Back in the proverbial “day”, things were simpler. There were no cell phones or books full of faces. It was a simpler time where you could roll some dice to catch your dinner and if your rolls were bad you can always just feed your family a nice block of wood…
Wait a minute, that never happened.
Okay, so Stone Age isn’t exactly historically accurate, but as far as games go, it’s one of the classics that will always have a place on my shelf.
Stone Age is one of my favorite worker placement games. Come to think of it, it’s one of the first worker placement games I’ve ever played as well.
Brief Overview of Stone Age
In Stone Age, players will travel back into prehistory and take control of a tribe of villagers during the Stone Age. Just like our hominid ancestors, you’ll need to gather resources, feed your growing population, and use rudimentary technology to improve the quality of your village.
Success is measured in victory points in Stone Age (and in most Eurogames). Everything you gather, gain, manufacture, and build will earn you victory points in the game. May the best caveman or cavewoman win!
Versions & Expansions
Stone Age: The Expansion (Style is the Goal)
What happens to society when civilizations grow? Well, fashion is the obvious answer.
Stone Age: The Expansion adds several new tiles and cards but more importantly, it adds new resources, such as clothes and accessories. You’ll need to keep your villagers happy by clothing them in trendy stone-age garb to keep up with the Joneses.
All joking aside, the Stone Age expansion does some things very well. It changes up the gameplay dramatically… as soon as you get the rules down. It adds a few new ways to get resources and to pay for cards and for players who have played as much as I have, that adds a whole new dimension to the game.
How you go about acquiring resources, what resources do other players have hidden, and of course, it now adds a 5th player into the mix.
Overall, it’s a solid expansion. The only thing I don’t like is that it’s really standalone. By that, I mean Z-Man Games did not include it in the Anniversary edition which is a shame, because it would have upped the value way higher than it already was.
It’s a bit hard to get your hands on and is currently out-of-stock on Z-Man’s website. If you happen to find a copy, however, it’s definitely worth a try.
- This is not a standalone game - it is an expansion to Stone Age
- Takes 60-90 minutes to play
- For 2-5 players
Stone Age: Anniversary Edition
The Anniversary edition adds everything you love from the original Stone Age and much, much more.
In addition to playing the original, the Anniversary edition includes a double-sided board. One side is the familiar stomping grounds of our stone-age meeple people and the other side is a much more dreary winter landscape.
The player mats have also been given a winter side to play with the new expansions and variants included.
Some of the components have been upgraded as well. The food tokens are now shaped like the representations on the tokens. The 10s are shaped like animal hides, the 5 tokens are shaped like fish, and so on.
The meeples have also been given an upgrade and now come with 5 male and 5 female meeples that are more unique than the generic ones from the original.
The stone and gold resources have been upgraded insofar as they are much more valuable on the winter side. There are cards and huts that can be overpaid with stone and gold for an additional point bonus. This is a big game-changer because usually, players will pay with wood for everything because it’s cheaper to acquire. Offering an incentive to pay with stone and gold changes up a lot of the tried and true strategies from the original.
There are also threats added to the winter side. There’s a new card type that adds wild animals that will attack your village. When they are present on the board, they’ll reduce the dice value of EVERY PLAYER! The only way to get rid of them is to send out meeples to drive them off. All players can send out meeples and once enough are sent out, the animals go away and you may even get some victory points.
Overall, the Anniversary edition is an awesome version of the game that gives a ton of extra goodies as well as the original in one box.
- Celebrate ten years of this classic worker placement game
- Printed designs on the meeples add personality to the characters
- Features two new mini expansions: igloos and wild animals
My First Stone Age
My First Stone Age is a very cutesy kids version of Stone Age. It doesn’t play like Stone Age but has a similar look to it.
In the game, players will search the board for resources by flipping over forest tiles. The forest tiles stay the same but get shuffled up a bit every turn. This adds a bit of a memory mechanic which is always a nice educational touch in children’s games. It has been shown to help growth in young children.
It’s a very cute game, it’s pretty, and is very easy for the younger crowd to get into. The shelf life of the game, however, is limited. How often do you take out Candy Land as an adult?
If you have small children and want a very family-friendly and fun experience, it’s not a bad choice. However, even for a children’s game, it has a very limited shelf life. Luckily, its price tag is lower than a lot of big-box games and you will be able to get a lot of entertainment out of it until your kids want to play something a little more complex.
Unboxing Stone Age
- 1 Game Board
- 4 Player Boards
- 68 Wooden Resources
- 40 Wooden Figures
- 8 Markers
- 53 Food Tokens
- 28 Building Tiles
- 18 Tool Tiles
- 1 First Player Token
- 36 Civilization Cards
- 7 Dice
- 1 Leather Dice Cup
The components in Stone Age are high quality and have stood the test of time for me. We tend to play this game… a lot.
The main attraction/gimmick in the box is a leather dice cup that comes with the game. I’ll save you some pain here… don’t stick your nose in it. It smells like feet.
The Big Kahuna Standee
The only problem I have with the components in Stone Age is with the Big Kahuna standee that’s used as the first player token. The little feet that hold it up didn’t really stay in and were subsequently lost or eaten by the dog. I’m not entirely sure what happened to them, but they didn’t quite fit and they were easily lost.
Everything else from the player boards, the wooden resource tokens, the meeples to the cards are all very well done and will last you quite a while.
I did get several little baggies to help organize the pieces. I’m weird like that, but it does help with setup and tear down. The game comes with a few, but not enough to individually bag all the resources and meeples. You could even spring for little Tupperware containers or jars for ultimate organization.
How to Play Stone Age
Stone Age is a worker placement game and as such, you’ll get 5 meeple villagers to start with.
The locations for possible meeple placement can be broken down into 3 categories:
- Village Improvements
- Building or Trading
Resources locations are your basic spots where you’ll assign meeples to gain resources. Each resource has a different difficulty to acquire.
From easiest to hardest difficulty:
Each resource (with the exception of food) has only 7 open spaces.
That means that regardless of how many meeples you have, there can only ever be 7 total meeples on any space. If someone drops 7 of their meeples on wood, then nobody else is going to be able to acquire wood that round.
But how does it work?
Every meeple gives a player 1 die to roll on their turn when rolling for resources. You’ll need to add the value of all your dice rolled, then divide it by the value of the resource.
For example, if I placed 2 meeples on wood and rolled an 8 as my total, then I would get 2 wood (8 divided by 3). If I had rolled a total of 9, I would have gotten 3 wood tokens. It’s not as math-heavy as you might think, but after about 4 games in a row in the middle of the night, arithmetic can get hard.
Potentially, you always have a chance to get the more difficult resources with just a single meeple, but the odds are really low. When it comes to gold and stone, you’re going to want to commit at least 2 meeples, and even then, there’s no guarantee that you’ll actually get anything.
Tools can help with this, and I’ll talk about those in the next section.
These spaces are unique and are usually the first ones to fill up (not always, though).
There are 3 special spots that improve your overall village. These will provide permanent improvements to your villagers that remain persistent throughout the whole game. They can be used to gain bonus victory points at the end of the game when combined with certain cards from the trade location (cards).
1. The Rocking Tent
When the tent is a-rockin’, don’t come a-knockin’!
So, it turns out that when you put two meeples into a tent, the next day a third fully-formed meeple pops out, all ready to work.
No, I’m not going to explain it. Just accept it and don’t think about it too much.
By committing two meeples to the rocking tent, you’ll gain a third meeple that you can use in the next round. You’ll still need to feed all of your meeples, including the new one, so make sure you plan ahead.
2. The Tool Shed
This is where your villagers go to make tools. For every tool in your village, you’ll be able to add that tool’s value to a roll to get resources. Tools can be extremely helpful in aiding bad dice rolls. It’s super satisfying when you’re only a single number away from getting another resource and can tap your tool to get to that magic divisible number.
In our previous example, I rolled for wood and got an 8. So in this case, I would be 1 point shy of getting that extra wood. I would need a roll of 9 to get 3 wood. Here, I could use a tool to bump up my roll to a 9, getting me that extra resource that I’ll desperately need.
Tools are a great way to obviate the RNG gods if you happen to have pissed them off recently.
3. The Agriculture Track
There’s nothing quite like sustainable farming. Each time you commit a meeple here, you’ll be able to increase your village’s agriculture level. This is basically a renewable source of food.
If your agriculture level is 3, then you’ll get 3 free food every turn that you can use to feed your peeps at the end of the round. If you have 5 total meeples in your village, you’ll basically only owe 2 at the end of the round. If you have an agriculture level of 6 and only 5 total meeples, you’ll actually gain a surplus of 1 food every turn.
Note: Unfortunately, food is not worth anything at the end of the game, so there’s really not a whole lot of use in stockpiling it by this method. But having excess agriculture really comes in handy, allowing you to use your meeples for victory points, rather than gathering food each turn.
Building huts are one of the ways you can gain victory points and are also one of the end-game conditions of the game. There are 4 stacks of tiles and to build, you’ll simply place one meeple on the tile to reserve it. During your turn as you resolve your meeples, you’ll need to come up with the resources on the building tile to successfully add it to your village.
There’s a bit of gambling involved here, however. You can place your meeple on a building tile even if you don’t have enough resources to pay for it. You can then attempt to acquire the resources during your turn with other meeples. If you have good rolls— awesome! You’ll actually be able to afford the building. If your rolls are unlucky, however, and you aren’t able to acquire the necessary resources, then you’ll have wasted a meeple and most of a turn.
Each hut will have a different point value. Typically, they’re worth the number of resources you put into them. For example, if a building costs 2 wood (3 value each) and a stone (5 value) the point value of the hut is worth 11 victory points (2 x 3 + 5).
Special Huts (1-7 Resources)
There are several special buildings that allow players to pay with any resources. These are indicated by the wild card symbol on them. For these, they are still worth the number of points put into them.
There are a few extremely valuable huts in the base game that allow players to put 1-7 of any single resource into the hut. This can seriously boost your score. For example, if you manage to dump 7 gold on a special building, that single hut will be worth 42 victory points (7 resources x 6 the value of gold). That’s a huge point boost for anyone that can grab it.
You could also be a jerk and pay 1 wood for a special hut. You would get a total of 3 points to prevent the player that’s been stockpiling gold from the beginning of the game from getting the big payout. That can be a devastating blow from either end of that exchange.
Trading is probably the most important aspect of the game. There will always be 4 cards at the start of every round at the river. These cards represent trade with other villagers, but more importantly, it’s how you get bonus points at the end of the game. There are several different types of cards, but the most important ones will give you bonus points for set collection, agriculture level, number of villagers, tool level, and number of buildings built. This, right here, is how the game is won.
Each card costs between 1 and 4 of any resource to purchase. It makes sense to use wood here, simply because wood is cheaper and much easier to get. The cost will ascend as players go up the track.
The first card on the track costs 1 resource, the second costs 2 resources, etc.
At the beginning of every round, any cards not purchased will be pushed down to the cheaper slots. Meaning, that a card that’s being traded for 4 resources might not be worthwhile at the time. But if you are patient and wait a turn, you might get it for only 1 resource. The downside is that if somebody really wants it, they can jump ahead and pay more resources to get it.
It’s all about risk vs. reward. Do you wait or pay the extra cost to get the card?
If a card is integral to your overall strategy, it might be worth it to you to pay the extra resources to make sure that no one else snags it. These cards can mean serious victory points for you at the end of the game. We’ll talk about some possible strategies in the next section.
End-Game & Victory Conditions
Stone Age has two end-game conditions. The first is when 1 stack of building tiles is completely empty. There’s 5 in each stack, so theoretically, someone could keep hitting the same stack for an early end-game.
The second end game scenario is when there aren’t enough cards to fill the trade row. In this scenario, the game ends immediately. You won’t be able to play another round.
End Game Scoring
This is where the magic happens. You’ll get 1 victory point for every unused resource in your village. They’re all worth 1 point, regardless of if it’s wood or gold.
Next, you get bonus victory points from cards bought in the trade row.
If there’s a green background on the lower half of the card, then they’re part of the set collection series. You’ll want to get at least 1 of each different picture. The bonus points granted go up exponentially based on the number in the set, so if you have a full set of 8 different cards it’s worth 64 points at the end of the game. Whaaa? That can really make a serious difference in scoring! There’s a little chart on your village mat that will help you out with the points.
The next type of bonus points are the multipliers.
Some cards will have a tan background that will show a picture of various villagers doing things. These represent what they’ll give bonus points for.
You can potentially receive bonus points for:
- Your agriculture level: Farming Villagers
- Population: Shaman Villager
- Huts Builts: Villagers carrying a log
- Tool Level: Sitting villager making tools
You’ll notice that they’ll sometimes have more than one villager on each card. The way it works is pretty simple. You’ll add up all of the villagers for the respective multiplier and multiply by that level.
For example, if your bonus cards have a total of 4 farming villagers on them, you’ll multiply your agriculture level by 4. As you can imagine, focusing in on a particular multiplier and maximizing it throughout the game can be a huge bonus. Many of these can give a player 50+ bonus points at the end of game if they’re able to pick up all of the cards.
As an opponent, it’s a good idea to see what everyone else is aiming for and attempt to block them strategically.
Your First Game of Stone Age
Stone Age is played in rounds until one of the end-game conditions are met. This means you can have an extremely aggressive player that ends the game early or if your players like to take it slow, the game could potentially take significantly more time to play.
In each round, the starting player is the one with the Big Kahuna token. It’s basically a big dude sitting in a big chair. Any system of government designed on a system of people in chairs is doomed to fail, of course. Then every turn, the first player marker will pass to the left.
Place Your Meeples
The first player will choose a spot on the board and place any number of meeples that will fit. There are some special instances, like the baby-making tent where you must place 2 meeples.
Play then continues around the board and everyone takes a turn choosing 1 spot and places meeples on that spot.
Resolve Your Meeples
Once meeple placement is all done, the Big Kahuna gets to resolve all of their meeples in any order they wish. This is so that they can “gamble” on their resources. If you’re trying to build a building, but you don’t have enough resources you can place a meeple first on the building tile to reserve it, and then place more meeples on the resource you need in hopes that you’ll roll high enough to afford the building.
Feed Your Meeples
After everyone has taken their turn resolving their meeple workers, it’s time to feed them. Each player starts with 12 food, so you at least have enough to feed everyone for free for the first 2 rounds. After that, you’ll need to start using meeples to find food on your turn. You pay 1 food for every meeple in your village. Keep an eye on your agriculture level, because you’ll also gain 1 food for every level you have.
You can basically subtract your agriculture level from the number of meeples you have and that’s how much you owe.
I normally don’t talk about the 2-player versions of rules but I’ve played this one an insane amount of times, and I actually really like it.
For the 2-player variant, there are some restrictions on where you can place meeples.
Do you remember the village improvement spaces?
- Baby making hut
- Agriculture Improvement
In a 2-player game, only two of those spaces can ever be occupied in a single round. In my opinion, they are some of the most important spots, so limiting them in a 2-person game helps keep the power creep from getting out of control.
For resource spaces, regardless of the number of meeples placed, only 1 player may occupy a resource location. That means these:
That means you can be strategic (aka: a jerk) and drop 1 meeple on a resource if you know what your opponent needs to complete an objective.
The game is different with 2 players but I would argue that it’s actually a lot more strategic. There’s a lot less room for error. Also, the opportunities to block and counter your opponent are a much bigger part of the strategy.
Some Possible Strategies
Ooh boy, you’re in for a treat.
Stone Age is one of those amazing games that keeps on giving. I’ve played countless games of Stone Age and almost every time I play, I try out a new strategy. I’ve played some really weird games as well.
Just to give you an idea, here are some of the strategies I’ve tried.
The SWARM (My Personal Favorite)
If you can swarm early on (just like a zerg rush) you can gain a pretty big advantage. You will need to figure out how to feed everyone pretty quickly, though. You’ll need to find some balance, otherwise, all of your new villagers will just be sent to hunt/gather food, and you won’t actually be able to do anything meaningful with your turns.
If you don’t have enough food for your village, you can always feed them resources… I guess. (Imagine hardworking villagers chowing down on bricks. That’s mean.) But even so, you’re wasting valuable resources on feeding people, rather than building, etc.
Make sure you keep an eye out for the cards that grant end-game points for the number of villagers and pick them up whenever possible. Having a swarm of villagers is great, but without the bonus cards, all you’ll be doing is feeding your swarm. Bonus cards for meeples are crucial here.
The Rice Baron
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of agriculture. Having to devote half your meeples to gaining food every turn is a giant pain in the butt. If you can hog the agriculture square and keep other players from gaining points in it, you’re basically freeing up your own meeples to gather resources and build. And if you’re taking up the one agriculture space, gaining free food each turn, you’re forcing other players to constantly go hunting for food instead of doing something worthwhile.
A Plague of Locusts
This is a more advanced form of swarming and is a bit of a loophole strategy.
So… yeah. There’s a loophole in the rules. It turns out that if you cannot feed your people and you don’t have enough resources to substitute for food, you simply lose 10 points on the victory track when the time comes to feed your peeps each turn. You don’t actually lose any people. Nobody can die. Moohahaha!
Sooo… why not just never feed anyone?
For this strategy, I got to 10 meeples as quickly as possible, and then never bothered with food again. I swarmed the board, gathered as many resources as possible, and aimed to gain more points every turn than I lost. Once you hit the point where you can’t pay with food you have the option to pay with resources instead. You don’t have to do this, however, and can opt to take the loss of points. That way you can keep all of your resources to get points next turn.
It’s a bit against the spirit of the game, but completely legal within the rules. I only tried this once, but I came in second in a full game of 4 people.
Getting the most buildings requires you to get the end-game bonus points for builders. The most important card is going to be the 3x point multiplier card. There’s only 1 in the game and it is crucial to your strategy if you’re going to try and shoot for builders. Other players can easily pick it up just to hurt your final score, so even if you pay 4 resources for it, it’s completely worth it.
The Toolmaker (Kendra’s Favorite)
If you’ve angered the dice gods at some point in your life, you’ll be wary of a game that does rely pretty heavily on dice rolls.
For those of you who have angered the dice gods, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
You can invest your time in creating tools. Each tool level that your villagers gain can be added to a roll of dice (once per turn). Even a single tool can be extremely useful when you’re only one number away from getting an extra resource. By having a surplus of tools early on, you’ll be able to save yourself a ton of time and gain a lot more resources early on in the game. I don’t know about you but that spells victory to me.
On top of that, if you can get enough tools throughout the game, there are tool multiplier cards that add to your final score during end-game scoring.
Pros & Cons
- Excellent gateway game
- High replayability factor
- Tons of strategic options
Stone Age was the first worker placement game I ever played. It’s such a fantastic gateway game and a solid entry into worker placements. It has everything that the genre promises.
The game itself offers plenty of choices without overwhelming new players, with plenty of workarounds if you continually get blocked by competitive players. If you’ve never played a worker placement, or have a group of players you’re trying to get into the game, Stone Age does a fantastic job and is just a solid addition to any gaming shelf.
I’ve probably played Stone Age an unhealthy amount of times. Usually, we play back-to-back and around midnight we get a little loopy and can no longer do simple division. That being said, I’ve still enjoyed every game I’ve played, and I can usually find a different combination of strategies to go after. Even to this day, I still will gladly sit down and play. There are very few games that I’ve seen with that kind of longevity.
Kendra and I play a lot of games as a duo. That means that we can sometimes miss out on a lot of big-box games. Stone Age does have some variant rules to balance out the game for only 2 players, but they work well and don’t feel like they just made stuff up so they could call it a 2-player game. We’ve played plenty of games with just the two of us, and although Kendra usually beats me, it still feels balanced.
- End-game scoring is a pain
The only real flaw I can say about Stone Age is that the end-game scoring makes or breaks a game. You could be the score leader the entire game, but if you don’t invest in a few cards in the trade row there’s a high chance you’re going to get blown away at end-game scoring. If you make that clear to players in the beginning, it’s not really a big deal, but it can be pretty jarring to see someone jump ahead 70 points if you weren’t expecting it.
Stone Age Review (TL;DR)
It’s an excellent gateway game that introduces worker placement mechanics without becoming too overwhelming.
In addition, there are a surprisingly high number of different strategies that can be used and each one is a viable path to winning.
Stone Age is objectively a great game. If you look at all of the awards its won, it’s probably longer than this article. It’s a game that I’ve played extensively and still haven’t gotten bored with it.
One of the many reasons why I like it is that it’s just a great example of a worker placement game. When I think of worker placements in my head, this is the example that I go to. To me, this is a quintessential example of a worker placement game.
If you’ve never given it a try, I highly recommend it. If you’re not sure which version to get, I highly recommend picking up the Anniversary edition. It adds almost an entirely new game to the original and all of the components have been upgraded. I kind of wish that it was available when I bought my copy.
- Celebrate ten years of this classic worker placement game
- Printed designs on the meeples add personality to the characters
- Features two new mini expansions: igloos and wild animals
Have you played Stone Age or the Anniversary edition? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop a comment below and show us what you got.