Back in 2012, we wrote about Summoner Wars, a popular two-player strategy game hitting iOS. Relative to Through the Ages, Summoner Wars is a pretty simple adaptation for mobile devices. Here, I've taken a look at Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization on PC to get a feel for where the board game market is in terms of technology, as this seems to be an ever-growing market. This is a far more complex title, so streamlining the experience with an intuitive user interface and appealing animations is paramount to the consumer experience.
For those not in the know, Through the Ages is considered one of the all-time best board games ever created across several metrics. While also one of the most complex experiences in terms of rules and strategy, those who've committed themselves to learning the game have found an endlessly enriching battle of wits amongst friends and strangers alike.
Players take their civilization from ancient to modern times by taking publicly available cards in turn order which improve one of various arenas, including leader, food and energy production, military, technology, wonders, and other urban developments. Since the goal of the game is to accrue the most points, building a capable engine is critical to keep the point train a-chuggin'. However, as Through the Ages attempts to depict civilization from a historically accurate perspective — with several liberties, everyone calm down — military and conflict are ever-present dangers. Fortunately, being a card-driven game, players don't have to fuss with dice and throwing large hordes of units at one another. Quite simply, what does the aggression or war card depict, and how many of my resources do I need to expend on military, which really isn't doing that much for me, when I could be spending those same resources on the arts (victory points)?
While that's an extremely simplified run down of what's going on in Through the Ages, what I want to highlight is the excellent quality of the mobile adaptation. Since it has so many moving parts and important information to digest, fitting everything onto the screen and within one or two taps is quite a feat. Everything is tastefully presented from a zoomed-out perspective at a player's home screen, including each technology built, cards in hand and offer, government adopted, and all buildings constructed within each technology. Brilliantly, the designers decided to depict bright yellow lights within the doorways of buildings to indicate how many workers are employed at each technology. Resources and current production are candidly presented along the top of the screen, as well as each opponent's military along the right. More information can be accessed by clicking specific cards, an opponent's icons, or arrows to get a quick glance at everyone's current state.
What's most impressive is that the app seems to be accessible to players of all familiarity and skill level. A new player has little reason to closely inspect each opponent, as they will likely be absorbed in their solitary play, while a veteran will enjoy the "quick and dirty" opportunity to glance at what everyone's doing. Furthermore, while cards, buildings, and wonders don't describe what they do from the zoomed-out perspective, a simple click or tap reveals all of the necessary details. Naturally, a new player will take a little longer to understand not only the basics of Through the Ages, but to naturally understand what everything does. Fortunately, as one learns the game and app, the experience speeds up tremendously because the app takes care of all of the calculations and fiddly bits.
The tabletop version, while engrossing in its own right as people come together to tug at each other in one of the most in-depth strategic experiences in modern gaming, has obvious drawbacks, such as gathering a couple people around the table to undergo a few hours of analysis paralysis and calculation. Many people just don't find the game worthwhile for that reason alone — it's an investment. The app fixes most of that. While winning still requires intense concentration and planning, players can try out things with the use of an undo button, and all of the production number crunching is handled in house. Through the Ages has never been more accessible to new and veteran players.
Accessibility seemed to be critical to Czech Games Edition, as the tutorial is concise, while simultaneously utilizing Vlaada Chvatil's cheeky sense of humor to get various points across. Brilliantly executed, players build the foundations of their civilization alongside Vlaada, and by the time the tutorial's over, players are ready to dive deep into Easy AI territory or begin with neophyte friends. Since Through the Ages the tabletop game was initially created in 2006, the community online contains veterans and newbies alike, so tread carefully, lest you wish to learn through unequivocal trouncing.
I can't rave enough about CGE's Through the Ages app. To take one of the most complex board games ever created and somehow distill it as simply as they have is an astounding feat. The game only loses that fun, interactive component that comes with sitting around the table with friends harassing each other, but that would happen in any electronic version of a board game. I do miss moving cubes around, holding the cards in my hand, and easily glancing over at what my opponents are doing to inform my decision making, but, again, sacrifices are inevitable given the platform. For those curious about the best board gaming has to offer, Through the Ages' introduction on Steam or mobile devices is the best time to dive in. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a date with Hammurabi in the Hanging Gardens.