Review: Stone Age

Stone Age is a worker placement game for 2-4 players from Rio Grande Games. It has an interesting theme as you are a chief during prehistoric times, trying to ensure your tribe’s survival and success over other neighboring groups within an expansive valley.

Players try to complete buildings and accumulate civilization cards, scoring points as they do so. When the supply of building or civilization cards is exhausted, the game ends with the player having the highest point total being the winner.

Play rotates with each player assigning various members of their tribe to different areas within the valley. It’s a worker placement game with limited open spots for each area and is competitive. Once all the spots are claimed, no one else can put workers in that area.

Some areas produce resources, some gain civilization or building cards (for victory points), and others allow you to gain extra workers. Some are open to having a few different tribes working an area, however most are painfully restricted to just a few workers from a single tribe. While each area can hold a finite number, the only exception is the hunting grounds where all excess tribe members can go hunt (at least allowing some potential food resources to be earned).

Resources are primarily gained by dice rolls, with the total divided by a specific number that varies depending on the goods being produced (the lower the number, the easier it is to produce). Players roll dice equivalent to the number of assigned workers, so the more people in an area, the more likely goods will be produced. The dice total is rounded down with excess numbers being ‘lost’.

The workaround for this is having a supply of tools. Tools can be used to add to the dice total, allowing for an extra good to be produced. Tools themselves need to be produced by assigning workers (which in turn take them away from producing goods, erecting buildings, or gathering food).

At the end of each turn, players must feed their tribe. Hopefully, between gaining civilization/building tiles, actively hunting, or by some farming there is enough food on hand to feed everyone. If not, resources are given up in place of food, and if that is not enough players are docked victory points. You must feed your people every turn and increases in population mean more food is required.

Farming is a slow process, and you are not guaranteed a spot to assign workers each turn to increase your food production. Hunting can earn food fairly easily, but that means you are diverting workers from other resource gathering tasks. Players soon find themselves in a balancing act trying to gain resources and points, all the while ensuring they have enough food from turn to turn.

The Good – It’s an entertaining worker placement game with a different theme. There are some hard choices to be made and players will always find themselves with not enough people to do what they want. The added wrinkle is that other players can easily lock out other players from prime tasks for a turn. All the while, food stocks are slowly being used up, creating another pressure of having enough food for everyone each turn.

The components are very nice, with thick card stock tiles and nice resource components. The artwork is colorful and captures the theme quite well. The overall design of many of the civilization and building cards are well done, with the use of symbols being a prominent feature over text.

The Bad – At the heart of Stone Ages is it can be worker placement game at it’s worst. Players can lock down locations or building/civilization cards without the resources needed to claim them (and no penalty if doing so), effectively cutting off other players just because they can.

My biggest complaint are the civilization cards. These are used for massive point scoring at the end of the game and need to be collected in sets. While I don’t mind the huge bonus victory points that can be earned during the endgame, the scoring conditions can be cryptic at times. Each civilization card has a lot of symbols and it can be difficult to easily decipher them. As they are so critical to scoring points, it can be frustrating for new players to figure them out.

The Verdict – A few years ago I would highly recommend this game. It’s challenging, requires a fair amount of planning, and has a different theme from most of the other worker placement games out there. However there have been quite a few releases over the years that are a bit more streamlined in play.

The ding in rating this game for me are the civilization cards. I don’t play this game frequently enough, and it is always a slight learning curve to work out the sets and determine how many victory points are awarded. As this can make or break your game, you really need to plan out what civilization card sets to work on early in the game. Since it is so important, it seems that it’s glossed over a bit in the rules. I really wish that Rio Grande bit the bullet and printed out a single color page, detailing how to score these cards more.

Despite this, Stone Age is a fun and challenging game. If you haven’t delved too deeply into worker placement games, it’s a nice buy and a great family game. However, if you have a few worker placement games in your collection, I would be hard pressed to suggest picking this up. It doesn’t have much that stands out from other games as most of it is about locking out other players and working on sets of cards for scoring. I think there are some other similar-mechanic games that do it a bit better and are more entertaining (Kingsburg as an example). Stone Age is a fun game, but think twice if you’ve got a few worker placement games on your shelf.

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