Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age
- Designer: Tom Lehmann
- Publisher: Gryphon Games
- Players: 1-4
- Ages: 10+
- Time: 40-60 minutes
- Times Played: 3, with review copy provided by Gryphon Games (apparently a KS copy)
The original Roll Through the Ages, released in 2008, was designed by Matt Leacock and subtitled “The Bronze Age”. Now, 6 years later, The Iron Age has come to market – though with a different designer – this time, Tom Lehmann. The game is still a roll-three-times and then do stuff with the dice game, but with some added levels of play.
Each player in the game gets their own player peg board – on this, they can keep track of their wealth, ships, armies, goods and food. Wooden pegs are given to place into the wooden player board. Each player also gets a pre-printed scoring sheet on which to mark down all the things that happen in the game. Conveniently enough, there is also a very nice turn summary and informational area on this sheet to serve as a reference for players. The only other part of setup is to choose a starting player, and then each player in order chooses if they want to start with an additional port or province (each player already starts with one of each) on their score sheet.
Turns are played clockwise around the table and the game continues for an equal number of turns for each player – at the end of each round, a check is done to see if one of the game ending conditions has been met. The rules say that games usually last somewhere between 6 and 8 rounds.
There are 6 phases to each player’s turn – all steps are done by a player before play passes to the next player.
- Roll dice and collect stuff –
Each round, you always roll the yellow fate die. In addition to this, you roll a number of white Empire dice equal to the number of ports or provinces you have (whichever is greater). After your first roll, you must set aside any white dice which have a skull on them. You may then choose to re-roll any of the remaining dice, again setting aside any newly rolled skulls. You then may roll a third time, and after this roll, you must keep all the die rolls. If the yellow fate die is showing the Omens face, you may now re-adjust any one die (including the Fate die itself) to any face you want.
First you collect goods. For each die showing the goods/port icon, you collect a number of goods equal to the number of ports you have. You can have a max of 15 goods total because that’s as far as your pegboard goes. Additionally, you get a single good for each skull face showing. Then, you collect food. For each food icon you have showing, you collect one food per icon. Note that the fate die might increase or decrease the amount of food collected per die.
- Feed Province and Resolve Disasters
Each province you have requires one food each turn. Lower your food peg on your board one step for each of your provinces. If you do not have enough food, you must mark off one skull in the Disaster area on your score sheet.
Then, if you have any skull faces showing, Disasters happen. The severity of the disaster depends on how many skull faces you happen to have rolled. If you have only rolled a single skull, then there is simply Unrest which causes you to fill in a skull in your disaster area. However, if you had three skulls, then Pestilence would occur and this causes each of your opponents to lose 3 points (i.e. fill in three skulls in their disaster area). As you have probably surmised, each skull filled in this area will be worth negative one VP at the end of the game.
- Resolve Battles, Conquest and Tribute
You may choose to have a battle (as long as you have at least one army AND you have rolled the conquest face on the Fate die) or you may be forced to have a battle based on the disaster from the previous phase – in either event, you first total up your military strength. This is equal to your number of armies plus and bonuses for having the Formations or Navy developments. You then compare this to your attacker’s strength – which might be 4 or 10 depending on the disaster OR it is equal to the number of conquest icons filled in on your score sheet if you have chosen to Conquest.
You compare the two numbers. If your number is greater than your opponent, you fill in the Tribute markers on your sheet equal to the difference between them. If your number is less than your opponent, you fill in skulls in your Disaster area equal to the difference. If there’s a tie, you don’t make any marks. Then, regardless of the result, you lose an army (from your pegboard). Additionally, if you have a Navy, you also lose a ship. Finally, if you chose to Conquest this turn, and you managed to win, you fill in a Conquest icon on your sheet so that the next one will be more difficult.
The Fate die might also direct you to collect Tribute. To do this, you compare your military strength with each of your opponents. If your strength is greater, you gain Tribute equal to the difference in strength. If your strength is lesser, nothing happens. Note that any of your opponents can choose to give you a good to prevent the active player from demanding/gaining any Tribute.
- Build Ports and lots of other stuff
You can build Provinces and Monuments with Population. For each population icon on a die, you fill in a population box under the Province or Monument. When all of the boxes are filled in, the thing is built. Note that you get Armies and Tribute when you successfully build a Province. When you finish a monument, you score some VPs for it. If you are the first person to build a particular monument, you circle the larger number. Otherwise, you circle the lower number.
Ports use both population as well as a number of goods (shown on the sheet). Armies cost one population AND one food per unit. Ships are built for two goods each (assuming that you have the Shipmaking development).
- Develop something
Each turn, you may purchase one development. The cost for this is in development points. A good can be spent for 1 development point. A torch icon on a die is worth 3 and a stored wealth (on your player board) is worth 5. The cost for each development can be found on the player score sheet. You mark off the circle next to the purchased development and then you get some special ability for the rest of the game.
- Storing goods as wealth
Finally, you can trade in 4 goods for a stored wealth. Remember, you cannot keep more than 15 goods at a time, so you probably don’t want to start a turn near 15 goods. Secondly, goods can be spent for one development point each, but a stored wealth turns 4 goods into 5 development points.
Once all of these 6 phases are done, the next player can start his turn by rolling the dice…
The game continues until one of three game ending conditions are met –
For the short game –
- A player buys his 5th development
- A player has 30 or more Tribute
- A player has built at least 4 of the 5 monuments
For the long game
- A player buys his 7th development
- A player has 50 or more Tribute
- A player has built all 5 monuments
At the end of a round (after all players have had an equal number of turns) – and one of the above criteria are met, the game ends. Players tally up their scores –
- Points for monuments built
- Points for developments built
- Some developments also offer bonus points for end game criteria
- Two points per stored wealth
- One point per Tribute marked off
- NEGATIVE one point per skull marked off
The winner is the player with the most points! Ties go to the highest cumulative value on the pegboard.
There are also solo rules included in the game where you play for 8 rounds, trying to get the highest score possible. The only alterations in the rules are that Pestilence will affect you if you roll 3 skulls and when you have a Tribute demand, you resolve it against one mythical opponent whose strength is equal to the round of the game that you are playing.
My copy of the game also includes an expansion to the game – you simply add it to the game if you want to use it. The expansion has another wooden board which depicts the Mediterranean, and each player gets 15 more pegs to use as colonists. According to some other gamers that I spoke to – this is not included in the retail game. Apparently I received a Kickstarter version of the game which did include it…
Most of the rules of the base game stay the same.
One change is that when determining strength, you can choose not to use your Navy bonus, and when you choose not to use it, you also then do not lose a ship afterwards. Additionally, every player can build ships when the expansion is in play – essentially, everyone gets the Shipbuilding development for free at the start of the game.
So, the big change here is the colony board. Colonies have between one and four holes next to them. During your turn, there is now an extra phase – Founding colonies that comes just after battle and just before building ports and other assorted things.
In the Colonies phase, you may use your population icons to place pegs into empty holes on the colony board. You do not need to finish a colony on a single turn. However, in order to finish a colony, you must be able to place the final peg (using a population icon) as well as be able to spend a ship at the same time. If you have no ships, you will not be able to finish any colonies on that particular turn. All of the pegs in a colony must be your color. On the turn that you are going to finish, you may replace pegs of your opponents at the cost of 2 population per peg to be replaced.
When you complete a colony, you then get some immediate rewards – as printed on the board. For instance, finishing Carthage immediately gives you 3 food. At the end of the game, each completed colony is worth 3 points; otherwise, scoring is the same as in the base game.
My thoughts on the game
Overall, I think that this is a very good dice game. It takes the feel (and the wooden dice) from the original and gives you a more complex game experience. Like its predecessor, there is really not too much player interaction – you might fight a bit over Tribute, you could cause Pestilence to descend upon their land, and you could beat someone to the punch on a Monument to cost them a few VP… but other than that, you pretty much just watch the other players take their turn.
Is that completely negative? No, not really. The game moves along at a decent clip – with most turns taking under a minute or two. In some of the downtime between turns, you can try to figure out what you want to do when you have the dice in your hands – after all, you get three rolls to try to get the icons you want on the dice – so you can use some of the time between your turns to figure out what you want to do. Secondly, with all of the development choices, I usually find myself re-reading the list of developments that I might be able to afford to decide whether or not I want to buy one. And in any event, while the interaction is limited, there is more of it here than in the original version.
Furthermore, the expansion does give you an arena to directly compete with players as you race to get the colonies that you want. It’s still not a fully interactive experience, but it’s one more way that your decisions can affect those of your opponents.
I like the way that you can choose different paths here (well, to a degree) – if you choose to specialize in either ports or provinces, you will certainly lead yourself down different strategic paths. You will also end up with lots more dice to roll. If you choose to keep the provinces and ports more even in number, you will have a more rounded strategy with a bit more flexibility – but you also won’t get those extra dice. In the end, it’s a nice decision point introduced to the game.
The fate die also adds in a bit of excitement and variability to the game. This added die can change the way that your turn goes – and you have to decide during your roll if you will accept the initial roll or push your luck to re-roll it and get a different result. Sure, it can be a little swingy – but it’s a dice game, and it’s called the Fate die! What else would you expect?
The components are well done – I do like the heft and tactile nature of the wooden boards and bits. The wooden dice certainly keep the theme as well. The scoresheets, though, are where most of the game happens – and they are well laid out. Having the player aid also printed on each scoresheet helps the game move along nicely. Once you are familiar with the game, you can pretty much teach anyone the game just with a used scoresheet (which you’ll have in the box by then).
I do have a small gripe with the rules – I think that Gryphon did a great job keeping the rules to a minimum – the rules to the main game are just 4 pages long. However, there are a few rules which are not fully delineated in the rulebook itself and must be found on the scoresheet. Admittedly, when you’re playing the game, you’re more likely going to be looking at the scoresheet to know that you score 2 points per Stored Wealth – but it would have been nice for these extra few words to have been in the rulebook as well.
In the end, you get a lot of game for your time here – in our group, I’d say this goes about 10 minutes per player now. We’ve only played the expansion once, and thus far, I’m pretty ambivalent on it. It does add some places to compete on that new board, but it also lengthens the game a bit as you are now using your population icons to also build colonies, and this slows down the rate at which you build monuments and other things, thus slowing progress to the endgame conditions.
Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers
Joe Huber (2 plays; one of published game) – One of my firm beliefs, with games is that they should be designed at a complexity appropriate to the system. For example, I really enjoy Battle Cry, and enjoy Memoir ‘44, but found Command & Colors Ancients added too much complexity for the fairly simple system, and as a result the game didn’t work for me.
Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age pushes on the boundaries for me – but in the end, the published game falls on the right side of the mark. The prototype I played was a little past that line for me, so I was very pleased to see the additional development work. I’m not convinced
that it’s my favorite implementation of the system – but it’s an enjoyable game, and one which with more play could easily rise to the “like it” level for me. For now, I’m neutral – but definitely willing to explore it further.
Mark Jackson (1 play) – Joe & I have very similar feelings about the Command & Colors system… and about Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age. I have not played with the expansion, so I’m simply commenting on the base game.
If the original Roll Through the Ages didn’t exist, I would feel a strong urge to own this version. As it is, I’ll be happy to play it (it works well and has a number of interesting decisions for a dice game), but I’m not sure it has to be a part of my collection.
Matt Carlson (4 solo, 2 multiplayer games; standard published version)
Let me reaffirm right from the start that the scoring sheets are the key to making this game an entry-level boardgame. Everything is laid out in front of a player with no need for any player-aid since it’s all printed on the paper. (Although I’d love to see a copy online I can print off when I eventually run out… hint, hint…)
I enjoy the first Roll through the Ages quite a bit, and playing Iron Age) made me go back and start replaying the original game (which I’ll refer to as Bronze Age) on my iPod (it’s a shame it now crashes on my iPad which is running a newer OS.) Iron Age has a slightly different flavor, which I enjoy, but I have to admit that the previous and current games were so similar I had to go back to the excellent scoresheet to refamiliarize myself with the details of Iron Age in order to not confuse the two. They obviously share mechanics, and both are quick, fun “engine” games that seem to end just when your engine starts to really get going (which makes you more likely to want to go back for more.)
One of the big differences between the two lies in the storage of “goods”. Bronze age has very tightly controlled storage issues so a development strategy must make use of a “burst” strategy of setting things up for a large purchase while finding ways to make small purchases in the meantime. Iron Age has far cheaper development costs and saving from one turn to the next isn’t very difficult (you even get a +1 good bonus by saving goods as wealth.) This leads to a smoother technology development curve, which I prefer.
I also like the addition of conquest and tribute. While not directly penalizing the other players (they don’t “lose” anything), it provides players to earn points through additional player interaction. Do you forgo developing armies completely at the cost of having your opponent demand tribute for high scoring points? However, I feel that defraying the cost of tribute by paying single good seems to be too easy a way out for those non-army players. Aside from Barbarians or an Invasion, a port/development player can completely ignore provinces, while I don’t see a province-focused player ignoring ports completely.
The first few turns in Bronze Age seem to always fall along the same lines, whereas the Iron Age pushes for a bit more diversity with its two main lines of progression (ports or provinces.) This also favors Iron Age, since players can quickly diverge in their strategies. In my few plays, there seems to be three main strategies – pushing ports & developments, pushing provinces & tribute, and a mix of the two. While a pure port strategy is pretty strong, going with provinces and armies requires at least a couple ports in order to pick up a few developments here and there. Beginners seem to do the best with a port strategy, since that gives more points in a longer game – but I think there’s still potential for a solid tribute strategy if one can push for a quick tribute-initiated ending.
The game feels significantly different solo, with two players, and with more players. Solo is obviously different, but with 3 or 4 players an army/tribute strategy becomes more viable since there are simply more people to attack.
Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age is extremely similar to the original Bronze Age. It is different, but has almost the exact same feel. It would be best thought of as a stand-alone expansion. Given my choice of the two games, I slightly prefer the Iron Age, both because it is new, but also because it feels like there are more choices in viable strategies. I like it enough to hope Gryphon games puts out the expansion as I’d love to give it a try.
Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers
I love it!
I like it. Dale Y, Mark J, Matt C
Neutral. Joe H, John P
Not for me…