Tobold's Blog
Sunday, January 17, 2021
Through the Ages - Crushed by AI

On Steam, the iOS app store or Google Play, you can get Through the Ages, the digital version of the board game for between 10 and 16 Euros. As the board game is around 50 Euros, and can't be played solo, the digital version, which comes with an artificial intelligence seemed the better deal for me. Normally your main problem with an AI in a computer game is that it doesn't play very good. So it was interesting to see how in Through the Ages this is just the opposite: I win less than half the games against a single AI on the easy setting.

Through the Ages is a typical Euro game, where each turn you have a limited number of actions, each of which you can use for different things like drawing a visible card, or placing a worker to change your production of resources. There are 4 different resources you can produce, food, ore, research, and culture. In addition to that your action can affect your military strength, happiness, your form of government, or you could build wonders or develop special technologies. That is a lot of different aspects to keep in mind, and you tend to lose the game if you neglect something. For a human it is very difficult to determine where to put your effort in any given round. The AI on the other hand has some sort of weighting algorithm, which tells it in every situation which one choice among many is the best.

As a result, I frequently lose the game. If I get all my resources and military right, I fall behind in culture, which are the victory points at the end. If I make sure to not miss out on culture, I end up with weak military, and the AI crushes me in war. Or I don't get the mix of resources right and run out of options in the middle of the game. I tend to get a bit of tunnel vision, concentrating on one aspect of the game, and then lose because I put too much effort into that one, and not enough in another.

Through the Ages is still a lot of fun for me, and I am trying to get better at it. But it also is a reminder why I am not usually a big fan of such worker placement Euro games, and rather have a some sort of dungeon crawler with a story and dice rolls.


I think Through the Ages is the best board game port I've seen on Steam. Most ports range from adequate (Lords of Waterdeep, Ticket to Ride) to terrible (Terraforming Mars), but TTA is one game that actually feels better in the app. They've even made it so that it works great both on a phone and on a computer.

As for the game, yeah, it's quite a lot to wrap your head around. Balancing food, rocks, science, yellow tokens, blue tokens, white actions and red actions so that you can produce culture and enough military to protect your civ (or crush your opponents) is something. Finding the correct balance is something you can put a lot of time and effort into and see continous improvement. The game is fantastic, even though I can see that diving into the gameplay might not be for everybody. But it's also thematic enough that you can build a framework that allows you to really get a feel for the civilization you built. My cousin and his wife are primarily role players, but they've fallen in love with this game, and we have a continuous chain of games going (even though I win every game and have started collecting achievements).
Sounds interesting - I'm up for a strategy game that the AI plays well!
I absolutely agree; the digital version of Through the Ages has scarily good AI. Even if you go for a totally balanced setup in which the computer does not cheat at all, it is very good. I can reliably beat the easy AI, and usually beat the medium AI, but I've never defeated the hard one.

I really can't think of a digital boardgame adaption that is anywhere near as good in this regard. only. Too bad as I'd be interested, since I was thinking about buying the boardgame.
It is also available on Android:
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