What is it? Stone Age is a worker placement game that has players guiding their tribe over the course of several rounds. Players will need to collect resources that can be used to feed their tribesmen as well as construct huts and gain cards.
Are you reviewing the regular Stone Age or the Stone Age: Anniversary edition? The regular one.
How thematic is it? Eh. While there is hunting/gathering and a leather dice cup, I don’t ever feel like I’m actually providing for my tribe. The theme and artwork do liven up the board slightly and provide something different from 17th century farming or anything to do with nobles but if you were interested in this because of the theme, I’m sorry to say you’ll be disappointed by the lack of connection between the subject matter and the actions you take as a player. It’s as deep thematically as Ticket to Ride is.
Is it easy to play? Yes. Stone Age is a gateway game in my eyes (as well as many other peoples). It’s lightweight and the mechanics are easy to follow. The aspect of probability and odds related to the dice rolling is probably the trickiest aspect of the game. Even with the lightweight distinction, Stone Age is still a game that sees the table regularly thanks to how solid of a time it is. At the time of this writing, Stone Age is the sixth most played game in my collection (according to BG Stats).
So what do you do exactly? Each turn, you will place your tribesmen on certain spaces on the board with the goal to either gather resources, gain an advantage, complete huts or collect cards. Players can gather five types of resources (Food, Wood, Clay, Stone and Gold) that can then be used to feed their people (at the end of every round) or complete huts or cards. Huts grant points and cards grant immediate benefits and long term scoring opportunities. The catch of Stone Age is that when players are sending their tribesmen to a location (such as to the forest to gather Wood), they need to decide how many tribesmen are going right then and there. There is a set amount that can visit each location and once a player visits a location, they cannot return for the rest of the round (except for hunting for Food). Each resource is designated with a number (Food-2, Wood-3, Clay-4, Stone-5 and Gold-6) and each worker represents a die. By sending three workers to the forest to harvest Wood, a player will have three dice to roll. That roll will be divided by three (as that is Wood’s number) and that’s how many Wood the player will receive. For example, I send three tribesmen to the forest and roll three dice. I roll a 6, a 4 and a 3. That equals 13. 13 divided by 3 equals 4 and some change. I round down and receive 4 Wood. I can use those resources to build huts (which grant points), purchase cards, would provide a possible immediate benefit as well as an end game scoring opportunity and/or feed my people in the event I don’t have enough Food (I don’t recommend being in this position). In addition to the resource gathering, players can also gain certain advantages by increasing their farming ability, gaining a tool (which can add to a die roll) and gaining additional workers (which means additional food is needed to feed them).
How are the components? Great. The resources look like the items they’re mimicking and the food, which are cardboard tokens, are easy for passing back and forth as they change hands the most often. The board is incredibly clear and easy to read, with designated circles for each space open to each tribesman. The leather dice cup is a weird inclusion (to me) but thematic and since this game features a lot of dice rolling, it’s nice to have a mechanism that controls the dice as they’re rolled. It does feel satisfying to use. Each player also has their own player board and while I’ve heard of some people having issues with the boards warping over time, I’ve had no issues whatsoever after all these years.
What about player count? I love the game at every player count. At two- and three-, the middle of the board (where players can improve their farming level, gain a tool or visit the love shack) is restricted to either one or two placements and the same rules apply for the resources themselves. It makes a four-player game a different experience entirely as everything is available to all players. I really enjoy Stone Age at all counts and my only nitpick when playing at four players is that there can be some downtime as you wait for your turn when everyone is completing their actions. Two-player games can turn into point salad contests however so don’t be discouraged if you see scores way higher than yours when comparing player count. My highest score at two-players is 493 whereas my four-player score is 212.
Playing time? For new players, I’d range twenty to thirty minutes per player. Once you have the premise and mechanics down, games will happen much quicker but for three- and four-player games, I would still plan for them to take about an hour (if not more).
How much randomness is present in the game? The games resource collection is based entirely around dice rolling so…very. You may place four tribesmen in the woods so you can stock up for two turns but then you’ll roll four ones and never forget it.
How interactive is the game? There is no trading or fraternizing with the other players but there is interaction as there are a finite amount of resources and spaces on the board. Players can take more of a cutthroat approach and block the paths needed by their opponents. I feel that the game is much more cutthroat at two- and three-players (two especially) due to the change of rules restricting tribesmen placement.
Is there much downtime? In the higher player count games, you’ll experience downtime as players take their actions. It’s particularly notable in the later game when players have more tribesmen and are diversifying their selections. It’s not terrible by any means but it is noticeable.
Does winning feel satisfying? Yes. Stone Age tends to result in close games with my group and edging out a victory by a few points always feels good.
Does the same strategy work each game? Not really. There are definitely strategies that are strong and will play well each game but we haven’t encountered one that is a overpowered by any means. Each strategy will perform slightly different depending on the players at the table and the player count. The diversity of options is pleasant and rewards multiple plays. It’s hard to latch onto a particular strategy (such as collecting cards that only benefit the creation of huts) since the cards come out randomly and player order may mean you don’t even have the chance to grab a particular card.
Is this a good gateway game? Yes. One of the best. Stone Age is an excellent introduction to the worker placement mechanic and the family of games that reside in that genre. If someone was looking to make the jump from the Sorry’s, Monopoly’s and Apples to Apples worlds, I would recommend Stone Age as an option.
What are the biggest issues with the game that haven’t been mentioned yet? Turns can get rather formulaic. There are three spaces on the board that are limited to one player each round (farming, love shack and tool maker) and most turns will revolve around players choosing these with their first actions. The only delineation that occurs is if a card appears that is absolutely crucial to a player (such as the 3x hut card or the cards that provide a middle bonus and a artifact). The other issue is that with the small resource pool, you’re never really out of the game. If the player before you takes the hut you had your eyes on, there’s a very good chance that another hut is available with very similar requirements that requires minor changes to your strategy to fulfill.
Can you lose on the first turn? I guess you could just send people to gather food and get cards/huts (which you cannot afford) and that could possibly set you back but outright lose? Nah. I also feel like the importance of player order helps keep a runaway leader slightly in check (as the leader won’t always have first choice).
What should I know before my first game? There’s a lot of end of game scoring. Just because a player is ahead during the game doesn’t mean that they’ll be the foregone winner once all the bonuses have been tallied.
Can I play this anywhere before buying a copy? Yes. Boardgamearena has a version that I find to be a rather well done adaptation.
Do you recommend this game? Yes. Stone Age is one of my favorite games of all time thanks in part to how forgiving it is for new players and how easy it is to play. If I want to have a social evening where we chat, this is easily a game that can be played while we catch up on the happenings of the latest The 100 episode.