Review: Stone Age

Stone Age review

Ugh built his mud hut and he was proud. He can scavenge for food and sleep under a roof so he won’t get wet. Life was good. He turned around and saw Gork putting the finishing touches on his stone hut, complete with outdoor plumbing and gold trimmed door handles. Gork’s life was better.

Stone Age is a prehistoric game of being better than the Joneses.

Published in 2008 by Z-Man Games, Stone age is a worker placement game where you send off members of your family to suffer manual labour all so you can give them a better home, and to keep them fed.

For the TL;DR version click here.

Opening the Box

Specs on the box

  • 2-4 players
  • Ages 10+ (It’s actually very easy to learn so you can teach it to younger kids but they might not grasp the strategy too quickly.)
  • 60-90 min

In the box we find a nice sturdy insert which, while plain, does a decent job of keeping the components separated. We’ve got wooden pieces for the games resources i.e wood, stone, clay, gold. There are tokens for food and a first player marker as well as cardboard huts, which are the primary means of getting victory points. A deck of Civilization cards, for technological advances that you can develop to gain extra points.

Stone Age review
Not the prettiest insert, but it does the job.

There is a set of wooden meeples for each player along with a pair of markers for keeping track of the number of farms and victory points. Then we have 6 wooden dice and a leather dice cup. The cup is often a point of controversy. Being leather, it will absorb sweat and any oils on player’s hands and eventually develop an odour. It’s not exactly something that you can chuck into the washing machine. However it’s not necessary to use it at all, it’s just a nice set piece to have for the game.

Naturally there is a board and 4 player boards. These are fantastic. They have some really nice art on them and even have art on the back. It’s not something that you see often but it’s a nice detail that I like.

Theme

Stone Age has each player in charge of a prehistoric family, out to be the best in the neighbourhood. It’s the old story of the more kids I have the more free labour for my farm. It does also mean that there are more mouths to feed. So it’s a bit of a balancing act, get lots of workers so you can build the best stuff but you need to keep them fed or you will lose points.

Gameplay

Setup is relatively simple affair. Lay board on the table and then place the resources on their respective spots on the board. Shuffle the Civilization cards and reveal the top 4 in their spots. Shuffle the hut tiles and divide them up onto their spots. Then give each player a board, 5 meeples and their starting food. Lastly put the score and farm markers on the 0 spots.

The round is split over 2 phases. In the first phase players take turns placing their meeples on the board to perform actions. All of the actions, bar gathering food, have a limited number of spaces available for workers; once the gold mine is full no one else can mine there that turn. You only get to pick 1 location at a time, but can assign as many meeples as you have, and there are spaces available. Some of the key actions can only have 1 or 2 workers so choose wisely which one you really want this turn.

Stone Age review
Blue is going to have an easier time in the quarry than yellow…

The actions include

  • Technology – This gives you tools which aid resource gathering and can give you victory points.
  • Farms – Farms produce food, which means you will need to send fewer meeples to gather food and can also give you victory points.
  • Civilization cards – These often give you a bonus straight away and then give you bonus victory points at the end of the game. However they have a resource cost associated with them.
  • Making babies – This action needs to use 2 of your meeples and they will return at the end of the round with a 3rd 😉 no benefit straight away but you will have more options in future rounds and can gain extra points for the total number of meeples that you have.
  • Hut building – At any point in time there will be 4 huts available to build, you can assign a meeple to build 1 of them and gain victory points for them but you will need to spend resources to build the hut. The better the resources used/required, the more points you score for the hut.
  • Resource gathering – This is the most common action and the most vital. You need resources to build huts and to buy the Civilization cards, which open up other ways to get Victory points and win the game. Food is also a resource and you need to feed your people!

Resource gathering is where things get interesting. For the main resources there’s limited space to gather them. Additionally the more valuable the resource the more difficult it is to get it. Wood has a value of 3 and gold has a value of 6. It’s written on the player boards.

Stone Age review
The art in Stone Age is really beautiful.

In the second phase of the game each player will take a turn to resolve all of the actions on his meepels on the board. If you have any meepels assigned to gather a resource your roll a D6 for each of them and then divide the total by the value of the resource to determine how many of those resources you gather. If you sent 1 meeple to gather wood and rolled a 6 then you would receive 2 pieces of wood as it has a value of 3; if you were looking for gold then you would only get 1 because its value is 6.

That seems kind of random but it’s not. You can mitigate the luck factor by assigning more meepels to the same resource; you divide the total of their rolls by the resources value, so you increase your chances. Additionally if you get tools, by increasing your technology then you can spend those tools to add to the total before you divide it.

You can choose the order in which to resolve your actions. If you wanted to buy a hut that needs gold but you don’t have enough, then resolve your gold mining first. If you still don’t have enough then you don’t buy the hut.

Stone Age review
This hut is for couples only…

At the end of the round each player needs to feed his meepels. 2 food per meeple. If you don’t have enough food then you trade resources for food, regardless of type so 1 wood or 1 gold will still be only 1 food.. If you still don’t have enough then you will pay a penalty of victory points.

Once any of the 4 stacks of huts run out or if there aren’t enough Civilization cards to refill all of their slots, the game ends and you total victory points. The person with the most wins.

Conclusion

I actually purchased this game to help my kids with multiplication and division. I would make them do the maths on the spot, which kind of worked. Honestly, I was not expecting much from Stone Age but I was pleasantly surprised at what I found.

Stone Age is not as heavy as other worker placement games, it’s won’t leave you feelings like you’re brain dead but it’s got a fair amount of depth. There are multiple routes to victory; from hogging the best huts to playing the Civilization cards just right for bonus points. You could also try to just block actions or resources from other players, but there are ways around that and there’s multiple paths to victory.

Stone Age review
The huts are the primary source of victory points and act as the games clock. The one on the left has a variable amount of points, based on the materials that you use to build it.

I really like it. The appeal is there for all ages and it’s very easy to teach. There have been a time where groups of adults were sitting trying to figure out simple single digit division 😉 but that’s part of the fun.

Can I play this at a braai?

By all means. The choices are simple enough that you can plan your turn out very quickly in your head and then go and potter around the fire, giving instructions for your turn when necessary. I’ve not tried it at a braai but I’ve taken it out to restaurants a few times and it was a success.

Stone Age review
The infamous Stone Age Dice cup.
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