Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Musings on Stone Age

My feelings regarding the game have evolved over the few plays I have had. Interestingly, I strongly contemplated whether to sell or trade the game after my first play. The game seemed to dragged out somewhat and Agricola seemed to offer much greater depth for only a slighter longer play time.

I initially ordered Stone Age because I wasn't willing to fork out the amount for Agricola since both shared similar mechanics. While ranked no. 1 on the geek, I found myself hard pressed to pay an amount which would almost get me two other decent games in return. What I didn't anticipate was that one of my friends bought Agricola by chance during his business trip to the States and graciously lent it to me for a period of time.

Despite a rather bland first go at the game, I was eager to try Stone Age out a second time to determine if my initial impressions of the game were indeed warranted. After a couple of plays, I find myself increasingly drawn to the game. Sure it won't be one of my favourites, but I started to realize that my initial opinion was perhaps a little presumptuous.

I enjoy the tension that comes from the competition for spaces. While the spots for the tool, field and hut are typical favourites, the game hinges in my view on the competition for civilization and building cards. There is always the risk of the card you covet being blocked or snatched away if you opt for one of the spots above instead of taking it with your first placement. These cards are so important that you may even occupy them without the necessary resources and hope your subsequent placements will reap them sufficiently for the purchase. And the dice roll ensure that these well-crafted plans pan out at times but also disappoint during others.

One complaint about the game was how the rate of exchange of resources for VPs is consistent throughout i.e. the cost of the buildings will reap you a representative VP total. When I read about it, I thought that would be a real issue for me since that was the thing that killed Keythedral for me but I realized after a few plays that that didn't matter since the crux was rather about trying to exchange the most points with as few turns possible. This is accentuated by the competition for building spaces since only 4 are available each turn. The ones without fixed resource cost are even more actively competed for since they allow huge VP gain with the right resources.

Efficiency in Agricola boils down to trying to do more things in as few turns possible, either through the use of occupation/minor improvement cards or various spaces which allow you to kill two birds with one stone. For example, it would be prudent for me when expanding the size of my house to have adequate wood to build stables at the same time. If not, I would probably have to waste an extra turn further down the road to expand my capacity for farm animals. 

The efficiency aspect of Stone Age feels more direct where you are trying to obtain as many point scoring cards or buildings as quickly as possible. While it lacks the build-up of Agricola, it provides a similar tension that keeps me on my toes for a game which I appreciate the ease at which it can be introduced to new and casual gamers. It is no Settlers of Catan but it fills the same niche in my collection, for which I'm thankful. The next time I'm looking for an introductory game, this may just be the one I pull out instead.

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