Stone Age

 

3 Chits, 3 Giggles

Gather round fire, little people. I about to tell story of how thing happen. In beginning, there be man. Man no have fire. Man have only woman, but that OK. Hurr hurr. Man digress. After while man realise man need more. Man dont want get stuck in rut. Oh wait, man no invent wheel yet, rut no exist. Silly man! Man carry on story. One day man do accident. Man make fire. Man touch fire. Big hurt! Man wonder what fire be. Man have epiphany; realise it tool. Fire help man dominate beast. Fire help man evolve. Man thrive. Man reach peak of civilisation. Man make board game. Man play board game. Man write review of game. Man present... Stone Age.

In Zman Games’ prehistorically based title, you are given a tribe of meeples to control, and by placing these little figures on different spots around the board, they can perform different actions. All of these go some way to help better your tribe; for example, you can send them off hunting in the fields to gain food, building usable tools inside the crafting shed or mining for gold in the nearby river giving you resources to spend. Your goal is to try to advance your civilisation as much as possible and gain sweet victory points, because at the end of the game the player with the most points wins. Simple. You can grow your tribe too, giving you more actions in future rounds but with the drawback being that you have more mouths to feed, and in those days you couldn’t just pop down to Tesco for a microwave lasagne, oh no. You’d have to grow that lasagne from scratch.

Somebody I know once referred to this game as ‘My First Worker Placement Game’ and that albeit light hearted joke didn’t sit right with me. Why? Because I like this game a lot, and comments like that take away from it. Stone Age definitely resembles other mechanically similar titles like Agricola or The Manhattan Project, but never quite reaches their level of complexity or choice. This should not be considered a flaw of the game though. Arguably, it is a positive thing instead. There are still many ways to gain points, and while you’ll often feel the caress of lady luck in your path to victory (you’ll roll a lot of dice), you’re less likely to miss out on a reward because you’ve misunderstood something or lost track of your progress somewhere, which can be a real pain in the arse with some of the bigger games. Here, even the most fey players will find things manageable enough.

Like any good game, there is also player interaction and a plethora of ‘screw you’ scenarios to entertain you throughout. For example, most of the resource gathering locations in the game have space for just seven meeples. Occasionally certain resources will be more sought after than the others (because the valuable point scoring huts usually require specific resources to build them) and it is possible to fill up a spot, say the stone gathering quarry, before the next player gets their turn. So, if you see your neighbour Marie over there needs two more stone to build that fancy hut with the conservatory she’s been planning for months, you can send all your own guys to the quarry and prevent her from getting any of it because sorry, it’s full now. Thematically, this fits nicely; as a ‘family’ you’re mainly looking out for yourselves, but you’ll occasionally need to compete for resources when they become limited or much sought after.

The presentation of the game is atypical of its publisher Zman, with the massive board being beautifully designed and the bits and pieces being perfectly functional if not fancy. A special mention goes to the dice rolling cup, which to me resembles the sort of leather you’d harvest from a sabre-tooth tiger which were probably the biggest predators around in this setting, but I’ll admit I know next to nothing about the geography or zoological nature of this prehistoric age.

Some games consistently leave you wishing for a few more turns, which can be a good thing or a bad thing (I’m looking at you Imperial Settlers) but for me Stone Age ends at just the right point. You’ll feel you have taken your tribe quite some way in terms of progress and garnered a lot of points, but not so far that one player will have leapt into the lead or that you have simply gone through the motions during the game’s last moments. It’s a difficult thing to achieve, but I also believe the game to be greatly balanced. I’ve played this game many times and each finale has felt justly climactic, usually with some player snatching the right card or building that hut at the perfect moment, leading to them winning the game.

My only issue with this game is that despite it being recommended for 2-4 players, I’d say it’s only at its best with four. This is because there is no scaling in the game, and the resource locations don’t get filled during a two player game, which removes much of the fun interaction. However it’s certainly not a deal breaker; there is still value in a game for each number of players, but if you can convince that extra friend to ditch dinner with their other half and play games at yours instead, you’ll thank yourself for it.

I’m intrigued about the expansion that came out too, which adds a new mechanic and a new resource as well as a fifth player, but I’ve yet to find myself a copy. When I do though, you can expect me to pipe up with a review on this very site. In the meantime, if you’re searching for a fun, not too heavy game with a good number of components and don’t have hours to spare to learn, this is probably a safe bet. As far as worker placement games go, you really should have at least one somewhere on your shelf and this is a solid option. Man definitely suggest buy game. Now where man put matches?

Review by Russell Chapman