Age of Mythology was a huge part of my childhood. It was one of the two games that ruined me for Starcraft when I finally bought a friend’s copy. The music, the story, and the unit responses are all ingrained somewhere deep into my mind. I knew that there was a board game, but had never followed up on it. But then…
Until I caught a streamer that I liked playing the Enhanced Edition, found my old CDs in my closet, found they still worked, and got Age of Mythology on the brain again, because as much as I love video games I also love board games. And luckily, the user marketplace on BoardGameGeek was able to hook me up with a copy for a third of what I would’ve paid elsewhere.
So I’ve had it. I’ve read the rules. I’ve played a game. And all in all, I enjoy it. If I want to try to fill 2+ hours with a big ol’ strategy game, Age of Mythology is one to reach for, despite a few wrinkles.
Age of Mythology feels a lot like Puerto Rico, which is strange because it’s so contemporary that I’m not sure it would’ve had time to been developed after playing Puerto Rico.
Like Puerto Rico, you have a sheet with different areas on it that you place tiles and cubes on. In Age of Mythology you’ve got your Holding Area (for resources and units), your Production Area (for gathering resources) and your City (for having buildings). Like Puerto Rico, everyone gets to explore and gather at the same time. Unlike Puerto Rico you can just raise an army and go smash/steal your neighbor’s stuff.
There is a lot going on in this game. You’ve got sheets with wooden cubes and tiles on them and every player gets something so it’s incredibly Eurogame feeling. But you also have action cards that you draw from a randomized deck. And then you have the combat, a game of rock-paper-scissors with four advantage triangles mixed and matched.
In brief, the Actions:
- Explore: The first Eurogame card. A number of random resource tiles not less than the number of players is drawn. The player who played the Explore card chooses the one they want, and it goes around in turn order until everyone’s pulled one. Because there are terrain types and each of the three civs have different amounts of each terrain, in the late game you can strangle people out of being able to pick something. In addition everyone only has 16 spaces for production tiles.
- Gather: The second Eurogame card. The person who played the card can move their Villagers (which gives you bonus resources on the tiles they’re on) and depending on the card chooses whether everyone will gather from a specific terrain type, a specific resource type, or all resources. Starts with the person who played the card and goes around in turn order. Take whatever the right amount of cubes is and place them in your Holding Area. Explore and Gather, however, are the only two Eurogame “Everyone gets something” cards.
- Build: Build cards will have a number on them, that represents the maximum number of buildings that can be built with that action. You buy buildings and put them on your City. Build carefully since you only have 16 spaces for buildings.
- Recruit: Same as Build cards, they’ll have a number that’s the maximum you can recruit. Buy units, place them in your Holding area.
- Trade: Trade with the Bank. Never with other players. You have to trade at least one cube for one cube, and depending on the trade card there might be additional cube costs (i.e. Cost=0 means you trade 1:1 with no additional costs. Cost=2 means you give three cubes to the bank to get 1).
- Next Age: Advance along the ages. Everyone starts out in the Archaic Age, and from then you go Classical, Heroic, and Mythic. Why advance ages? Well they increase the options among action cards you draw each turn. They let you recruit Heroes, who are awesome and will stop you from being curbstomped by Myth units. Getting to the Mythic Age lets you build The Wonder, which will immediately end the game.
- Attack: It’ll have a number on it, that’s the maximum number of units the attacker and the defender can send into the battle. You can only attack your immediate neighbors. When you declare an attack you attack a specific part of the defender’s sheet, either their Holding Area (if you win you steal 5 resources), their City (smash buildings!) or their Production Area (Steal their production tiles!). And… we’re gonna need more space for this.
Every round of combat has each player selecting a unit in secret from the units they sent into battle. It’s essentially repeated rounds of trial by champion, that comes off as rock-paper-scissors. Each side rolls a number of d6es, and whoever rolled the most sixes wins. Each unit will have one or more types, and one or more bonuses (extra dice) against certain types. But there are four of these rock-paper-scissors triangles:
- Giant-Giant Killer-Giant Killer Killer
And units mix and match between them, almost every unit will have more than one type, which means units at a disadvantage in one triangle may have an advantage in another to even things out. The Norse dragon, Nidhogg, is a Myth Unit with 7 attack dice. But it’s a Flier. So an Egyptian Chariot Archer will roll 3 base + 3 vs. Fliers and have 6, making things somewhat more even.
Combat is where Age of Mythology will slow to a crawl. It only involves two players out of however many you’re playing with, and given that there are four advantage triangles to think about if someone you are playing with is even slightly prone to Analysis Paralysis they can spend agonizingly long planning on which unit they send into the fight.
Are they going to lead with their biggest Myth Unit?
Are they going to expect me to?
Are they sending in their Hero then?
Isn’t that what I would do?
Should I send in a Mortal then?
But which Mortal?
My Warrior, because they have a lot of Cavalry?
Or will they expect the Warrior and send their Archer?
Should I just send in my big Myth Unit then?
However, while this combat will be slow as molasses with people prone to Analysis Paralysis, I still enjoy it. I enjoy games that give me something to think about, that make me try to predict what my opponent has and what they will do. Even if I don’t predict correctly, I still predicted and thought and that’s fun.
I have two ideas to speed up the combat that I’m going to start implementing as necessary:
- Print out cheat sheets for every faction. The game only comes with one, which means only one person can study a faction’s units. Print 3 cheat sheets for each faction and make sure that everyone knows they can get one. If you know what the units are and what their types and advantages are, you’ll spend less time staring at a sheet and more time thinking.
- Pull up the timer app on your phone. It may feel rude, and I wouldn’t suggest doing it until everyone’s gotten some attacks under their belt, but this is exactly the problem they made chess clocks to solve.
But even still. Even still with the slow combat, I enjoy this game and think it good. They made being aggressive possible and rewarding. They allow you so many different options to take. And I love the moment of tension whenever you start rolling the dice for combat, that moment where you hope that luck is on your side. I love the cards and the sheets and the miniatures.
I like this game. I’m holding on to it.