Jim and I enjoy "civ" games, and we both spent many an hour playing Civ on the computer over the years, so this game is a no-brainer.
Through the Ages is not quite a 4X game (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and eXterminate) as I don't think you can exterminate the other players, so I'll call it 3X for now.
However, the game is so abstract, that it is arguable if there is exploration or expansion, but we'll give it that.
This game is a 100% Euro.. I don't know why Europeans love pushing cubes around so much, but this game is cube-city.
It's a card-based tableau game. No map, per se.
We started off with a modest amount of cubes at the beginning..
and at the end, it was cubes all over the place..
In fact, that is all you do.. push cubes and draw cards. Cubes for resources (blue), cubes for people (yellow). You put yellow cubes to build troops, mines, farms, etc.. So that is the "exploitation" part..
Everything is abstract.. getting land (colonies), which are just called "territories." Historic territory, wealthy territory... You bid troops with your opponents to get them.
So that is kinda "exploration" and "expansion" I guess..
You build up and upgrade troops for abstract aggressive moves and war on the other.. At the end, I built Modern Infantry upgraded from warriors, Cavalry from Knights, Rockets from Cannon, etc...
Very abstract indeed, as I upgraded from muskets to get to modern infantry, without the need to upgrade first to rifleman, though it was expensive. To upgrade from spearman to modern infantry for instance, would cost me 5 resources per troop (7 minus 2), whereas for Jim, to upgrade from musket rifleman to modern infantry would only cost him 3 resources. Later on, when he got modern infantry, it would only cost him 2 resources per troop (7 minus 5) to upgrade to modern infantry.
You also upgrade your production over time.. Here for example, I improved my farming with Selective breeding, and my research using the scientific method from plain philosophy.
I later upgraded my mines to oil production when I reached the modern age.
Anybody who played Sid Meier's Civ game will see all the familiar elements, including the effect of adapting different governments. My initial despotic form of government, for instance, allows 4 general actions and 2 military actions per turn (represented by white and red cubes), is not as useful as my ending republican form of government, with its 7 general and 2 military actions per turn.
Sid Meier fans of course, will also recognize the effect of happiness on your people, which affects your food production. The game has an abstract concept of happiness that seems to work.. As you use more people, you better keep them happy, or else you have to divert resources.
Corruption and graft handled abstractly but well.. The more production you use, the more "sticky fingers" eating into it. In this example, I lose -2 resources per turn.
Other hallmarks of Civ are here.. leaders for instance. Here, Gandhi in the Third (modern) Age replaces my use of Sir Isaac Newton from the Second (or Renaissance) Age.
And of course, you build "wonders" which are very Civ-like. I built the Library of Alexandria in the ancient age to the internet in the modern age, for example, each giving different benefits..
Jim did a similar thing.. building the Pyramids and tried to build the Great Wall of China.
Incidentally, the game pays tribute to Sid Meier by making him a leader..
Advanced techniques, military, leaders, etc, all are given to us players in a running track, with stuff constantly falling off and coming in...
Scientific and cultural tracks are maintained for scoring purposes off to the side, with the player with the most cultural points at the end, winning.
We were just a two-player game, and it took up most of my 6 foot plastic table. A large footprint indeed, as you would expect in a civ game.
Scoring at the end was a long-drawn out affair. I don't know what boardgame geek is talking about, playing this in two hours. It was more like most of the afternoon and evening, as were learning to play.
As you can see then, lots of moving parts to keep track of, with a bit of a learning curve at the beginning.. However, once you get into it, you can see the charm of the game through the cards mixes and matches and can thus see multitudes of replay possibilities.
The game is abstract, and a bit cerebral, so you need smart and imaginative people to play this. It's not a beer and pretzel game.
I was taken aback at the beginning at the fiddleness of pushing all those cubes as I tend to be an Ameritrash player, and I didn't like some of the "gotcha" aspects that comes out of card play (I don't really like card games for that reason), but once you start playing, it all comes together beautifully.