Everyone has a game that they’ve played more than all their other games. Perhaps it’s for the pure enjoyment of the game mechanisms or perhaps it’s for the theme and integration of style. One of the games I’ve been able to play profusely and come to see all the strategy is Stone Age. I feel it represents a moment in gaming history where you can see many popular mechanisms at work in a well designed package. It’s a game everyone should play at least twice.
The elegance of Stone Age first comes across with the simplicity of the design. It has resources, workers, and dice for the players. Everything else is tracked on the main board with places for tiles and cards. The art for the board also has a panoramic aspect that gives a reassurance of straightforward play for the players.
That’s where the simplicity ends. When players start to understand the choices in the game, they’ll see a strong medium-weight design with lots of meat. This is a game that with even five plays, you always feel like you could do better or try a different strategy.
There is also a good deal of replayability and randomness. This has some criticizing the game for the inability to effect a good move due to poor dice rolls. One way to hurdle this aspect of the game is to gather resources (tools) that help you mitigate the randomness. That one design choice helps new gamers understand the negative impact of random elements in a game and how to turn it into a challenge that can be overcome. In addition, multiple strategies and tactical moves for gaining in-game vs end-game victory points exist. These layers of elements keep me coming back to it.
To truly understand Stone Age, I recommend starting with understanding the points scoring concepts, and then working backwards into how to deliver those points through game moves. Some decisions will involve giving up one path to gain points in another. When to make those choices is key due to the random nature of the cards that come out during the game.
Stone Age also implements a now tired mechanism of feeding workers. During the game, it’s not enough to just get extra workers. Doing so incurs the risk of requiring more resources to avoid losing other resources or points. Balancing the extra effort with the risk of losing ground aids the overall tension during play. This has been implemented in many other games, but I haven’t found another that represents this design aspect as perfectly as Stone Age.
I recommend Stone Age highly for everyone to learn. It’s a game that stays on my shelf continuously and I feel it’s always required playing for gamers I have shared a table with.