Review: Roll Through the Ages (iPhone)

Posted by James (admin) on September 25th, 2010

Roll Through the Ages is a bit like Yahtzee meets Civilization.  Players roll dice and they can keep the results or re-roll as they wish.  After 3 rolls, or if earlier if desired, the player uses their results to hire workers, feed workers, gather goods, build monuments, and develop their civilisation. The goal is to score as many points as possible.

Players start with just 3 dice and hiring extra workers can give them up to 7 dice to roll each turn; however, workers can not be fired and must be fed each turn, so lots of dice means lots of mouths to feed too or you lose points.  Points are primarily scored by creating monuments which takes workers and you only score when you complete a monument – so sometimes it’s better to start building a smaller monument that you think you can finish rather than risk not completing a larger one.  Players gather goods which can be sold for cash (plus some dice rolls are worth cash which must be used that round only) and the cash is used to buy developments which give you special abilities like extra food, protection against disasters, re-rolls, extra points and so on.

Whilst rolling you must beware of skull results.  Whilst skull results give you some goods, multiple skull results often cause disasters which will cost you points (unless you’ve built developments to potect you).  In a multi-player game, any skull results can not be re-rolled so there is a push-your-luck element too.  There are some other nice decisions to make in the game such as which goods to sell (as you must sell all of a good or none of it), also you can only store 6 goods between turns, and a few other elements that need balancing and considering.

The iPhone gameplay of Roll Through the Ages is a perfect copy of the board game. It’s a better game played against other players rather than solo because that creates an ever changing goal to beat.  Also, players score more points for being the first to complete each monument so there’s a race element in a multi-player game too.  The only multi-player option is to play with multiple players in ‘hot seat’ style (one iPhone passed between players).

However, solo play on the iPhone is a good time filler, plus the solo player achievements system adds some more variety to the gameplay.  The achievements are a set of different goals to achieve during your games, such as scoring 50+ points, buying 8 developments, building all monuments.  This system works really well (just like Xbox Achievements do on Xbox Live) and definitely adds a new way to approach and play the game as you try to achieve specific goals rather than focus on the usual points scoring.

Fitting RTTA onto an iPhone screen is not an easy task and the developers have done a really good job of splitting the players action onto 4 screens. The dice rolling is nice and quick, and I’m pleased the developers didn’t fall into the trap of making the player shake the phone to roll the dice (which I find gimmicky and annoying) and didn’t make the dice bounce around the screen when rolled (which takes up time).

Most information you need is accessible from most screens (like current goods you own, descriptions of each development, etc.) so that makes it easy to play the game and make decisions, especially for new players.  Every game you play is saved as you play it so you can always resume any mixture of games which is always a nice touch.

Amongst all these good points, I think there are two main issues in the iPhone version.  First, the screens are split really well into their different elements (rolling, building, buying) and it doesn’t take too long to understand the flow; however, the buttons to move between the screens are very small even though these are used constantly.  It would be better if these were bigger or, better yet, the player should be able to move between the screens by swiping their fingers across the screen.

The other issue is that there’re no AI players to play against, so you can only play against other human opponents using a ‘hot seat’ style of play (multiple people passing one iPhone between them).  As mentioned above, playing against other players adds a lot to the gameplay, so it’s a shame you can’t play this way.  Online play, where you don’t need to be online at the same time as other players, would have been a really good addition too.  (Samurai iPhone does this incredibly well.)

One minor issue is how the food is reported.  The game tries to help by saying how much food you need in total before you start rolling but that doesn’t take into account how much you may have stored.  Also, the game says ‘you have enough food to feed your workers with the roll above’ but that doesn’t tell you how many of those dice rolled would meet the minimum requirement.  It would be better if the game displayed the food stored and food needed all the time on the dice rolling screen rather than having to consult different screens to work it out.  Also, some of the buttons that go to another screen have the button to return to the previous screen in a different location which is slightly frustrating.

Overall though, Roll Through the Ages is a very good and well produced iPhone game that reflects the board game very well.  I would have played it more if there was AI but, even without AI to play against, I found myself playing it a fair amount to fill 5 or 10 minutes here and there, and the achievements are quite addictive and a nice extra touch.


[Played single player many times]

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Roll Through the Ages - Vintru, LLC For iPhone

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