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Subject: The Gamer Nerd Reviews: Stone Age rss

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Nicolas Shayko
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To read the full review with images, visit The Gamer Nerd at: http://www.thegamernerd.com/reviews/stone-age/

Stone Age is a worker placement game for 2–4 players and is often described as the entry level game to the worker placement genre. The game is a pure Eurogame, and the theme is prehistoric resource collecting. Players send workers out to get resources and then spend those resources in a number of ways to earn points.

The Components

Stone Age is produced by Z-man Games and the game just looks like a family Eurogame, which it is. The board is designed very well, with places to put all of the resources and little circles to place workers. The cards that can be bought are of a high quality and are easy to shuffle. The huts that are used to get straight victory points are made of good thick cardstock. The workers come in 4 colors and work well. The player boards give all the information needed and are simple. One gripe with them is that they only have five spaces for huts, and it is very common to get more than five huts, which must then be kept off that board. The food and tool tokens are of nice thick cardboard too, though not as thick as the huts, which makes sense.

The dice in the game have a nice off-white bone-like color. Included is a very cool dice cup to roll the dice. The worst component in my mind is the first player marker, which has a cool image, but the marker has feet that easily fall off, which, as you could imagine, make it very hard to stand. Thus, when I play the game, we don’t even use the feet.

As with many Eurogames, the components are much less important than the mechanics. Still, having quality components is a huge plus and Stone Age has solid components.

The Gameplay

Stone Age is a very simple game to teach and is considered one of the simplest worker placement games because there are really only two ways to score points: getting huts and cards. The game allows 2–4 players but I will describe how the rules play with 4 players, as there are minor changes with fewer players. Each turn consists of two phases. In the first phase, players place their workers in turn order. Players are allowed to place as many workers on one area as are legal to play and have. Once a player places workers in an area, he cannot add more of his workers to that same area. Let me describe the areas here.

The Hut (aka “Baby Maker”): Players start with 5 workers each. To get another, players must use the hut by placing 2 of their workers on the hut. When actions are resolved, a new worker is created that will be used for the remainder of the game.

Field: Place a worker, and move up one space on the field track; the field track is free and automatically generates food every turn. 1 food per worker is needed at the end of every turn to feed. If it is not done, the player loses 10 victory points.

Tool Maker: Place a worker here and get a tool which allows players to increase the value of future die rolls.

Those 3 specialty spaces can only be used once per turn. The resource spaces can be used by up to 7 workers total. There are four resources: Wood, Brick, Stone, and Gold. Players roll a die for each worker at each resource space individually and divide by a certain number: how many of a given resource a player gets. For example, the number divided by for wood is 3. So if a player places 3 workers on the wood gathering space, the player will end up rolling 3 dice, adding up the total and dividing by 3, rounding down. This is the same way it is done for all four resources, except the divisor number is different: 3 for wood, 4 for brick, 5 for stone, and 6 for gold. Thus gold is the most valuable resource and wood is least valuable.

There is also a space to gather food, which is rolled the same way as the resources, except the divisor is 2. There is no limit to the number of workers who can go on the food space.

There are also spaces to pick up huts and cards. Huts allow you to trade goods for victory points directly. Many of the huts take 3 exact resources but not all of them. Cards cost resources and usually give some end game points on the bottom half and some immediate benefit on the top half. So cards have symbols on the bottom of them and, the more you collect, the more victory points are added to your score at the end of the game. Others give variable points based upon something else done in the game. For example: 3 points per hut acquired.

Players place the workers, take them back, and take the actions associated with them. Then they feed their people. Huts acquired are filled in with new huts and cards bought have their spaces filled in. The first player marker moves around the table and the process is repeated until 1 of 2 end game triggers occur. The game ends when either a hut or a card cannot be replaced when it ought to be at the end of the turn.

The Strategy

Most of my playing of Stone Age is two player with my wife. After multiple plays, we are slowing down the frequency of play since getting cards seems to be superior to getting huts generally. As we play the game more, we see more and more that it was clearly designed for four and is unbalanced for two.

No matter how many people you play with, like with so many worker placement games, getting more workers is a critical early play. More workers in more actions equals more flexibility. Each worker costs 1 food more and, if you think about that, the average die roll on a six-sided die is 3.5, 1 food cost 2 on a die, so you are getting 1.5 pips of a die roll out of each new worker. Now the use of the baby maker space does go down as the game goes on because the opportunity cost paid for two workers there as opposed to the extra action that worker provides.

An often talked about strategy is “starving your people.” This strategy can be viable as the cost for not feeding your people is -10 victory points. I tend to do best when I starve my people at a few opportunistic times. Like a lot of Eurogames, doing what the other person isn’t doing is a good strategy. Going for fields or tools and not a little bit of each generally is better than being even. Why? Because the cards give end game victory points with a multiplier effect. An effective strategy is to pair up a special space with one type of end game bonus point. For example, trying to acquire both the cards that give bonus for fields on top of getting fields can work well.

My Thoughts

Stone Age is still, in my mind, the go-to game to introduce someone to the worker placement mechanic. It is clearly better than the other often cited introductory worker placement game, Lords of Waterdeep. It can really be enjoyed by both the experienced gamer and new gamer alike. Stone Age has some flaws, and it isn’t the best game in worker placement. When my wife and I received gift cards to buy games from our friends as wedding gifts, it was easy for us to add Stone Age to our collection. It is a modern classic that should be tried by everyone who even has an interest in gaming. If you like it and want to play a more complex worker placement game, let me introduce you to Uwe Rosenburg, the creator of my favorite game, Agricola.

www.thegamernerd.com
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David B
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I have played hundreds of two player games on BGA of Stone Age and do not agree it is imbalanced at that player count at all. In fact, I think it is best at that count. For instance, if someone is playing the starvation strategy, you do not have to rely on the cooperation of other players to slow it down. Since you can increase the size of your tribe at the same rate, you can counter it yourself. Also, grabbing cards alone does not work. I have seen it lose too many times. Timing when to slow down your ability upgrades on the free spots is probably a more crucial decision. There is less chaos at the 2 player count and you have more control at pacing the end game triggers. From my experience, the balance between tactics and strategy shifts more towards strategy at 2 players and more towards tactics at 4 players. I enjoy the game at higher counts, but it is more of a social thing for me. It is much more competitive when it's just me and one other opponent.
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Fernando Robert Yu
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pfctsqr wrote:
I have played hundreds of two player games on BGA of Stone Age and do not agree it is imbalanced at that player count at all. In fact, I think it is best at that count. For instance, if someone is playing the starvation strategy, you do not have to rely on the cooperation of other players to slow it down. Since you can increase the size of your tribe at the same rate, you can counter it yourself. Also, grabbing cards alone does not work. I have seen it lose too many times. Timing when to slow down your ability upgrades on the free spots is probably a more crucial decision. There is less chaos at the 2 player count and you have more control at pacing the end game triggers. From my experience, the balance between tactics and strategy shifts more towards strategy at 2 players and more towards tactics at 4 players. I enjoy the game at higher counts, but it is more of a social thing for me. It is much more competitive when it's just me and one other opponent.


The fact that only 1 player is allowed to place workers in a resource spot in a 2P game does make the game cutthroat indeed. I think it scales well.
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Max Jamelli
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freddieyu wrote:
pfctsqr wrote:
I have played hundreds of two player games on BGA of Stone Age and do not agree it is imbalanced at that player count at all. In fact, I think it is best at that count. For instance, if someone is playing the starvation strategy, you do not have to rely on the cooperation of other players to slow it down. Since you can increase the size of your tribe at the same rate, you can counter it yourself. Also, grabbing cards alone does not work. I have seen it lose too many times. Timing when to slow down your ability upgrades on the free spots is probably a more crucial decision. There is less chaos at the 2 player count and you have more control at pacing the end game triggers. From my experience, the balance between tactics and strategy shifts more towards strategy at 2 players and more towards tactics at 4 players. I enjoy the game at higher counts, but it is more of a social thing for me. It is much more competitive when it's just me and one other opponent.


The fact that only 1 player is allowed to place workers in a resource spot in a 2P game does make the game cutthroat indeed. I think it scales well.


agreed. I really only like Stone Age with 2.
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Alex Drazen
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I'll concur -- Stone Age has almost a chess-like feel with 2 players (but less complicated than chess). Everything you do is designed to counter your opponent's moves. It's all about timing -- when do you grab powers, and when do you just grab lots of wood (to get juicy cards)?

Against my significant other, we often get into blocking -- huts become hard to buy because unless you have the resources, the other person might block the resource you need.
 
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Craig Liken
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Good review, although I am not sure that increasing your workers is as critical as you say. I think the game offers more paths than that - I have won plenty of games by staying with 5 for quite a few rounds, and only increasing in the later stages.

Also I was interested in your reasons for why Stone Age is superior as an introductory worker-placement to Lords of Waterdeep. You said that but gave no reasons. Not saying I disagree, but just wondering on your reasoning. In some ways Lords is simpler in terms of beginning players getting what they need to do to do well in the game. The large end game scoring of the cards in Stone Age can be a bit of a surprise for new players.
 
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Nicolas Shayko
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Thanks to all for their comments. Every time I criticize a game for not being optimal for two, some people always counter say there is less chaos, thus more control and thus more strategic and in their eyes a better game. I don't believe that having all cards is critical, in fact completely ignoring huts in a two player game and you probably will lose. I would say though that getting cards is more important than huts, you need to pick at least two end game cards and focus around that. Also, getting the unique symbols is not as viable as in a 4 player game because it usually ends up with the person not focusing on the symbols still getting a significant number.

In terms of Stone Age vs Lords of Waterdeep. I think Waterdeep is a decent game but way overrated. What I don't like is two things. #1- The sending people on mandatory quest. This is mean and against the nature of Eurogames what I would want to introduce to a new player. Also #2 is that people claim LoW is thematic. That claim is a total joke. The game uses cubes of different colors. The theme could really be anything. I don't like the pasted on theme and it annoys me how people said the theme is great.
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