Stone Age Review

Stone Age board game in play

One of the games that I was able to find a copy of to play earlier this week was Stone Age.

Stone Age is a worker placement game in which the players are each trying to place their workers in the right positions to gain resources, new workers, etc. in order to gain the most victory points. Each turn, the players will go around taking turns placing one (or more) of their workers. Some of the places that they place workers can cause them to: gain a new worker, increase food production (workers have to eat), increase "tools" available, or have an immediate gain in the amount of food or resources the player has, or allows the player to build buildings or gain "civilization" cards (these primarily gain victory points).

Whereas there have been many different worker placement games to come out recently (such as Caylus, Le Havre, etc), Stone Age adds some new concepts to the genre. The first area in which Stone Age seems to distinguish itself is through resource gathering. Whenever you place workers at a given resource, you are allowed to place several workers at once, but whatever you place that first time around is the total number of workers you place on that resource for the round - if you start with 3 workers trying to collect wood, then you cannot add another worker later if your other plans don't work out. Also, when gathering resources, the number of workers that are placed relates to the number of dice you roll in order to gather that resource. The better the resource, the higher number that you have to roll per resource gathered. How this works is that, if you are trying to gather wood, you roll a die for each worker and then divide by 3 (round down), whereas if you are trying to gather gold, you roll a die for each worker and divide by 6 (round down). This resource gathering works pretty well, and I haven't seen any other games that have a similar mechanic.

The next positive aspect of Stone Age is directly tied to the first, and it is the use of "tools". As described above, you roll dice to determine how many resources you gather. Die rolling can often be very frustrating (like in The Settlers of Catan). Here comes the use of tools. When rolling dice for a resource, a player can (after rolling) add one of more of his "tools" to the die roll, thus helping him get the total number he needed. (For example, if a player is trying to collect wood, and he needs multiples of 3 to do this, and he rolls a 7, the player can then add 2 "tool" points to the roll to make it a total of 9 - thus collecting 3 wood.) The use of tools makes this game work very well and helps the resource gathering not to be burdensome.

A third aspect of Stone Age that helps the game is in feeding your workers. There are 2 different ways of doing this: increasing farming (the food automatically gathered each turn), or by hunting (which works just like resource gathering). I found the gathering of food to be an important part of the game, but whereas this can often be a very frustrating aspect of other games (as I found it to be in Agricola), in Stone Age it just added a new facet to the gameplay.

A final pro that I will point out about Stone Age is the scoring system (which I will admit that I was at first very skeptical about). At the end of the game, each player scores points for a few different things - food production, tools, cards, buildings etc. However, these points are scored by multiplying the initial number by the number of civilization cards that match with that value. For example, if a player's food production is 10, and he has civilization cards showing 4 farmers, he will get 40 points for farming because it will be 10 farm production x 4 farmers shown on cards (and similar mechanics for buildings, tools, etc). This mechanic forces players to determine how much to specialize (as this can be worth a lot of points) against how much to balance their play (which will help them as the game goes on and can also help them to score in multiple ways). This mechanic adds definite value to the gameplay. In addition, since all of each player's cards are kept facedown, you are never able to tell who will win the game until the very end.

The only thing that I can say negatively about Stone Age is that it is a bit simple. To me, Stone Age is a "Caylus-lite". That is not all bad - it means that it can be played much faster and can be taught to a wider audience, but the strategies that go into the game seem a bit more stripped down than the strategies available in some other worker placement games. With that said, however, Stone Age still had enough appeal and depth to cause me to want to play it some more.

Overall, I give Stone Age an 8.5/10. I did not think it was quite to the level of some of the other worker placement games, but the areas that were lacking allow for non-gamers to more easily be introduced to it.  With that said, I felt like it was definitely worth playing, and I would encourage people to try it out if the opportunity presented itself.

If Stone Age sounds interesting, you might also want to check out Glory to Rome (Black Box Edition), Innovation, and Kingdom of Solomon. Or, if you're undecided and want to read more about this one, you might check out this Stone Age Review at I Slay the Dragon.

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