Im Wandel der Zeiten - Das Würfelspiel
(Roll through the Ages)


Matt Leacock


No. of Players:
1 - 4



Civilizing games have been in fashion for several decades, and in their ranks blockbuster titles like the boardgame-version of Sid Meier's Civilization can be found as well as some more obscure niche products like Jean du Poel's Mare Mediterraneum. However, as it seems all these games share a common factor, and apart from their background story they stand united by the fact that so far no civilizing game has been considered as a possible winner of the German Spiel des Jahres awards. However, this situation has changed with the arrival of Matt Leacock's Roll through the Ages, since the German version of the game was released by PEGASUS SPIELE in 2010 under the name Im Wandel der Zeiten - Das Würfelspiel, and the game became one of the few nominees for the prestigious Spiel des Jahres awards in 2010.

However, giving the game and its mechanics a closer examination, it is no outright wonder that the game succeeded in becoming a nominee, since Im Wandel der Zeiten - Das Würfelspiel actually stands apart from many of its older brothers by its rather streamlined gameplay and its somewhat limited focus. Thus, many older civilizing games like the namesake Through the Ages tend to be strategic heavyweights with lots of player options and thick rulebooks causing rather long playing times, and with the Spiel des Jahres awards focusing mainly on recommending good family games to occasional gamers it is understandable that these more "meaty" kinds of games fall under the focus of the awards. Im Wandel der Zeiten - Das Würfelspiel on the other hand has been cleverly developed to take its position in the recent renaissance of strategic dicegames, and with this move the game is perfectly suitable for the target group at which the Spiel des Jahres awards is aimed.


Each of the players starts the game with a sheet from the game's notice pad, and this sheet will be used to keep track of a player's cities, monuments and developments, and in addition negative points for catastrophes will be noted at this sheet as well. Furthermore, a player receives a starting hand of three civilizing-dice (corresponding to the number of cities which a player owns at the beginning of the game), and a functional wooden scoreboard with pins which will be used to keep track of a player's resources and food supplies.

A player starts his turn with a roll of his dice, and after the first roll he may chose to re-roll any number of dice for a maximum of two times in order to get a better result. Each of the dice has five beneficial faces, and these sides show the following results: 3 units of food, 3 workers, 2 units of food OR 2 workers, one coin, one resource. The sixth and final side of the dice shows two resources, but at the same time a skull symbol is printed on the dice, and such a result means that a catastrophe will take place. Unfortunately, this result may not be chosen for a reroll, so that a player has to stick with any skulls he has rolled.

When all dice results are standing, the player first collects food and resources which he has rolled. However, as all dice show the same generic "amphora"-symbol for resources, the collection of resources is a bit unusual. Thus, the first symbol rolled must be used to get a unit of wood, the cheapest kind of resources. For the next symbol a unit of stone must be taken, and for the following result a piece of pottery. Then come fabrics, and only a fifth result may lead to one unit of metal, the most valuable resource. If more than five resource symbols were rolled, the gathering of resources starts once again with the cheapest resource and follows the same process which was just described. Food on the other hand is more simple, since here each unit of food rolled can be recorded on the single food scale.

With food and resources collected, the players now have to supply each of their cities with one unit of food. If a player does not possess enough food to supply all of his cities, he will not face and restrictions in terms of gameplay, but instead he will have to record one penalty point for each city which cannot be supplied. Next come the catastrophe-results, and like missing food these results also may force the player to record some penalty points, but here the amount of points depends on the total number of catastrophe-results which the player has rolled. Thus, a result of two (draught) or four (invasion) catastrophe-symbols means that the player has to record a corresponding number of penalty points, and a roll of five or more catastrophe symbols (uprising) will cause a loss of all of the player's resources. Quite interestingly, a result of three catastrophe symbols (plague) does not penalize the active player, but instead all other players have to record three penalty points, and so the number of catastrophe-symbols which are rolled during the dice-rolling process leaves some additional bit of speculation for the active player since he might dare additional re-rolls in order to shift penalty points from himself to the other players.

Next comes the use of the player's worker results, and these may be used either to construct additional cities or monuments. The progress made on a monument or a city once again is recorded on the player's sheet from the game's notice pad, and for each finished city the player will receive an additional civilizing-dice which can be used for the rest of the game (up to a maximum of seven dice can be obtained). Monuments on the other hand bring a one-time award of victory points once they are finished, and the number of victory points which can be scored depends both on the size of the monument and on the question whether the player is first to finish that specific monument. All runner-ups only will receive half of the points that the first player who finished that monument has received.

After spending their workers, the players finally get the chance to purchase one development, and to make this purchase each coin symbol increases the player's purchase allowance by seven. To get an even greater allowance, the player also may opt to sell all resources of one kind from his stockpile. These resources have a fixed value, and naturally this value is higher for the more valuable resources. However, since only one purchase can be made the rule that all resources of a kind must be sold usually will mean that a bit of the player's purchase allowance will be lost.

A range of 13 different developments is available in the game, and their price usually reflects the power of the special ability and the number of victory points which are associated with the development. So, "Irrigation" means that the player will be protected from the draught result, "coinage" increases the value of a coin result, a "granary" allows the exchange of food for money, or "technology" the exchange of stone for workers. Most powerful and valuable in terms of victory points are "architecture" which gives eight victory points plus one point for each finished monument and "Empire" which also grants eight victory points plus one point for each of a player's cities.

After the purchase of a development the active player ends his turn be discarding all resources in excess of six which may be kept for the following turn, and now the next player will take up the dice and start his own turn. The game ends when either one player has purchased his fifth development or when all monuments have been built at least once.

To my mind Matt Leacock has succeeded in implementing all essential elements of a civilizing game within the scope of this easy-going dice-oriented game. On the one hand, this means that the game has a quite good pace, and both the individual turns and the playing duration are astonishingly short for a civilizing game. However, on the other hand the heavy reliance on each player finding the optimal use of his own hand of dice also has lead to a somewhat low player interaction, since the players simply have to focus onto their own "hand" of dice. Thus, if the players do not use the included supplementary trading rules which allow the exchange of food and resources, player interaction is nearly non-existent because even the developments do not give any direct power to influence the progress of the competitors. It is only necessary to keep a casual eye on the other players' notepads in order not to be surprised by a player who finishes a monument or purchases his fifth and final development, but to my mind this kind of "indirect" interaction is a bit low for a game which is clearly aiming to be a family game.

Quite nice are the wooden scoreboards which are used to record a player's resources, and their functional design greatly contributes to the game's considerable pace. However, here my personal wish would have been either to enlarge the scoreboard so that it would reflect a player's monuments, cities and developments, or to include some further playing material by which the players progress could be visualized. The paper notepad on which all these things are recorded serves its function, but this close resemblance to classic dice games like Yatzhee does not seem to fit the grandeur of a civilizing game. From my subjective point of view, a civilizing game creates a good deal of its attractiveness by a player's satisfaction of watching his progress, and the simple ticking of boxes on a generic sheet of paper somewhat feels mismatched for creating such an experience.

So, Im Wandel der Zeiten - Das Würfelspiel clearly has its assets in terms of pace and duration, and overall Matt Leacock has made a good effort to translate the often complicated mechanisms of a civilizing games into a rather straightforward "nutshell"-game which will appeal to a greater audience than many of its more sophisticated brothers. Thus, the nomination for the Spiel des Jahres awards seems justified because of the unusual but successful approach which the game takes to this well-known topic, and so the game can be recommended to players who would like to get a civilizing experience but who lack the time and stamina to try any of the game's bigger brothers.

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Copyright © 2011 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany