(2015 – Stronghold Games, Quined Games)
History is something we can all relate to in one way or another. It connects and binds us, whether we take the time to look back on it or not. The rise and fall of civilizations is a common, and extremely popular theme found within our modern board games. However, many of the games within the genre have an overarching complexity and depth to them, which for the most part makes sense, considering the subject matter. Games such as Sid Meier’s Civilization, Clash of Cultures, Through the Ages, Age of Empires III, and Nations are ones that come directly to mind. Games such as 7 Wonders tend to capture some these empire building elements on lighter scale, but it’s really somewhere in-between where Luigi Ferrini’s The Golden Ages falls in line.
Originally published in 2014 by Quined Games, and brought over this year to the U.S. by Stronghold Games, The Golden Ages is a medium-weight Euro, civilization building game that spans the past four eras of our history. Each era encompasses a Round, in which players will represent particular civilizations, working towards discovering new lands, controlling resources, constructing buildings and wonders, invading other civilizations, and ultimately upgrading their advancements in various technologies over time. This may seem like quite a bit, but the game as a whole can easily be played in less than 2 hours. Let’s take a look.
– The Golden Age game board
– Land tiles
– Player boards (one in each player color)
– Agora board
– Civilization cards
– Wonder cards
– History’s Judgement cards
– Future Technology cards
– Building cards
– Glory tokens
– Technology tiles (a set in each player color)
– Colonists (a set in each player color)
– Capital markers (a set in each player color)
– Player markers (a set in each player color)
– Score markers (one in each player color)
To begin setup, the main game board is placed in the center of the table, with the separate Agora board nearby. Player’s colonists will be placed on the Agora board when they perform certain actions, which I’ll discuss in detail later. On the main game board, the large square Land tile is placed in the center space, in an orientation that all players agree upon. The game board also comes with land areas already printed on it, for players to use at the beginning of the game.
All other Land tiles are separated into face-down stacks that match the tile’s shape. These are drawn and placed out on the main game board by players at the beginning of their turns and will help shape the world in which players are colonizing and expanding their civilizations in.
Each player receives a player board of their color and a set of technology upgrade tiles that will be placed on the matching spaces on the board. As players unlock these technologies within their civilization, they will remove the upgrade tile to show their progress. Players also receive a set of cubes in their color (player markers), 3 gold coins (which are both placed on their board), a capital marker, and 3 colonists in their color. Some of the technology tiles will require a number of cubes to be placed on them at the beginning of the game. The remaining cubes will stay set on the right side of the player board.
The Civilization cards are separated into four separate stacks depending on the era number on the back of the card (I-IV). The Future Technology cards are also placed in a separate draw stack. Each player will draw the top Civilization card from each of the four Civilization era stacks (a total of four cards) and will also draw a Future Technology card. Civilization cards represent the current Civilization that the player is acting as, while the Future Technology card shows a hidden bonus that the player will receive if he achieves the requirement on the card by the end of the game. After all players have drawn these, all remaining Civilization and Future Technology cards are removed from the game.
There are also a set of Building cards (orange background) and Wonder cards (purple background) that need to be divided into separate draw stacks depending on their era number. At the beginning of each era, cards from the draw stack that matches the era will be drawn and available for players to build. Obviously, basic and primitive buildings/wonders will be available during the 1st era, while highly technologically advanced buildings/wonders will be available during the final era.
History’s Judgement cards are used at the end of each era (Round). At then beginning of the game, these cards are shuffled together. Five cards are then drawn and placed face-up next to the board. The player who begins their “Golden Age” each Round (I’ll discuss what this means later), will be able to select one of these face-up History’s Judgement cards. This card will then represent what player’s will be judged on at the end of the era. If they have completed the requirements on the card by the end of the era, they will be rewarded. At the beginning of the game, once these five cards have been drawn, all remaining History’s Judgement cards are removed from the game.
Finally, all remaining tokens (glory and gold) are placed next the main game board, player’s score markers are placed on the 0 space of the game board’s scoring track, and the game is ready to begin. After setup is complete, the play area should look something like this:
A game of The Golden Ages will span the course of four full Eras, or Rounds. Each Era is comprised of four phases; the Dawn of an Era Phase, the Land Discovery Phase, the Action Phase, and the End of an Era Phase. Throughout the game, players will use their civilization to amass Victory Points by accumulating wealth (gold), developing their technology tree, compiling glory through invasions, and building towards their future technology card. Let’s take a look at how each phase works:
I. Dawn of an Era Phase:
At the beginning of each era, a number of cards corresponding to the number of players in the game are drawn from the Building and Wonder draw stacks, matching the current era.
So for instance, at the beginning of a 4-player game, four Building cards and four Wonder cards from the Era I stacks are drawn and placed face up. Any of these cards that have not been obtained by the end of the era are removed from the game, and the next era’s cards will be drawn.
Players begin the game with their Era I Civilization card active. This will show which civilization they represent at the beginning of the game, and what special bonus it provides. For instance, Player A’s 1st Era Civilization card represents the Greeks (above). His special power is that he is allowed to build a Wonder for free once per game. Player B’s Era I Civilization card represents the Persians (below). This allows him to immediately learn “Carriage” on his technology tree for free. He would remove the technology upgrade tile from this space on his player board to show that he has learned it.
Although all players begin the game with an Era I civilization, at the beginning of future Eras they will reveal their new civilization card from that era, then choose whether to keep their current Civilization card, or replace it with their newly revealed Civilization. For instance, at the beginning of the 2nd Era, Player A reveals the French as his Era II card. The French has an ability that rewards the player 4 gold every time takes an action to attack.
He’ll need to decide at this point whether to keep his current Greek Civilization card active, or replace it with the French. If he does so, he’ll remove the Greek Civilization card from the game, and will no longer be able to use its ability. In this particular case however, knowing he was probably going to replace the Greeks, he would have built the Wonder for free at some point during Era I, thus there would be no special power benefit in keeping them active.
Each Civilization card has a small number printed in the top right corner. After all players have decided on their current Civilizations, the player that has the Civilization with the lowest number will be the Start player for the rest of the current Era. Play will then proceed clockwise from that player.
II. Land Discovery Phase:
Beginning with the Start player, each player will draw a new land tile and resolve its placement on the main game board. During the 1st Era, land tiles are drawn from the stack that covers 3 squares, while during Eras II, III, and IV, land tiles are drawn from the stack that covers 2 squares on the map. Each space on a tile contains at least one resource symbol showing what that space can produce. A tile is always placed adjacent to another tile on the board, and must match terrain (water & land) on all sides that are adjacent to other tiles. Land tiles can not be placed on top of other land tiles, but can be placed on top of the printed land areas on the game board. If any player’s colonist markers were covered by the placing of a land tile on top of a printed land area, those colonists are returned to their player’s Capital City.
During the 1st Era, when the player places his tile on the game board, he must also place his Capital City marker in a resource symbol on one of the spaces of the tile he just placed, along with his three Colonists. The resource here is now unavailable to all players in the game while it is covered by a Capital City. In future Eras when the player places a new Land tile, he can choose to move his Capital City to this new location, or keep it in its current location.
III. Action Phase:
Beginning with the Start player, each player will be able to perform one action on their turn. This will continue in clockwise order until all player have decided to pass. There are eight different actions that players can choose from, some will require the use of a colonist, and some will not. Let’s first take a look at the actions that require the use of a colonist, then we’ll cover the actions that don’t:
1.) The Explorer – As an action, the player can choose to move a colonist from one space to another. Colonist can be moved on any space on the board (even open sea), but can not move diagonally. While they are restricted from moving off of the board going north or south, if they were to move off the board going east or west, they would be placed on the opposing side of the board (the left and right sides of the map are considered touching, just like a regular map). While colonists can normally move only one space per Explore action, players can upgrade their movement on the technology tree in order to move multiple spaces. They can even move to any space on the map once they’ve learned “aviation”.
When a player moves onto a space with a resource symbol that doesn’t already have a colonist or city there, he will take control of the resource present. Some technologies will reward Gold to players for taking control of certain resources, while some Civilization, History’s Judgement, Wonder, and Future Technology cards will issue Gold and possible Victory Point bonuses for players that control certain resources.
After moving, the player can also choose to found a city on the space if it does not currently contain another city or capital. Cities can only be founded on the Land tiles placed by players during the game, not on the printed Land spaces on the game board. To do this, he will need to remove one of his player markers from his player board, and place it on the current land tile. The player will earn 1 Gold for each player marker placed in this way. Some technologies and cards can increase this amount. After the colonist has completed his Explore action, he will lay the colonist down on his side.
For instance, Player C is currently the Aztec Empire. On his turn, he decides to take an Explore action and can move a colonist up to two spaces on the map since his civilization has learned “Carriage”.
He moves his colonist two spaces to the right, ending his movement on an empty space with a Gem resource. Since there is no colonist or city present here, he would gain control of the Gem resource. As the Aztec Empire, he has a special ability that gives him two Gold whenever he takes control of a Gem.
He then decides to found a City here, placing one of his player markers on the space. By having knowledge of “Barter” on his technology tree (which is a starting technology for all players), he will gain a Gold for the placed marker. However, since he has built the Hagia Sophia wonder, this provides him an additional two Gold when founding a City. This means that from this Explore action, Player C would have gained a total of five Gold (two from the Aztec Empire’s gem resource ability, and three from the combination of the barter technology and his constructed Hagia Sophia wonder).
2.) The Soldier – During the game, player can choose to perform an invade action, although they can only perform this action a total of four times in a game.
When invading, the colonist can first move the same way as it would when taking an Explore action (meaning that certain technologies can improve this movement). After moving, they can invade the current space as long as it contains either an opposing colonist and/or City (spaces with Capitals can not be invaded).
Each player has an Invasion track on their player board, representing the maximum four times they can invade per game. Starting with the leftmost space, the player will need to pay an amount of Gold shown on the space in order to perform an invasion. Therefore, if the player has already performed one invasion during the game, his 2nd invasion would cost him 5 Gold. There is no attacking or defending when an invasion occurs. The opponent being invaded will simply return any of his player markers that represented Cities, back to the reserve area of his player board, while any colonists he had present here are returned back to his Capital City space.
The invading player will randomly draw a face-down Glory token, look at it without revealing it to his opponents, then place it face-down on the leftmost available space of his Invasion track in which he just used to pay for the Invasion. These Glory tokens contain Victory Points ranging from 2 to 6. After the player has completed an invasion, he can then immediately choose to found a City here if he wishes, per the Explore action rules. After completing this action in full, the colonist is placed on his side.
3.) The Builder – Every Era, new Buildings will be available for players to construct. Players are limited to a number of active Buildings depending on how advanced their civilization is.
Taking a look at the player board, we can see that there are three possible spaces to house active Buildings. Since every player begins the game with the knowledge of “Fire”, each player can have at least 1 active Building at all times. Learning “Writing” will allow the player to unlock Building space #2, and learning Architecture will allow the player to unlock Building space #3. I’ll cover how to learn upgraded technologies here in a bit.
To construct a Building, the player will remove an active colonist from the game board, and place it on the Agora board, on its side. The player can then choose one of the available Building cards to place on his player board. Even though a player has constructed a Building, a majority of the Buildings will need to be activated with a separate action in order to actually use the ability.
4.) The Artist – There may be a time when the player does not wish to necessarily perform an action, but also doesn’t want to pass yet. This may be because he’s run out of invasion actions, run out of player markers, has no active building spaces, simply doesn’t want to move, etc. But still has active colonists. The player can choose to place an active colonist on the Agora space, to its side, and is then awarded 3 Victory Points.
5.) Develop Technology – Each Technology (outside of the starting four) contains a cost associated with it. When the player takes an action to unlock a technology, he can unlock any technology where he has unlocked all previous technologies on the attached row by paying its upgrade cost in Gold.
He would then remove the Technology tile and place it face down near his player board. Some of the removed tiles will contain Victory Points on the back of the tile that will be scored at the end of the game. Also, any player markers that were on the tile would be placed in his reserves to be used. As you can see, unlocking certain technologies will provide additional markers to be used for Cities.
For instance, let’s take a look at the 2nd row of the technology tree on the player board. All players begin the game with the ability to “Hunt”, meaning that they will receive a Gold every time they take control of an animal resource.
The next upgraded technology to the right is “Agriculture” and will cost 3 Gold for the player to unlock. By acquiring agriculture, the player will receive a Gold every time they take control of a wheat resource. Unlocking agriculture will also award the player with an extra player marker.
The 3rd technology in the row is “Architecture” and costs the player 5 Gold to learn. The player must have previously learned agriculture in order to learn architecture. Acquiring architecture will allow the player to use Building space #3 on their player board. It also awards the player two additional player markers.
The 4th technology in the row is “Medicine” and costs the player 8 Gold to learn. Learning Medicine will reward the player 3 Gold when they take control of a wheat resource. This technology would make the agriculture reward obsolete. Player would not collect 1 Gold from agriculture and 3 from medicine if both are unlocked. Only the 3 Gold from medicine.
The final technology in the row is “Genetics” and costs the player 12 Gold to learn. As with previous technologies, players can not unlock genetics if they have not unlocked all previous technologies in the row. When a player learns genetics, he will immediately receive 2 Victory Points for every wheat resource he controls at that time. For the rest of the game, he will also be allowed to take a Build action without having to use a colonist.
6.) Build a Wonder – While constructing a Building requires a colonist, constructing a Wonder does not. Wonder simply cost Gold. By taking this action and paying the amount of Gold listed on the Wonder card, the player will place it near his player board. Some of the Wonder’s abilities will trigger immediately, some are ongoing abilities, and some will require the player to take a separate action to activate. While Wonders have a regular cost in Gold, many of the Wonders will have a discounted cost if the player’s current civilization matches the one shown at the top of the card. Unlike Buildings, players are not limited to the number of Wonders they can have throughout the game.
For instance, Player A’s current civilization during the 3rd Era is England. When choosing to construct the Oxford University wonder, he would normally have to pay 14 Gold. However, since he controls the English, he would only be required to spend 11 Gold to build it. When constructing Oxford University, the player is awarded immediately with being allowed to upgrade 2 technologies for free.
7.) Activate a Building/Wonder – As mentioned before, all but one of the Buildings and a fair amount of the Wonders will need to be activated by taking this action in order to use their abilities. Each card can be activated once per Era. Let’s take a look at some of the Building and Wonder activation effects:
– When activating the Observatory (seen on the left), the player may upgrade a technology at a 5 Gold discount.
– When a player builds the Pyramids wonder, he will immediately score 2 Victory Points for every rock resource he controls. However, he can also activate the Pyramids once per Era in order to score 1 Victory Point.
– When activating the Movie Theatre (center), the player will score 2 Victory Points for every colonists (for all players) on the Agora board. Since the Movie Theatre will only appear during the final Era of the game, and a player can only activate a card’s ability once per Era, the Movie Theatre can only be activated once.
8.) Pass & Begin a Golden Age – A player can choose to pass and begin his Golden Age once he no longer has any active colonists (all of his colonists have been laid to their side). He can still choose to take the four actions that don’t require colonists on his turn if he no longer has active colonists, but he can not choose to pass and begin his Golden Age if he still have active colonists.
When a player chooses to pass and begin his Golden Age, he will flip his Capital City over, revealing a “2” icon. Every future turn, until all other players have begun their Golden Age, the player will not be able to take an action, but will receive 2 Gold instead. The first player to begin his Golden Age in an Era will also be allowed to choose one of the face-up History’s Judgement cards. As mentioned before, these will award players for accomplishing a certain goal listed on the card at the end of an Era. Since this player gets to determine that goal, it can be quite important to begin your Golden Age before all other players.
IV. End of an Era Phase:
After all players have chosen to begin their Golden Age, the current Era ends. In the final Era however, the end-game will trigger when the first player begins their Golden Age. After that, all other players can take one final action. At then end of each Era, players will score Victory Points based on the chosen History’s Judgement card. Let’s take a look at a few of these cards:
– With the History’s Judgement card seen on the left, all players will score 2 Victory Points for every Glory token they currently have on their player board.
– With the card in the center, players will score 4 Victory Points per Wonder they’ve built.
– With the card on the right, players will receive 1 Victory Point for every technology they’ve upgraded on their player board.
The History’s Judgement card, and all current Era Building and Wonder cards are then removed from the game. All colonists are then flipped to their standing position (both on the Agora board and main game board), and all colonists on the Agora board are then returned to the player’s Capital City space. The Capital City marker is then flipped back to its original side and players are ready to begin the next Era.
After the final Era’s History Judgement card has been resolved, the game will end and all players will add their current score on the Victory Point game board track with the following:
– Victory Points on his revealed Glory tokens.
– Victory Points received from his Future Technology card, if completed.
– 1 Victory Point for every 3 Gold remaining.
It’s impressive that The Golden Ages is able to fit so much gameplay content within a small amount of time. Part of the reason for this is how fast the game plays. By drawing a hidden land tile at the beginning of their turns, players are usually limited to where it can be placed, easing any overwhelming decision-making and AP issues. Usually you’ll have 3-4 different ways the tile can be placed on the board, and it shouldn’t take long to figure out which option is best for you. Most actions are simple and resolve quickly. If a player takes an action to construct a Wonder or Building, he simply pays the costs or resolves the colonist to do so. Moving colonists and founding cities are simple to perform and upgrading technologies are both intuitive and quick.
Even warfare is held in check by limiting players to performing a maximum of four invasions per game, and not requiring any type of attacking/defending resolution. The invading player simply returns the opposing players colonists and cities to him, and grabs a glory token. The price of additional invasion can be quite high, so it can become costly for a player to even want to perform their max of four.
It may seem a bit too simplistic, except that none of these fast-paced mechanics deter the game from holding onto that engine-building depth that many have come to associate with a civilization based game. The Golden Ages is all about combo-building abilities and bonuses. Of course with the earlier eras, these abilities are small and less powerful, but as the eras increase, players will be able to take advantage of dominant abilities if they’ve advanced their technology tree accordingly. Thematically and mechanically, the technology tree makes sense. Increasing your technology from the wheel, to the horse carriage, to the train, to the airplane, to the rocket increases your ability to move colonists around the map. Increasing you technology from fire, to blacksmithing, to construction, to engineering, to computer science increases you ability to score more points for controlling stone resources and constructing cities.
There’s a huge amount of paths that players can focus their strategies around, and you’ll understand quickly that there’s just not enough actions to advance in every area. Having that hidden Future Technology card will help players to target in on a set number of particular strategies, along with the face-up History’s Judgement cards. With each player having their own set of specialized civilization cards (and the bonuses they provide), constructing buildings and wonders that provide abilities only to them, and controlling and deciding how their civilization will advance with the use of their own personal technology tree, players are provided a civilization over time that is solely theirs. The fact that a player will never have the same combination set of civilization cards, history’s judgement cards, and future technology card opens up an enormous range of replayability.
The Golden Ages is a clean, streamlined, yet deep engine-building, civilization experience. It contains my favorite combo-stacking, technology tree-unlocking aspects of a civilization game, while being something I can easily fit into a game night. It was a surprise hit for me and not something that I was expecting a great amount from, but one that currently sits within my list of top civilization games, and one and will be staying in my collection for quite awhile.