Format: Board Game
Designers: Bernd Brunnhofer
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Stone Age is a worker placement game for 2 to 4 players that's easy enough for players just getting into the hobby while still giving your noggin' a good workout if you're playing against shrewd competition. Each turn consists of three rounds during which players will place workers, reap the rewards of their placements then feed their people. Lather rinse repeat until one of two end game conditions is reached at which point the final score is tallied and I usually find out how badly I got trounced.
So, let's give Stone Age the ol' Pro's and Con's treatment as I examine the game from a professional's points of view and as a consumer. Read on dear reader, read on!
At it's core, Stone Age is worker placement at its most basic meaning most of your actions each turn consist of simply taking worker figures from your supply and placing them onto different spots on the board. This is not a knock against the game, far from it as it keeps the focus of the game nice and tight. As any good worker placement game should, options in Stone Age always seem a tad more limited than you would like leading to much elbow bumping between players. Everything in the game, from resource gathering to getting more tribes people is handled by placing workers in the appropriate areas, so once you've learned what each area is for, there's little reason to have to refer to the rules.
Stone Age's elegance extends, appropriately, to the scoring as well. There are only two ways to score points in Stone Age, one method, building huts, will earn you points during the game and another, claiming civilization cards, will earn you points at the end of the game. This gives you two major paths to victory to shoot for, though, in reality the civilization cards open things up even greater.
I think, all things considered, the civilization cards are the most intriguing part of the game for a couple of reasons. First of all is the way their price is handled. If a player wants to build a hut, the player simply needs to pay the resource cost of the hut, and gets the appropriate score, simple. If, on the other hand, a player want to claim a civilization card, that player will have to pay anywhere from 1 to 4 resources for that card depending on its placement on the board. You see, there are four available civilization cards on the board at a time at a cost from left to right of 4, 3, 2 and 1 resource. If cards are claimed during a turn, all remaining cards will be moved to the right to the next available spot before new cards are drawn thus lowering the cost of the cards that weren't claimed. This has the wonderful effect of making less desired cards more and more of a bargain. The second reason I find the civilization cards so interesting is how they are scored. As I mentioned, these cards are scored at the end of the game, and a number of them score based on actions you performed during the game. So, having a high farm rating will help you feed your people during the game, sure, but it won't score you points, unless you have civilization cards that allow you to score for farming that is. You see, these civilization cards allow you to tailor your scoring to the way you are playing the game. Are you gathering allot of tools? perhaps you should start investing in civilization cards that will allow you to score points for all those tools at the end of the game. This is a very cleaver way of rewarding players for the actions they performed during the game while keeping play fresh from game to game.
There is one way by which civilization cards are scored that forces players' hands however. Some of the cards will have one of twelve symbols on them instead of scoring instructions. These are used in a sort of set collection game during end game scoring wherein a player will score based on the number of cards showing different symbols he or she has collected. There's nothing wrong with this but getting a full set of twelve does score enough to place the onus on every player to snag at least a few of these cards in order to prevent any one player from collecting too many for themselves. This isn't a huge deal but it does seem to take an aspect of the game that should be an option and turn it into a necessity. Maybe other strategies to combat this will reveal themselves through further play.
Stone Age is a nice looking game with good quality components. The board is very pretty and well illustrated with nice little stories to find happening between the little stone people. The most priceless has to be the cave dude, totally hitting on the cave chick outside the hut that gives you an extra worker when you send two workers to it. Yup, you got that right! The one knock I will give the game from a visual standpoint is the fact the placement spots on the board can be a little hard to see among the lavish artwork in some places, but no biggy. Oh! And the little wooden worker figures have this crazy cave-man/bed-head hairdo. So thematic!
If you've never played a worker placement game or are looking for a game to introduce the concept to some less seasoned gamers, Stone Age is a great choice. As mentioned above, the game doesn't try to throw too much on top of the core mechanism so it makes for a distilled experience that's a great primer to the concept of sending your little minions to the board to bring you back all sorts of goodies.
Combine the fairly bare bones but effective worker placement with the variable end game scoring of the civilization cards and what you get is a very strategic game. The player who wins a game of Stone Age is the player who's able to correctly compliment in game actions with corresponding civilization cards to maximize scoring. The way civilization card pricing falls from turn to turn also creates a tense "push your luck" sort of element as you may find yourself sweating as you hope no one snags the card you want before it gets more affordable. Real nail biting stuff!
So, all told Stone Age is a fun, simple to play, game involving lots of tactical and strategic decisions with an interesting theme, though the game play doesn't tie into it all that much. I recommend it for anyone looking for a mid-weight strategy game that even relatively novice players will quickly get the hang of. Best of all, the box says 2 to 4 players and it's not lying. Through small and simple rule changes the game scaled very well from minimum to maximum number of players.
Images from boardgamegeek.com