've developed caravans.  Once you've done that you pass the dice to the next player and they take their turn.  The game ends as soon as every monument has been built at least once by all the players or when one player has five developments.  At that point players tally their scores by adding points for developments, monuments, and bonuses, and subtracting points for disasters.  The winner is the player with the most points.
Plenty of decisions to make despite the luck of the dice.
Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age offers a relatively simple rule set that can be taught in just minutes, but offers quite a bit of strategic decision blended with the luck of the dice.  Everyone I've played with has thoroughly enjoyed the game.  It's a great intro to newer gamers, but also a great filler for more experienced gamers.

Score: 8/10 x3

Because there is a lot of luck in the dice rolls, no two games are going to be the same, but there is enough opportunity to mitigate the luck that strategy can develop.  There seem to be two main strategies though.  Either build up your cities to produce a lot of goods to buy developments, or spend your workers to build up on monuments.  I've seen both strategies be successful, but not balanced strategies so much.  That may be just coincidence, but it does seem like once the main strategies are explored the game may become a little stale.  The dice do drive some excitement and the game combines luck and strategy very well, so I don't think it'll ever be outright boring, but I think it'll lose some of the excitement without offering something new to consider each game.
Quite fun still, even after several plays.
Fortunately there are a few variants included in the rules.  Roll Through the Ages can be played solo, which I've done several times now.  The solo game offers much the same feel as a multiplayer game, but without the player interaction in the disasters.  There is also a variant that allows trading of food and goods between players that looks interesting, but I suspect would slow the game considerably.

So, while I think Roll Through the Ages will always be enjoyable, I think it'll be one of those games that stays in a collection as a good standby.  It'll be there to scratch that civilization building itch when you need something quick and simple.

Score: 7/10 x1

General Fun:
Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age is quite fun to play.  There's excitement and the opportunity for humor with the dice rolls. ("Looks like your workers are going to have to build that pyramid or they're not getting any food!" "Wrong, they're going to build that pyramid AND not get any food!" - after rolling all workers and no food.)  There are also a lot of important decisions and opportunities to mitigate some of the luck as well.  It's a great way to scratch that itch for wanting a civilization building game when you don't have hours to play Through the Ages or Advanced Civilization and don't have enough people (or want to deal with the setup) for 7 Wonders.
Interesting decisions and a fast pace keep the game fun.

Roll Through the Ages isn't edge-of-your seat exciting, but it's definitely casual fun.  It's also a great way to introduce new players to the world of modern board games, and we all know how much fun that can result in!

Score: 8/10 x2

Overall Value:
The MSRP for Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age is $40, but it's available online for around $30 or even less.  For what you get with the game, $40 seems a bit high, even if the wooden components are really nice, but the online prices are very reasonable.  For a somewhat meaty dice game that plays relatively quick, this is a pretty good bang for the buck.

Score: 7/10 x1

Final Thoughts:
I quite enjoyed Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age, as did everyone I played with.  It's definitely a solid filler or casual game that definitely has earned a place on my shelf.  I love civilization building games and this scratches that itch in about 30-45 minutes.  It does a nice job of balancing luck and strategy, maybe a bit more than I'd like in a civilization game, but that's great for a casual game like this.

I think my favorite thing about Roll Through the Ages is that the components are nice and solid.  There aren't any cards or cardboard chits to worry about, so this is a perfect game to take camping, to the beach, the park, or anywhere outside.  All you have to worry about is one score sheet blowing away, but you can slide that under the player board if it's a little breezy.  The game also has a pretty small form factor, and setup is super quick and easy, so it's great to take to restaurants, pubs, or even travel on a plane, train, or bus.  Roll the dice in the lid and you don't have to worry about them getting lost!
A perfect game to take camping!

You can find Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age from Eagle-Gryphon Games' web site, or your favorite online game retailer.  It should also be available in most local game stores, too, but it is a few years old now (published originally in 2008), so you may have to order it.  At under $30 most places it'd be a great addition to any collection.

Overall Score: 81/100

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GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  A score of 1-10 (low-high) is given to each game in six categories: Components & Packaging, Rules & Setup, Gameplay, Replayability, Overall Value, and General Fun.  Rules & Setup and General Fun are weighted double and Gameplay is weighted triple.  Educational games have an extra category and Gameplay is only weighted double. Then the game is given a total score of x/100.

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