A game that I made a point to play because of all of the great things I had heard was Through the Ages.
In Through the Ages, each player represents a civilization that is attempting to gain the most culture (victory) points. Since you each represent a civilization, you each have a government; which then determines how many civil and military actions you have each round. Each turn starts with the oldest cards from the "card row" (available developments, essentially) being cleared off, the cards being shifted down, and then the card row being refilled. From here, the active player has the option of playing a Political Action (attack an opponent, setup a global event for later, etc), and then they are able to take their normal actions. The actions available can include taking card(s) from the card row, building or upgrading buildings, training military units, discovering new technology (assuming you have enough science), and working on a wonder (among other things). Once the active player has completed all of their actions (that they choose to perform), he cleans up his turn - generate victory points, science, and food, consume food, generate resources, see if you're corrupt, draw military cards. The game continues like this until one of the Ages is over (which one depends on if you're playing the basic, advanced, or full game) - at which time a few extra things score points. Finally, whoever has the most points wins.
My first pro about Through the Ages is how well the game "flows." Once you understand the basics, the game mechanics are not very complicated. Each turn, you follow the same steps (though with many options because of the cards) - the question boils down to who is able to most efficiently use their actions. While most civilization based games can be very intimidating - between how the mechanics work, the setup time, and how the actual components are designed - Through the Ages is pretty easy to follow.
The next pro that I have for Through the Ages is that it is a "light" civilization game yet still has depth. I often hear Through the Ages described as a "civ-lite" game. To an extent, that is true - you can play Through the Ages in closer to 2 hours (even in the full game) than 2 days. However, Through the Ages definitely still has the depth to it that people who enjoy empire building games crave - your civilization can go to war, make raids, have leaders, build wonders, and discover technologies. Whoever is able to best capitalize on all of these elements will be victorious.
The third thing that I like about Through the Ages is how the "card row" works. This is really the mechanic that the entire game hinges on. Each turn, there are several cards that are available to the active player (I think it is 13, but I'm not sure). The cards that have been available the longest cost the least number of actions to put in your hand, whereas the new ones cost the most. At the start of each player's turn, a certain number of cards are removed from the front of the row; therefore you can wait to purchase a card so that it will become cheaper. But, if you wait, you risk one of your opponents taking the card. And if you wait too long, the card will go away of its own volition! This really does a good job of depicting the concepts of seizing opportunities, missed chances, and opportunity cost. Also, because the cards from the front of the line are discarded each turn, it really keeps up the pace of the game.
The final thing (that I will mention) that I liked about Through the Ages was how you kept track of everything. There are several different elements to the game - victory points earned each round, military strength, current amount of science, science earned each round, happiness, etc. The components for Through the Ages were brilliantly designed to allow you to easily see all of this at a (few) glance(s). This is another area that helps keep the pace of the game up without getting you as bogged down in the details. Specifically, you have a track not only to keep track of VP and science, but also to keep track of how much VP and science you gain each round - this way you don't have to re-add them up each turn. Whereas, this is by no means a game mechanic, it is definitely a wonderful aspect to the game that any other developers of empire building games need to shamelessly steal (quick, Eagle Games, go get it patented somehow)!
Ok, so I lied. Here are a few more pros (with little to no explanation). I liked:
- Multiple paths to victory
- How the Current/Future Events worked
- How the Aggression/Military worked - important but not too overpowering
- How building a Wonder worked
Overall, I give Through the Ages a 9.5/10 (I only really debated between 9.0-9.5). It is by far my favorite empire building game. Unfortunately, since it still can take approximately 2 hours to play and is very intimidating looking to new players, it probably won't get as much playtime as it rightly deserves.
Through the Ages on Noble Knight Games (about $49.50)
Through the Ages on Funagain Games (about $49)
Through the Ages on Amazon (about $47)