Gaming Unplugged: Roll through the Ages

December 20, 2009

In Roll Through the Ages (RTTA), players must accumulate food, goods, and workers via three rolls of custom dice. Food must be spent to feed your cities (each city represents one die you can roll on your turn, starting at three and up to a maximum of seven); workers are used to build new cities or monuments, and goods can be traded in for developments (one per turn) to give you advantages.

Each die has the following faces: three food, three workers, two food/two workers (player’s choice), one good, two goods plus one disaster, and one coin (normally equivalent to seven points of goods when purchasing developments). Disaster results may not (normally) be rerolled, and accumulating more than one will result in penalty points or a loss of goods — although sometimes those penalties are applied to your opponents! The game ends once either one of each available monuments has been constructed or when one player achieves his fifth development; once one of those conditions has been met, the round will finish out so that each player has received the same number of turns before the final scores are tallied. Points are earned via monuments and developments, with bonus points being available under certain conditions and disasters costing you points.

Goods and food are recorded on a player’s pegboard, and everything else is recorded on the paper score pads. Earning goods is initially awkward; there are five types of goods (wood, stone, pottery, cloth, and spearheads) that increase in value as you work your way up the list, but you will never earn spearheads unless you collect at least five goods on your roll, as you always start from the bottom and work your way up (the 6th good translates into an additional movement of your “wood” peg, and so on). Similarly, trading in goods for developments is an all-or-nothing proposition; if your wood peg is in the second slot, representing three points, you cannot use only two of them and move your peg down to the first slot (one point). Finally, at the end of your turn you must discard any goods in excess of six peg-moves’ worth. The whole goods system takes some getting used to, but since it is the primary mechanic in the game you will quickly overcome its mild learning curve.

Despite its Yahtzee-like appearance, RTTA is a very strategic game filled with options. Building cities to roll more dice is obviously a good idea, but only if you can generate enough food to support your growing population; unfed cities cost you a point per food you are short each round. Every development gives you some sort of ancillary benefit in addition to its point value; some make you resistant to certain disasters, others give you bonuses to your food or worker rolls, and some award bonus points for monuments or cities. The cheaper developments are worth less points, but the game ends shortly after one player has achieved his fifth one; is a rushing strategy going to pay off and catch your opponents flat-footed? Monuments offer you big points if you’re the first to build a given type and a lesser award (often half the points or less) for anyone else to complete one; occasionally an especially worker-heavy roll has  “stolen” a monument from a player slowly chipping away at it, so plan accordingly!

The box you can purchase from Gryphon Games (at your FLGS for around $30) contains the dice, four pegboards, and score pads for “the Bronze Age”, which are the rules I’ve outlined above. But the beauty of Matt Leacock’s design is that the game can change just by using a different score pad and adjusted rules. He has a “print and play” expansion up for free on the game’s official website, representing “the Late Bronze Age.” In addition to new developments and adjusted versions of some of the originals, the expansion includes better rewards for finishing already-built monuments, a trading option via one of the developments that let you better control the value of your goods, and ends the game at seven developments rather than three. I actually prefer the expansion for its additional strategic options, but the base game is quite fun on its own. It supports two to four players and has a solo variant that works well (you take ten total turns and can re-roll disaster dice if you wish).