Instant Game Night Reviews: Stone Age
“Is Stone Age a good game to bring to game night?”
Year Published 2008
Designer Bernd Brunnhofer
Artist Michael Menzel
Publisher Hans im Glück (various others)
Age Range 10+
Playing Time 60-90 Minutes
Stone Age is a worker placement, resource management board game where players are leading a small tribe of people during the brutal Stone Ages. Today you have just a few followers, virtually no resources, and nowhere to call home. But, with careful planning and determination, your tribe will build a secure settlement, grow its population, and gather bountiful resources to trade for goods and tools.
But watch out, there are other settlements near by with the same ideas and if you aren't quick enough, they will take advantage of the spoils of the land before you get a chance!
Below you will find a brief summary of the game play along with our thoughts on whether or not Stone Age is a good game to bring to your next game night get-together.
Please note: We do not intend this review to be a thorough explanation of the setup, rules of a game or a detailed how to play. Rather, our reviews are aimed to provide you a basic overview of the gameplay along with our thoughts on how suitable a particular game is to bring to a game night with family or friends. If this is your first time reading an Instant Game Night review, please click here to read about our review format and rating system.
Stone Age is played over a series of rounds where players will take turns placing their wooden people on various spots of the game board and then taking the actions of each space.
Each round is divided into 3 phases:
Place your people: Starting with the first player, you will take turns placing one or more of your people on a space of your choice on the game board. Depending upon the space you choose, you may have to place one or more people on the board (described in detail below). Choose wisely, because many of the spaces can only be occupied by one person each round! Play will continue clockwise until all players have placed all of their people.
Take actions: Once all people have been placed, players will take turns executing the actions of each space. Beginning again with the first player, you will choose any one location on the board occupied by your people and take the appropriate action of that space (described below). Once a player has taken one singular action, play passed to the next person, until all players have executed all of their possible actions.
Feed your people: At the end of each round, players will need to feed the members of their tribe! Each person requires one food resource. If a player does not have enough food, they may trade some of their other resources for food at a 1:1 ratio. If the player does not have adequate food and cannot/doesn't wish to trade resources, that player will suffer a penalty of -10 points on the scoring track. If this penalty would put the player below 0 points, keep track of their negative score separately. Once they return to positive points, track their score as normal.
To get an appropriate feeling of the game, it is necessary to understand the various locations on the game board, how to place workers there, and what actions you'll be able to take as a result. There are 7 different spaces you may choose to place your workers throughout the game, and below we will walk through each one in detail.
1.) Tool Maker: The tool maker space can only be occupied by one people figure each round, meaning only one player will have the opportunity to use it each round. When resolving the action on the tool maker, the player will take 1 new tool. If the player has no tools, they will take a value 1 tool and place it on the top-most tool space on their player board. On subsequent turns, this player will continue collecting value 1 tools until all three tool spaces on their board are occupied. If a player takes a new tool but all their spaces are full of level 1 tools, instead of taking a new tool the player will simply flip over the top-most value 1 tool on their board. This will reveal a value 2 tool. The player would continue in this manner until all three spaces are covered with value 2 tools. At this point, the player would begin swapping out value 2 tools for new value 3 tools. Finally, the value 3 tools could then be flipped over to value 4 tools. This means that at most a player may collect at most a value of 12 tools. Now that you understand how to collect tools, why would you want to? Well, every tool you have can be used each turn to modify a die roll during hunting or resource collection. So, if you have two level 1 tools and you roll two dice during a hunt, you could choose to increase the value of both dice by 1, or you could increase the value of one die by 2. The only rule to this is that you must always use the full value of each tool on a single die. So you wouldn't be able to use the same tool to modify multiple dice. Once you have used a tool, the rulebook suggests you turn it 90 degrees to indicate that it has already been used that round.
2.) Hut: The hut can only be occupied by one player each round but requires two workers be placed there. To execute the hut action, the player will simply take another player of their color from the supply and add them to their available worker pool. This effectively gives the player an additional worker to place out on the board for the remainder of the game.
3.) Field: The field can only be occupied by one player each round and requires only one worker to be placed. When taking the field action, a player will move their food track marker up one space, increasing the amount of food production they will have at the end of each turn. So taking this space effectively increases your food production by 1 for the remainder of the game.
4.) Hunt: Any number of players may place any number of their workers in the hunt space without restriction each round. The hunt action unsurprisingly allows players to hunt for food to use at the end of the round to feed their people. When taking this action, a player will roll a number of dice equal to the number of workers they sent out to hunt. Players will then add up the total value of all dice rolled and divide the result by 2 (always round down). This number is the total amount of food that player collects.
5.) Resource Spaces: There are 4 different resources which can be collected in Stone Age - wood, brick, stone, and gold. These resources are collected in the appropriate resource space on the board. Wood is collected in the forest, brick is collected in the clay pit, stone is found in the quarry, and gold is panned from the river. Each of these unique locations do not have a limit to the number of players that can place workers, but they are limited to a total of 7 workers. So, if the first player places 4 workers in the clay pit, this would mean that only 3 more workers could be placed there during the course of that round. When taking the resource collection action at any of these spaces, players will perform the same collection method as explained in the hunt action - players will take the number of dice equal to the number of workers they placed. All these dice will be rolled together and totaled. The only difference with the resources is the number players must divide their total by. Since wood is much easier to collect than gold, the resources become exponentially more difficult to acquire. To collect wood, players divide their total by 3. To collect brick, the total is divided by 4. For stone, the total is divided by 5, and finally, to collect gold your total must be divided by 6. In all cases, players always round down. Also in all cases, players have the ability to add any number of tools to their total prior to dividing.
6.) Civilization Cards: In the bottom right corner of the board, there will be four face up civilization cards. During the worker placement phase, players may place exactly one of their workers on any of these cards to "claim" them. During the action phase, this player will decide if they wish to buy the card or not. If they chose not to buy the card, they simply remove their worker and leave the card in place. If the player wishes to buy the card, they must first pay the number of resources as indicated on the game board. From left to right, the cards cost from 4 resources all the way down to a single resource. This payment can be made with any type of resource and in any combination, although players will likely want to spend wood or brick, as they are cheaper and easier to acquire. Once the player has paid the cost of the card, they will take the card and collect an immediate bonus (if applicable). This bonus is indicated by a symbol at the top of the card, and could be in the form of tools, resources, food, or even a wild dice roll that will yield a benefit based on the number rolled. Once the player has collected the immediate bonus, the card should be placed in the appropriate space on their player board, face down. Each of these cards will also provide some form of end game scoring bonus based on the icon on the bottom of the card. Some of the cards provide benefits based on a player's end game situation (sand-colored bottoms) such as "multiply your position on the food track by 2" or "multiply the number of buildings you have completed by 3". Alternatively, the card may have a single symbol on its bottom (with a green background). These cards score points at the end of the game based on the number of symbols you collect. To calculate this score, players will add up the total number of civilization cards they have with unique symbols. These numbers are them multiplied together. So, if a player has 5 cards with 5 unique symbols, the player would receive 25 points (5x5). In addition to this scoring, players will also score 1 point for each duplicate symbol they have collected throughout the game. So if this same player had collected 5 unique symbols and 3 duplicates, they would receive 28 points (5 x 5 = 25 + 3 = 28).
7.) Buildings: In the bottom left corner of the game board there will be four visible building tiles. During the worker placement phase, players may place exactly one of their workers on any of these buildings to "claim" them. During the action phase, this player will decide if they wish to buy the building or not. If they chose not to buy the building, they simply remove their worker and leave the tile in place. If the player wishes to buy the building, they must first pay the number of resources as indicated on the bottom of the tile. Usually this cost is indicated by symbols of various resources, such as 2 stone and 1 brick. For these types of buildings, the player will immediately earn the number of victory points that are printed on the tile, which is then added to the player's board and a new tile revealed on the game board. Other times, however, the cost will be a set number of resources of a certain number of types. For instance, the cost might be four resources of exactly two types. So you could pay 2 wood and 2 brick, 3 stone and 1 gold, and so on. The catch here is that the player will earn victory points based on the value of goods they decided to pay with. The value of each good is the number that you originally had to divided your dice roll by to earn them. So, wood is worth 3 victory points, brick is worth 4, stone is worth 5, and finally gold earns you 6 victory points. So, if the player had paid with 2 wood and 2 brick, they would earn 14 points (3+3+4+4). Once the player has decided which resources to pay with, they immediately move the appropriate number of spaces on the scoring track and place the tile on their player board, along with revealing a new tile on the game board.
End of Round:
Once all players have placed their workers, taken the appropriate actions and fed their people, a new round will begin. To set up for this, players simply need to slide the civilization cards as far to the right as possible, leaving any empty spaces on the far left of the track. The empty spaces are then filled form the draw deck. Finally, players will move all of their used tools back to their proper position. The first player marker is passed clockwise, and a new round can begin!
Players will continue taking turns and completing rounds until one of two things occur:
There are not enough civilization cards remaining to fill the board. If this occurs, the game ends immediately and no further rounds will be played.
One stack of building tiles is depleted. If this occurs, play will continue until the end of the current round and then players will proceed to final scoring.
Regardless of how the end game is triggers, players will count up the total of their earned victory points from civilization cards and add that to their current position on the scoring track. The player with the most points, is the winner! In the event of a tie, the player with the highest total food production, tools, and people is the winner.
Changes for 2 or 3 Players:
Stone Age can be played with as few as 2 players, however when playing with 2 or 3 players there are a few different restrictions placed on players during the worker placement phase. We won't go into them in detail here, but they are detailed in the rule book and do not fundamentally alter the flow of the game or the mechanics.
We think it's fair to say at this point that Stone Age is a modern-day classic worker placement board game. And we feel it is one that really has stood the test of time and still stands out to us as one of the best gateways into worker placement for newer players. This game has been a smash hit with everyone we've played it with and we always find ourselves willing to play it again. There are some games that are great fun to play a few times a year but no more than that. Stone Age is not that game. Stone Age is the type of game that always sounds appealing to us, no matter how recently we played it last. We think a big part of this is certainly the low complexity nature of the mechanics and the simple to understand flow of a round. But we also attribute a lot of Stone Age's success, at least for us, to its theme.
At first glance the theme feels pretty innocuous, but as you play the game you realize that everything you do throughout the course of the game makes sense thematically. It makes sense that wood is easier to find than gold. It makes sense that you have to hunt to feed your people. It makes sense that you'd want to build tools to make tasks easier, because of course having an axe will make gathering wood easier! From start to finish, Stone Age does such a great job of holding the theme together for players. Of course, there are people who will play and ignore the theme entirely, but as a game night host, this is a game you can really squeeze every drip of theme out of and narrate players' turns to fit the theme so easily. Heck, you might even consider dressing the part with a Bam-Bam costume!
It is hard for us to come up with any negatives for Stone Age, although we will say that explaining the civilization cards and buildings can be a bit confusing for brand new players. This is also a game where experienced players will almost always have the upper hand over players who have never played the game before. This is important to keep in mind as a host. Other than those two minor drawbacks, we absolutely love Stone Age in our household. It is a game we will always have in our collection, and beyond that, it will never be collecting any dust as often as it hits the table.
If you haven't given Stone Age a try, we highly recommend it for just about any one but especially for someone who enjoys lighter worker placement games and/or is looking to get family or friends deeper into the board game hobby!
Our rating system:
G rabs your attention
E asy to play & teach
N ewbie friendly
G ood rulebook
H olds attention
! our experience
Stone Age Rating Breakdown
Grabs Your Attention
Stone Age isn't a particularly colorful or flashy game in any regard, but the whole package comes together to create a pretty strong table presence in our opinion. The colors are varied just enough and the food tokens and meeples add a nice splash of color. It isn't an off-the-charts attention grabbing game, but we would certainly stop and admire it if we walked past.
Stone Age is a fairly quick game to set up due to there being minimal components. It can be a bit fiddly to get the four stacks of building tiles to just the right height but overall the set up time is within our acceptable limit. Teaching the game comes right up to our time limit (especially with new players). It is far from a difficult game, but the various ways in which civilization cards and building tiles can score, along with the sheer number of places where workers can be sent, sometimes is overwhelming to a new player. We find gameplay to be fairly quick, but again, with new players it can straddle our line of acceptable. But overall, we give Stone Age a full point here, but just barely.
Stone Age shouldn't be memorable. It isn't much to look at, there aren't flashy components, and even the theme should be forgettable. Maybe it is just us, but despite all of that we find Stone Age to be such a memorable gaming experience. The worker placement is so pure and the level of strategic decision making in a simple package is really appealing to us. We can't fully explain it, but we think Stone Age will be a game your group will remember long after playing.
Easy to Teach and Play
Stone Age is a very quick and easy learn for experienced players. As we discussed above, however, it can be a bit taxing for a brand new gamer. We recommend simulating a round or two of the gameplay if necessary to really solidify the concepts for this new player. Once they get over the initial learning curve, we are sure the game play will flow smoothly. There are some opportunities for analysis paralysis in Stone Age, particularly if the player to your right just took the spot you wanted and ruined all your plans! But since you are only deciding on one placement per turn, this AP is isolated and short-lived in our experience.
Stone Age just doesn't quite get a full point for being newbie friendly, due to the numerous reasons mentioned above. We won't repeat too many points here, but we do believe that Stone Age is friendly to many less experienced gamers who have played a few other gateway board games in the past. The people we worry about at game night are people who have never had any experience with worker placement or resource management games. Because of this, we do caution you to consider your audience and any brand new gamers who might be joining you at the table.
The other consideration here is that in Stone Age, a more experienced player is quite a bit more likely to win the game due to knowing what types of strategies to pursue. So if you have played Stone Age a dozen times and you are playing with a group of newbies, you really should consider sharing all your strategic thought to help them not only stay competitive but to pick up on the game's strategy that must quicker.
Certainly this game isn't insurmountable for brand new players, but these points are worth considering nonetheless.
Stone Age is just interactive enough that we can give it a full point here. It has the classic worker placement "hey you took my spot" interactions, but what led us to give full credit here was actually the die rolling for resource gathering. We find the experience of watching players roll these dice and cheering or jeering depending upon the result to be a nice touch that really adds to the interactivity of this game.
Good Rule Book
The rule book for Stone Age is really well done and walks players through the game in a very structured and chronological way. Even a relative newcomer to the hobby should have no problems comprehending the rule book, and the included building /card reference sheet is the icing on the cake!
Stone Age does a good job of holding players' attention. This is mainly due to the fact that you are constantly thinking ahead to what next move you will be taking. Not only this but you are also building Plan B's and Plan C's for all your moves because you know it is a good possibility that the space you want won't be available when your next turn comes around. Because of this, unless you are playing with very AP-prone players, we doubt you will find the time to loose focus on the game.
As I mentioned in our final thoughts above, we think Stone Age flies way under the radar as a thematic game. At first glance it seems to be very abstracted, however, as you play through the game with the situation in mind (a stone age tribe trying to survive and thrive) every move you make feels so tied to the theme. In addition, the feeling this game gives you of having so many things you need to do and so few people/resources is very true to the theme as well. Perhaps we just get way too involved with the theme of board games (probably) but we find Stone Age to be a lovely thematic experience if you go into the game with the right mindset and continue to pull the theme into the game for yourself and others all throughout. We are certain some people will disagree strongly with our thoughts here, but they have never seen us in a Bam Bam costume :)
Now it is time to tell you about our experiences with Stone Age. We have played Stone Age many times within our group at all player counts from 2 up to 4 players. Because of the adjustments to the rules at 2 and 3 players, we feel like the game scales extremely well. There are more areas of the board that are more heavily restricted as your player count goes down, giving you that same feeling of scarcity that you get at the full 4 player count.
In terms of our family's experience, we have all thoroughly enjoyed our plays of Stone Age. It is a classic, entry-level worker placement game that we just continue coming back to over and over again. As much as we love Viticulture and Feast for Odin, sometimes we are in the mood for a similar feeling from a game that won't take nearly as much critical thinking. This is the biggest reason we love Stone Age - the game manages to force you into really crunchy moments of decision making without making you feel overwhelmed or stressed. We really love that about this game.
I can't see Stone Age ever leaving our collection, and in fact I am quite looking forward to the chance to purchase the expansion to see what it has to offer to an already great base game!