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[Review] 7 Ages

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Joined: 03/23/2011

7 Ages (Australian Design Group, 2004 - Harry Rowland), is one of the few games I’ve ever purchased knowing nothing about the game. I’m not even sure why I asked someone to pick it up from Essen; I think it might have been that I thought the name was cool, or some stupid reason. After I heard that my friend was successful in getting me a copy, I went online to see what the game was about. To my surprise, 7 Ages was a civilization building type game, full of tiny counters, a huge map, and a playing time of seven hours plus. This to me is anathema in a game, and I kicked myself mentally for buying it. At the same time, I was intrigued, as I do enjoy civilization-type games; after reading great comments online, I wondered just what to expect.

I must say that the game has some flaws. For one, it lasts a LONG time, more than any other game I own (I’m not a war gamer). Also, there were a few component problems, such as a lack of player aids. Yet even with all these concerns, I really enjoyed the game and was totally immersed into it during the lengthy playing sessions. I found myself reflecting on the game long after I played it and wanting desperately to play it once again. If it weren’t for the fact that the game takes forever, I would play this game quite often. As it is, I’ll make time to play it at least several times a year - it’s just a fun, involving game. And as much as I don’t like fiddly war game rules, etc. - this game (with a few player aids), was extremely approachable and has definitely paid for itself in terms of game play. With this review I’ll once again skip a description of the game rules (they are described in great detail elsewhere) and focus on different parts of the game.

1.) Counters: I much prefer miniatures to counters, but I understand the usefulness of counters. What I liked about the counters was how the information was quite useful and how the pictures of each army unit were listed on the progress track, making it a snap to determine if you were allowed to build each type. The differences of the units made decisions on which ones to buy a hard choice sometimes, but it was a simplistic process over all. What I didn’t enjoy about the counters was the sheer amount and the double-sidedness of them. I solved the problem of the number of counters by bagging them all separately and placing all the leader counters on a specially made player aid at the beginning of the game. Yes, it takes about five minutes to set up this aid; but considering how long the game takes, the investment was worth it. I did not appreciate the fact that many important counters (forts, elite markers, and disorder) were on the back of the leaders, but I solved that by adding wooden blocks to the game to use for the forts (adds a nice visual effect) and different colored tokens for disorder and elite markers. I did enjoy the counter colors and the way that each color had a different mix of units - a rather clever idea.

2.) Leaders: I really like the ideas of leaders being involved in the game, even though I’m sure it’s going to spark endless debates over who was involved and who was not. (And I find it quite odd to find Jesus as a Roman leader. Just where are the Jews anyway in this game?) Still, for those favorite leaders that weren’t involved in the game, there are plenty of generic leaders included, and we found it enjoyable to name ours the leaders of our respective countries. Leaders are quite powerful and influential in the game and really add a bit of personality to the countries.

3.) Map: The map is simply gorgeous and huge. Yes, it’s paper (something I’m not terribly fond of); but with a sheet of plexiglass the whole thing really stands out on the table. There is enough room in the territories to move the pieces, as well as several of the important charts for players to keep track of everything. The methods of keeping track of Progress, money, and glory points worked quite well - I always enjoy keeping track of money like this rather than using paper money.

4.) Box and storage: It took me forever to cut out the counters (they weren’t very easy to punch), and I certainly needed to bag all of them, or everything would just be cluttered and confused. There are 876 double-sided counters, so bagging everything is a necessity to avoid insanity. The box is gorgeous, with terrific artwork, and is a nice addition to my shelf.

5.) Cards: Looking over everything else I’ve said about the game, it seems like I’ve stated more negative than positive. So why do I like the game so much? The reason is quite simple - it’s the deck of cards. One hundred and ten cards form a deck of cards that is used for four different things:
- 110 different civilizations that can be started throughout the game,
- A “destiny” number, used in trading and battles,
- An artifact that can be added to civilizations,
- Event cards that can be played during the course of the game.
Knowing what feature of the card to play can be a very strenuous task sometimes. Occasionally I would get a civilization that I was dying to play (like the Modern Chinese, or the ancient Egyptians) but also saw that the event part of the card was also quite good. Which to choose? Besides the multi-versatility of the cards, they were of tremendous quality; which is good, since they are used so frequently during the game.

6.) Civilizations: I really enjoyed the civilization mix of the game (except the exclusion of Israel) and liked how even a few mythical nations were included (Amazons). When playing the game, it’s interesting how many of the civilizations follow the paths of their real-world counterparts fairly well, yet players still have the choice to do what they want. I enjoyed the game quite a bit because players control at least two different civilizations, and having one fizzle out wasn’t that big of a deal. In the games I played, rare it was that a player hung onto any of their nations too long. It was usually in a player’s best interest to start up a fresh, new civilization. And quite often, other players will “encourage” a player to give up on an attacked, event card targeted civilization. The civilizations are all interesting, with different goals, money amounts, leaders, and abilities. The nations alone cause the replayability of the game to skyrocket.

7.) Event cards: Some of the events are extremely powerful. At first, I had a hard time understanding this - some of them seemed frankly overpowered. But then, when we played the game, we saw how a player could get a little too comfortable with an out-of-the-way, powerful empire. Event cards were some of the best ways to deal with these point-bearing civilizations. And besides, using up a good event usually means losing a good civilization and a nice destiny number.

8.) Artifacts: Wonders of the worlds, religions, governments - I didn’t find these to have as great of an effect on the game as in other civilization games, but they certainly did add spice and flavor to an empire. I especially enjoyed how religions could be adopted by neighboring empires, and how many of them were tied to specific regions.

9.) Trading: The trading aspect of the game was a lot of fun. The progression of nations often got bogged down in Dark Ages, and the only way for them to progress is to trade with other players. Since the trading involves the cards, it can be a tense time for both players involved. Do I give a good card to my opponent to insure my win, or do I give them a less useful card in hopes of getting a great one? The entire trading mechanic is very smooth, simple, and adds a lot to the game.

10.) Action Markers: This mechanic isn’t new; it’s being used in many games today, even the new Twilight Imperium. But that doesn’t mean that it isn’t effective. Since players can only play one action marker on each empire they control, they must sometimes agonize over their choices? Do you build more troops or expand your borders? Do you attack your neighbor, or try to grow your cities? Do you trade with a neighbor, or do you try to increase your empire’s money? Hard choices have to be made each turn over what action marker to use, but it helps keep empires from running away with the game.

11.) Glory Points: The glory points for each nation are different. If a player enters the game, assuming that they’ll just try to build their civilizations to become huge empires, they’ll probably lose the game. Each civilization has different glory requirements, and a player has to adjust their style to meet it. For example, the Poles get points for spreading Christianity, the Pirate States get points for winning sea battles, the Plains Americans get points for controlling areas in the Americas, and the Chams get points for having the most money. An inexperienced player can lose the game if they don’t watch their victory conditions.

12.) Time: The game is L-O-N-G. Even playing only one Age can take quite a bit of time, but the downtime is minimal. A player will find himself watching the board at all times, constantly scheming how they will increase the glory of their empires. Players can even enter and exit the game, and it doesn’t affect playing much at all. I’m certainly not a fan of long games, but this one is one that I don’t mind the length.

13.) Battles: Battles are a unique affair, and I’m not quite sure what to make of them yet. They involve a decent amount of modifiers, and I had to print out a conflict resolution aid to help understand them; but I thought that they were clever and interesting. It is quite possible that an army, through bad maneuvering, can lose a battle without any attrition to the enemy - an odd thing, but most battles seem to work out fairly well. Combat isn’t as common as you’d think, so fortunately the lengthy battles don’t slow the already long game down too much.

14.) Fun Factor: 7 Ages is FUN. I don’t think it will appeal to everyone. If you don’t like involved, lengthy empire-building games, this isn’t going to be your cup of tea. I have a select group that I will gladly play this game with - and it’s an event requiring specific planning- we plan to play it. It’s a fun time, but it’s most probably the only game we’ll play afternoon/evening/night/morning/ afternoon, etc. At no time during the game was I bored, however. While it was long, I was extremely involved.

This doesn’t mean that I’m turning into a war gamer - I just think that 7 Ages isn’t really a war game, being rather a game about the rise and fall of civilizations. Some have compared it to History of the World, and I can see the similarities; but I think 7 Ages is massively superior. Player aids are a must, and I had some small quibbles; but the total experience just blew me away. I had a great time with the game, and I’m really glad that I accidentally got it, as it will keep me happy for many years to come. I truly believe that it is THE definitive civilization game.

Tom Vasel
“Real men play board games.”

Joined: 08/03/2008
Re: [Review] 7 Ages

TomVasel wrote:
I truly believe that it is THE definitive civilization game.

Wow, that's a bold statement. Better than advanced Civ? In what ways do you feel it exceeds or improves upon Civ? (My interest is not merely academic; I'm working on a civ building game myself, so I'm interested to hear your take on the ways in which 7 ages succeeds where others have fallen short.)

Thanks for the review, Tom. I wasn't too interested in this game because of the time and "bits overload" factors, but I'm glad to hear there's a fun game underneath, and may try to play at some point if I can find someone else to buy the game!


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