Family Game Night: Roll Through the Ages
Roll Through the Ages tries to capture the feel of building a civilization in 30-45 minutes. Civilization-building games have a history that stretches back at least 30 years, and if you’ve ever played any of the Civilization computer games, they descend from a board game. However, these are usually sprawling, epic games that take most of a day, if not more, to play. Roll Through the Ages attempts to shortcut that by making it a dice game descended from the same tree as Yahtzee. Whether or not you think it succeeds at its stated goal, I enjoy it. However, I couldn’t get enough people at home to play it, and so chose to donate it to the Urbana Free Library instead.
In Roll Through the Ages, your goal is to score the most points through building monuments and acquiring scientific advancements called developments. The resources to build monuments and acquire developments come from rolling special dice, one per city in your civilization. You start out controlling three cities, but can build more. New cities and monuments are built using workers. Developments are paid for with trade goods (which can accumulate from turn to turn) and money (which can’t). You also have to make sure to have enough food to feed your cities while avoiding disasters. A turn is similar to Yahtzee — you roll the dice and can reroll any or all of them twice, with the exception that you can’t reroll dice showing disasters.
When your rerolls are over, you mark the food and trade goods you acquired on your peg board, and check off any boxes for disasters. After marking your newly-accumulated resources, feed your cities by subtracting one food per city. You then assign your workers to work on new cities or monuments by checking off one box per worker, circling the city or monument when all the boxes are checked. You then have the option of buying one development, if you can pay its cost.
Completing monuments and acquiring developments both score you points; disasters take points away. The more expensive the monument or development is to build or purchase, the more points it’s worth. Additionally, the first person to build a monument scores more points than anybody else. The game continues until either one player has 5 developments, or until all the different monuments have been built at least once. At that point, make sure everybody has had the same number of turns before adding scores to decide a winner.
Of the games I’ve written about so far, this is the first one in which engine-building becomes an important concept. It’s critical to get at least two more cities built early in the game, because new cities means rolling more dice, which makes it easier to acquire more resources, and so on. Although the Grasshopper has played this with me a few times, his strategy suffers a bit because he doesn’t like to build extra cities. I think this is because the dice are big (roughly the same size as a nickel on a side), and the last time we played he had a hard time holding all the dice at once. We’ve also learned that he just doesn’t care for Yahtzee, and so the similarity might be off-putting to him.
Roll Through the Ages can be a good choice for a family that enjoys dice games and wants a chance to explore games where a bit more planning can be involved. It’s also good for older kids (maybe middle school and up) who are ready to start playing games that require more planning. Examples of these would include Dominion (which I’ll be writing about in the next few months) or Magic: the Gathering, which has a fair number of people playing at the Open Teen Lab times at the library.
Jeff Dougan is a science educator, husband, lifelong gamer, and father to the Grasshopper (age 8) and the Munchkin (turning 4 later this month). He’ll happily teach or learn a new game just about anytime.