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Subject: So Intriguing, Even a Caveman Can Do It rss

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Jason Rider
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Score: 7.5/ 10

My experience with Rio Grande Games has been a roller coaster ride of sorts these past few months. Beginning with games like Cape Horn and Caribbean, I had been convinced that theirs was a catalog of intermediate strategy-based games with detailed boards and quality components. Then I made the mistake of purchasing their Dragon Riders: a game so abysmal that it shook my confidence in the entire company. Still, a rash of positive reviews for Stone Age piqued my curiosity so I went ahead and tossed it into my virtual shopping cart in a recent massive order. Now that I’ve got a few sessions under my belt, I can report honestly that it exceeded expectations on its own while redeeming Rio Grande’s reputation.

Written by Michael Tummelhofer and produced by the German company Hans Im Gluck, Stone Age is the latest in a long line of board games imported to North America from Europe by Rio Grande. The game boasts such stats as a 2-4 player limit, age 10+ learning curve, and an average game time of 60-90 minutes. The learning curve may actually appear a bit steeper than the average ten-year-old’s faculties initially but once the mechanics and systematic nature of the game are understood, it’s nothing that an 8-10 year old couldn’t pick up on.

The rules span a full color 8-page rulebook with concise examples scattered throughout and while the information contained within can be a bit intimidating the first time through, the game really does a nice job of breaking up the player’s options into simple, logical steps. About the most difficult section of the rules to grasp early on is the scoring system but since that doesn’t come into the equation until the very end of the game, it’s probably wise to simply ignore this section until the time comes to put it into action. After even a single time through, the method of determining the game’s final winner becomes quite intuitive.

The game play, at its core, is resource management set in the realm of early civilization. Rounds are broken down so that each player gets a chance to place the figures in his group (ranging from 5 to 10) on the board then goes through and performs all of the resulting actions each location represents. In other words, one turn isn’t complete until the player performs the tasks of all of his civilization (in this case represented by small wooden humanoids).

The tasks involve everything from hunting for food, visiting the shop for a new tool, gathering natural resources (wood, brick, stone, and gold), to purchasing buildings that count for points on the outer scoring ring.

One of the most useful features of the game is that as each player performs the task of his figure, the figure is taken from the board and set aside until the player’s next turn. This is a very intuitive means of organizing what could potentially be an overload of decision-making. Better still is the fact that the player decides in which order he wants to tackle these tasks so it’s possible to say, try and earn resources early in one’s turn in the hopes of stocking up while waiting until last to spend.

Pacing is pretty steady once the players get the hang of the system. Each player takes their full turn then it comes time to feed the hungry mouths that are your human resources. This is where hunting or tending the field during the allocating of your workers suddenly comes into play as each person in your group requires one unit of sustenance. If you fall short, prepare to give away resources you’ve collected in exchange for chow. If you don’t have any timber, bricks, stone, or gold to trade, it’s backward you go on the outer score ring. Ouch!

I imagine it must pain Mr. Tummelhofer to hear of such comparisons, but the game is remarkably similar both physically and structurally to Fantasy Flight’s Kingsburg game. Sure there are enough differences to make one worth purchasing even if the other is already in your collection, but the similarities are definitely too numerous to be sheer coincidence. Normally this might draw complaint from your grumpy reviewer except that, and even I am amazed to say it, Stone Age may succeed in one major area over Kingsburg and that is in the scoring. While both games use a numeric outer ring and wooden chit marker to determine the winner, Stone Age integrates an almost Reiner Knizia style mathematical calculation to determine the victor. This is a most welcomed dynamic as it keeps the player from simply performing those activities involved in advancing spaces on the outer ring (a tactic I’ve been guilty of in many a heated Kingsburg session). Stone Age brilliantly makes it so that participating in the rigors of daily life as it was some 200,000 years ago is an integral part of overall success.

In all, the game is pretty darn spectacular. My only complaint comes in the form of the included dice cup, which appears to have been authentically stitched from pigskin or some other organic material. While impressive to behold, the item may be a bit too authentic as in quite foul smelling. However, it really isn’t even necessary for play so the solution is as simple as leaving it in the box. And speaking of the box, extra props go out to Rio Grande for including a nice cardboard divider and extra zip-lock storage bags for neat storage of all of the game’s well-built pieces and bits. If only other companies realized how helpful this practice is!

I would recommend Stone Age highly to most any gamer from casual to hardcore. It’s quite addicting, well developed, and just a rewarding experience through and through.
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Randall Bart
United States
Winnetka
California
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Baseball been bery bery good to me
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JasonRider wrote:
Written by Michael Tummelhofer

FYI, Tummelhofer does not exist. The name is a portmanteau of
Bernd Brunnhofer, Jay Tummelson, and Michael Bruinsma. Brunhofer is the actual designer, the others had some developer involvement.
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Jason Rider
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Very interesting, Randall, thanks for the heads up.
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Sarah Allen
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This game is one of my favourites too for a light to mid weight session.

The only downside can be the dice roll. I have had games where a string of appalling rolls early on have crippled me and that is utterly demoralising. However, (1) with two players we find the play-time is more like 45 minutes; short enough that bad rolls mean you can just sigh and wait for the next game to come around, and (2) the option of upgrading your tools means you always had the option to mitigate the rolling.

This game has probably my favourite board in my collection. The detail is glorious while the pieces still show up well on it. They player boards are a neat way of organising your bits and are similarly detailed.
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Jason Rider
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Sarah,

Oh man, I totally agree! The random nature of the rolling element can totally destroy even the best laid strategies. Thank goodness for the tool icons!

If you really enjoy this one, I would recommend giving Kingsburg a try. They are quite similar in many regards but the 'Burg is much more balanced (and puts far less emphasis on dice rolls).

Thanks for the feedback!
 
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Dan
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Wow, really? I really enjoy Stone Age, (considering its medium weight) but found that Kingsburg seemed to play out the same way every time...

I also didn't see Kingsburg as that similar. I thought Pillars of the Earth was far more similar.

Good review, with some interesting food for thought. Thanks!
 
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