First released in 2008, Stone Age has stood the test of time as a classic euro game. When it comes to the greatest worker placement games of all-time, Stone Age must be included in the conversation.
Worker placement refers to a mechanic common to several euros including Alien Frontiers, Kingsburg, and Lords of Waterdeep. It is the act of placing your available workers onto spaces on the board to activate benefits that enable you to receive resources among other effects, helping you progress through the game.
In Stone Age, you are taken back to a time when work was physically demanding and resources were limited. In your role, you are striving to create a flourishing civilization through careful planning.
The game is played in three phases.
In the first phase, players place their workers on available spots on the board, one player at a time, going clockwise, until all players are out of workers. Your options are to collect resources—such as wood, clay, stone, or gold—go to the fields and hunt for food, send two workers to the hut to produce an additional worker, reserve a building tile or civilization card, move up the food track, or buy a tool. When going for resources, a player may place as many workers as there are available spots.
The dice come into play when resolving how much a player collects for the workers placed. For each of a player’s workers placed at the forest, he would roll the number of dice associated with workers there and divide the result by three. For example, if he placed two workers at the forest, he would roll two dice and divide the result by 3. So, if he rolled a 6 and a 3, he would receive 3 wood (6 + 3 = 9 divided by 3 equals 3). For clay, you would divide the result by 4. For stone, you would divide the result by 5. For gold, you would divide the result by 6. As you can see, not all resources are equal value. Going into the fields to hunt for food works similarly to collecting resources, except you can send as many workers as you want!
This is an important aspect of the game since you must always have enough food to feed your workers at the end of each round. To resolve food collection, the player rolls the number of dice corresponding with his workers placed in the fields and divides the result by two.
Once all workers have been placed on the board, players take actions according to their corresponding workers on the board.
In the third phase, players return workers to their personal player board and feed their tribe. Each worker requires 1 food.
Before this happens, each player receives food corresponding with how far they are along the food track. If a player has more food than required for his tribe, not to worry, food carries over into the following rounds.
If a player can’t afford to feed his tribe, there are penalties!
The careless player who has chosen to starve his tribe must pay one resource for each unfed worker or lose 10 victory points.
After this phase, the next round begins and players repeat the three phases. The game continues in this fashion until their aren’t enough civilization cards to fill the four spaces at the beginning of the round or at least one pile of building tiles is emptied. At that point the game ends and whoever scores the most points wins.
Stone Age well deserves the accolades it has received, having been nominated for game of the year in 2008.
The fact that it is still highly praised ten years following its release proves that it has earned its own seal of excellence. Everything in this game clicks so well for what it is. It has a great balance of simplicity and depth.
The turns are simple: just place your workers and resolve accordingly. It is intuitive enough to easily teach new players how to play. However, the depth involved gives this game great replay value. You are faced with many choices each turn and there are usually 2-3 worth pursuing. The depth of decision-making in this game is especially satisfying.
I’ve played through this game with various player counts and find 3-4 players to be ideal, with the full 4 being the best setup. After a few playthroughs, I’m blown away by how fresh and exciting this game feels each time.
There is a constant tension between playing with balance and risking it all. The risk-averse, responsible side of me wants to move up the agriculture (food) track and hunt for food to make sure I always have enough food to feed my tribe at the end of each round. However, the risk-tolerant, reckless side of me wants to go big on gaining resources for civilization cards and building tiles.
The most ideal strategy for winning the game is to stock up on certain sets of civilization cards.
For example, there is a card that scores points based on how many huts/buildings you’ve built. In the last game I played, I collected a set of hut multipliers that scored me 24 points (I built 6 huts with civilization cards multiplying that number by 4). I had another set of civilization cards that scored me an additional 18 points.
To give you a comparison on how important civilization cards are, the only other primary way of scoring victory points is by paying resources to build huts that score an average 13 points. However, that could be another strategy since the game ends once one pile of hut tiles is emptied. Theoretically, you could empty the pile before anyone has enough civilization cards to score big.
If there’s one complaint I have in this game, it’s that there’s a bit of counting to keep track of since each resource/food is divided differently than the other when rolling. But I also love how that balances the game, which leads me to one of my biggest praises of Stone Age.
A lot of forethought was put into the checks and balances of this game. The number of available spots on the board, the value of resources and food, and variety of civilization cards makes for a tight and competitive match every time. This game does a great job of making for close matches. In our last play through, all three of us ended within ten points of each other.
In the last two years, I’ve played nearly 100 different games and Stone Age is the first and only game to score a perfect 10. Everything it does, it does so well. It’s simple to play, but has a pleasant depth of strategic variety. This is a must-own for any board game collection.
Recommended for those who enjoy
Alien Frontiers, Settler of Catan, Kingsburg, Age of Empires III, Scythe