Age of Comics: The Golden Years has a unique theme and a familiar feel

Of the many things I love about board games, one of the most prominent is the stories they tell that wouldn’t normally get much of the spotlight. Whilst I am no comic book history buff, I love the theme in Age of Comics: The Golden Years and the way it presents the earliest comics: how they were made and how they were sold. 

Age of Comics: The Golden Years is a relatively simple worker placement game, and whilst the theme makes it quite unique, most of the actions you’ll be taking are fairly standard. With a BGG weight of just over 2.5 at the time of writing and a recommended age of thirteen plus, this is also a game that most of the family can play and I will admit that I’ve had some success with my eldest child (who is only nine). 

Age of Comics: The Golden Years

Each player takes control of a comic book publishing house, and they will use their four editor meeples (rising to five in a certain specific circumstance) to take actions including generating ideas and wealth, hiring artists and writers, scribing a new comic and then printing either original or knock-off comic books. The comic book industry is all about the latest and greatest thing, so driving sales by traversing Manhattan and engaging with fans is important, as is being the first to market.

Most of the things I’ve just mentioned above are different kinds of action — and they are all simple and quick to resolve. Hiring staff, for example, requires the player to simply choose one artist and one writer from the market (or deck) which are then added to their hand. Generating ideas simply requires the editor to be placed on the appropriate space and the player then draws a number of tokens from the board and a number of additional ones from the supply. 

Even the two more complex actions are simple – when a player wants to print a comic, they simply take comic book, writer and artist cards from their hand and place them on the appropriate space. Two ideas matching the comic must be spent and the creators (the writer and artist) need to be paid based on their level (from one to three). The comic will then earn fans based on what is printed on the comic itself, plus the level of the writer and artist as long as they match the same type of comic. (No one likes it when a romance novelist writes a crime thriller, eh?)

Most comics also have a small bonus on their top left corner, and when printed the player will take that too — this might be idea tokens, more fans, or perhaps some money. The comic token that matches the card is then taken and placed on the score track — and if it is either the first comic of its type or if you now have the majority of comics of that type, it will receive a special mastery token to show that it is currently the hottest property in that particular genre.

Age of Comics: The Golden Years

Whilst never moving above medium weight, there are a few little things that can affect the complexity of the game as it progresses. For example, when a player prints their second, third or fourth comic, they can choose a bonus effect by placing one of their cubes on the board. These do things like adding hype or generating ideas, or in some cases, they enhance existing actions like hiring staff. It’s also possible for players to enhance their creators by either paying to train them, or by putting two creatives of the same type together and letting the weaker one learn from the stronger. This is a really nice feature, and it feels very organic.

In some ways, you could look at Age of Comics: The Golden Years as an economic game, since it is very much about supplying a market with a product, improving that product, looking for gaps in the market and repeating the process and so on. The thing is, most economic games have a tendency to bake in a load of extra complexity (which may or may not enhance the game) but Age of Comics: The Golden Years simply doesn’t do that.

This makes the design very clean. You can almost learn it without having to be taught it, since every action is very straightforward. This does, of course, make teaching it a doddle — because you just tell people they are going to make comics and then improve them, and then you walk them through the process.

In terms of scoring, there is a scoring event at the end of every round and here, you want to focus on your highest-scoring comic (regardless of genre). Simply put, the highest-scoring comic book that each player has will score one, two or three points based on who is highest (and then second and third). In the case of a tie, the tied players will both get the same points for whatever position their comics are in. Players also earn money during this phase and then reduce the fan level of each comic by one (people like shiny, new things) except in the last round.

Age of Comics: The Golden Years

In the end game scoring, players will once again score comics (although this time all fans of all comics score) and then deduct any sales order tokens that were taken but not fulfilled. Money, idea tokens and original comic books printed also score during this phase, plus of course, you’ll add any score markers that you already have.

One of the most interesting things in Age of Comics: The Golden Years both mechanically and in terms of that theme that I keep discussing is the use of knock-off comics. These can be printed instead of an original without the cost of any ideas (and only if someone has already printed an original that you want to copy) but they typically score fewer fans and won’t score at the end game. Why would you want them though? Well, they can help you claim the mastery token and they do score points (and money) for fans during the end game scoring.

The inclusion of knock-off comics is really clever and fun. They are a good early-game strategy because typically you’ll find them a lot quicker and easier to print (requiring at least one fewer action to get to market) and they can pinch a few points and generate some much-needed cash. Owners of original comics can feel a little miffed about their intellectual property too, and even though there’s no direct negative consequence for them when their comic is copied, it does generate some fun table banter and chat.

There’s not much to knock about Age of Comics: The Golden Years in terms of what it delivers at this level of complexity. The game itself is clever and straightforward, with an enjoyable and highly unique theme that matches well with both the mechanics and the (fantastic) components. The scoring is interesting and the inclusion of the knock-off mechanic introduces various different ways to win, whilst the end game scoring itself generally really rewards those who advanced the comic book industry (by printing originals.) For me, this is an excellent addition to any collection, but fans of vintage comic books will particularly enjoy Age of Comics: The Golden Years, even if they are not hardcore board gamers.

Age of Comics: The Golden Years is available through the Lirius Games website

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