Thoughts on Stone Age

Immediate Impressions

Aaron: As far as an economic game goes, it feels fairly balanced which makes it seem like there are a lot of different ways to play the game; however, there doesn’t seem to be as much specialization.

Jordan: I really like it; the game doesn’t force you down a particular path. You can mix and match what you’re doing and it ends up okay–it might even be encouraging that kind of play. Sometimes when you play these kinds of games, after you do something, you realize how stupid or inferior it is to something else. I felt there weren’t any traps to the game – each player had something to contribute every turn.

Jason: Do you feel the game is adaptive? Is there a dominant strategy you can pursue most of the time? Or is it more of a game where your strategy has to adapt to what other players are doing?

Jordan: I think there’s really only one general strategy. Maybe there are variations, but it’s kind of how you go about doing it. The strategy is about obtaining as many development cards as you can and maybe a couple of buildings.

Aaron: A player’s strategy is fluid, especially  on a turn-by-turn basis. How much you take advantage of each turn makes it possible to do something really good in your next turn.

Mechanical Similarities with Other Games

Jordan: There aren’t many punishments for going down one path. You have a couple of long-term ideas, but with food being a requirement, you’re kind of thinking about how you can maximize your turn and get something useful beyond basic upkeep. And if you can’t this turn, how can you set yourself up for the next turn. The contrast is a game like Puerto Rico, where if you buy a building, you have to continue to build on that strategy because it will be so much more effective for the rest of the game.

Aaron: The other thing I liked about it – as opposed to Race to the Galaxy, where they set you up for specialization from the beginning, Stone Age felt like you can do whatever you want. Even wood, the lowliest of the resources, was actually one of the most important to have. Brick, which was middle of the road, had a purpose in the tiles, which you could use to obtain different things. It didn’t feel like there were many choices I really regretted at the end.

Jason: You mentioned Race to the Galaxy and how it feels different. Are there any parallels to other games we’ve played before?

Aaron: Going back to Notre Dame, the food tokens felt a lot like the plague aspect where it was mostly trying to stave off something from happening, rather than getting somewhere with it.

Jason: There’s always attrition in the back of your mind – the more people you get, the more resources you have to generate for them.

Jordan: I felt it was a good thematic element as well.

Jason: The one game this reminded me of was Settlers of Catan. They’re both dice rolling games, both based on economy, and both based on figuring out optimal statistics and placement patterns. And people’s plans, even if they’re the statistical best on the board, won’t necessarily succeed. There’s some chance in there, but it’s informed by your knowledge of the rules and how you play.

Aaron: There’s a little bit of risk every time you roll the dice; maybe you won’t be able to feed your people if you roll triple ones. In different ways I’d actually relate this game to 7 Wonders. One, the cards remind me of the science mechanic; specifically how you’re trying to get different kinds to gain points. But also the order people are placed around the table matters in both games.

Design Mechanics

Aaron: I wasn’t primarily denying other players but trying to accomplish something that happened to deny other people that path. I was trying to figure out the odds on whether Jason or Jordan would  use a spot and whether I could get a couple of other plays in before going for wood.

Jason: Because wood was such a versatile resource, I found myself making wood a top priority, even if it was only to place my workers on the wood to deny  access to it. Did you find yourself risk-averse when making placements, or were you willing to take risks when placing workers?

Aaron: The more workers you have increases the  risks you need to take. Workers increase your potential, but the risk of starvation is always there. That’s where I thought the tools came in: those were the risk-averse approach, which Jordan took advantage of in both games.

Jordan: Tools let you take risks and make sure they turned out okay. I made aggressive plays, but with tools, the risks were often mitigated.

Jason: To some degree, the game can be broken down into point placement, and future point placement, or resource investment. You can increase your tools, your food track, your workers, or you can take points. You can take cards or build buildings, neither of which gets you a long-term advantage outside of the endgame.

Jordan: I also looked at strategy in terms of the big three: field, population and tools, but at the end of the game, I realized this is a bad approach to take. The points come in from the cards you get, so concentrate on buying up whatever cards that are cheap and available, and then look to acquire  fields or tools. Jason: Were you ever annoyed that at the beginning of the round, people ended up going for the field, population or tools only?

Aaron: That might have just been the fluid approach. We knew they were in-demand in our game, so we knew that if we didn’t go for them early, we wouldn’t get them. I’d be curious to see how other people played the game.

Jordan: I think it was an intended design. It’s very much supposed to be a point of contention. I don’t think Stone Age is like a lot of other economic games where you invest in your economy early on and use it to convert into points later. There are only a few things that improve how you use your workers, which are the three we talked about.

Depth of Mechanics and Replayability

Jason: Mechanic-wise, was there anything you really liked or didn’t about the game?

Aaron: There wasn’t very much competition for the higher resources other than wood. Gold and stone seemed to have a weak place in the game. Most of it was just to fulfill building requirements if they were there. I didn’t feel a need to get them unless I was going to get a building.

Jordan: The buildings seemed weak. They didn’t  add all that much – they were straight conversions to points, whereas the cards added a bit more.

Jason: So, all the buildings are inherently fair!

Jordan: Yeah, it doesn’t reward you for going for risky things like gold. I wanted to see effects, something more than points.

Aaron: The buildings felt like a way to end the game, but I didn’t feel anyone really wanted them, unless they worth a lot of points.

Jordan: By the end of the game the buildings were always  worse than the cards. The multipliers on the cards would cost two or three resources but net you 15 points. Wood is only so good in the game because it gets you cards. Wood made all of the other resources seem silly.

Jason: What did you think of the depth of this game? How much replayability do you think this game has in the long-term?

Aaron: Because you can take a fluid, turn-by-turn approach, there’s a lot of depth. I feel there’s a lot of replayability, not just with the strategy, but with the different people you play with.

Jason: I wish it was possible to play this game with more people than four, just so I can play it with more people who are unfamiliar with this type of board games. The concepts in the game are pretty boiled down, so it’s easy to see efficiencies even for people who haven’t played a lot of worker placement or economy-based games. And there’s enough variance that the best person at the game won’t necessarily win all the time

Jordan: I like the game because it doesn’t necessarily punish you for not knowing exactly what you’re doing.

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