Stone Age is a worker placement game designed by Bernd Brunnhofer and published by Z-Man Games. It is considered a gateway game, meaning it is straightforward to grasp for a non-seasoned board gamer. Although relatively straightforward in terms of rules, it offers a huge amount of fun. This was a huge surprise game for me. The box is hefty, so I was expecting a clunky game with loads of rules and pieces. I was right that there are quite a few pieces to the game, but not as many as the box size suggests. And I was totally wrong about the rules being tricky. Big box equals hard is something I find myself assuming, often wrongly, all the time. Shouldn't judge a game by its cover, nor its box!
This is a “place some workers, get an action” type game. In Stone Age, however, the number of workers you place at a location will determine how powerful that action can be. It dictates the number of dice you get to roll for that resource. For example, five workers would let you roll five dice. The chances of success improve, of course, as the number of dice you roll increases. Dice rolling does add an element of randomness. However, with clever use of the worker numbers as well as building a strong tool engine, you are able to mitigate the effects of Lady Luck.
During Stone Age, you are trying to collect resources to spend on buildings for points. You trade resources for cards that will help you get end-game scoring opportunities. You will also be trying to build up your worker pool, and your tool engine, to help maximise each of your turns. More workers do, however, mean more mouths to feed. The food harvesting part is ever-present in this game. I guess mirroring real life, so pretty thematic.
For me, this game plays quite a bit quicker at two players than the 60-90 minutes printed on the box. This is a big plus for me. Although, if a player has significant analysis paralysis then 60 minutes is reasonable for 2 players.
Get That Box Open
As I said earlier, the box is quite hefty. The set-up is between five and ten minutes. Firstly, put the game board within easy reach of all players. Give each person a player board to go in front of them. Each player picks a colour and places 7 of their workers onto their player board. One token goes onto the zero space on the scoring track. Another token goes onto the zero spot on the harvesting fields track, up the left side of the board. All the remaining workers go into a pool in the middle of the table for later use.
Place the wood, clay, stone, and gold resources into the respective locations along the top of the board. I use small resource holders for these as it speeds up the teardown time. I am a big advocate for the putting away of a game being as quick as humanly possible. Place the food tokens into resource holders within easy reach of everyone. Food will be by far the most used resource in the game.
Shuffle together the civilization card deck. Place this to the right side of the board, in the bottom corner. Then deal four cards onto the four card slots on the board. Shuffle all the cardboard building tiles together to form piles of 7 tiles. Piles should be equal to player count. So, in a two-player game, only 14 building tiles will be used per game. The order of these tiles will heavily influence gameplay styles. I would put this as one of the largest contributors to the variability and replayability of the game.
The last thing left to put on the board is the tool tiles. These are double-sided and either a 1 and a 2 value tile or a 3 and a 4. These need to be separated into two piles and placed in the village section of the board. Now, let’s play!
Put Those Workers To Work
"But, What Pray, Are the Options?" Options are to either take one of the single worker spots, or place workers at one of the resource locations. Single worker spots include the tool shed to gain a tool tile, the village to get an additional worker for the next round, or the fields to move up the harvest track.
You could also claim a card with a single worker. The cost of the cards is 1, 2, 3, or 4 resources depending on where the card is placed in the “market”. The market is dynamic, so the price of a card may decrease from round to round if it is not bought. These cards are, in my opinion, super powerful, and are not to be snoozed on. They create your ability to score end-game points. There is also an immediate benefit associated with gaining each card, which could be resources or a one-use tool. But their main power is in the bottom half of the card. Stone Age has two main types of scoring cards:
There's the set collection type, where each different symbol in a set contributes to the scoring. A set of one symbol is only worth one point, but get a set of 8 different symbols and you will snag a cool 64 points. In a two-player game, scoring the huge points on set collection will be significantly easier than in higher player counts.
For example, say you finish the game with two level three tools, and one level four tool. Combined, your tools give you a total of 10. You also have two cards with tool multipliers. One card shows one figure, and the other shows two figures. Together, these create a multiplier of three. You then apply the multipliers for a total score of 30.
This information is not a secret to other players, but can make it tricky to keep up with your opponents' scores. This makes for an exceptionally tense final scoring phase.
Providing you have the ability to, you could trade in collected resources to claim a building tile. These are worth victory points when you build them, and, depending on the scoring cards you have collected, may also score again at game end. These building stacks act as a game end countdown time too. The game will end when one of the building stacks is empty. It also ends if you cannot refill the card “market”.
The rest of the locations are for resources. These allow you to place multiple workers there, and you will want to in order to score well. The spot you’ll likely be visiting almost every turn is the food space. There is no limit to the number of workers that can be hunting for food in any given round. You roll the same number of dice as workers placed there. Then add all the die faces up and divide by two to determine how many food tokens you manage to collect. So roll three dice and get a 2, 4, and a 5 then you have a total of 11, divided by two and rounded down is 5 food tokens for your troubles. For wood, you divide the total by 3. For clay, it is divided by 4. By 5 for stone, and by 6 for gold. Collecting gold is, just like in the real world, significantly more difficult than collecting sticks.
Once all your meeples have been placed, you pass until the placing phase ends. At this point, in turn order, players resolve all of their worker actions in whichever order they please. After completing a work action, you return the workers to your player board ready for the next round. Then those hungry workers must be fed. Each worker needs one food. If you have no food available then you must spend resources to feed the tribe. If you cannot or choose not to feed your tribe with clay, wood, stone or gold, then your tribe starves. You lose ten points (regardless of how many starve) on the score track.
With the first player marker rotated, the cards in the market are shifted to the right and empty slots refilled from the draw pile. Then we go again. Stone Age ends once there is one building stack depleted, or once you have run out of cards to refill the card market. Lack of civilization cards results in immediate game end, and if a building stack is depleted then you finish out the round. At that point, you tot up your final score from your cards as well as add one point per leftover resource on your player board. The player with the most impressively huge score wins.