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ROLL THROUGH THE AGES

Reviewed by Herb Levy

ROLL THROUGH THE AGES (Gryphon Games, 1-4 players, ages 8 and up, 30-45 minutes; $29.95)

 

Second in the new line of Gryphon Bookshelf Games, Roll Through the Ages by Matt Leacock is the only new design among the original five. Since it is sandwiched between games by such formidable designers as Reiner Knizia and Stefan Dorra, you would be forgiven for wondering if the game belongs in such esteemed company. Let’s make this easy. It absolutely does.

When you lift the box to Roll Through the Ages, you might suspect that somehow, instead of packaging a game, the company erred and packaged a brick! The box is that heavy. The game comes with FOUR wooden pegboards (accounting for the heft), a bunch of cribbage style pegs, 100 double-sided score sheets and 7 custom six-sided dice. The object of the game is to develop a civilization and this is done through dice rolling and some challenging decision-making.rollag5

Each player gets a peg board and places one peg on each of the top five rows (at 0) to indicate the present amount of goods that player holds. (Goods represented include, from bottom to top, wood, stone, pottery, cloth and spearheads.) The bottommost track is food (not considered a good) and all players start with a peg at 3. Everyone also gets a score sheet which has room for built cities (you start the game with three), developments that you may purchase, monuments that you may build and room to record the disasters that will inevitably occur. (The score sheet also doubles as a player aid as it displays reminders of order of play, game ending conditions, possible disasters and meaning of the dice icons.) The six faces of the dice depict one good, three food, three workers, your choice of either two food or two workers, a coin (worth 7 money) and two goods with a skull. Dice power the play.

On a turn, a player rolls dice equal to the number of cities he has currently built. Any skulls rolled are permanent and may not be re-rerolled. Otherwise a player may re-roll any or all of his dice up to two more times. Then, he acts upon what was rolled.

Food icons add that amount to the food track. Any goods rolled are charted on the pegboard by moving a peg over a space, starting from bottom to top. (If you reach the top on a roll by having six or more goods, you “wraparound” and continue from bottom to top.) Now, you have to feed your people.

Feeding means supplying one food for each city you have. Since you start with three food, this presents no problem the first turn. But after that, if you are unable to feed all of your cities, you check off 1 disaster box for each food not provided. Each disaster box checked results in 1 Victory Point lost. And now we deal with the skulls.

Skulls represent potential disasters. One skull has no effect but, with two or more, bad things can happen. For example, two skulls indicate a drought and that will cost you 2 points (checked in the Disaster section of your score sheet). Three skulls is pestilence but the twist here is that will cost YOUR OPPONENTS 3 points. (An excellent design decision as it encourages a player to re-roll when faced with two skulls when, otherwise, he would shy away from the possibility of an even worse disaster confronting him.) Four skulls is invasion and will cost you 4 points while 5 or more skulls rolled results in you losing ALL of your goods! But don’t worry. Developments of your civilization can protect you against these disasters.

After skulls are resolved, players may place workers in city and/or monument positions. Cities and monuments are divided into boxes. Each worker allows you to check off one box. Completing a city will allow you to roll another die on the next turn. (City completion requires filling in anywhere from 3 to 6 boxes.) Completing a monument (and these vary as well, ranging from 3 to 15 boxes) will earn you Victory Points (and, in the case of the Great Wall, protect you from invasion). Finally, players may obtain Developments.

Developments have a price and you meet that price by using any coins rolls on your dice AND cashing in goods you have accumulated. Each goods space on the pegboard has a number value. This is the worth of those goods. By turning in those goods, you can use their worth to purchase a development. (There is a limit of one development purchase per turn.) Developments improve the quality of your civilization by increasing its powers and abilities, even protecting your civilization from disasters. (The Irrigation development, for example, will protect you from drought). Developments also have a Victory Point value.

Players take turns until either ALL of the monuments have been built by the group OR one player has purchased five Developments. That signals the game’s end. (However, ALL players get an equal number of turns so if the endgame condition is met, players who have not gotten the same number of turns are able to get their final rolls.) At that point we score.

Players add up the VP values of all Developments they have bought as well as all monuments they have completed. (Unfinished monuments do not score). Any bonuses earned through bought Developments are added too. (For example, Empire gives you an extra VP for each city you have.) Now, one point is deducted for each checked disaster box. The player with the most VPs wins.

What separates Roll Through the Ages from a typical dice game is its surprising depth as you are forced to make tough choices almost every turn. You know you have to feed your cities but the temptation to trade off food for more workers or goods can be great. Some developments help to make the decision easier. For example, Agriculture will add one to each food die rolled so you can free up a die (or two) for other types of production. Masonry has a similar effect with workers, adding one worker per worker die roll so you can build cities and monuments faster. Coinage boosts the value of coin dice rolls from 7 to 12, making purchases of higher valued Developments easier. And, of course, you can race to complete high scoring monuments too. All of these approaches have proved to be winning strategies in the game, a tribute to the depth of the design.

Production value of the game is also very high. The solid wood pegboards are great and it’s kind of fun to move those pegs around as you collect goods. The wooden dice are nice but I would have liked to see a darker ink used on the icons similar to those in the picture above (the actual dice use a much lighter ink) so that there is less of a chance of them fading with time and use. It is a bit surprising, though, to discover only two reference cards packed with the game for a game for four players. (Fortunately, the score sheets take up the slack and play is so straightforward, that reference cards soon become almost superfluous.)

Although number two in the line of Gryphon Bookshelf Games, Roll Through the Ages is second to none. The weight of the components (coupled with the first rate production) only underscores the weight of the game design. The game provides more decision-making than any other dice game I’ve ever encountered and makes this a game that will get played over and over again. Highly recommended. – Herb Levy


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