Stone Age [App o' the Mornin']

The original Stone Age board game is one of the most popular worker-placement titles around our house. It’s fairly light, but has room for strategy, benefits from a good pace, and (with the exception of a leatherette dice cup that smells like a wet donkey) has exceptional production work. If anyone was looking to introduce Eurogame novices to worker placement, this would be a decent place to start.

The decision for Campfire Creations to port the mobile version of Stone Age (iPhone/iPad: $7) to iPhone first was a bit of a surprise. Most Eurogames of this scope have found their native home on the far wider screen of the iPad. Campfire Creations, however, had a different notion: if they could make a game like this work on the smaller screen of an iPhone, then they could easily upscale to the iPad, which they did a few months after release by making the app Universal with support for retina displays.

The decision was challenging from a design standpoint, but paid off with a sleek, compressed incarnation of the game that works perfectly on both phone or pad. By some weird alchemy, they’ve managed to squeeze almost all of the major board elements onto a single screen without making it over-crowded, and made judicious use of sub-screens and pop-ups to convey more information. Since then, they’re made it a hybrid game that supports both platforms.

Stone Age has 2 to 5 players competing to grow their little neolithic villages in population, wealth, and achievement. Each tribes begins with 5 workers, who can be placed at various spots on the board to perform certain tasks. They can increase production of goods, “mate” in order to create more workers, forge tools, buy special bonuses from buildings or boats, or place works on a variety of production spots (food, wood, clay, stone, gold).
The goal is to collect the most victory points by building structures and buying points, specialists, and technology. Along the way, you need to keep an economy going and make sure there’s enough food to feed your whole village, or else suffer a penalty.

The app version captures the game with a wonderful degree of fidelity, even though it deviates sharply from the layout of the board. This was a bold and wise decision, since it allows complex interactions with a minimal amount of tapping. The only active sub-screen is for choosing how many workers to palce for a certain resource. All the rest, including huts, buildings, and ships, are place on right on the main screen, with bonuses and benefits clearly depicted at a glance, and more detail provide via popups.

If you’re familiar with the original, you’ll know this would have been a trick with a full-screen iPad layout. That the developers did it iPhone-sized is a miracle, and makes Stone Age yet another welcome entry in the growing genre of mobile boardgaming.

Content: Nothing problematic. You add new people to your tribe by placing two figures in the mating hut, but it’s not like there’s some kind of mating animation or anything like that. You just get another person to place for the next turn.

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About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.