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Subject: Yet another light worker placement game, or something more? rss

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Jeff Forbes

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What is Stone Age, exactly?

Stone Age is a worker placement game, where your tribe (of 5) cavemen collect goods, make farms, reproduce, make tools, all in order to build huts or earn civilization cards, which provide points straight up, points based on other things you have collected, and, well, that's about it!


Is the theme effective?

Stone Age is an effective abstraction. While the theme is no deeper than that of The Pillars of the Earth, it is significantly more effective. I don't feel like I'm sending cavemen out to gather wood, but it's logical, most of the time. It becomes more abstract when considering the civilization cards, and the dice bar in particular - but that doesn't particularly matter now, does it? The resources are obviously just means to an end - scoring points - it is very similar to Pillars of the Earth in that regard. They do not perform different functions, a la Agricola or Caylus, and the buildings simply give you VPs. For a Euro, Stone Age provides a good level of theme.


Are the rules easy to teach?

They are fairly simple, but are not without a few minor hangup spots. No gamer will have trouble with the rules, and attentive 10+ year old children should have no major problems with them. The basics of the game include the concepts of a start player, followed by taking turns placing workers or groups of workers, then activating them turn by turn. The few spots that might confuse inexperienced gamers include:

- Inconsistent number of different players allowed on gathering locations when there are different numbers of players

- Scoring of civilization cards - duplicates count towards new sets, and endgame scoring is a slight chore, perhaps on par with Carcassonne

- Your cavemen eat all available food, but using resources to avoid the -10 point penalty is entirely optional.

All in all, the game is very low on confusing, confounding, and ambiguous rules. The way the game is designed, there is little space for ambiguity about various situations.


How does it play?

Stone Age is a somewhat silly, fun game that has a light hearted side. From the smelly dice cup action, to the wonderfully designed board, everything comes together to help make the game more than what it is at its core.

Turns are fairly quick. A modest decision tree helps keep APers at bay, but leaves enough viable options that there is not always one totally obvious path. For its target audience, Stone Age is a game that can be played fairly well by the gut. The moderate randomness of the dice gives everyone the occasional lucky or bad roll, and the gamer of deeper knowledge will see that sometimes it's worth it to take a risk, and will probably also notice when other players make sub-par decisions (and get lucky with them).

The balance of luck and skill in Stone Age is good. It balances out player quality differences slightly, but there's enough dice rolling, and mitigation tools (ha ha, get it?) that help keep everyone in the game.

I don't think the game is particularly interesting. A downside of this style of game is that it rarely poses unusual situations that are worth serious consideration. More competitive players will factor in what things are worth to other players, and might occasionally block a particularly fantastic card or building so someone else might not be able to utilize it, but this will always open up another means of scoring some points - probably just not as good.

A competitive player playing Stone Age could slow the game to a relative halt. In a more "serious" game of Stone Age, it can take a little while to figure out how many points each option is worth for all of the other players. A player like this could potentially ruin the game for some groups, but is not likely to be an issue in most. There are few enough cards that are obviously similar - the only players that will have serious issues deciding what to do in Stone Age are likely to have the same issues in every other game they play, too.


Does it have some strategic depth?

Yes, it has a little bit of strategic depth. Said depth, for most of the cards, involved looking at how many pips the item costs you, and how many points you receive in return. Buildings always give you 1:1, and the civ cards can give you a better or worse deal. But there's a level of uncertainty to the civ cards that is enough to keep them from being a totally obvious choice, and buying one building card will result in the game ending quicker. So there are a couple of levels to the strategy that add a little bit of depth. There is some uncertainty when the game will end in the earlier rounds, and you also need to balance the utilization of your cave-meeples collecting appropriate resources so you have flexibility with buildings that may pop up.

Long term planning is not necessary, however. If someone takes your best option, odds are your second best or third best options are still on the table, and are definitely worth picking up despite being less efficient.

The two player game has more strategy than the 3 and 4 player games, because you can block other people off of a resource area by yourself, and calculating the value of civ cards is easier with less people in play - you can easily assume that you will be able to either take a farm, tool, or baby once each round, so if you have a bunch of guys on your civ cards that give you points for that, then you know what you can expect in terms of points earned from them. With more players, there is still indirect blocking going on with people taking the civ cards and buildings quicker, but the race for resources is far less tight, particularly in the 3 player game.

Lastly, there is a strategy involving starving your meeples for a cost of 10 points/turn, which works because the cost in points is less than the number of pips it takes to earn the amount of food that you need - but it isn't a slam dunk, as it has high upfront costs, and does not afford the player much flexibility in the early game. Then, when the late game approaches, other players will be choosing point giving options enough that you may not be able to come back from behind. It seems to me that the starvation strategy is higher risk, higher reward than the normal farms/tools strategy that people use.

I've won the game with 10 in my tribe. I've won it with 5. I've won it with farms for everyone, and just a few farms. I've won with a bunch of tools, and with only a few tools. I have also lost with all of the above, too.

Don't go in expecting Le Havre - it isn't. Stone Age is fairly light game at its core. It has a very slight push your luck element with using unusual numbers of cave-meeples to obtain higher value resources. It generally has easily calcuable point values where you can see exactly what your return is, or can roughly estimate your expected return on items with some uncertainty. This makes it so there are generally a couple obvious standout choices, but sometimes it is not totally clear what is better. Furthermore the management of your meeples requires some thought, particularly in 2 player games where blocking is a legitimate option.

I've probably played Stone Age 50-75 times, and have steadily (and slowly) improved as a player. While point scoring is easily calcuable, there are other elements to the game that take a while to gain a good feel for. The learning curve is shallow, however. After 3-5 games, you will be able to be competitive against significantly more experienced players and occasionally beat them. The learning curve continues, but is fairly shallow.


Does it have some specific issues that may be a turn-off to some people?

Yes. It has moderately strong right player binding. If a weak player is sitting to your right, it can safely be assumed that they are going to make significantly less than optimal decisions. This gives you several advantages: First, they are less likely to take the best option available for them - and what is best for them *may* be best for you, too. Second, they are also less likely to block you for the sake of blocking you. But that's about it. You can win with a good player to your right, who has a mediocre player on their right, but it involves focusing more on things that they are not focusing on, so that their actions will affect you less. But the bottom line is that between the variability from dice that you use, to the chaos on the board where there are a limited number of point-earning options, you will likely have plenty of chances to at least keep the game interesting.

Stone Age can run a little bit long in person with four players for what it is - perhaps 90 minutes or so. With 2 players, it will run faster, because there are fewer people with fewer placement options.

Endgame scoring can be misleading as it is often the majority of points scored. This doesn't bother most people, but I have seen some that are turned off by this notion.


Are there good implementations online?

Yes! There are two very good ones. There is a turn by turn play-by-web version available on Yucata.de, which is easily the best implementation of the game online. The biggest downside to this version is that turns are relatively short, so it can take quite a while to play one game. Brettspielwelt also has it, and it is a good implementation. It includes ridiculous sounds (as usual), and the games play very quickly. I don't think the implementation is quite as good as it doesn't make it totally obvious where you can put your meeples, and you need to click fairly quickly when adding your meeples to a resource collection area, lest your turn suddenly end before you have added enough meeples. If you want to learn the game online, Yucata's obvious placement and slower pace makes it a superior learning tool.


So - is Stone Age any good?

Yes! Stone Age is a good game - when you consider what it is, and who will have fun playing it. It is an introductory level worker placement and resource management game, and you can not expect it to have the depth of more advanced games in the style. It has enough room for skill that a superior player will generally beat an inferior player, but enough luck that everyone who has played the game a few times will have a shot at winning the game. It is not going to be a good fit in everyone's collection, but Stone Age's title as the #3 "Family game" is well deserved.


Who is Stone Age good for?

- Families
- Gaming groups that like silly, boisterous games with minimal conflict
- Gaming groups that enjoy playing more short games over fewer long games
- People who don't care if there is a shiny veneer over a relatively -simple game
- Gamers that like a bit of depth to their games, but also want something that a broad range of people can enjoy
- People that like generally straightforward scoring
- People looking for games that can be played less seriously, and still be enjoyable

Who is Stone Age not good for?

- People perturbed by right-player binding
- Those who desire more opaqueness in strategy
- People who don't like the notion of different resources being the same, and the mechanisms of the game simply involve directly turning the resources in to VPs
- Heavy gamers that want to play something that will make them want to rip their hair out
- People who desire a lot of tension in their games
- People who prefer less of an endgame component to scoring

The bottom line.

Stone Age is a light, but not trivial game, best enjoyed by players looking for a relatively easy to learn and teach game that need a flexible game for playing with different kinds of people. It works well for the whole range of people it will play (2-4), but is significantly more competitive with 2, and significantly more chaotic with 4 players. There's enough in Stone Age to appease a serious gamer for a little while, plenty of strategy for a family level game, and the fun quotient is fairly high. While more serious gamers may find that the game is ultimately lacking in strategic depth, and people who desire a truly deep theme are likely to be dissapointed, not all games can please all people. I am not exactly Stone Age's target player, and am a fairly strict rater (Average = 5.86, 6 and 7 are most common scores), and I have Stone Age at a solid 7.
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James
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Man is most nearly himself when he achieves...
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We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.
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I find this to be a terrific, insightful review of the gameplay of Stone Age; something that is of interest to all but difficult to express. It's made me think about my past sessions of the game and anticipate more. Thanks for this, Jeff.

P.S. It has helped me cope with the sadness of a Portnoy-less Dream Theater!
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Chris Stanton
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A great little review.
Covers everything, tells it as it is without any personal bias getting in the way.

More of the same please
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tim Tim TIm TIM TIMMY!!
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You can play it at

www.boardgamearena.com

It is the best online board game site I have found, very friendly people, easy to use, really worth checking out
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Hendal wrote:
You can play it at

www.boardgamearena.com

It is the best online board game site I have found, very friendly people, easy to use, really worth checking out


Yucata? 4x the games, 4x the fun!
 
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Jason Hinchliffe
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Great review. You hit on what I care about rather than exhaustive rules explanations. Good show.
 
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Tim Schmitt
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Perhaps I should know this already - but if Stone Age is "the #3 Family game", what are #1 & #2?
 
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Michel van Peenen
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Whangdoodle wrote:
Perhaps I should know this already - but if Stone Age is "the #3 Family game", what are #1 & #2?


At this moment #1 and #2 are 7 Wonders and Crokinole (see the link below.)
Family Games by Rank

Board game geek has divided the games in different subsets, like Family games, abstract games, Stratigy Games and so on.
When you are on the main page you should see those big blue buttons on top with these categories.
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Tim Schmitt
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Oh right - I tend to forget about those game categories. Thanks.
 
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