Tabletop Game—’Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age’

Reading Time: 5 minutes
Image: Gryphon Games
Image: Gryphon Games

Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age is a tabletop strategy game featuring your own personal empire set in–you guessed it–the Iron Age of history. It boasts many dynamic features and easily learned. If you’re looking for a game that challenges you to hone your strategy and decision-making skills, Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age is your next favorite game. The game is played with dice, pen, and paper and is playable by 1-4 players.

Opening the box was exciting because I could feel the weight of the game inside. Inside I found oodles of beautiful wood pieces, which are nicely painted and visually appealing in every way. I was also surprised to find the Mediterranean Expansion included. The full contents include:

  • Four reference sheets which explain some of the mechanics.
  • Five peg-boards, solid wood and nicely painted. Four for players and one for the expansion.
  • A daunting number of wooden pegs in four colors: purple, gray, yellow, and green.
  • Two score-sheet pads, one for the core game and one for the expansion.
  • Two rules sheets, again one for the core game and one for the expansion.
  • Seven well-balanced dice.
Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

The game was surprisingly easy to play. The rules clearly spell out turn order on the front page, with more detail following inside the pamphlet. We were confused, at first, by the pegs. The four colors seem to match four of the resources on the peg-boards, but there were no blue pegs. After consulting the rules for the Mediterranean Expansion, we realized that each player is meant to have a single color. We felt very silly, but we got over it pretty quickly.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

To start the game, each player puts pegs in their board. Each peg goes in the hole with a corresponding circled number, as you can see above. Each player starts with one “province,” and one “port,” with the choice between them for a second. In this example, I’ve chosen to take a second port. Once a port or province is filled in, you circle it and the die just above. This indicates that you’re now allowed another die on your subsequent turns.

Each peg and hole represents quantities of the different currencies a player can store. Those types are (from top to bottom):

  • Wealth, useful for buying developments and worth 2 points each at the end of the game.
  • Ships, available after buying the “shipbuilding” development. Useful for combat with other players.
  • Army, gained when building provinces. Useful for combat with other players.
  • Goods, the trade wealth of your little country. Goods are earned by rolling dice. They can be used to build more ports, build developments, or converted to wealth. Excess goods are lost if they don’t fit on the board, max 15.
  • Food, Each turn you spend one food for each province, in order to keep your population alive. If you can’t feed them, you begin losing points.
Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Dice are the core mechanic in the game. All resources are generated by the dice. In the image above, you can see that there are six faces. Every die is identical, each showing the six faces, except for the “fate die.” The fate die is the only die that can roll 5 of its faces, with one face being the 1 good, 1 disaster, and 1 population. The fate die is also painted bright yellow, so it’s clear which die it is. On their turn, a player rolls all of their available dice (based on the highest number of either ports or provinces) plus the fate die.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

Here you can see what a player’s table looks like after their second turn. You can see all of the major features here, being ports, provinces, and developments. Anywhere there is a square, it is a space for a “population.” The player must roll population in order to build more of any three types of buildings. Notice ports also require “goods” to build, but provinces and monuments simply need many, many population to fill them in. Developments, on the other hand, need innovation to be built. Innovation can be rolled on a die as the torch, which is worth 3 points, or they can pay goods or wealth to develop their nation. Developments change the way the rules affect a player, so they are quite useful. They also give victory points, as represented in the center column.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

There are some mechanics which will keep you on your toes, however, just in case you thought you could build peacefully. There are three parts of the game in which you can gain or lose points based on military conflicts.

Points are often lost when “disasters” are rolled. That’s the face of a die with a skull on it. Depending on the number of skulls, different kinds of disasters occur. With 1 or 4 skulls, the player loses points equal to the number of skulls. With 2, 5, or more, players must battle by comparing the number of their armies, ships, and (potentially) the formations development. Players in the combat each lose one army and one ship (if possible), meaning these battles are difficult to do repeatedly.

If a player rolls the helmet on their fate die, they can embark on a conquest. Conquest pits players against ever-higher odds each time, losing ships and armies. This restricts the number of points a player might gain and increases the points they might lose as well.

If a player rolls a laurel wreath on the fate die, they can demand tribute from their opponents. For each enemy, they gain a tribute if the other player has a weaker military force. The number of tribute gained is the difference between the two military forces. Tribute is gained only. It is never lost or transferred. A weaker opponent can give the player a single good instead, preventing the gain in points.

Image: Rory Bristol
Image: Rory Bristol

After all players have taken a turn, players check to see if the end of the game has been triggered. The game ends if any player has 7 developments, 50 tribute, or all of the monuments are built. It sounds like a lot, but it goes quickly enough. Players add up their scores from their monuments, developments, tribute, and bonuses from the developments. Once they have that subtotal, they subtract a point for each disaster they received. Whoever has the highest score wins!

TLDR:
Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age is designed for four players, but really can be played by any number, including solo, which I quite enjoy. The game advertises 40-60 minutes, but I’ve seen games play under 30 minutes and over 90 minutes. Regarding age, Gryphon Games suggests 10+, and I stand by that. Younger kids take much too long to take a turn or track the progress.

If you’re looking for a good game to play alone or with groups, this is a great game. It’s not for the most casual of gamers but is great for folks looking for a dynamic game that’s a little bit different each time.