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Subject: Stone Age - Bah Humbug or Rhaa Lovely? rss

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Roger
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Stone Age is a long time favourite on BGG where it is currently ranked 30 in the Strategy Game category and 3rd in the Family Game category. As with many such games, there is no real need for another review of the game but because not everybody likes it (and there is a long thread started by a player who was not impressed by it, after 3 plays it must be said) there is still room for a different approach to a review of Stone Age.

I thought that the OP did not go a great job at addressing the major weaknesses of the game and I decided to write a proper negative review. But because SA remains a favourite of mine, I also wrote a rebuttal for each of the negative points, which in my views make SA a great strategic and family game. This is a reformatted, revised, extended and rewritten version of the original post.

I won’t delve much into the rules, they are available online and the mechanic of the game is that of a worker placement game.

What I like: Easy to teach, light though with some unsuspected depth, great quality material (though I mostly play it online), family friendly, language and text independent.

What I don’t like: Downtime, particularly in 4-player games, and therefore length (it is too long with 4, unless they are experienced players) and hidden scoring (to some extent).

Verdict: Rhaa Lovely!

Into the details of what makes SA a great game, and why its shortcomings are its strength.

Pasted theme: Truly, there is no real feeling of building or developing a tribe or of developing or acquiring new technologies that impact on a player’s abilities and strengths during the game. Tools are useful but only have one purpose: to balance the luck factor. As for cards, they have no impact on the game until the scoring phase. A hut is a hut and does not provide an advantage, culture cards don’t either. But this is in no way the purpose of the game. Further, cards you buy do affect other player’s strategy in at least two ways: first because a card you buy can no longer be bought, second you may want to buy cards or at least try to screw other or limit their scoring whilst developing yours. There is both screwage and competition at play in SA.
Rebuttal: this is Stone Age, a family orientated game, a gateway game I dare say, not Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization. It took Neanderthal hundreds of thousands of years to evolve. Don’t expect evolution to happen over a 2 hours game set in the Stone Age or that you are going to play a game about human being going through an evolution race. Stone Age is definitively anchored into, well, the Stone Age. There was not much to do then and in this regard, the game is very thematic: hunt, gather foods and resources, built hut, copulate, and feed your tribe. The end.

Hidden scoring: unless you keep a tab of who takes what (or are a very good card counter), end score remains a mystery.
Rebuttal: how interesting is a game when you know half-way through or worst all along that whatever you do you can’t win? Puerto Rico’s scoring is likewise pretty much opaque until the end, unless you keep a tab of who does what and how many VP they get for shipping and so on. Scoring in SA is not “hidden” it is “mysterious” (if you have the memory of a goldfish) or it is "instinctive" as it should be for any good game which wants to keep some suspense.

Game flow: as a worker placement game, there is a lot of movement back and fro between player’s board and main board and often a player has to be reminded to take his meeples back and un-tap his tools. Downtime can be an issue for player who have gone for the “strong in number” strategy and have meeples everywhere. Further The game is repetitive. Place worker, get resources, take worjer back with resources, put resources back and start again.
Rebuttal: First guess: Stone gae is a .. Worker placement game. If these are not your cup of Earl Grey, then play something else or play online! Meanwhile, downtine provides you with an opportunity to talk to the total stranger you are playing with.

Math feast: People good at math will enjoy computing what is best to do each turn, matching existing and accessible resources to available cards and therefore add to downtime in the game.
Rebuttal: Accountants and other bean counters do enjoy extracurricular activities that do not remind them of work. They may also enjoy playing SA for its light math fest aspect. Other people should enjoy doing something different from driving a bus, or flipping burgers, including counting beans. Being able to count is important in Stone Age as it will determine where you should put your workers to get enough resources to built hut or buy cards. But there is no real need to plan 5 turn ahead. First it would not be possible; second it would make the game a very dull game. This is not Steamor 18XX.

Limited or one path strategy: turn order will decide what strategy is available to you. If tools, field, breeding hut or the forest are already occupied, then what remains available to you?
Rebuttal: Playing first comes with more strategic choices, but then will you be able to successfully implement that strategy to its term? And even if you did not choose your startegy, here is a challenge. Here again the game is very thematic. There was huge competition between tribes in the Stone Age and only the stronger would survive. That the first to play has an advantage is true, but not good enough to make him/her a winner.

Luck factor: If you are unlucky with dice, diece rolling in SA will be your downfall. Tools allow balancing bad luck but if the strategy you have been left with (because of turn order, see above) does not give you access to tools, then you are screwed.
Rebuttal: You may not have a choice when it comes to strategy, but you can surely get enough tools to balance bad draws. Choose the best time to place a meeple on the tool hut, it is doomed to be free at some point (your turn for example?). And here again the game is very thematic. Life or death in the Stone Age was not a question of being clever but often of being lucky, of finding the right place to settle, or finding a good hunting ground and so on.

Game components: The dice cup stinks! The box is heavy!
Rebuttal: Leave the cup in the box. Rock n' roll the dice! Go to the gym, or get a Noddy wheely bag.

So here we are, a review of Stone Agem the Good, the Bad, the Ugly and the funny. Truly stone age is not a brain burner, but it is a very enjoyable game to play with friends, familly, newbees, whilst watching Hamlet on TV and so on...

~J
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David B
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I don't have an issue with the hidden scoring in Puerto Rico. It is easier to gauge your progress in PR than in Stone Age. In PR, you can see the value of the buildings your opponents have purchased. Also, you know how many victory point chips there are and you can always see what percentage of the chips you have taken. It is also clear who is shipping the most goods during the captain phase. With this information, you can pretty much gauge where you are in the running. In SA, I don't even know why there is a victory point track. Some have said half the scoring is endgame scoring. I disagree. I think it is far more than that. I have played games where nearly 75% of the scoring is end game bonus scoring. Plus, the scoring makes little sense. For instance, you take the number of different develop cards and square it. Cavemen were into squaring integers? Huh? Why not just take the inverse log of the total number of tools and add it to twice the standard deviation of the value of your huts while you are at it. SA is fine if you really dont care about the outcome. If you want to have a good time rolling dice and seeing what you get, that's fine. But if I am in the mood for actual competition, I choose something else.
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Roger
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pfctsqr wrote:
If you want to have a good time rolling dice and seeing what you get, that's fine. But if I am in the mood for actual competition, I choose something else.


Fair enough and I would do the same.

Now why squaring the culture cards? My explanation is that if your civilisation invents the wheel, you have an advantage against the Monkeys next door who have not. But if you invent the wheel and the gunpowder (which can't happen in SA but this is an allegory), your advantage is more than the sum of each taken separately, it is more than the sum of the part and how to better show that than by squaring each development?

It is also clear in SA who is taking what cards, development cards, population cards, farm cards. Who is getting more farms and trying to get as many farm multiplier. It is no more opaque than in Puerto Rico, and that's the points I wanted to make.

~J

Edit: Typos.
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Matthew Cordeiro
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pfctsqr wrote:
In SA, I don't even know why there is a victory point track. Some have said half the scoring is endgame scoring. I disagree. I think it is far more than that. I have played games where nearly 75% of the scoring is end game bonus scoring.

Agreed. The point total prior to counting the Civ cards is not a good indicator of who will actually win. And yes, more points come from Civ cards than from buildings.

pfctsqr wrote:
Plus, the scoring makes little sense. For instance, you take the number of different develop cards and square it. Cavemen were into squaring integers? Huh? Why not just take the inverse log of the total number of tools and add it to twice the standard deviation of the value of your huts while you are at it.

The premise is that the benefit from technolgy is exponential in nature. You get more benefit from combining technologies than from simply using them individually. Also, the game is clearly not indended to be a literal representation of life in the Stone Age.

pfctsqr wrote:
SA is fine if you really dont care about the outcome. If you want to have a good time rolling dice and seeing what you get, that's fine. But if I am in the mood for actual competition, I choose something else.

Ugh. Didn't this thread just happen? First of all, this isn't Candy Land. Skill matters. A good SA player will always beat a bad SA player. Secondly, it's actually possible to play a competitive, skill-driven game that involves dice. Though the dice are a factor, SA is not decided simply by who rolls higher. The same can be said for many Euros that involve dice, or even luck of the draw for that matter. If SA isn't your cup of tea, that's cool. But to call it an uncompetitive game decided by luck of the dice is simply an incorrect assessment of the game.
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Stephen McHale
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cordeiro wrote:

Secondly, it's actually possible to play a competitive, skill-driven game that involves dice.


This is so true yet many people just don't get.
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Russell
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Great review.

Complaining about dice, or highly abstracted civilization effects misses the point entirely.

This kind of opinion seems to me a bit like buying a small car specifically for city driving and good fuel economy, and then complaining how uncomfortable it is on long journeys. Or moaning about the lack of offroad capabilities of your Ferrari...

This game has been designed extremely well to be excellent at what it does.
Nothing about it is 'bad', from a mechanics point of view, but you may have other preferences.
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Kenny
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Quote:
It took Neanderthal hundreds of thousands of years to evolve

The Neanderthals didn't evolve, not fast enough anyway - that's why they disappeared about 30,000 years ago and left the world to us. Whether this was a good thing is still open to question

Quote:
There was huge competition between tribes in the Stone Age and only the stronger would survive.

I doubt if there was "huge" competition between tribes - competition occurs when resources are scarce and living space limited. The opposite was the case and one of the reasons why humans populated most of the Earth.
And the strong don't necessarily survive, those who procreate better survive. Making love is more important than beating your hairy chest.whistle

Quote:
Life or death in the Stone Age was not a question of being clever but often of being lucky, of finding the right place to settle, or finding a good hunting ground and so on.

Finding a good hunting ground is exactly a question of being clever. People who lived 50,000 years ago were just as capable of interacting with the world as we are. Theirs was a natural world , ours is a technological world. We each had/have different problems to apply the same intelligence to.

Anyway, sorry to nitpick on some of your points, but I am interested in this subject and I suppose that's why I love this game.
Your actual review was very good - I like how you turn potential negative aspects of the game into positive aspects.
It all in how you approach and what you expect from a game.
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Fernando Robert Yu
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StephenM wrote:
cordeiro wrote:

Secondly, it's actually possible to play a competitive, skill-driven game that involves dice.


This is so true yet many people just don't get.


Well, it's NOT meant to be a super serious competitive game...and many people also do NOT get this point...and yes in dice driven games which ARE competitive, the skill is in odds management, and in also making sure you have a plan B in case the dice gods momentarily fail you...

 
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