Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of similarities. For example, the aim of the game is to collect resources to build huts in your prehistoric village. However, Stone Age is primarily a worker placement game and My First Stone Age most definitely isn’t. No, this is a memory game.
Now, that ‘m’ word will strike fear into your heart if for you (like me) a functioning memory was something you used to have before the kids came along. But kids LOVE memory games and it’s a mechanic that’s a great leveller. No need to 'go easy on them’ here. In fact, you’ll be hoping they go easy on you!
On top of that, there’s some light strategy to keep you interested (and them, as they grow older.) And there’s plenty of educational value – especially if your kids are doing the Stone Age at school (Year 3 usually.)
OK, lets open up the box and find out what's inside...
What's in the Box?
Peeking under the My First Stone Age box lid is like clapping eyes on Stonehenge for the first time. The components are a sight to behold! Artist Michael Menzel has created artwork which is reflective of the adult game yet lovingly tailored for this younger market. And all the games pieces – both wooden and cardboard – are beautifully designed and monolithically chunky.
The resources (berries, fish, clay pots, flint arrowheads and mammoth teeth) and the meeples are made from weighty, coloured wood. The remaining components – hut tokens, settlement stands, forest tokens, player markers and the game board itself– are made from thick, laminated cardboard. This game is definitely built to weather most things your children will be able throw at it.
A word of warning – those wooden berries look sooooo good they could very easily disappear into a little one’s mouth. For that reason, it’s recommended you keep any under 3s well away.
Learning the rules and setting up should take considerably less time than your average mammoth hunt. From first box opening to play should take less than 20 minutes.
Simply deposit the required number of resources (depending on the number of players) on the requisite resource spaces – berries in the forest, pots in the clay pit etc. Place one of each resource at the trading post and the two dog tokens on the dog space. Shuffle up the hut tokens and place them in 3 piles of 5 on the designated places on the board. Turn the top hut token on each pile face up. Then, shuffle up the forest tokens and place them, face down, around the board. Finally, grab a settlement stand, a player token and a meeple, placing the latter on the building site space. Now, you’re ready to go.
On the first play, it’s worth reading your kids the story of Jono and Yada, the Stone Age Children from the rulebook. It’s a nice little introduction to the Stone Age and to the game itself. It also taught me a few things. For example, who knew mammoths munched their way through 6 sets of teeth during their lifetimes?
How to Play My First Stone Age
To win the game, you need to complete your settlement by building 3 huts. To build a hut, you need to land on the building site space and exchange the relevant resources from your supply for one of the face-up hut tokens. Each hut token requires a different combination of resources, 2-3 per hut. Once you've built a hut and placed it in your settlement stand, you'll turn the hut token below it face up to make it available to build. Return the resources used to pay for the hut to the relevant spaces on the board.
So how do you collect resources and get to the building site space? That’s where the forest tokens come in.
At the beginning of your turn, you’ll flip over one of the forest tokens placed around the board. If that token has a number on the flipside, you’ll move that many spaces around the board. If it has a symbol on it (berry, fish, hut etc), you’ll move to the relevant space (forest, river, building site etc). Once you’ve moved, you can take an action – which is usually to take one of the resources there, if there are any left.
There are three special spaces. If you land on the dog space, you can take one of the dog tokens. You can use dogs in place of any resource when building huts so they're rather handy. If there are no dogs left when you arrive (there are only 2), you can steal one from another player. At the trading post, you can swap one of your resources with one of the resources on this space. The building site space allows you to build one of the face up huts as described above. And whoever lands on that space must turn all the face up forest tokens face down again and – to add to the confusion – swap two of them around.
This is where the memory bit comes in. To move to where you want to go, you need to remember what’s on the flipside of those face down forest tokens. And as all players will use the building site space frequently throughout the game, those forest tokens are going to be flipped frequently!
What's it Like to Play?
The first few turns are pretty random, as nobody knows what’s on the flipside of any forest token. You’ll bumble around the board picking up various resources with no real plan. But as the game progresses and players flip the forest tokens over and back again, your powers of recollection will be rewarded. The better your memory, the more efficiently you’ll move around the board gathering resources and building huts. If you can’t remember what’s where, you’ll sink without trace like a mammoth tooth disappearing into the swamp.
But there’s more to My First Stone Age than this basic memory element. There’s some light strategy to get you and your kids thinking too.
Which hut should you go for based on the resources you have and the forest tokens you know? What huts are the other players going for and how do you slow them down (especially if they’re going for the same hut as you!)? How do you get the resource you need when the relevant resource space is empty? Pick up something you don’t need right now and then swap it at the trading post? Or pick up a dog token knowing someone might steal it from you before you get to the building site?
The other great thing about this game is that nobody’s ever really out of the running. It's easy for slow starters to come surging back, especially if the new huts revealed match the resources they've stockpiled. And if you are in a hopeless position, the game's over in 15 minutes so the pain is bearable.
The only very minor gripe is with the building site space, which has too much power in this game. Not only do you need it to build huts but you'll also use it to flip the forest tokens face down and initiate the two forest token swap to confuse your opponents. As a result, most players will follow the location of its token with the precision of a flint-tipped arrow fired by a master bowman. Even when a player swaps it with another forest token, the rules stipulate this should happen in full view of the other players. Instead, we make the other players close their eyes when this swap happens, just to add a little uncertainty.
Designer Marco Teubner’s experience in creating children's games comes shining through in this beautifully executed design. It’s little surprise My First Stone Age picked up the prestigious Kinderspiel des Jahre (Children’s Game of the Year) in 2016.
The balance between adults and kids is proven by the fact that my 8-year-old, my wife and I are pretty even when it comes to wins. My son has even beaten his ex-headteacher grandmother, who believes that children need to earn their victories at board games.
My only negative comment is that replayability isn’t the greatest. Although every game is slightly different, dependent on which huts top the 3 stacks, there are no variants on offer. That being said, children are fonder of repetition than adults i.e. you'll probably get bored with it before them! My son will play 2-3 times in a row before placing it back on the game shelf for a few months. But it always comes back out again – even though he has plenty of other, more complex games to choose from.
My First Stone Age looks great and plays great. It’s a fantastic family game in itself, and an excellent stepping stone for kids into more complex ‘euro’ games. In short, it’s well worth your investment.