Updated: Sep 19, 2019
Stone Age was my first worker placement game, it’s produced by Hans Im Glück/Rio Grande Games and it is possibly the most beautiful game in my collection. Admittedly that’s not that hard a prize to achieve, but Stone Age is gorgeous. Anyway, that’s enough drooling, let's get on and look at the game.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, people lived in caves and hunted saber toothed animals of all shaped and sizes. Then along came the stone age, the industrial age of the –lithic times. Suddenly man was not content to doodle on his walls and defecate in his living room. Now was a time of civilisation, of hut building and farming and fertility. The nomadic hunter-gatherers began to put down roots, building alongside the river, but they were not alone, other tribes followed suit, which bred competition for resources and apparently hotel rooms where you could seduce your mate.
Anyway that is the meat and bones of Stone Age, you play a rather uncouth bunch of cavemen looking for ways to become more civilised, by building huts, developing their society, having plenty of offspring and setting up workshops. You must compete with the other players for limited resources and whoever has built the best society by the end of the game, wins.
When you open stone age you get that delicious rush of smell that always comes with a Rio Grande game, freshly cut cardboard, chunky painted wood… but there is a rather sinister undertone… it seems to be dead cow!
4 individual player boards
58 wooden resources
40 wooden people
8 wooden markers in 2 sizes
53 food tiles
28 building tiles
18 tool tiles
1 start player figure
36 civilization cards
1 leather dice cup
1 information sheet
That’s right, the Leather Dice Cup wins the award for worst smelling game component ever! Other than that all the components are top notch. The cardboard huts are as chunky as the tiles in Carcassonne, as are the meeples and the wooden resource tokens. The main board and the player boards are beautifully illustrated… ON BOTH SIDES. Obviously this a fact you only appreciate as you set up the game and put it away again, but it is appreciated all the same.
If I was going to complain about any part of the game, other than the smelly dice cup, it would be the cards, which are quite thin, but even then I’m only trying to find something to pick on. Oh and I had to glue the feet onto the starting player token to stop them falling off all the time.
The graphics on the cards, boards and tokens is superb, the best in my collection. However, even better, is the fact that the graphics are incorporated seamlessly into the game mechanics. Every facet of the game becomes obvious after the first play through just by looking at the beautiful artwork but that’s enough raving, let's get right into…
So how does one play with this masterpiece of graphic design? You begin the game with 5 meeples, 12 food and nothing else. At the end of each round you will need to feed your people 1 food per person, so you begin the game with enough food for two turns, assuming you’re not overly fertile.
The starting player is determined randomly and they become “Chief”. They may then place any number of meeples on the board in a single location, assuming there are enough circles in that location for those meeples. For example, you can play only 1 meeple on the Farm, Tool Hut, any of the Four Hut Token spaces or any of the Four Civilisation cards. However you could play up to 7 meeples in any of the resource gathering areas, assuming there are enough open spots remaining.
Once you have played any number of meeples into one area play passes to the next player and continues round until everyone has placed some meeples in one area. Then you get to go again, you cannot place any of your remaining meeples into an area where you already have meeples or into an area that is already full. For this purpose each card and hut token is a separate area. So for example you placed your first meeple in wood, you cannot place any more meeples in wood this turn. You place your second meeple on a hut token, on a later turn you may place another meeple on a different hut token because they are considered separate areas.
Once everyone has placed all of their meeples, the Chief recalls his, performing the action associated with the space. The Farm increases food production (as shown by the track at the side of the board). The Tool Hut gives you +1 tool. The Love Hut gives you +1 meeple (you must always place two meeples in the Love Hut in order to use it). Cards and Hut Tokens must be paid for with resources.
Resources are gathered by rolling a dice for each meeple in the forest (wood), clay pit (clay), quarry (stone) the river (gold) or the hunt (food) adding up the total and then dividing by the “cost” of the particular resource. Food has a cost of 2, wood 3, clay 4, stone 5 and gold 6. (As can be seen on each players board)
After all the players have retrieved their meeples, the Chief changes to the next player to the left and the same procedure is repeated. The game ends when one of the Hut Token piles is depleted (there are 7 huts in each pile) or there are not enough Civilisation cards to fill the four spots on the board.
Da Shiny Things
So that’s how to play, but what about scoring. Sure it’s fun to try and build a balanced economic engine, which is what you’ll do in your first game, but it probably wont score you that many points. Stone Age is less about surviving (we’ve already mastered that) and more about bettering yourself. That is why points are awarded for building huts (these are scored instantly) and buying civilisation cards (these are scored at the end of the game.)
The actual process of scoring is a little complex at first, but it becomes second nature by the third or fourth game. Each Hut Token is worth the printed cost. Each civilisation card has two parts, the top part is an immediate in game benefit like +2 stone or +3 victory points. The bottom part is either Green or Yellow. There are 8 different “Green” cards, with two of each variety. These cards are multiplied by themselves to give you points. So if you have 3 different greens they are worth 9 points, but if you get a fourth they would be worth 16 etc. Duplicates are worth 1 point extra.
The Yellow cards have one of four different icons, a Tool Marker, a Shaman, a Hut Builder or a Farmer. Each depicted figure is multiplied by your tools (for toolmakers), your meeples (for shamans), your huts (for hut builders) or your position on the food track (for farmers.) add up all these, plus 1 point for each remaining resource (food doesn’t count) and you will finally know who amongst your friends is the most civilised.
That was about as clear as mud wasn’t it?
Ok, so the scoring seems complex and doubtless, nobody will truly “get it” on the first play through, but once you understand it, the scoring is actually much simpler than working out Farms in Carcassonne.
So what do I think of the game, other than how pretty it is? I love it’s simplistic mechanics. I love how the cards and the boards work together to act as a player aid. I love that there are multiple paths to victory and I love that the game rewards you for trying your best to be better.
This last part in particular is true. You can end up being forced to choose between feeding your people or scoring extra points. If you fail to feed your people you lose 10 points. However, letting your people starve might just give you what you need to clinch a victory. In that way Stone Age makes me feel like I am always striving to be the best I can be, despite adversity.
My family loves the game too. The multiple paths to victory means that you can always adapt your strategy when things don’t go your way. Although you can block other players, there is no direct confrontation (i.e. The Robber in Settlers of Catan), which makes for a friendlier, less argumentative game.
So all in all, am I happy with Stone Age? Yes… very happy. Will it continue to see table time after Agricola arrives? I hope so. Stone Age is a great way to spend 60-90 minutes. Yes there are times when the dice hate you, but that is life, sometimes you go out on the hunt and come back with nothing. But the addition of tools should really help to offset the luck factor. And yes, the dice cup smells and yes the Chief’s feet might need a little glue, but the game is beautiful and happily it’s not just a pretty face!