Through the Ages
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See aggregated Through the Ages reviews and ratings here.
Overall Rating: 9/10
The app adaptation of Through the Ages has been well documented to date, such that adding another positive review to the pile almost feels unnecessary. Spoiler alert — it’s exceptional. It takes one of the most revered, complicated eurogames and manages to make it feel, well, manageable to keep track of dozens of snippets of information that might take up a whole tabletop normally, even on a tiny phone screen. I don’t believe in perfect scores (there’s always room for improvement!), but the actual gameplay implementation here is nearly flawless.
What we like about this adaptation
Through the Ages is a civilization game with a lot of different mechanics, and even more different strategies you can deploy on your march to victory. I’ve played no game that juggles this much information all on screen at once, and yet after a few games it all feels easy to handle.
The game does an excellent job at “popping out” details of the action at a quick tap while still handling the bird’s eye view of your (ever evolving) civilization tactfully and in a visually pleasing way. The developers made great choices regarding what info to surface all the time (people and happiness, resource pools and culture score, action count, your playable cards vs community ones, and a visual depiction of all structures in miniature) while hiding away some of the less-accessed information (deck overview, other players’ civilizations, the specifics of cards you’ve played). Summaries of information and helpful tips are always just a single tap away, making it easy to whiz through a variety of “info drawers” en route to optimizing the perfect turn.
As mentioned above, this game has been well-reviewed already — so I’d like to take some time to acknowledge some of the lesser-championed things that it does incredibly well. In no particular order:
Challenges: Through the Ages has solo challenges which allow a variety of rule modifications that change the game in fun and unique ways. It’s a great way that the app gives replayability without needing other people.
Digital rule adjustments: Through the Ages has specifically made some shifts to speed up asynchronous play which is very welcome when playing online with strangers. The app specifies what is different and also still offers the “original” rules experience in this version for those who want it.
Expansions: The original game currently has one expansion (“New Leaders and Wonders”) and while the naming is unoriginal, it offers additional cards to freshen up play. Most interestingly — they released this expansion digitally before publishing in hard copy, which is a cool trend I hope we see more often.
Ranks and leaderboards: Once you start playing online, you’ll gain points for playing (more for winning!) and climb the ranks using what I assume is some sort of ELO system. You can watch yourself get better as you climb in overall rank, and your character avatar gets some cool features along the way — such as an increasingly regal beard.
Undo button: We’ll probably write up a separate post about this at some point, but this is the unsung hero of the whole app. For a game with so many decisions and calculations to make each turn, a super effective undo button is a welcome feature allowing you to really go nuts in figuring out how best to build your engine.
Game log: It has one. It has more detail than you’d ever need, and it’s glorious.
I could go on about this game for a long time but suffice it to say, it has a lot to love. From the sassy tutorial on day one, to the enjoyable sound effects and music, the app is an immersive masterpiece.
What could have been better
The mobile edition of Through the Ages stretches the limits on the “always room for improvement” mantra, but there are definitely some things that we’d love to see. The biggest areas for improvement are probably account settings and online play interactions.
Regarding account settings, once you’ve created an account with the developer it becomes a bit opaque how your information (achievements, game records, etc) is stored. There’s no in-game sign-in/out and it takes me to the developer website when I try to poke around to adjust my profile settings. I confirmed via their website that it’s all backed up if you move between devices, but the way it’s set up does not give me confidence that my time investment in the game is protected.
Finding people and sending friend requests is awkward and the friends feature doesn’t appear to interact with online play at all. The game has an Apple Game Center icon on it (I play on iOS), but as far as I can tell there is no actual use of this tech, which would alleviate some of these challenges.
Setting up new online games is a bit clunky, which is unfortunately a trend among most mobile adaptations. Selecting “online play” brings you to a lobby, showing player counts and recent games. If you missed an invite from a friend (easy to do), the game doesn’t give you an indication that there’s a lobby waiting unless you tapped into online play. Finally: the play clock options on this game are numerous, but sadly not customizable. My friends often tease that I take “ages” (get it) to take my turn, but given that the fastest mode option allows for almost 3 mins per turn and 15 mins of “reserve” for each age, there’s simply no way you’re ever hurting for time.
There’s a few little buggy items that pop up every now and then; the most annoying is that it’s nearly impossible to click the ship/shield to understand what comprises your exploration/military strength respectively (despite having a very useful popup summary when you do manage to win that mini-game of operation). The in-game rulebook leaves much to be desired with roughly size 3 font and no “search” feature.
Ultimately, most of the above is nitpicking and hardly cause for a major loss in points on this review.
Through the Ages is a delight to play on digital devices thanks to a swath of well-designed quality-of-life features that make a complicated game feel easy to engage with. Despite a few things that could be improved upon, this is truly the “textbook” example of what mobile board gaming should be: smooth and beautiful, keeping your focus on the strategy of the game itself. It's well worth it whether you’re an avid fan of the tabletop version or looking for your next meaty euro in a “light” package.