Game: Stone Age
Publisher: Rio Grande Games
Designer: Bernd Brunnhofer
Stone Age is often said to be THE gateway worker placement game. I first saw it featured on Will Wheaton’s tabletop and for me in the very early stages of becoming a gamer, it seemed pretty complicated. Scroll forward a few months and Stone Age was out of print and hard to find so we never got the opportunity to try it. Eventually it was brought along to our gaming group and became flavour of the month with a few people importing German copies. We were eventually lucky enough to pick up a cheap local joblot of games on eBay and Stone Age was one of them.
In Stone Age, each player begins with 5 worker meeple who can be placed on the board in different numbers to perform different tasks. Typically they need to gather food and resources – for this you can assign a number of meeples in one go and then in the resolution phase you roll the same number of dice as you have meeple assigned. Different resources have different rarity and so you need to roll higher to get one piece of gold, for example, than one food or one wood. Other spots on the board give you a guaranteed result, such as a tool or assigning two meeples to ‘sleep over at the hut’ and make you a new meeple. You can also use resources to buy huts to score points or cards to help you with end game scoring.
|The game set-up for two players only has two stacks of huts available for purchase. Also only two out of three of the harvesting, tool or the 'procreation hut'.|
Each turn is quite quick, so long as players are decisive in placing out their meeples, then you go round resolving actions in turn. Finally you have to feed your family with one food per worker, less any harvesting you’ve been able to build up. The game ends when one stack of huts is depleted and end game scoring often decides the winner.
|Some of the end-game scoring opportunities.|
The concepts in Stone Age are at a quite simple level, and the game is pure worker placement, meaning that most new gamers pick it up quite easily. However, the game definitely rewards you for optimising your play. I’ve played the game upwards of 6 or 7 times and personally haven’t figured out my preferred way to play, often simply ‘rolling with the punches’ to varying levels of success. However, I’m sure there are people who come up with strategies about the number of workers to grow your family to and at which stage of the game etc. Nevertheless, I think new players have a good chance because you can be reactionary, quietly collecting all of the end game scoring that rewards you for the number of tools or workers and surprising everyone with your score. Luck also helps with this levelling, because you will be victim to the chance of dice rolls in this game, unless you invest extremely heavily in tools which can add to your dice rolls.
The game works well at all player counts, and we find the two player game really quite quick, with very rewarding high scores! It should really be no more than 60 minutes, and has now become one of the lighter, but still satisfying games that we play quite regularly, rather than those longer or more taxing alternatives that we never seem to get round to.
Overall, Stone Age is just a solid game. It’s never given us a bad game where one player is completely hosed through bad luck or another player is on such a runaway victory that no-one feels like seeing it through to its end. It’s satisfying enough for most levels of gamer and simple enough to be a gateway game. Stone Age is just a staple for your board game collection. From the Yellow Meeple, it’s an 8/10.