The year is 2000 BC and Ug, Og and Thod are all out in the thick lush forests of Pangea gathering wood to build their primitive dwellings. Despite the many dangers of the wild, their secluded village is a cavedwellers paradise. Thog the wise has invented irrigation and begun to teach the other stone folk the art of farming, while Uft has refined his idea of hitting things with sharp axes to include new ways of gathering natural materials and not just braining the neanderthal that took the last chicken drumstick. Meanwhile, Oracle Ola has read the stars and discovered the secrets of cloning new cavemen, fully grown and ready to work!
In Stone Age players place workers and take actions to develop their civilization and build up their tribe.
A Quick Overview
Stone Age is a worker placement game, this is a style of game where players have workers that they can place out on the board to take actions. The available action spaces in Stone Age are:
Field - Increase your food production
Tool Maker - Add a tool to your supply
Hut - Add a new worker for the next round
Hunting Grounds - Gather food
Resource Spaces - Gather wood, clay, stone or gold.
Civilization Spaces - Gain bonus cards
Building Tiles - Spend resources to build huts and score points
Each player begins the game with five workers. Play begins with the Chief player. Each turn players can place any number workers in one of the available action spaces, after each player has placed the Chief plays again and play continues until all the workers have been placed. Then starting with the Chief each player retrieves their workers and performs the action on the spaces, this can be done in any order.
For workers in a resource space or the hunting grounds you roll 1 die per worker, add up the total and divide it by the cost of the resource, 2 for food, 3 for wood, 4 for clay, 5 for stone and 6 for gold.
Next each player must feed their people, including any new workers gained through the hut action. 1 food is required for each worker, missing food can be paid with other resources. If food is still owed the player starves and loses 10 points.
After this the next player becomes Chief and a new round begins. Play continues this way until the Civilization cards run out or until one of the four stacks of building tiles is depleted. Players then total their points, which are scored through building huts and earning bonuses through the Civilization cards and the player with the most points is the most successful Caveman and gets to wear the victory loincloth. (note. Loincloth not included).
Why Choose It?
Stone Age is a classic Worker Placement game that plays relatively quickly but offers interesting choices without too much rules overhead. There are multiple paths to victory, each of which is valid, you can specialise in one area or take a balanced approach and do a little bit of everything. It has fast, interwoven, near simultaneous turns which means that all players are engaged at all times and downtime is nearly non-existent. And it has beautiful art by Micahel Menzel and deliciously tactile wooden pieces which help immerse you in the fun theme.
What did they think?
Caveman Bob - “Ugh!”
Thank you Bob for that deep and insightful commentary on the complexities of this classic Worker Placement game. I think what Bob meant to say, were he capable of more than single monosyllabic sentences, is that he enjoyed the game, the multiple paths to victory and the fact that you can never do everything that you want to do.
Caveman Philip - "There's a range of tactics , although on a first play you're not always focused on the strategy. Subsequent plays would definitely be more interesting. A few bad decisions near the start seemed to make it difficult to catch up."
Caveman Vince - "Fun resources gathering board game, with multiple strategies to succeed. Plus when a daddy and a mummy love each other very much you can send them off to the cuddle cottage and gain another worker!"
For me, Stone Age was my first foray into the worker placement genre, it lit a fire in me that kept me coming back time and again to warm myself. I still think fondly of it, I would even, if pressed call it my quintessential worker placement game. However my recent play did make me wonder if Stone Age might be starting to feel it’s age as gaming moves from the Neolithic to the heralded Golden Age of gaming.
Like many other Worker Placement games Stone Age is all about controlling the board, choosing actions before other players shut you out. There is constant conflict for the village spaces, for the huts and cards, and even for the resource spaces. This cutthroat fight for actions is what drives Stone Age as you sit on the edge of your seat pleading to whichever paleolithic deity floats your boat that Bob wont take the space you need before you can go there.
However, where this tight, knife fight in an elevator, falls down is the dice rolls. While there is dice mitigation through the tools and cards you’re still at the whims of lady luck when it comes to gathering resources and a series of bad rolls can leave a sour taste in the mouth. In our game Phillip notably had the worst rolls, oftentimes sending more than half his tribe to gather resources and returning empty handed or with a single brick of clay between them. The effect of failing rolls can oftentimes be compounded as then as you also fail to buy cards or huts and you end up a turn down on all the other players which can be difficult to come back from.
It has been well documented that Stone Age has a starvation problem. At the end of each round players need to feed their people. This costs 1 food per person and in the economy of the game Food has a cost of 2. If you can’t feed your people you can substitute other resources which cost more or you can choose to take a -10 point penalty. However, this penalty doesn’t increase as your tribe does. This means you can increase your tribe without penalty, as allowing ten cavemen to starve is the same as five but now you can take twice as many actions. In addition, food never generates points, unlike all other resource gathering actions. Not only that but if you ignore food, you never need to visit the farm or buy farmers from the bonus cards, concentrating all your workers on gathering points.
For me, the Starvation strategy is not in the spirit of the game but I can’t deny it is there and it is a potential problem. The easiest fix is to acknowledge it and come to a gentleman’s agree to not use it.
The bonus cards are a vital part of the Stone Age experience and will likely determine if you win or lose. When playing with new players this will not always seem obvious or indeed vital as they struggle to get enough food and resources to keep their tribe from starving and their huts from falling down. More experienced players will dive on the bonus cards, potentially lapping those new players on the scoreboard when the final tally comes in. This can be an unfun experience for new players and so I find myself pointing out the value of the cards with examples so that players can make an informed decision on which cards will best fit into their strategy.
The Love Hut
Stone Age has become known for its iconic shack of amorous delights, the so called Love Hut where players can send two of their tribesmen to create a new worker. During our recent game much fun was had with players inventing dozens of new names for the infamous Love Hut whenever they sent workers there.
The Dice Cup
The other thing people know about Stone Age is the smell! The leather dice cup that was included in the first printing of the game has a very strong aroma that has never gone away despite how much you air it! Our most recent game however was played over Tabletop Simulator, I never thought I’d miss that smell but now I’d give my left arm for one more whiff!
Despite beginning to show its creaking joints, Stone Age remains a tight, interesting example of the Worker Placement genre. It is on the lighter end of the spectrum but offers plenty of decision space and crunchy point scoring, limited downtime and plenty of laughs when played with the right group.