I'm Losing So Much Sleep To Through The Ages

Vlaada Chvatil is a bit of a legend in board games, having made Codenames, Mage Knight and Galaxy Truckers. And recently, one of his earlier hits got released on mobile: Through The Ages. It's basically a Civilization inspired card game, and it's been keeping me up all week.

The premise is fairly straightforward. It's a civilisation building game, where you use resources such as food, wood, science and culture to build up infrastructure, great wonders and armies. There's four separate ages to play through, with players getting better technologies, leaders and buildings as the game goes on.

Every turn players have a series of civil actions (researching tech, building things that aren't armies, so forth) and military actions (building units or assigning army strategies). Those actions can also be used to draw cards, with the first five cards costing one civil action, the next four cards costing two, and the final four cards costing three civil actions a pop.

As is the case with actual Civilization, the early turns are fast. You're just trying to get your economy off the ground and you don't have many actions to play with. But once the second age hits and the next wave of leaders (all of whom have their own powers, ranging from extra culture points to military actions to benefits to colonisation) arrives, the options increase exponentially.

There's always something to throw a spanner in the works too. In the top left, you'll see a series of two decks with silver backs. They're cards drawn from each age's political deck. Some political actions let you start a war, or raid your opponents, but most of them focus on global benefits and events.

Early on, those events might be simple things like dealing with pestilence (everyone loses all of their stored food). Or the strongest player getting some extra ore. Some events give players the opportunity to colonise new lands, triggering an auction. The winner gets the island, and often gets some neat benefits for doing so, but they have to sacrifice at least one unit of their army and usually a political card or two to go with it.

There's a series of training challenges at different difficulties to help you learn the flow of the game, and a guided tutorial through the first two ages

Much like Seven Wonders, the skill lies in minimising as much waste as possible. Players can ramp up their food and mining as much as they like, but after a certain point you'll encounter corruption. If your reserves of food run dry your civilisation will starve, and it'll cost you culture points.

Culture is what determines the overall winner, so it's an exercise in maintaining that balance of just enough food to stave off starvation, enough military to avoid getting clocked in the final phase, and just enough science and production to build the libraries, theatres and wonders you'll need to win.

I mentioned leaders before, but you'll also have to handle systems of government. Like Civilization, more modern governments come with their own pros and cons: a republic, for instance, offers few military actions in the second age but lots of civil actions for card drawing and infrastructure building.

Each government also has a limit on how many urban buildings (anything that's not a farm or mine) you can have, which can also trip you up if you're trying to rapidly catch up in the culture/science stakes.

Oh, and if that wasn't enough? Each new age will removes any unfinished wonders you had from the previous age. Screwing up can be costly. That said, the game throws you a bone by letting you undo any of your civil and military actions, so you can try different combinations of card draws and plays to see what works out best.

Green didn't want those military cards anyway.

It's one of the more expensive board games, though. On Android, Through The Ages will set you back $12, while the iOS version weighs in at $15.

It's a little unrefined for that price, too. The Android version has the ugly Android back/home/task manager bar open at all times. But barring that, and a little bit of slowdown in the final age where the AI has more options to sift through, I haven't had any issues at all.

Unless you count the amount of sleep I keep losing every night bashing my head against the AI, relentlessly trying to ransack their science labs with my cavalry and cannons.


    This is one of the best mobile ports of one of the best board games going around.

    Through the Ages is a wonderfully brain-burning 4X game (technically 3X because there's no exploring) that has you keeping one eye on your opponents as you struggle to come up with a way to build up your culture.

    I've been burning through the challenge mode. The earlier challenges are relatively simple but as you up the difficulty, you have to start mixing up your strategies and that's where the game really shines. It's so damned satisfying to work out all the different paths to victory and navigating the queue of cards coming up on the market to find the right path.

    Funnily enough when I introduced a friend to this game his reaction was "I can see how people would play this once, rate it highly and trade it on". The physical version of Through the Ages has a lot of upkeep to manage but is still incredibly worthwhile, even if you do get used to the mobile version (which streamlines that process fantastically).

      I have also resolved to never play the physical version, because there looks like a billion bits of plastic to move around a table, and a lot of upkeep I would probably keep forgetting about.

        The only time things get messy is when you walk back multiple actions.

        Production follows a simple, easy to follow logic that is spelled out clearly on the player boards.

    Didn't I make you play Space Alert? He designed that too.

    Also, the tutorial on the app is absolutely fantastic. Goes at exactly the right pace, and has lots of humour.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now