I was a very late adopter to some of what is now called "German Classics", such as Settlers, because I was pretty much brainwashed into believing that many European-style games were dry, boring, and too simple. Stone Age was one of those games that I simply took a pass on because of its German roots. Well, about a year and a half ago I was talking with my friend Tom Boylan, the King of Costa Rica, and he proclaimed loudly and forcefully that Stone Age is a tremendously fun game. I scoffed, thinking Tom had gone one toke over the line, but he mentioned that there's a "Fuck Hut", and at that point I was sure he had gone one toke over the line. But, I had to investigate. I mean, a fun game about prehistoric people getting jiggy in a fuck hut? Had to explore.
Turns out that there is, in fact, a "fuck hut" (sort of like Pizza Hut, and since it's in a prehistoric time, likely with just as much cheese) which functions like I imagine it would; it produces offspring when two steamy cavepeople enter. Technically, it's the action in the hut, more than the hut, doing the procreation, but I don't want to split hairs. In any event, the inclusion of dice and a sugar shack pretty much locked in my interest in Stone Age. After playing it just once, and I mean, literally, just one time, I was hooked like a Vegas gambling addict. What a clever, clever little game this thing is. It's like Agricola in many ways, but less dry, and less prone to make you want to reach across the table and rip the face off that guy who can't decide (for 5 minutes) what his move should be. It's just a really fun game.
It's most certainly not the kind of game that I envision when I think "Euro game", not even a little bit. There's actually a lot of randomness in the game, which isn't something I think of when I think of Euro games, and while there's no direct player interaction, there's a significant bit of "screw you" going on in the fact that, like Agricola, you can only put workers in vacant spots, and if someone else gets there first, they lock you out of it until the next turn. A neat thing in the game is that you assign workers to produce goods, food, wood, clay, stone, or gold, and each is progressively harder to acquire, with food having 2:1 odds in you rolling up some grub, all the way down to gold, which has 1:5 odds. This can be mitigated by aquiring tools, which allow you to add virtual pips to the die rolls.
Now, I don't view all worker placement games as evil or boring based solely on the merits of the mechanic alone, but there have been some that I've played and wondered why the hell I ever agreed to sit at the table. This is quite a different animal, though, from the games I've played in the genre, because there are so many variables at play at any given time that it's not a matter of making the "optimum move" and playing along with the puzzle as much as figuring out what your best path to victory is based on your current strategy and then making efforts to further your position. With what amounts to two unique paths to victory in Stone Age: buying buildings and "bonus points", not to mention a mix of both, you pretty much start out doing whatever you can based upon your player position, since the order of turns is important in this game, and then decide after a turn or two, based primarily on the lay of the land, what you are going to go for.
One of the best aspects of the game is that it has two built in timers: when you run out of replacement buildings or boats, the game immediately ends. This limits the amount of time that the game can lag on because there's really only two ways to score points, and they revolve around the boats and buildings. I've always been a fan of built in timers in games, and this really does a great job of balancing the ability of players to do what they want to do with the game's necessity to draw the line somewhere.
I've got the game on iOS now, and I can't really see myself going out and buying the physical game since the iOS version has pass-and-play capability. That said, the game is nice production, with nice art, and Z-Man Games will be reprinting it this year. I'm pretty excited, and it may sway me towards picking it up because I don't often travel with my iPad. It's just a really fun, really cut-throat game that is quite a far cry from some of the Euros I've played, and it's approachable and easily teachable, so it's one that can be brought to anyone's house. I'm definitely glad I didn't pass this one over as I did for so long with Catan.
Why I Want To Do It Like They Do On The Discovery Channel:
- Nice art and bits make for a thematic experience
- Just the right amount of randomness and tactics to balance frustration
- The built in timer makes sure the game is kept to about an hour with four tribes
- iOS version is truly one-of-a-kind in terms of value and quality
- There's a fuck hut...it doesn't get much better than that.
Why Stone Age Needs To Get With The Times:
- This game, like so many, can bring out the worst in AP-prone people
- There may be too much randomness for die-hard Euro enthusiasts
Residing in the space somewhere in between Ameri- and Euro-, in that sweet spot that rewards clever play without being a puzzle, this is one of the best examples of a true "German family game". I really like this game, and with the advent of iOS and PC online games, I have had no small amount of fun with it. I can't comment on what will be in the Z-Man Games reprint but I can guess that it will be shit hot as I have yet to be disappointed with Z-Man. If you've never played Stone Age, definitely check it out once it starts shipping this month.
Check out Stone Age at the Rio Grande Games site, since Z-Man's site doesn't have it up yet: http://riograndegames.com/games.html?id=254