Ever since its initial release in 2008, Stone Age has ranked pretty well in Board Game Geek, an online database of over 59,000 different board games that have been published worldwide. I was fortunate to be a part of the Beta tester team for Campfire Creations, the four-man development team for the iOS version. I really enjoyed playing the board game version and the iPhone version. Now, I'm waiting for the Universal update that would allow me to play on my iPad.
Stone Age is a family board game that utilizes the worker placement mechanic to allow 2-4 players take turns to play the game. Originally published by Hans im Glück in 2008, the game uses the Stone Age era as its settings. As the chief of your tribe, you compete for resources, buildings and technologies to make your tribe the most advanced among the others.
You start the game with a total of five workers and 12 foods. Throughout the game, you can increase the number of your workers, work in your farmhouse, gather foods and other resources, create tools, develop buildings and research for new technologies. Each of these actions are represented as empty slots in the game board. With the exception of the food gathering slots, they are limited.
Within each turn in the game, there are three different phases: worker placement, worker collection, and feeding. In the worker placement phase, each player takes turn to place their workers on any open slot in the game board. You may put as many workers as you like on a slot as long as there is enough space left, but you cannot do it more than once in a single turn.
Once all workers have been placed, the game moves to the worker collection phase. The starting player for that turn will collect all of his/her workers and perform the necessary actions related to that slot. He/she can choose to collect the workers in any order, and it is not necessary to match the placement order. After one player has collected all of his/her workers, the next player may start collecting theirs.
In the last phase, every player must pay one food per worker. If you don't have enough food to feed all of your workers, you can choose to replace the food with any resources that you have (e.g. wood, clay, stone or gold). If you fail or choose not to feed your workers, a hunger penalty (-10 Victory Points) will be given to you.
To fulfill this feeding requirement, most players would allocate one or more workers to gather food each turn. You can alleviate this problem by working in your farmhouse. Each time you place a worker in your farmhouse, you're entitled to increment your food marker. This is a permanent achievement that can be used to subtract your food requirement in each turn. For example, if you have spent at least two turns to work in your farmhouse, then you would have your food marker set to 2. Then, if you have 6 workers, you would only need to pay 4 foods/turn.
Since this is a worker placement game, you need to know all the available slot types. Different players with different playing styles (and strategies) tend to have different priorities for each of these slots during different stages of the game. Therefore, understanding how they work is mandatory.
- Mating Hut (2 slots). This slot requires two workers from the same tribe. When you collect workers from this slot, you can add one more to your tribe. The maximum number of workers that you can have is 10.
- Farmhouse (1 slot). As explained in the previous section, you can use this to increase your food marker.
- Hunting Ground (unlimited slots). In the worker collection phase, you will pick up several 6-sided dices according to the number of workers that you assigned there. Roll these dices, an divide the total by 2. Ignore the remainder, and use the quotient as the number of foods that you can add to your resource pool.
- Forest, Clay Pit, Quarry, and River (7 slots each). Each of these will produce wood, clays, stones, and gold respectively. You calculate the amount of resources that you can add to your resource pool the same way as you calculate food, except that the divisors are 3, 4, 5 and 6 respectively.
- Tool Shed (1 slot). This allows you to add a +1 tool. You can use these tools to add that amount to the total of the rolled dices. For example, if you roll 15 in a clay pit, you can only have 3 clays, but adding in a +1 tool would boost your result just enough to get 4 clays instead. You can have a total of three tools, and each tool can be used only once during a single turn. Your subsequent tool shed action would upgrade your existing tool from +1 to +2, and so on.
- Building Cards (4 slots). You can use the building cards located on the upper section of the game board as market stalls to gain VP (Victory Points). Each building requires different combination of resources and can yield different VPs.
- Civilization Cards (4 slots). The civilization cards are located on the right hand side of the game board. They are illustrated as boats in docks and contain immediate or end-game reward. Some of the immediate rewards may include VPs as well. They are also placed in a FIFO sequence, where the first boat placed in the docks costs less than the last. To get these cards, you would need to pay 1-4 resources of any kind.
The game ends when there are not enough boats to fill the four docks, or when one of the market stalls run out of building cards. As with many other Euro board games, the winner is determined by calculating the amount of VP each player scores.
Total VP = Building VP + Boats VP - Hunger Penalties + Specialist VP + Technology VP + Unused Resources VP.
Specialists and Technologies are calculated at the end of the game as part of the Civilization Cards that have been collected by each player. You can identify the specialists in the Civilization Card images. There are four different specialists in the game, and their VP will be calculated independently before being totalled as Specialist VP in the Total VP calculation. Here are the specialists and their VP calculations:
- Farmer VP. Multiply the number of farmers with the number of food markers that you have collected.
- Shaman VP. Multiply the number of shamans with the number of workers in your tribe.
- Builder VP. Multiply the number of builders with the number of buildings you have.
- Tool Maker VP. Multiply the number of tool makers with the number of tools that you have.
To calculate the Technology VP, you need to create groups of distinct technologies. You can identify the technologies in the Civilization Card images. The number of VP that you can collect for each group will be determined by the square product of the card count in that group.
For example, if your technologies include A, A, B, B, C, D, E, your score would be:
Group 1: A, B, C, D, E. Score = 5 x 5 = 25 VP.
Group 2: A, B. Score = 2 x 2 = 4 VP.
Technology VP = 25 + 4 = 29 VP.
The player with the highest total VP wins the game. If there are more than one player with the same highest total VP, the winner will be determined by two tie-breakers. The first one is the total number of food marker, workers and tools; whereas the second tie-breaker is the turn sequence, i.e., the player who starts last wins.
Hopefully by now, you're able to get a glimpse overview of how the game works. To learn more, you can watch this excellent video made by Starlit Citadel, an online board game retail store in Vancouver, Canada.
What I Love About the Gameplay
Despite the long explanation of the game rules, Stone Age is quite easy to learn. The game has many different long-term strategies and requires plenty of quick thinking and short-term tactics to gain the maximum leads over your opponents. On the other hand, the game nicely balances out its serious side by incorporating luck for acquiring resources.
If you're a beginner to Stone Age and would like to have a reference while playing the game, here are my rules of thumbs that you may use as your basic strategy:
- Grow your tribe to have at least 7 workers.
- Build up your food marker to have at least 2 foods/turn.
- Don't get too many tools and tool upgrades. Four tools should be enough.
- Buy the cheap boats (priced at 1-2 resources) as often as you can.
- Fight for the specialist cards, especially the ones that have 2x or 3x multipliers. They are worth the 3-4 resources that you may need to pay for them.
What Make the iOS Version Special
One of the drawbacks of playing any board games is the amount of time spent setting up and cleaning up the game board and its components. Some games may also have complex game states that are cumbersome to track. It is also quite difficult to schedule a meetup with your friends and family members to play. Fortunately, iOS comes to the rescue. With Game Center features that support opponent matching and turn-based gaming, it's now easier to play board games on the iPhone/iPad.
Stone Age: The Board Game for iOS has great AI opponents to challenge you in solo mode, a pass-n-play feature to play with your friends using one device, and an effective tutorial that you can replay over and over should you have problems understanding the game rules. As what the developer explains in their recent interview, fitting in a game this size into an iPhone is not an easy task. But, I enjoyed playing and keeping track of all the game states more than I would on the board game version.
First, the entire board game fits the iPhone screen size. With a quick glance on the left hand side, you can see the turn order and the total of immediate VP count for each player. You can also easily keep track of your resource pool on the bottom of the screen.
If you want to see what the other player's resource pool looks like, you can tap on the player's icon on the left hand side. It will immediately show a color coded table view of the resources in comparison. In addition to the resource pools comparison, you can also see the comparison of the number of tools, food marker, buildings, and workers with the same single tap.
Stone Age: The Board Game is an awesome port of Stone Age to the iOS platform. If you have played the board game version of this game, this is a must-buy. The rules are well implemented, the graphics are beautiful and the AI opponents are quite challenging. If this is the first time you have ever heard of Stone Age, I highly recommend you to try this game out. After all, it is one of the Top 3 Family Board Games of all time.
App was provided for our honest review.