Age of Mythology is a board game based on the popular PC real-time strategy game of the same name. I should probably preface this review by saying that I have absolutely zero contact with the PC game, and only minimal contact with its precursor, Age of Empires. As a rule, I enjoy turn-based strategy far more than I enjoy real-time strategy; I enjoy being able to take my time and plan out my moves rather than having to frantically click on small, moving units. I think that, because of this predilection, I am particularly susceptible to the lures of strategic board games.
At any rate, Age of Mythology is, indeed, a strategic board game. The basic idea is thus: you explore in order to find resources, you gather those resources, and you spend those resources in order to build buildings, recruit soldiers, and advance through the Ages. The goal is not to destroy your opponent, but rather to have the most impressive civilization at the end of the game.
The gameplay of AoM is primarily card-driven. That is, there are seven different Action Cards, three of which you can play each round. Each player has his or her own board, which is used to hold resource tiles, building tiles, resource cubes, and plastic miniatures representing the various units in the game. In order to win the game, you have to amass the most Victory Points by the end of the game.
Each turn is broken down into phases. First, you place Victory Points (represented by red wooden cubes) on one of the four victory conditions; only three Victory Points may be allocated each turn, and each of the first three players in that turn places one point. Second, you draw your Action Cards. Cards may be drawn in any combination up to your current maximum (dependant on your current Age), from each of two decks available to you. One is your Permanent Action deck, which contains one of each Action Card. You may peruse this deck at your leisure, and take whichever cards you want; this allows you to always perform the actions you need to, when you need to. The other deck is the Random Action deck; this deck contains the same actions as the Permanent deck, except that they are more powerful. For instance, the Permanent Build card allows you to build a single structure, while a Random card might allow you to build three or four. Further, some Random cards have associated God Powers, special abilities that can be played in order to break the rules in small ways. The disadvantage of the Random deck, of course, is its randomness; you have no control over what cards you get from it. The third phase consists of card play; each player gets to play three Action Cards from his or her hand. Fourth is resource spoilage; each player may only hold five of each resource (gold, wood, food, and favor) between turns, with all excess going to the bank. Finally, the starting player rotates.
The Action Cards are really the heart of the game, as they allow you to perform the actions you need to perform in order to succeed.There are seven actions: Explore, Gather, Trade, Attack, Build, Recruit, and Next Age. The Explore card allows you to uncover more resource tiles, but has the potential to help your opponents, as well. The Gather card allows you to collect resource cubes, but again, may help your opponents. Trade allows you to trade in your resource cubes for resource cubes of other types, in any combination or quantity, provided that both you and the bank have enough cubes. Attack allows you to pit your own units against those of another, targeting either their City Area (to destroy building), their Production Area (to steal resource tiles), or their Holding Area (to steal resource cubes). Build and Recruit are fairly straightforward, each allowing you to purchase more buildings or units, respectively. Finally, playing a Next Age advances you to the next of four Ages (Archaic, Classical, Heroic, and Mythic). The advantages of advancing in Age are threefold: first, advancing an Age will increase your maximum hand size by one; second, you will gain access to new Hero units; third, the Wonder (a special building that immediately ends the game) can only be built in the Mythic Age.
Combat consists of both strategy and a fair bit of randomness. When an Attack card is played, each player secretly selects which of his or her own units will participate, up to the maximum presented on the Attack card. Next, they form hands of Battle Cards, using only the Battle Cards that correspond to the units selected. Each player chooses a Battle Card to participate in the current portion of the battle, and this determines which unit fights which other unit. Each unit has a combat value, as well as various bonuses or special abilities that can increase its combat value, depending on who or what it is fighting. The combat value refers to the number of six-sided dice that the unit rolls, and each six rolled counts as a victory. The unit with the most victories wins and gets to continue in the battle, while the loser is destroyed.
Overall, the gameplay is quite a lot of fun. There is a definite sense that no single strategy will win all the time, and no single strategy dominates the game. Combat can drag on for a while at times, depending on the size of the battle, and can be quite random.It is entirely possible for a lowly spearman to defeat a mighty frost giant, even though the giant is rolling maybe eight more dice than the spearman; upsets like this happen from time to time, and it’s not unusual for a string of them to happen at once. Generally speaking, though, these faults do not detract from the game.
You get a very well-designed game for your $45. There are two boards for each civilization (Norse, Greek, an Egyptian), as well as eight dice to use for battles. The plastic miniatures are easy to identify and plentiful, and all of the cards are well laid-out and quite attractive. Being color blind, I was a little put out by the colors chosen for the various resource cubes. Gold is yellow and favor is blue; these did not bother me. However, the food cubes (green) and the wood cubes (brown) are often difficult for me to distinguish, and the victory cubes (red) can sometimes blend in with the food cubes. However, this is not a problem that everyone will run into, and can be easily circumvented by simply asking which is which (provided your other players are honest and not color blind).
While I’ve heard complaints about things being left out of the rulebook, I never ran into this problem; it seemed to me that everything was well-explained and easy to understand, and none of the games that I’ve played have suffered from any rules problems. Finally, a reference card is included, which presents game setup information and unit information for each civilization (including cost). In addition, the player boards indicate the costs of all buildings, as well as hand size by Age.
Final Word: Not a perfect game, but very close in my opinion. A few minor complaints hardly serve to detract much from the overall game, which is engaging and fun, if you can find players willing to play for two or three hours.