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Subject: Stone Age - Neanderific! Yabba-Dabba Doooo! rss

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Greg Gresik
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Stone Age is hardly a new game, although it is relatively new to me. I had first played it a while ago, and from the very first play, really enjoyed the experience. In fact, almost every time I am playing Stone Age, at some point, I mutter aloud "I really like this game."

There are many threads that explain rules in detail. I will highlight some of the rules and attributes of the game that I think make it one of the better games I've played.

So why do I like this game? Why do I consider it one of my top 5 owned games? Why do I have it at the top of worker-placement games I'd play?

Well let's get to it:

1) Aesthetics When I first played Stone Age, the board, the pieces, the leather cup, all the bits, the cards and huts - it is all very nicely put together. High quality components and very nice artwork. The player cards are great too. All in all, it is a very tactile experience. Incidentally, that is part of the reason why I shy away from Stone Age online. While I have played it online, I prefer the physical game - partly because of the quality of the production as a whole. So I have had a handful of online plays, but have only played the physical game recently.

2) Decisions I really enjoy the tension in the decision making process from where to place workers each turn all the way to plotting out an over-arching strategy during the course of the game. As part of these decisions, there is also the fact that one cannot have a "go to" strategy, as it's viability may change as a result of many things - the decisions by other players, the way the huts or cards come up, etc. There is even some planning needed on what order you will complete the actions of your workers. Sometimes it is more straightforward - but depending on how you may need to use your tools to affect your various die roles for resources, you may need to make some fairly important decisions. In a game where final scores are typically (at least in our group) within 10-20 points, the decision about whether to stretch for that extra hut or try to snag that extra civ symbol card this turn and risk not having enough resources, or foregoing taking a farm this turn in preference of the card needed - all make for great real decisions.

3) Accessibility First off, this is not to be confused with simplicity. As outlined above, the decision tree is both real and complex - and often changes both from game to game and within in the game itself. No, to call Stone Age "simple" is not giving it enough credit. But it is also not complex for complexities sake. For me, it is virtually the perfect mix of strategy and complexity. Some games keep it simple (or random) to the point of making strategy and decisions either minimal or irrelevant. Other games are so "dense" or "heavy" that they become work and are also not very enjoyable to teach or play (yes, I am speaking of the game that starts with "A" and ends with "cola") - but that's a different review (argument?) Another aspect of accessibility is game duration. According to BGG it takes 60 minutes (our games usually last a hair longer - 75-90 depending on players). Stone Age and Puerto Rico are both in that nice 90 minute range, which for both me personally and many in our group seems to be the "duration sweet spot". Games like Agricola and Age of Discovery seem to drag a bit, checking in at two hours plus (Although I like AOD much better - again, different argument). Stone Age is a nice complete experience that doesn't drag or continue well on past the point of a winner determined.

4) Randomness Randomness can be a good thing in games - when used the correct way. IMHO, Stone Age uses randomness in a way that it works perfectly - that is, randomness that can be strongly mitigated through strategy and planning. Whether it's modifying die rolls with tools or using resources to choose civ cards that came out later - or even planning ahead and stockpiling lumber for those times when the civ cards you are looking for haven't come out yet - but you are prepared for when they do. Some just undoubtedly lost their minds when they read this, thinking ANY amount of randomness is bad. The reason I like randomness it twofold - one, it's realistic, as the Styx song decries, nothing ever goes as planned. That's the way life is (and it's thematic in the case of the game). Second, a degree of randomness forces one's strategies and pre-determined paths to victory to be reassessed as the game progresses, based on random events (some of opponents).

5) 3 Players There are many games that feel "forced" with 3 - or that end up being "2 on 1" - but not Stone Age. Stone Age plays almost as well with 3 as it does with 4. Four players is where Stone Age shines in all it's glory - but with 3 it is still an incredibly good game. Two players is not really quite as good as 3. The limitations are a bit forced, and the experience isn't quite the same. If the game is 100% with 4, and maybe 95% with 3, it's 75-80% with 2. Not unplayable, but there are better 2 player games.

6) Replayability Because of the points above - specifically about randomness and as a result, decisions changing from game to game and not being able to have a "go to" strategy - the game is very repayable, even within a group. The ability to play it with it's ideal number of 4 - as well as only 3, it fits well in many situations. I haven't tried it with the expansion that allows for more - but that seems well received as well. A games that plays almost as well with 3, 4 or 5 is not always easy to find.

In summary, Stone Age is an excellent game - and my favorite worker placement game (although Age of Discovery is a fairly close 2nd in the genre). The only thing that really keeps it from being a 10 in my scale is that it is not quite as good with 3 as it is with four - and two feels very forced. But as a 3 or 4 I am always willing to play and always want to.

Yabbba Dabba Dooooooooooooooooooooo!!!
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David B
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I actually like it best with 2. I like being able to block a resource area with a single worker. Also with 2, you have more control over the strategic path you choose to take. The 4 player game is a bit more chaotic. Also, at 2 players, collecting green civ cards is a more viable strategy. At higher player counts it is almost impossible to collect enough for it to be worthwhile. Great game at all counts, but I really believe it excels as a 2 player game.
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alan beaumont
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Minority retort
pfctsqr wrote:
....at 2 players, collecting green civ cards is a more viable strategy. At higher player counts it is almost impossible to collect enough for it to be worthwhile.
Well, if 2 of the players think that way the strategy is viable again!
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zombie homer
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Great post! thumbsup

Me and my group favors light games and usually avoid worker placement games.
Stone Age, like u said, is accessible with its nice theme, the multiple paths to victory and the attempts to mitigate the randomness, all works great for me.

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Sajaki
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This game has -as of today (our first play)- made me very happy. I have been hunting for a while now for a game that appeals to my non-gamer wife, and also satisfies my yearning for a reasonably involving thematic boardgame.
Fluent with the rules after only one play, plenty of variation to keep us entertained and, as allotment holders, love the theme!

Apologies for gushing, but after a few failed starts, this one has nailed it for us for a while! All that's left is to look for others of this ilk now.....

Yabba dabba dooo indeedio.
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Greg Gresik
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pfctsqr wrote:
I actually like it best with 2. I like being able to block a resource area with a single worker. Also with 2, you have more control over the strategic path you choose to take. The 4 player game is a bit more chaotic. Also, at 2 players, collecting green civ cards is a more viable strategy. At higher player counts it is almost impossible to collect enough for it to be worthwhile. Great game at all counts, but I really believe it excels as a 2 player game.


I wanted to come back to this initial review after a few more plays with 2 player. Honestly, I will probably only play it with 2 again if someone is fairly insistent. I simply find several aspects of the game to be very "unsatisfying" with 2:

1) Unbalanced. The end game scoring is simply way to volatile with 2 players. Tools (and their multipliers) as well as Civ card sets are too over-powered in 2 player games. Huts are virtually meaningless (and their multipliers) as are farm multipliers. This basically cuts the paths to victory in half (at least) - and really reduces the fun of the game for me.

2) Too easy to "double-block". Because it is so easy to block someone out of a resource, it is a fairly simple process to lock them out of a hut - or one of the resources needed for it, with a single worker. And because placing a worker on a hut, then a resource is two separate actions, it's possible for a player to be locked out indefinitely. Incidentally, this can also be done to prevent game-end. This also further weakens the value of huts as per #1 above.

I realize some people might like this highly contentious version - but it is not nearly the same experience as it is with 3 players or 4. Much fewer paths to victory, far too easy to block an opponent and delay the end of the game makes for a much less interesting game, imho. There are far better two player games than this one. With 3 or 4, it is a great game - with 2, it's just not that enjoyable.
 
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Alex Drazen
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Quote:
2) Too easy to "double-block". Because it is so easy to block someone out of a resource, it is a fairly simple process to lock them out of a hut - or one of the resources needed for it, with a single worker. And because placing a worker on a hut, then a resource is two separate actions, it's possible for a player to be locked out indefinitely. Incidentally, this can also be done to prevent game-end. This also further weakens the value of huts as per #1 above


If you're being double blocked, you can usually pick up plenty of points by doing something else. I find it more effective to block for one round and force the other player to commit when they have First Player - then they sacrifice initiative to do a specific thing.

A bigger flaw might be how incredibly dangerous hut buying is if you are not First Player in the next round. If you flip a 1-7 hut, that can be as high as an 84 point swing in favor of your opponent, if they happen to be sitting on a pile of gold.

I am not so sure farms are unimportant. Sure, in my two player games we are at 7-10 farms, but landing both 2x Agriculture cards is a huge point swing. Remember, it's not just the points you get, it's the points you deny your rival -- and in 2P, it's a zero-sum game.

 
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Greg Gresik
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alexdrazen wrote:
Quote:
2) Too easy to "double-block". Because it is so easy to block someone out of a resource, it is a fairly simple process to lock them out of a hut - or one of the resources needed for it, with a single worker. And because placing a worker on a hut, then a resource is two separate actions, it's possible for a player to be locked out indefinitely. Incidentally, this can also be done to prevent game-end. This also further weakens the value of huts as per #1 above


If you're being double blocked, you can usually pick up plenty of points by doing something else. I find it more effective to block for one round and force the other player to commit when they have First Player - then they sacrifice initiative to do a specific thing.

A bigger flaw might be how incredibly dangerous hut buying is if you are not First Player in the next round. If you flip a 1-7 hut, that can be as high as an 84 point swing in favor of your opponent, if they happen to be sitting on a pile of gold.

I am not so sure farms are unimportant. Sure, in my two player games we are at 7-10 farms, but landing both 2x Agriculture cards is a huge point swing. Remember, it's not just the points you get, it's the points you deny your rival -- and in 2P, it's a zero-sum game.



Oh, I absolutely agree with what you are saying about point denial - and in some ways, that's my point. Point denial isn't really a focus in 3 or 4 player. It can be game-altering in 2 player though - so that changes the game in many ways. The game is no longer about doing what's best for your tribe and maximizing your turn as much as it is trying to "minimize" your opponent. Sure, you can try to do both (or simply try to max your own) - but if the other player is blocking and manipulating huts, etc., than you will almost definitely lose. It's just not the same type of game with 2 as opposed to 3 or 4.
 
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Alex Drazen
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Nikoms wrote:
Oh, I absolutely agree with what you are saying about point denial - and in some ways, that's my point. Point denial isn't really a focus in 3 or 4 player. It can be game-altering in 2 player though - so that changes the game in many ways. The game is no longer about doing what's best for your tribe and maximizing your turn as much as it is trying to "minimize" your opponent. Sure, you can try to do both (or simply try to max your own) - but if the other player is blocking and manipulating huts, etc., than you will almost definitely lose. It's just not the same type of game with 2 as opposed to 3 or 4.


There are situations in multi-player when point denial is appropriate, or even space denial. I've been known to steal breeding against a starvation player to slow them down. I lost a tournament game due to a potpourri card: a starvation player took a tool (worth 2 to him) because the 2x farm scored him no points. However, the player with a farm bonus took a farm (worth 6 to her). She had no tool bonus, yet won the game on this. His absolute gain was 2 but his relative gain was -4.

I almost always will throw one wood into a 1-7 hit in multi-player as point denial. It isn't a direct zero sum game, but you don't want to be giving 20 and 40 point swings to any opponent. Simply building your own tribe is not the most effective strategy. You can't be all denial all the time, even in 2p, but you need to block the outsized bonuses (wild huts, 2x and 3x bonuses, sometimes even grab the big food cards). Otherwise a good player can always outpace pure engine building, either with denial, a better engine, or game acceleration by drilling a hut pile.
 
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