A game for all seasons, a game for all reasons. The notion that a game can or even should appeal to all audiences is a falsehood. After playing Stone Age recently, I can say without doubt that I am not the target audience for it. But that didn't always used to be the case. Stone Age used to be my favorite game. It was one of the games the spurred my love of board games the hobby as a whole. It was a major reason for me writing these very words. But I've moved on.
This is a follow up article to a game covered earlier in the month. As such, it assumes that you are familiar with the game and how it works. If this game is new to you, check out the Initial Thoughts video to see if it's a game you would be interested in.
My Journey with Stone Age began about 7 years ago, when I stumbled upon a game shop in a town I was visiting. I had less than games in my collection than I did toes (don't ask) and it would become my new obsession. I was infatuated with the the meticulously illustrated board, it's custom shaped resources and meeples, individual player boards and leather cup. A leather cup! The production values in Stone Age, even today, stand as a paragon of what board games should be. But beyond its stellar good looks, I fell in love with how the game played.
Board Games Can Make Sense
Above all else, I was impressed with how Stone Age's ability to relate an in game action to its real world analog. Send some workers the farm and you get a steady flow of food. That makes sense. The more people you send the gather resources, the higher your chances of getting those resources becomes. Yeah, that makes sense. Send two people to the a secluded hut and new member of the tribe emerges. That totally makes sense!
Stone Age opened my eyes to the possibility of games embracing theme rather than just acknowledging it. I didn't roll dice simply because it was my turn to go. There was a reason behind it all. And I liked it. One of the things that I've come to most appreciate about a game is the ability to concretely place myself in it's world. I want to know who I am and what I am trying to accomplish. And when I game can facilitate this, I'm much more likely to buy in and enjoy it. In Stone Age I am the leader of a tribe, trying to carve out a meager existence in a harsh world. Every metaphor breaks down at some point, but Stone Age keeps it up reasonably well.
Board Games Can Be Clever
There are times in life where I'll notice something, smile and just think to myself, "That's really clever." I tend to say that a lot when I'm introduced to new games (good ones, at least). The point values of the resources are the same values needed in order to harvest them. That's clever. Tools can be used to help you raise your die rolls and gather more resources. That's really clever! Seeing that cleverness and then being able to exploit it, made me feel clever.
Board Games Can Be Freeform
I thought I knew Stone Age. I thought it was simple. You build as many huts as you can and hope you win. The first time I lost to an opponent who focused primarily on trading cards, I couldn't understand it. I thought I knew Stone Age. I thought it was simple. My eyes were opened up to the possibility of multiple paths to victory. I was so used to having things spelled out for me. Capture the king, get the most properties, reach the end first. But this was new. I could choose which direction I wanted to pursue. And they were both viable. What was going on?
Board Games Can Tell a Story
Before Stone Age, I had considered the pictures on the front of the box of board games nothing more than window dressing, the art on cards nothing more than eye candy. Stone Age showed me that this doesn't have to be true. The art and pieces can come together to inform the actual play of the game. The theme can be a driving force in the experience. I wasn't just picking a spot on the board to gain points, I was going hunting to fight of hunger and starvation. I wasn't rolling a cupful of dice in order to collect my reward, I was testing the resolve of my tribesman to gather gold. And it wasn't just the moment to moment storytelling that caught my eye, it was the greater narrative the really sparked my imagination. My small tribe of hunter gatherers would grow and multiply over the course of the game. They could tame the earth and pull sustenance from it. They would manipulate the world around them, creating tools to help them flourish. They would build homes and huts to increase their quality of life. I would watch their progression and at the end I'd be able to see it the fruits of all my work, something I appreciate in any game.
For all the praise that I just heaped on Stone Age, you might think that Stone Age is my favorite game. And you'd be right. Or rather, you would have been right years ago. Stone Age was, at one point, my absolute favorite game. It opened my eyes up to the possibility of what a game could be. But that was nearly ten years ago. I've changed. Games have changed. What I want from a game has changed. Unless you invest in tools, there's very little change in your moment to moment actions. Claim some spots, roll some dice, feed some people, rinse, repeat. Even if you do invest in tools, it's much the same, you can just be a little bolder in your decision. At this point in my game playing journey, I crave a little more substance. I want to my decision to be less clear cut. I want to struggle with the game. I want to struggle with myself.
Stone Age will always have a soft spot in my heart. It opened up a world of board games I never knew existed. And it still has it place for those people still new in their board game journey or those comfortable at the lighter end of the complexity spectrum. There will be those who criticize the game for having unthematic strategies or being to dependent on lucky dice rolls or going on just a little too long. Those are legitimate gripes, but the truth is that those people are probably passed Stone Age on their board game journey as well.