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Subject: We didn’t like Stone Age: Here’s why rss

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Vivienne Raper
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Stone Age is much loved on BGG. It’s among the top 50 strategy and family games, and was recommended in threads five times in the last four days alone.

This review aims to explain why Stone Age didn’t work for us and could receive a rocky reception at your gaming group. We’ve played the game thrice two-player and my husband played a couple of four-player games online on Board Game Arena.



For anyone unfamiliar with the game, I’ll give you a quick summary. Stone Age is a worker placement game set in prehistoric times. Players take it in turns to place cave meeples (ceeples?) onto a board to select actions, such as hunting, breeding new ceeples at the “hut of lurve” or collecting resources like wood. The amount of resources ceeples can collect is determined by rolling dice. Players win by getting the most victory points (VP) for building simple huts, developing tools and building ‘civilisation’ like boats.

Stone Age is component porntastic so it’s a shame that we didn’t like it. The game comes with a colourful board, wooden ceeples, resources in the shape of bricks and gold bars, wooden dice and even a leather dice cup.


(Obligatory component porn shot)

There’s three reasons why the game wasn’t fun for us: repetition; hidden scoring; and thematically bare ‘matheable’ mechanics.

Let’s talk about repetition. Good games often create a feeling of progress. Take Agricola where can physically see your farm growing on the player board. As the game progresses, more actions become available and there’s less time between each harvest.


(yep, it's an Agricola farm and it's doing farmy stuff)

Stone Age felt repetitive by comparison. The game doesn’t speed up, the same number of actions remain available, and the hunting, wood collection, etc. I mentioned earlier are pretty abstract. I had no sense of growing a struggling prehistoric tribe.

What’s more, there’s no visual depiction of how well you’re building your civilisation. ‘Civilisation’ cards are a major source of VPs, but you hide them face down on your player board until the end of the game. This hidden scoring also prevented me seeing how other player got more or less VPs.



(ceeples building their civilisation by sitting on cards)

I could keep a mental tally of how many civilisation VPs I had, which brings me to the third, and biggest, problem I had with Stone Age. The game felt thematically bare and simply a maths-fest. The four resources – wood, stone, brick and gold – behave identically in-game. The only difference between them is their cost in dice pips. The civilisation cards can be bought with any resource. The best option is to usually to buy them with wood - the cheapest resource available.

What’s more, the dice pips used to buy resources translate directly into VPs. You can work this out by looking at the huts you can buy. The hut shown in the picture gives 13 VPs and costs two brick and one stone to build. With a bit of maths, you can calculate that food is worth 2 VP, wood 3VP, brick 4VP, stone 5VP and gold 6VP. That’s 5 + 4 + 4 = 13.



(hut picture. Apologies for the camera fail...)

I can use this information to math-out the cost-benefit of each hut and civilisation card. So a civilisation card that costs three resources (wood) and gives two food immediately costs 9 – 4 = 5VP and gives me a VP multiplier at the end of the game. For example, cards depicting shamen give you VPs at the end of the game for having more ceeples. If you have a card showing 3 shamen and you had bred 8 ceeples at the end of the game, you will get 3 x 8 = 24 points for collecting this card.

What you may gather is that winning Stone Age can be about brute-force calculating the civilisation cards and huts that will give you the most VPs at the end of the game. Compare this to other so-called ‘gateway’ games like Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne, which can be played without any maths.

Now, if you or your group enjoy doing lots of simple maths and maximising VPs, Stone Age may be a good buy or trade. However, I prefer worker placements where you achieve thematic goals like building farms (Agricola), a railway system (Ticket to Ride) or ships (Le Havre).
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Roger
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Interestingly I have played more than 40 games of Stone Age and never bothered doing math. I enjoy collecting resources to buy civilisation and hut cards whilst balancing food production and population level.

On the other hand, I could not play Agricola without having to do math calculation. I actually don;t play Agricola which I find dry and boring.

In Carcassonne it is useful to do some calculation, especially near the end of the game when scoring farms can make a difference. Likewise in Ticket to Ride where the longest route or the number of routes can also make a difference.

Maybe you have approach Stone Age form a bad angle?

~J
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Björn Fink
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Uhm...well...tell me a Euro that is not based on math...whistle
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Gerald Rüscher
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I really like Stone Age but what I even like more are well thought out, negative(!) reviews because these are the pearls in the BGG database. One good, sceptical opinion is much more helpful than 101 enthusiastic fanboy reviews. Therefore: Well done thumbsup

Like I said: I like Stone Age but I do also see your points. It is indeed thematically weak and you surely need to do your math homework if you want to win it. Maybe you should take a look at Alien Frontiers which is also a resource-collecting dice fest but much more thematic and with less calculation involved.
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Carsten Jorgensen
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I agree - too few negative reviews. That kind is needed too :-).

Though I do like Stone Age (but only one play so not much expirience). But the math thing is not nearly as bad or complicated as in other games. Powergrid for one - also tried that once and you almost need a calculator for that game (two players were taking a veryyy long time and I ended up only doing a rough calculation and hoping for the best). And I think many people like Stone Age exactly for that - you can relatively easy figure out what is best for you (makes it more accesable for families, I think). A bit more difficult to figure out when to block someone instead. It is also good that some part of the score is hidden, so you are not quite sure how many points the other players have. And so all play to the best of their abilities right to the end (I know a few who kind of gives up/lose interest in a game once they cannot win).

In Carcassonne - New World (which I know best) there are also quite a bit of math every time you draw a tile. Is it best to use the town part, the road or place a hunter (farmer in original Carcassonne, I think). And where? Or are you better of trying to "sabotage" one of your opponents plans?
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James Sitz
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I wholeheartedly agree. This is one of the most over-praised and over-recommended games on BGG. If this were the first game I played after Settlers and described as a "step up" I'd be pretty upset. Bland, bland, bland.
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that Matt
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If you're going to use nice big photos in your review, you've got to bust out the ImageID keyword original (or large).

[ImageID=310399 original] gives us:


...instead of the paltry:


That is all.
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Fernando Robert Yu
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Well, since you played Stone Age AFTER Agricola, I can see why you feel this way...it should have been the other way around..

I am also ambivalent about getting Stone Age, due to several reviews like these...and this lead me to get Dungeon Petz as the first eurogame that I have bought as it has a much stronger theme...and Theme is a greater pull for my family....we have played DP once and we got it (more or less, with beginning mistakes of course), and that may signal that we will be ready to go for games like Agricola more than Stone Age...
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Adrian Sperling
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veemonroe wrote:
Stone Age felt repetitive by comparison. The game doesn’t speed up, the same number of actions remain available, and the hunting, wood collection, etc. I mentioned earlier are pretty abstract. I had no sense of growing a struggling prehistoric tribe.

What’s more, there’s no visual depiction of how well you’re building your civilisation. ‘Civilisation’ cards are a major source of VPs, but you hide them face down on your player board until the end of the game. This hidden scoring also prevented me seeing how other player got more or less VPs.

I could keep a mental tally of how many civilisation VPs I had, which brings me to the third, and biggest, problem I had with Stone Age. The game felt thematically bare and simply a maths-fest. The four resources – wood, stone, brick and gold – behave identically in-game. The only difference between them is their cost in dice pips.


You know, I've never been able to understand exactly what it was about Stone Age that I didn't like. After playing it I could appreciate the design, the artwork was excellent, the dice mechanic was very interesting, but it just didn't sit well. Your review succinctly explained exactly what I didn't like about Stone Age. Well done, and thankyou.
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Peter Brahan
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Thank you for taking the time to do this well thought out review.

Stone Age is a game that I play a decent amount and enjoy quite a bit. However, I like it as a step into more advanced worker placement games like Agricola and even advanced role selection like Puerto Rico. As a step into those games, I think it is outstanding and really teaches the genre well.

However, the fact that 50% of the VPs come at the end is a bit frustrating to new players.

Again, thanks for the review!
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Stephen Sanders
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veemonroe wrote:
I could keep a mental tally of how many civilisation VPs I had, which brings me to the third, and biggest, problem I had with Stone Age. The game felt thematically bare and simply a maths-fest. The four resources – wood, stone, brick and gold – behave identically in-game.


Well, ok, you seem to overlook a lot of presentation here to say its bare of theme - I simply disagree with that. And yes, resource count is made fairly simple, because this is not a heavy game. But you have found the "meat" of this game is civilization VP's, which is not easy for the average gamer. So, if you need to play a game that is more challenging, stick to Agricola, Le Havre, Power Grid or the like, but appreciate what this game offers for the average gamer, of which there are plenty out there.
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Sean P
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I understand your review and that it won't work for your group, but it has worked very well for my family and group.

I would add that one of your points is not true, there is no "hidden" scoring if you pay attention. The civilization cards are face up when they are chosen. If you're too busy with your own stuff to watch who's taking what card then the 64 point surprise smack down at the end of the game is your own fault. The first couple of games we played the cards didn't move much until one of the players caught on to that strategy and 2 to 3 cards are taken per turn now to gain points and withhold them from others.

For us, the die rolling mechanic for resources is far more thematic and logical than most games.

This game works well for us in family situations, where everyone can play a little nice, like in Zooloretto, or it can be cutthroat when we play with the "real" game group.

I like your well written review however and I agree that more negative ones, especially for games in the top 50, need to be written.
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Chris Berger
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I won't go into which parts of your review I agree with and disagree with right now (and there are a few of each), but I will say that this is an example of a good negative review. Unlike tripe posted under a heading like "this is a good game if you're mentally handicapped".
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Matthew Mesina
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I like SA just fine, and better with the expansion- which does add more of a "progress / engine building" aspect to the game. (If marred by a horrid overlay board.) I do think the game is more thematic than you are giving it credit for, though. For example:

I Agricola, if I want to build fences, I have to get wood, similar to how you have to gather wood in SA to make most huts, but...

I Agricola, I go to get the wood from a cart that refills automatically, and alway yields the same amount. If someone goes to the cart before I do, even if it still contains the requisite azmount of wood, I am out of luck. In contrast, a game of SA finds me, as chief, sending tribesmen to the forest to gather wood. How much they are able to obtain is an unkonwn variable, and the amount they collect is usually directly proportionate to the number of tribesmen I put to the task. Other tribes can come to the forest an cut wood alongside my tribesmen, so long as the forest doesn't become too crowded.

I like both games just fine, but didn't really learn to love SA until the espansion. I do think the 'Gric is thematic, I just don't think it's fair to say that it is all theme and no mechanics or abstractions, especially in contrast to SA. All Euros emphasize mechanics over theme, but are usually better games for it.
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Vivienne Raper
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xbjoernx wrote:
Uhm...well...tell me a Euro that is not based on math...whistle


Well, in some euros, the theme is bonded so tightly to the mathematics that I haven't felt I needed to do the underlying maths, although I assume you could do calculations if you wanted.

I've only played Le Havre a couple of times (once on the board and a couple of times on the iPad) so can't comment about experienced play, but I only had to math-out VPs in the last round. The rest of the time, I was making 'business' decisions about what to produce. 

People think differently and some games can accommodate those differences better than others, I suspect.

Randor20 wrote:

Though I do like Stone Age (but only one play so not much expirience). But the math thing is not nearly as bad or complicated as in other games. Powergrid for one - also tried that once and you almost need a calculator for that game (two players were taking a veryyy long time and I ended up only doing a rough calculation and hoping for the best). And I think many people like Stone Age exactly for that - you can relatively easy figure out what is best for you (makes it more accesable for families, I think).


My husband and I notice this more than other groups, I suspect, because he can do calculator-level calculations in his head in real-time. I can't get away with rough calculations or he'll just thrash me. I can do the maths, but I don't find it 'fun'.

He doesn't enjoy Stone Age either because he thinks there are no interesting decisions: you can calculate the best civilisation card to the nearest point or so. Also, once you have a couple of tools, every move on the resource spaces is worth about 3.5 VPs because you can reduce the uncertainty on the dice. Of course, that doesn't stop someone blocking him

I know Power Grid is pretty infamous for needing loads of simple calculations. For this reason, I suspect I wouldn't enjoy it.

Randor20 wrote:

In Carcassonne - New World (which I know best) there are also quite a bit of math every time you draw a tile. Is it best to use the town part, the road or place a hunter (farmer in original Carcassonne, I think). And where? Or are you better of trying to "sabotage" one of your opponents plans?


My experience is that, in Carcassonne, the tiles are all visible so it's pretty painless to physically count them or estimate the value of a meeple by how big the city looks. The random tile draw also means it's harder to mathematically optimise moves in Carcassonne than Stone Age because you don't know if you can complete your x-point city or your y-point farm. Your opponent could, theoretically, block you for the rest of the game with a skilful tile placement. And there are so many different tiles in the bag that calculating the probability of getting the tile you want isn't especially useful. Mathing-out Carcassonne doesn't help you during every turn of the game. 

tumorous wrote:
If you're going to use nice big photos in your review, you've got to bust out the ImageID keyword original (or large). 
That is all.


Done, thanks. My first review so I didn't know these things...

Kaleljorson7 wrote:

I would add that one of your points is not true, there is no "hidden" scoring if you pay attention. The civilization cards are face up when they are chosen. If you're too busy with your own stuff to watch who's taking what card then the 64 point surprise smack down at the end of the game is your own fault.  


True, but it does mean you've got to remember the VP value of every player's cards. So more adding up and a memory mechanic... There's nothing wrong with adding up and memory, and I know from the numerous pub quizzes and trivia that some people love memory games but, I personally, find keeping track of different numbers is a big chore.
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Derek Thompson
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Eric Dodd
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Good review, well articulated as to what you don't like.

Stone Age works for me and gets requested a fair bit by my groups. I agree that you could 'math it hard', but it's one of those games where sticking with a strategy that I adapt to my turn position allows me to play it without doing calculations every time I place a meeple. Automobile is another mathy game that I play intuitively, and still do well at.

Some people think that there's only the obvious plays of Food Tech, Love Hut and Tool Tech if you are first. They will soon learn that you're better to see what cards and huts are available that fit your goods, positions and cards. Your 'hard maths' is soon affected by other people putting all 7 meeples in the wood, or taking the card or hut you were after. I find Stone Age provides enough strategy and tactics, plus a little luck with the dice rolls to be an entertaining game every time I play.
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Buddha Meeple
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Very good review - thanks!
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Nathan
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Interesting review. It is actually helpful as you say what you don't like and why. I enjoy the game, and have my own opinions, but when reading reviews they can be helpful regardless of whether the review is negative or positive.

Keep them coming - more on games I haven't played please
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Oliver Kiley
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I've only played a few games of Stone Age, but I'm thinking that I don't really like it all that much. I don't enjoy the perscriptive nature of the stratagies based so heavily on seat order. I find the game has little arc or sense of progression to it as well. It's looks pretty but there is no personality.
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Dale Moore
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I used to love Stone Age. But I got to play a game where the laws of averages didn't work. I spent the whole game rolling ones and twos. Watched all my best laid plans go to pot. Got to say, it really tarnished the game for me.

I'll play it when others want but I never bring it to the table myself anymore.
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Gavan Brown
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Mezmorki wrote:
I've only played a few games of Stone Age, but I'm thinking that I don't really like it all that much. I don't enjoy the perscriptive nature of the stratagies based so heavily on seat order.


The game is not about recognizing good actions (breeding hut), but rather recognizing when those opportunities AREN'T the best. Things that seem like an auto decision are quite often not, and you start hedging bets on whether or not the other players at the table are able to recognize good opportunities, when you decide "hmmm should I go for breeding, in hopes that Jim and Matt will not realize how valuable that civ card is?". The greed of trying to gather the "auto decision" AND the good opportunities is what drives the entire metagame.
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Patrick C.
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I'm still trying to get over the fact that the OP argued that Ticket to Ride was thematic compared to Stone Age. surprise
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Kevin Garnica
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I guess what I'm wondering is why, oh why, did you bother playing Stone Age in the first place?

You seem like a perfectly well-informed gamer - the likes of which has already played and enjoyed Agricola and other comparable games I'm sure.

Do you not read the rules beforehand and get a sense of the game? I know perfectly well what sorts of games I enjoy. Sometimes I am pleasantly surprised, so I am willing to be proven wrong. But generally I'm very sure of myself.

With Stone Age being so popular around here and the place it holds for many people, I would have imagined that you ought to have known what you were getting into, and thus inferred (or at the very least made an educated guess) that it wouldn't be the sort of game you (or your group?) enjoys.

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xbjoernx wrote:
Uhm...well...tell me a Euro that is not based on math...whistle
True, but they're not all equal. Some are ALOT MORE "mathy" than others (e.g. Power Grid vs. Aquaduct or Settlers Of Catan)
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