Stone Age, by Z-Man Games, is seen by many board game fans as the go-to gateway game for introducing people to the hugely popular ‘worker placement’ mechanic. It also comes with a little twist involving a dice cup.
Traditionally a worker placement game involves players starting the game with wooden workers, which they’ll place in various locations around the board. When they are placed in an area, they allow you to do the action associated with that area. Go here, get/do this.
This occurs in Stone Age, where players are each a chief delegating to their tribe of cave-people (or should that be cave-meeples?). You’re aiming to acquire specific resources to build huts (worth immediate points), and you’ll also want to purchase Civilisation cards for big end-game points. These cards work in a set collection manner. They also cost you resources.
You gain resources by sending your tribe workers out to collect wood, bricks, stone and gold. There are seven spaces per location, and they can fill up fast – it’s first come, first served! Once everyone has placed their workers, they are then activated. Players can pick which order to activate their various workers around the board.
Sent three workers to the forest to collect wood? Roll one die per your workers there. Add up the pip total, and divide it by the cost of the resource value. That tells you how many pieces of wood you’ve earned. Gold, for example, is more expensive than wood, so to earn it you’ll need to roll a higher total (or send more workers there, to increase the odds of rolling what you need).
You can also send workers to make tools (to help mitigate unlucky dice rolls) or to the love shack to, ahem, create a cave-baby (an extra worker!). You can also increase your agriculture rating to earn you food. Why? Because in Stone Age you need to feed your people at the end of each round (you can also send workers to the hunting ground to roll for food). Can’t afford to feed your people? You either have to sell off your resources or let them starve (you monster!) and lose precious points.
The crux of Stone Age comes in the buildings and the cards. You also acquire them via sending a worker to their location. It’s a race to get (and pay for) them before your opponents. There are always four face-up cards on offer each round, and when this deck runs out (or one pile of hut tiles has been exhausted) the game ends after that round.
Stone Age is a lot of fun due to the dice rolling. It’s about gambling with the odds of how many dice you’ll need to roll the number you require. This chance factor is what separates it from direct, to-the-point games like Lords of Waterdeep. It’s not complex – definitely on the lighter side of worker placement – but it’s a delightful title that many a gamer has experienced, to then become hooked.
Player Count: 2-4
Time: 60-90 Minutes
Life was hard work in the Stone Age. No modern day tools, no scientific advances in farming, food roamed freely and had to be hunted. Tools had to be crafted by hand and manual labour was just a course of life. Welcome to the Stone Age.
Z-Man Games' Stone Age is a 2-4 player worker placement, dice rolling game, with a touch of set collection, set in prehistoric times where stone was predominately used to make tools and implements. Players take on a tribe to hunt, gather, craft and build and become the best tribe that they can be.
Stone Age is a great introduction to the work placement genre, the gameplay is silky smooth and easy to teach and learn. It has even be classed as a gateway game by many players and can be enjoyed by gamers and non-gamers alike.
The game is broken down in to 3 simple phases that flow nicely in to each other. There is a central board that contains all the worker placement spots, buildings, civilisation cards and spare resources with every player getting a player board to store their own individual tribes resources, buildings and tools.
The 1st phase involves players, in turn order, placing their workers on the board. There are 10 areas that a player can go visit to do the following actions:
- Produce Food
- Produce Wood
- Produce Brick
- Produce Stone
- Produce Gold
- Construct a building (to give instant VP)
- Purchase a civilisation card (give instant bonus + end game scoring)
- Increase agriculture level (reduces the amount of food required)
- Get a tool
- Visit the love shack (requires 2 workers, obviously, to generate another worker)
As with the majority of worker placement games there is a limited number of spaces that workers can go to. Food, Wood, Brick, Stone and Gold only have 7 spaces, there are 4 stacks of buildings and cards but only 1 player can go on any 1 building stack or card at a time. The agricultural space, the love hut and the construct tool space only have room for 1 player at any time. However, the food space is unlimited.
The second phase involves actually activating the work placement spots which can be done in any order. For the resource spaces (Food, Wood, Brick, Stone and Gold) the amount of resources received depends on how many workers are present (represented by rolling the corresponding dice), the value of the dice and the value of the resource. For example, 3 workers go to produce brick. 3 dice are rolled for a total of 12. Brick has a value of 4 so 12 divided by 4 equals 3. The player receives 3 bricks.
Buildings are constructed and cards are purchased using the resources gathered. Constructing a building gives you instant victory points and can count to end game scoring depending on the civilisation cards a player has obtained.
Tools can be used to add the tool value to a players dice roll increasing the amount of resources gathered.
The civilisation cards have multiple uses such as, instant resources or victory points or roll a dice for each player and share the resources depending on the pip value. Other cards make up the set collection aspect of the game. There are numerous cultural artefacts and the more different sets you have the more victory points you get at the end of the game (2 different cards = 4 points, 5 different cards = 25 points etc). Other cards give you end game victory point multipliers, for example the total number of farmers a player has on their cards is multiplied by their agricultural level; or the number of builders multiplied by the number of constructed buildings. There are a total of 4 versions of these cards - farmers (coupled with agricultural track), hut builders (coupled with the number of buildings constructed), tool makers (coupled with the number of tools a player has), the shamen (coupled with the total number of tribe members).
At the end of the worker phase all players must feed each member of their tribe 1 food from their supply. For every level on the agriculture track 1 less food is required to be paid. If you can't feed your tribe 10 victory points are lost.
Play continues this way until all of one stack of buildings is depleted or there are not enough civilisation cards to replenish the board. Victory points are awarded for the players cultural artefacts cards and their technology cards.
Stone Age was on my radar for a long time before I actually got hold of a copy. Everywhere seemed to be sold out until I managed to find a copy in a local board game shop. I snapped it up right away and was not disappointed. This is a great introductory game to worker placement but has enough depth to keep gamers entertained. It is not a heavy worker placement game by any stretch of the imagination, if people are looking for that then try the likes of Agricola or Caverna. If people are looking for a light worker placement game that can be played with non-gamers, casual gamers and more serious gamers then you can't go wrong with Stone Age. The first time I played this with my folks (who are non-gamers but reluctantly get dragged in to games) they purchased a copy straight away and I often receive a picture of them playing it. The rules are simple and easy to understand. The rounds are not overly complicated and the scoring at the end is pretty straightforward.
There's interesting decisions to be made each turn and a feeling of "press your luck" almost with the worker placement. Do you risk just placing 1 or 2 workers on gold in the hope that you roll high enough. Or do you chuck 4 workers in to the gold pit to increase your chances. Food might be easy to obtain but is 1 worker enough to gather enough food to feed your tribe. The more workers you have the more actions you can do, but the more food they will consume each turn. When to visit the love shack to increase your tribe numbers is balanced with the level a player is on the agricultural track. The technology cards can also give players big bonuses during the game with free resources but also offer big scoring opportunities with cultural artefacts, the Farmers, Tool Makers, Hut Builders and Shamans. There are many ways to score victory points in the game, all of them as viable as each other.
I really enjoy Stone Age and I'm glad that I've got a copy of this in my collection. I do own some heavier worker placement games which I also enjoy when I want a more meatier gaming session but still get Stone Age to the table often. It's a pretty quick playing game as well, I have managed a 4 player game in 1 hour after rules explanation which included 2 new players, both infrequent gamers. I have played this with 2 and 4 players and it scales really well. There are some restrictions to the worker placement spots for a 2-player game that tighten up the board a little. I really enjoy playing Stone Age and am happy that I can play this game with a wide group of people with minimal rules explanation. Highly recommend!