Board Game App Review: Through the Ages

7/10 A good but fiddly implementation

Available on:
Steam and GOG for PC — $15.99
Apple and Google Play — $9.99

This week, I’m reviewing several different board game apps. These reviews are primarily looking at the quality of the app and content. Previous reviews:

Through the Ages (the app) has been out for a while, and it’s another I’ve not played in person (I doubt it would work for my group). The app has been my only way to play, so it had better be good! It has a decent tutorial, however, there are a few cards that have complex icons and the tooltip doesn’t explain what they mean and there’s no way to reference the cards anywhere in the app. If you don’t have the board game, there’s no way to learn what these mean. On the upside, they include the option to play with the original cards or the new ones as well as* tabletop rules or adjusted rules for the app (this affects events and bidding over colonies).

*Amendment: The option included is to play with the original New Story cards (not the original cards from first edition) or cards rebalanced for the expansion. Why they included the option to use the rebalanced cards without the expansion they were rebalanced for, I’m not sure, but there it is.

There’s also adjustable AI, though it’s not especially consistent. In my recent game, the training AI (lowest difficulty) won by a landslide, even against the AI of the next difficulty. Maybe that speaks more to the volatility of the game rather than the app’s AI? There are also a wide variety of solo challenges.

Though the desktop version uses the iOS UI, there is at least a scaling option so it doesn’t feel as cluttered and cramped. Unfortunately, you’ll do a lot of clicking around to read things because only the names and icons of cards are normally visible, and the tooltips are a bit slow (and could be easier to read). You can click your play area to bring up the cards and tokens, but you can’t play it with this display. Overall, while the UI is mostly functional (there’s information not available in the main view), and the scaling is much appreciated, an option to fully display the cards would have been better. Seeing the buildings and the lights on to indicate how many people work there is nice, but it’s not as immediately readable as the cards and tokens. This and Scythe need to compromise and meet in the middle somewhere between form and function.

There are always compromises that must be made for phones and tablets, but I wish the desktop releases didn’t have to make those same compromises. There’s plenty of room to improve the UI, but it isn’t likely to happen at this point. At least they offered UI scaling. The expansion, New Leaders and Wonders, is also available. There aren’t many games this heavy available on digital platforms, and other than some UI problems, they’ve done a great job adapting the game.

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