PT Guides: Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization14 Dec 2017 0
The prolific, celebrated game designer Vlaada Chvatil's civilization strategy game, Through the Ages was reimagined and rebalanced just recently, back in 2015. Its digital implementation these past months has further refined the deep, demanding and beloved game while simultaneously offering challenging computer opponents. If you are new to the game, the game's tutorial and rulebook are excellent (and humorous) starting points for familiarizing yourself with the lay of the land. For those who have already mastered the basics, here are ten pointers to speed you on your way to cultural hegemony.
1. Tend to the engine of history. Specifically, mind the slow accumulation of culture points. It naturally tends to come haltingly, then accelerate steadily right up until the game’s final moments. Like in many Euro games, this victory criterion is the set up as the terminus of several build chains and game elements, so by racing towards point builders, civilizations sacrifice momentum elsewhere. Specifically, points gained through advanced projects like theatres or wonders, which are prohibitively expense and have to be timed just right, or else the cost of resources spent on them would have yielded more dividends overall if just spent on a fresh cavalry or farm. By far the largest share of points come from Age III and onwards, so in terms of planning, it makes the most sense to look towards specific endgame combos and events and then reverse-engineer a build path connecting Age A to Age III.
2. Switch gears or tracks when necessary. Yes, in a civilization game things need to be accelerating more or less constantly, but it isn’t quite as simple as looking at all the outputs and chasing the biggest number. Tweaking the earlier image of civilization as an engine of forward progress, it is also like a multi-phase rocket, with changes in the fuel and shape of your engine. Some detours and reprioritization is usually necessary when the cards come out in an unusual order, another player takes one you needed, or some other wretched happening throws a wrench into things. When to purchase technologies to replace laughably outdated buildings, or to minimally shore up military presences to make warfare unpleasant and territory bidding a fair price.
3. Manicure your garden. From the start, have an ideal picture for your slice of the game should look and work to make it a reality. Maybe all-theater, no-military extremes, or else just a smattering of urban, science, and culture buildings, with a respectable military force in reserve. Small goals for each Age should be subdivided into chunks and evaluated on a turn-by-turn basis. If I get the Kremlin for those extra civic actions, how quickly would I have to complete it to be worth my while? Essentially, the previous tips tell you to mind the macro, but you also need to mind the micro.
4. Make the garden just a hair greener than the neighbor’s. Many events and actions will reward the strongest player, or the one who just edges out another in a key metric (happiness, worker count, production, you name it, there’s a card for it). You can’t compete equally in all categories, but keep in mind that the rewards in the middle of the game reward rankings, not margins of difference, so don’t over-invest and enter some kind of escalating feud.
5. Monitor the known unknowns with care verging on obsession. Count cards, and recount them. Really, I can’t emphasize this enough.
6. Flip over regimes and leaders in a timely fashion. Sure, farms, mines and urban buildings need updating every now and then, too, but the rules for swapping out leaders to gain a civic action back merit special consideration. The same leaders appear every game, so rank which ones are suitable for your civilization and snatch then install them opportunistically. Early on their influence is relatively piddling, but starting at Age II onward, they really enhance (and thus telegraph) certain builds. In case you hadn’t guessed, leaders are a must-have. Government changes, on the other hand... They are even weightier and more awkward to time, especially since they can be effected either peacefully (in exchange for many science points) or forcefully, in exchange for sacrificing a full turn. The difference between a given Age’s governments is usually marginal and stylistic, but the difference across Ages is huge. Upgrade at least once during the game, when other options are unappealing or cost-prohibitive.
7. Resist the urge to over-specialize. Through the Ages has many unusual counterbalances to punish over extension into any single avenue of development. Corruption, consumption and happiness keep production engines in check and make versatile, come-what-may builds resilient and also more efficient. Yes, with five mines built right away a civilization can make wonders like there’s no tomorrow, but once tomorrow comes knocking those pyramids will look shabby and puny next to the competitor’s space rocket or fast food chain. Don’t peak too soon.
8. Do not shy away from odd tactical sacrifices. Bidding extra for colonies, or shilling out extra civic actions for especially choice, unique cards down the line can be worth the effort. If J.S. Bach is the only thing standing between you and victory, then by all means spend 3 actions snatching him up. Similarly, sometimes corruption is unavoidable in service of a larger, specific task. (Experience, or else hindsight, will vindicate these risks, but the point is to not shy away from expensive actions 100% of the time)
9. Victory is eked out at the margins (territory, military, events). This refers to not merely the final score spread, which is usually a real nail-biter, but instead to the game’s tendency to reward every element at one point or another. The trick is anticipating these point paydays, then mastering the timing, learning the cadence of the transitions between early- mid- and late-game. Unfortunately this sounds vague and hand-wavey because it inevitably requires either scads of experience or study.
10. Play often, and thoughtfully. Try but do not strain; find the balance between letting mistakes happen and learning from the sour experience versus sitting in pure silence theory-crafting the trade-offs of a single-choice, over and over. Winning is a sweet delight, but playing should stay enjoyable, too, and not become a chore in service of some far-flung goal. Through the Ages is a rather heavy game, and to win it regularly first requires making it a habit, which should not prevent it from being a right pleasurable experience.
Even with a clear mind and a spot of luck, Through the Ages is a somewhat intractable, complex experience to the extent that no amount of insight or preparation can fully ensure victory. Still, forewarned is forearmed, so sally forth and glean what you can from these tips. Here's hoping they make future matches more competitive and enjoyable.