a ones upon a game review
I had only played Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization itself a time or two on boardgamearena.com and had learned about this smaller dice game from the other solo gamers. I downloaded the iOS implementation and attempted it a couple of times but was a bit lost on what it is I was supposed to be doing (sadly, the iOS port seems to be gone from the AppStore now). Usually playing the game physically makes things clearer so I was willing to give the real version a try.
Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age (RTTA: Bronze) is a nicely produced game. It comes in a small albeit heavy box because it contains four hardwood player boards, seven oversized wooden dice and a set of six color-coded pegs for each player. Add to that heft a thick pad of scoring sheets and you’ve got quite a lot of efficiently packed content.
The player boards have six rows for tracking goods (wood, stone, pottery, cloth, and spearheads) and food acquired during your turn and these are painted to match their corresponding peg.
Each of the seven 20mm wooden dice are printed with the following symbols: 1 good, 3 workers, 1 coin, 2 food/2 worker, 3 food, and 2 goods + a skull (cue ominous music here). The dice have beveled edges and rounded corners to facilitate rolling rather than just sticking their landing.
Clearly the game is very luck dependent and each choice you make will inform your other choices down the road.
The rule “book” is simply a double-sided, tri-fold booklet and the rules themselves only take up four of those six panels with the other two containing reference tables for the die faces, disasters, and developments. Suffice it to say you’ll be up and playing RTTA:Bronze pretty quickly after opening the box.
The gameplay of RTTA:Bronze are pretty simple. Roll a die for each city you own, freeze dice you’re happy with, and re-roll the others up to a total of three rolls. A player begins the game with three cities and can build up to seven total (thus the seven dice). However, in typical civ-game fashion, you have to be able to feed those cities or suffer a penalty. Therefore you need to balance the desire for more dice with your ability to manage you food production.
After you’ve rolled all your dice, you’ll resolve them in the following order. First collect any goods items. You do this by working your way up the rows on the player board, moving the counter on each row one space until you’ve moved the number of goods you rolled. For example, if you rolled three goods, you’d move the wood peg one space, theh stone peg one space, and the pottery peg one space — and then all three goods have been acquired. If you managed to roll more than five goods on a turn, you’d adjust all five rows, then start again at the bottom with the remaining good (thus wood again). The trick to goods is that at the end of your turn, you must discard goods down to six spaces total. Fortunately, you’re able to spend goods like money later in your turn.
The second step is to again acquire any food you earned. All food is tracked on a single food row. While food is not a “good” in the same sense, you’re still limited to having 15 total food at any time. And since you’ll spend food for every city each turn, you’ll need to constantly make sure you have enough on hand for your people. This of course leads to the third step which is actually feeding your cities. For each city you own, spend that much in food. If you don’t have enough on hand for all your cities, you’ll be penalized with famine points (checked off on the score sheet and subtracted at the end of the game).
Also part of this third step is to resolve any disasters caused by your skull dice (cue ominous music here). Generally, all skull dice cannot be rerolled during the turn, so once they appear, you’re stuck with them. You can get away with one each turn, but any beyond that trigger a disaster (one of the reference charts on the rule card). The good thing is that you have the option to research and buy developments to help mitigate these disasters.
So now that all your administrative tasks are complete, you can start improving your civilization. On the score sheet under each additional city and monuments you can build are a set of checkboxes. Cities beyond the first three cost 3-6 workers to build and each monument costs a varying number of workers based on its point value — the more valuable the monument, the more workers it will cost. Monuments have one value for the first to build it and a second lesser value for each subsequent player, so you want to be the first to build the monuments with the most rewards. Using the total number of workers accumulated in the turn, check off an equal number of boxes. When all the boxes under a city or monument are complete, you gain the extra dice or victory points. Extra dice of course, bring greater chance of skull icons appearing, so you must manage the risk vs. rewards of too many cities.
Finally, you spend your money to buy developments. You get money from two sources — each coin on a die is initially worth 7 coins. You can also sell goods from your player board for the amount indicated under the current peg location. This sells them ALL however, you cannot sell a portion of single commodity and you do not get change. Wood is the cheapest good you have (as it always is incremented first) and spearheads the most valuable (and thus hardest to gain). Money will not carry over from one turn to the next (though some goods will), so it’s best to spend carefully and efficiently.
Developments are features you can buy to help mitigate disasters, improve production of food, workers, or coins. They can also provide bonuses for your civilization to avoid certain penalties. You’re free to pick and choose which developments you buy and in what order.
The last step, as mentioned above, is to discard all goods above six. So use it or lose it as much as possible.
Once a player has built their fifth development or each of the monuments has been built at least once, the game ends after all players have had an equal number of turns. Then total up the points and crown the winner.
RTTA:Bronze comes with rules for playing solitaire. I hesitate to call it a “beat your own score” game, because of all the randomness of the die rolls, but the score serves to simply gauge how well you did. Some rule modifications are required for solo play. Skull dice are not locked in (you may re-roll them), all monuments are available to be built (as in the four player game — two and three players have some unavailable), and you only play for ten rounds. There are a couple of other modifications to certain disasters/developments, but never kept enough skull dice around long enough to have those come into play.
If you’re into easy to play dice games that will only toast your brain as opposed to burning it…
While there is some indirect competition with other players to build a monument first (and thus get the larger award), the game is essentially multiplayer solitaire. Each player takes their turn and the other players are going to be waiting the admittedly short time it takes for the others to play. There’s not a lot of pre-planning you can do during the downtime and very little interacting with the current player. Sure, some disasters can be mitigated for you and turned on them (oops!), but it seems the odds of that occurring are very slim. I would think a game like this is going to be more fun with two players at most with a more rapid cycling of turns. However, I only played the game using the solitaire rules, so my observations about multiplayer might be a little off.
Clearly the game is very luck dependent and each choice you make will inform your other choices down the road. With only 10 turns, though, there’s not a lot of room for mistakes. I found I usually increase my city count from three to five and stop there. Clearly getting the cities as soon as possible allows them to be more effective for more of your turns, but balancing food requirements and worker to make this happen does present a challenge. So far, my highest score was my first play of 48 points.
So how was the game solo? It’s fun. It’s quick to play. It’s simple to learn. It’s not a very deep game of course, nothing akin to it’s much bigger brother. But it is certainly a decent filler or travel game. If you’re into easy to play dice games that will only toast your brain as opposed to burning it, then you should definitely take a look at Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age.