I need help.
Several times a day, my smartphone seizes control of my body. My day will be totally normal, until I feel that telltale vibration in my pocket notifying me that it’s my turn in Through the Ages. No matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing, I get to work. My eyes are suddenly glued to my screen and I’m micromanaging a complex civilization that is dependent on food, resources, science, happiness, and military power to survive.
Are my workers fed? Am I about to be crushed by an enemy aggression? Should I pursue a massive culture boost from Shakespeare and his works, or recruit Robespierre for a swift and effective government revolution? All these questions blaze through my head and more as I take my turn. It doesn’t take long — one to five minutes on average — and when I’m done, my day goes back to normal. Somewhere, my cousin gets the same notification, and now he’s the one that’s glued to his phone.
This is my life ever since I discovered Through the Ages. I am an addict, so please send help. But also, don’t, because then I might have to stop playing this wonderful game.
Note: I have not been incentivized or paid in any way to write about this game. All of the following opinions are mine, and mine alone.
The Video Game Based on a Board Game Based on a Video Game Based on a Board Game
Little confused after reading that headline? Through the Ages has a pretty interesting story, and it’s more closely tied to Sid Meier’s Civilization games than you might think.
Before I go much further, you’ve probably gathered one thing: Through the Ages is, in fact, a mobile game (also featured on Steam). But before you run away, I need you to know that this game is completely and 100% devoid of the cancer that most mobile games are infamous for. There is ONE upfront cost to buying the game, and once you have, there are no ads, no microtransactions, no loot boxes, no grinding, no forced progression, nothing. Just a good old-fashioned game that demands nothing of you except for your genuine enjoyment.
Secondly, the app is based off a board game of the same name. Through the Ages is a relatively unknown game to most folks, though it might be familiar to anyone in the tabletop gaming scene. This is a civilization-building game that hits many of the same beats as the Sid Meier video games; you build a culture, cultivate it with science, religion, and military, and you manage a population that must be fed and kept happy.
Through the Ages is one of the most acclaimed board games out there, ranked #4 of all time on the popular tabletop site Board Game Geek. However, once translated into app form, the dirty truth comes out: Through the Ages excels much more as a video game than a board game. While the tabletop version is exquisite, there’s so much bookkeeping and tiny components that it can easily become a slog. When all of this is automated, the game becomes a pure delight, and though it may not seem as complex, it’s perfectly capable of standing toe-to-toe with proper Civilization games.
The Curious Connection Between Through the Ages and Civilization
While Through the Ages is a tabletop game, it was directly inspired by Sid Meier’s Civilization. As such, you’ll find many similar elements. Just like the Civ games, you’re almost always bottlenecked in one area. Just like the Civ games, you can pick leaders to guide your society who have unique bonuses. In fact, Sid Meier himself is one of the leaders in Age III, an homage to the man who inspired the board game’s creation.
While Through the Ages is not officially connected with, or endorsed by the Civilization games, it’s a direct love letter to them, and the creators at Czech Games Edition aren’t shy about that. What makes things a little more interesting, however, is when you learn about the history of Sid Meier’s Civilization itself.
While Civilization is the go-to title for civ-building in video game form, the original version was actually based on a board game of the same name. Furthermore, the Sid Meier’s Civilization games have had their own board game versions as well. Ironically, many gamers opine that Through the Ages is a more authentic way to experience Civilization on a tabletop than the official Civilization board games.
So in case you weren’t confused enough, let’s look at the big picture:
Through the Ages is a video game adapted from a board game that was inspired by a video game that was made after a board game, which video game also has its own board games that were based on the video game but not the original board game. What a ride!
What You Need to Know About Through the Ages
You Can Play Against AIs, Friends, and Strangers
Through the Ages excels as a multiplayer game. If you’re considering purchasing it, I highly recommend you find a friend or family member to join in. But even if you don’t, there are people to play with online, and if you create a game, the slots will inevitably get filled. Gameplay is asynchronous, which means that the game is “passed” to each player when it’s their turn. This means games can stretch over multiple days if the players are busy, or be completed in less than an hour if they’re vigilantly checking their phone.
PVP not your cup of tea? You can play the game against AIs, and they’re extremely well-designed. You can set them to easy, medium, or hard, and you can bet they’ll give you a run for your money. I’ve played the game many times over, and I have yet to beat a hard AI. They’re good.
If AI gameplay sounds appealing, there are also a variety of challenges you can complete, most of which have special rules, such as everything being discounted, or having to use one leader for the entire game. You don’t get anything from these challenges except for in-game points and personal satisfaction, but I, for one, kind of miss the days where that’s all you needed to enjoy a game.
There Isn’t a World Map
The single biggest difference between TTA and Civilization is the lack of a world map. While this may sound like a big, even game-breaking change, it’s not as shocking as it sounds. Your civilization is represented by a tableau of cards and cubes, which stand in for buildings, units, and so on. While area control is absent from the game, your civilization is no less demanding to run, and military conflict is very much present.
Throughout the game you’ll build up your culture and your little tableau of buildings and technologies will grow. In this sense, it’s more of an intense resource-management game with a detailed (and well-implemented) Civilization theme.
It Feels Like a Civilization Game
This is probably already clear since it’s pretty much the premise of the entire article, but Through the Ages feels like a civ-building game through-and-through. Here are some examples of the thematic elements that make the game feel authentic to its branding:
- The more enlightened your system of government is, the more actions you have each turn
- Conflict is rare when military strength is equal, but a strong military can completely obliterate a weaker one
- The functional parts of your civilization have to be powered by population
- But you can’t have workers unless your population is well-fed
- Your population will revolt if you don’t keep them happy through things such as religion, entertainment, and literature
- Famous figures can lead your society and grant unique bonuses
- Science allows you to research powerful technologies
- But you also need stone to build your structures
- World wonders can grant your society permanent bonuses
- It’s virtually impossible to manage everything at once; you’re almost always bottlenecked by something
It’s on IOS, Android, and Steam
I’m going to go on record saying that I seldom ever purchase apps, but I was familiar enough with the board game to give this one a shot. Not only that, I heard time and time again that there’s never been a better table-to-digital conversion. After spending copious amounts of time playing the game, I wholeheartedly agree that the game is more than worth its asking price.
While $10 for a mobile game might seem steep, it’s important to remember that you get a complete experience once you’ve paid. No ads, no microtransactions, no premium currencies, none of that garbage that is so prevalent in mobile games now. In that respect, it resembles a console indie game more than a mobile game. While smartphones are the platform, that’s about the only similarity it has with other mobile titles. And, of course, it’s also available on Steam for $15. I’ve focused mainly on the app in this article since it’s the ideal vehicle for the online “pass and play” nature of this game, but you can’t go wrong with the PC version.
If you’re a fan of civ-building games, I can’t recommend this game enough. I’ve been enjoying it so much that I felt compelled to write this passion piece about it — it’s just that good, and anybody who’s familiar with this genre will no doubt enjoy their time with it. I encourage you to go give it a shot, and if it ends up grabbing you, be sure to grab its recently released expansion, which adds leaders, wonders, and other cards. Meanwhile, If you’re interested in the board game, Amazon sells it at a pretty affordable rate.
If you’re a civ-gamer who ends up picking up Through the Ages, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts! Sound out your opinions in our comment section below, and have fun building your society!