Overview: Rome wasn’t built in a day, but you can build your own little civilization in less than an hour in Roll Through the Ages. Granted, this is only a Bronze Age civilization — I imagine things like governments take a little longer to create. Roll Through the Ages is a sort of “little brother” game to the much-more-extensive Through the Ages (which I haven’t played yet) but my understanding is that it’s quite a different game despite the shared title. While it’s not a new game (originally released in 2009), it’s new to me and there’s also a recent iPhone version (see below for more about the app).
Players: 1 to 4
Ages: 8 and up
Playing Time: 30 to 45 minutes (or 60 if playing with the Late Bronze Age version)
Rating: Monumental — in a small, compact sort of way. It’s well-balanced and fun to play.
Who Will Like It? I don’t think you actually need to be a fan of big civilization-building games to enjoy this one. It’s kind of a bite-sized version, which makes it easy to jump in and play a game. It’s sort of a combination of resource management, Yahtzee, and early history — if any of that intrigues you, keep reading for more.
Roll Through the Ages is all about building up your civilization. You start with three cities and enough food to feed them for one round; from then you need to produce more food to continue feeding them, produce goods and coins which can be traded for developments, and produce workers to build more cities or monuments. Of course, there are also many disasters which can befall your Bronze Age people: drought, pestilence, invasions, and revolt.
Of course, real civilizations didn’t depend on the whim of a die roll for their survival, but otherwise the game does capture the feel of a growing nation in a capsulized form.
- 4 wooden pegboards
- 24 pegs
- 7 wooden dice
- 1 pad of score sheets
The game comes in a small box, about the size of a chunky hardcover book (say, Harry Potter #4), and the components are all very nice wooden bits. The dice are slightly larger than standard, about 3/4″ wide; the icons on each side are inset and painted, so they look and feel really nice. Of course, the chunky dice and thick wooden pegboards make the game heavy for its size and aren’t absolutely necessary, but it does look great and works well.
The score sheets are about half a letter-sized sheet of paper, double-sided so you can use each one twice. The components list doesn’t say how many pages are in the pad, but I estimated about 125 sheets or so. You’ll use one side per player per game, so that gives you about 250 plays before you run out, at which point you can download the PDF from the website and print out some more yourself. I suppose that’s the only thing I don’t love about the components, the fact that you have to use up these score sheets, but to do it any other way would have required a whole lot of extra components or tokens.
The score sheet is well-designed, with player aids incorporated into it so you have a reminder of the turn phases and what all the dice icons mean.
Each player gets a score sheet and a pegboard. You start with 3 food (the wheat in the green stripe at the bottom) and zero of everything else. The object of the game is to score the most points through monuments and developments, while avoiding disasters.
At the beginning of the game, each player starts with 3 cities, which corresponds to the number of dice you roll on your turn. As you build more cities, you’ll get to roll more dice. Each turn consists of these phases:
- Roll dice and collect goods and food
- Feed cities and resolve disasters
- Build cities and/or monuments
- Buy one development
- Discard goods in excess of six
Like Yahtzee, you get to roll three times, choosing which dice to keep and which to roll each time. However, if you roll a skull you must keep it.
After rolling, you collect goods and food for the appropriate dice. The wheat gets you 3 food. The vase gets you 1 good, and the skull and vases gets you 2 goods. The face showing 2 wheat and 2 people can be used either for 2 food or for workers. When you collect goods, you always start with the bottom of the pegboard (Wood) and move up, collecting one of each. If you collect more than five, then it wraps around and continues. So you’ll accumulate Wood most quickly, and Spears only when you get at least 5 goods in one turn.
Feed cities and resolve disasters
You’ll need to use one food for each city you have. The first turn you’ll already have enough, but after that you’ll need to keep an eye on how much food you need. For each food that you’re short, you suffer famine and mark a disaster point on the score sheet. Also, depending on the number of skulls you roll, you’ll have to deal with other disasters as well. A single skull doesn’t do anything.
- 2 skulls = Drought: Lose 2 points
- 3 skulls = Pestilence: Opponents lose 3 points
- 4 skulls = Invasion: Lose 4 points
- 5+ skulls = Revolt: Lose all your goods
There are developments that can protect you from various disasters, but you’ll also note that some disasters will only take place after you’ve built more cities.
Build cities and/or monuments
For each person shown on the dice, you have one worker who can be used to build things. You can increase your civilization up to 7 cities. The first one takes 3 workers, and then the cost goes up by one for each successive city. Building cities will allow you to roll more dice, but also requires more food.
There are various monuments shown on the score sheet of varying sizes, and most of them are simply worth points. Complete a monument first and you claim the larger number for your score. Everyone else who completes it gets a lower score. One monument, the Great Wall, also has the side benefit that it protects you from Invasion.
Buy one development
If you have coins and/or goods, you might be able to buy a development. The coin face is worth 7 coins to spend, but you either spend it or lose it — it doesn’t carry over to future turns. Goods are worth whatever value is shown on the pegboard, but the more you have of a particular type of good, the more coins it is worth. For example, 3 wood is worth 6 coins, but 4 wood is worth 10. (See the photo of the pegboard above.) If you sell any goods to buy a development, you must sell all of that type, even if it means you’re spending more than the cost of the development. You don’t get any change.
The developments range from 10 coins to 60 coins, and are worth from 2 to 8 points. However, the real benefit of developments comes in their abilities. For instance, Irrigation (10 coins, 2 points) protects you from drought. Agriculture (15 coins, 3 points) makes each food die worth one extra food. There are developments that increase the value of coins, protect you from other disasters, or allow you to sell excess food for money. The two most expensive developments, Architecture and Empire, give you bonus points for each monument or city you have, respectively, at the end of the game.
At the end of your turn, you must discard any goods you have in excess of six (unless you have the Caravans development, which lets you keep any number of goods).
The game ends at the end of a round after any player has purchased a fifth development or when each monument has been built at least once by any of the players. (Each player will get the same number of turns.) You tally up all your points, subtract points for all your disasters, and see who had the most successful civilization.
There are a few rule changes depending on the number of players you have, plus some differences for a solitaire version. There’s also a Late Bronze Age variation, available on the website, which introduces some new developments and makes for a slightly more in-depth game. You’ll need the revised score sheet for that (also available on the website) but otherwise no new components.
I’d heard of Roll Through the Ages but actually hadn’t ever played it until a few months ago when the Roll Through the Ages app was on sale. I’d heard some good things about the game and it was designed by Matt Leacock, the guy behind Forbidden Island and Pandemic, two excellent games, so I figured it was worth a shot. What I found was a game that was intriguing and fun despite a clunky interface (which has since been updated at least a little). I played many rounds of the solitaire version, and when visiting a games store in Kansas City I decided to go ahead and pick up a copy of the game for myself.
I haven’t been disappointed.
Despite its high weight-to-size ratio, I took it with me (with a reduced number of score sheets) when I went on a week-long trip last month, and I got to play it a few times with other players. It’s pretty quick to teach, so we were easily able to fit in a game in between other activities, and it really doesn’t take up much table space, either. In fact, because of the pegboards, all you really need is some space to roll the dice and a writing surface to use for the score sheets.
With 13 available developments, you’ll never get all of the ones you want since the game ends after 5 developments are purchased. That means that you really have to decide on a strategy instead of just buying whatever you can afford on a given turn. Do you buy things that protect you from disasters? Then you may not be able to get more food or money. Do you go for extra food and goods? Then you may miss out on the big bonus points. There are many different avenues you can take to get points: you can focus on getting more goods and coins to buy expensive developments, or you can pour your resources into getting workers to complete monuments. No matter what you do, however, you’ll want to make sure to get more cities because that gives you more dice to roll. Just don’t forget to feed your cities.
As with any dice-based game, though, sometimes your best-laid plans will go awry. In one particular game, I kept getting plenty of workers, building up to 6 cities. But for some reason not only was I unable to get any food (thus taking disaster points for famine), I kept rolling the wrong number of skulls and losing points to drought and invasion. When my opponents rolled skulls, they inevitably got 3 skulls and I lost more points for pestilence. In a single game I lost 19 points through various disasters.
If you don’t mind the luck factor, Roll Through the Ages is a terrific game with a lot to offer. The app is $3.99, which may seem a little steep for a game that only allows for local multiplayer, but if you’re not sure about the game it’s a great way to try it out for much less than the price of the board game. Roll Through the Ages is available at Amazon and other online retailers, or check out the FRED Store Locator for retail locations that carry Eagle and Gryphon games.
Wired: A compact game that lets you take on civilization building in under an hour; gorgeous components; well-balanced and fun to play.
Tired: Requires single-use score sheets; a bit heavy.