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The Golden Ages

Reviewed by: Pevans

(Quined Games, 2-4 players, ages 12 and up, 60-90 minutes; $59.99)

It’s Earth, Jim, but not as we know it.

goldenagesbox2I first played The Golden Ages, designed by Luigi Ferrini, at Dutch publisher Quined’s stand at Spiel ‘14 and was immediately taken with it. It’s a civilisation development game that takes familiar features and puts them together in a different way – rather like the map on the board, which is built up of tiles showing familiar bits of geography. Points are scored over four eras with some final scoring at the end: for technologies developed, wars fought and, possibly, for the 8-point secret goal each player has been working towards. (In my experience scores are generally around the 100 mark, so eight points is significant, but not overwhelming.)

An era ends when all the players have declared a “Golden Age”. When a player does this, they’ve essentially passed for the rest of the era. However, they get cash every time it would be their turn until everybody else has passed. The other advantage is that they choose which end-of-era card will be scored. The clever bit is that this gives the other players a bit of time to beef up their scores. Note that, in the last turn, the other players only get one more action after one player passes. Hence, it can be touch and go whether you get to do everything you want.

Clearly, passing early can be a useful tactical ploy, but players can only declare a Golden Age once they’ve used all their “colonist” pieces (wooden meeples in their colour). An important constraint in the game is that players only have three of these: you start with three, you end with three. You’ll be pleased to learn that there are quite a few actions that don’t require a colonist. And some cards and technologies allow certain actions without using a colonist.

The game is played over a small board, divided into squares (with a scoring track running around the edges). At the start of the game a 2×2 tile is placed in the centre showing familiar land and sea areas. Players take it in turn to add a bit more of the world to this: a three-square L-shaped tile at the beginning, a two-square rectangle at the start of subsequent eras. (The tiles can be positioned to make a map of the Earth, though it’s not likely they’ll end up like this in play.) Each land or island square is marked with one or two resource icons. Players add their capital (an eight-sided column) in one square of their first tile and their colonists start on the same place.

A fresh crop of Wonders and Buildings is set out at the start of each era and, most importantly, players choose their civilisation. They start the game with one civilisation card for each era and the first era is simple: everyone turns over their card. They may give an immediate bonus, such as developing a technology level, or a benefit for the era, such as taking a building without using a colonist. The player with the lowest numbered civilisation is start player for the era.

At the beginning of subsequent eras, players reveal their next card, starting with the start player, and decide whether to replace their old civilisation with it or keep the old one. The advantage of keeping the old card is that it will definitely have a lower number than the current era’s cards, so you could well be first player. The disadvantage is that you won’t get any one-off bonus again.

Preliminaries out of the way, it’s on to the meat of the era as players start taking actions. A first action is often taking a building: there are only a few of these each era and when they’ve gone, they’ve gone. However, players only have one available space for a building at the start of the game. They must develop the appropriate technologies to get more slots (to the maximum of three). It is possible to discard a current building to place a new one. I do this occasionally (after using the building of course), but it isn’t ideal. Taking a building also means using one of your colonists. It goes to the ‘agora’ tile, alongside the main board, lying down to show it’s been used.

Arguably the most important action to take with a colonist is to move it on the board to expand the territory you control. At the start of the game, players can only move each colonist one space (orthogonally). They can improve this by developing transport technologies – aircraft let you move anywhere! Moving a colonist into a square takes control of it, gaining the player gold if they have developed the appropriate technology for the resource symbol/s shown on that square.

goldenages2The colonist is laid down (to show it’s taken an action this era) and the player may also place cube/s to found a city. Founding a city also generates cash. Again, the player’s developed technologies determine how much. Taking control of squares and founding cities are a major source of cash through the game, giving players a big incentive to develop technologies that increase their income. However, once established, there’s no great need to hang on to cities. It’s gaining control and founding cities that produce money.

A variant on the action of moving a colonist is moving one into a square occupied by another player’s city and/or colonist. This starts a war! It doesn’t last long, though, as there is no defence: the attacker pays the cost and removes the defender’s pieces (cubes can be used again, colonists only if they’re standing up). Each player has a track showing the increasing cost each time they attack – and there are only four spaces. The attacker also takes a chip, worth a few points at the end of the game, and covers the space on their track to show that they’ve used it. They may then found a city, as usual.

The final action that uses a colonist is to place one lying down in the agora and score three points. Remember, you can’t pass until you’ve used all your colonist pieces, so this is what you do if there’s really nothing else you want to (or can) do. I’ve rarely seen anyone do this.

There are then four actions that don’t require the use of a colonist. First is buying a Wonder. There are only a few of these each era and they cost money, but players can have as many of them as they want. Each provides some sort of bonus and many of them can also be ‘activated’ (as a separate action) to score a point. This action can also be used to activate a building: the building or wonder is flipped over to show it’s been used this era.

Then there is the action to develop a technology. Each player has their own board, most of which is taken up by their technology matrix. This has four rows, each representing a different area of technology, and five columns. Players start with the first technology in each row available. The others are covered with tiles, which are removed as players develop technologies – you can’t skip tiles along a row, but can develop one row and none of the others.

The front of each technology tile shows what it does (in iconic form – just like the printed space it’s on top of) and what it costs. The bottom shows how many points it’s worth (at the end of the game). As you’d expect, the price goes up as you move along a row, the points increase and the technologies get more effective – an incentive to develop a row. Most of the cheaper technology tiles also show a cube or two on the front and players get these cubes added to their available pool when they develop the technology – an incentive to develop broadly across all the rows.

The transport row provides a good example: the first space lets you move colonists one space. The second costs 3 and lets you move them two (and makes a cube available). The third costs 5, is worth a point and increases movement to three (and gives you a cube). The fourth costs 8, scores 2 points and lets colonists move anywhere on the board. Finally, the last transport technology costs 12, scores 4 points and lets players attack any space on the board without moving a colonist. Yes, it’s ICBMs! The final technology in each row also provides an immediate bonus when it’s developed. In the case of transport, it’s three points for every gem resource under your control – a reason why you do want to hang on to squares you control.

The final action is, of course, to declare a Golden Age. You flip over your capital – there’s a 2 gold symbol on the bottom as a handy reminder. The first to do this chooses a bonus card and this is scored once everybody has passed. This concludes the era. A bit of housekeeping follows, laying out new buildings and wonders and standing colonists back up. Then the new era starts with players choosing their civilisation card and laying tiles to expand the world.

Despite the somewhat lengthy explanation I’ve given here, the rules only take up six pages (there’s a two-page sheet detailing what the cards do as well). The complexity of the game is in the detail and in the interplay of the different aspects of the game, particularly the technologies. Hence, the first thing to do at the start of the game is look at what the technologies do and which ones fit with your civilisation cards and your end-of-game bonus (don’t get hung up on this bonus, though: I’ve won games without scoring it and lost games where I did.)

In play, The Golden Ages is very tactical. It’s about where you can get your colonists to, which actions you need to do when, and what you can afford to do. There are lots of decisions to be made, often trading off between your limited time, money and actions. It’s useful to have some strategic goals in mind, but you also have to be ready to adapt to what the other players are up to. In particular, there can be competition over specific squares on the board. Despite this, the game plays smoothly and quickly.

I’m pleased to say that The Golden Ages has really lived up to the first impressions I got at Spiel last year. It’s an entertaining and challenging game that I thoroughly enjoy playing and has gone down well with everyone I’ve played it with. (A new edition is being published by Stronghold Games with an October release.) It gets a solid 9/10 on my highly subjective scale.


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