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SETTLERS OF THE STONE AGE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

THE SETTLERS OF THE STONE AGE (Mayfair Games, 3-4 players, 1 1/2 to 2 hours; $49)

 

Klaus Teuber’s franchise game, The Settlers of Catan (Fall 1994 GA REPORT), involving settlement of the mythical island of Catan has been used as the basis for games set in a host of venues including the non-mythical city of Nuremburg (The Settlers of Nuremburg [Winter 2000 GA REPORT]) and the farthest reaches of outer space (Starship Catan [Summer 2002 GA REPORT]). This time, Teuber’s new variation on the Settlers theme moves players back in time as they begin their colonization/exploration in Africa and steadily journey to the other continents in The Settlers of the Stone Age.settlersstonebox

The Settlers of the Stone Age (originally called Abenteuer Menschheit in the German edition) comes in a deep square box that holds the quality components we’ve come to expect from games in this series. There is a beautiful mounted mapboard, desert tiles, exploration counters, tribe tokens, resource cards, lots of wooden pieces, 2 dice, play aids, instructions and more. The gameboard is a stylized map of the world divided into hexes depicting one of four types of terrain: hills, plains, mountains and forests. Along the perimeter of the board are four different progress charts. (Players are provided with an “overview card” which shows the resources you need to spend in order to progress and achieve certain advantages.)

Each player begins with a bunch of wooden pieces which represent two explorers (cylinders), five camps (that look like ships) and 4 progress markers (your standard wooden cubes). There is a given starting position (although you may use a variable set up if so desired). All players begin with their progress markers on “0” on each of the four progress charts around the board. The four resource card types are separated for easy distribution and each player begins with one “hides” and one “bone” resource. (Resources held by players are kept secret.) The 32 tribe counters are placed on the intersections with matching colors and the 18 exploration counters (marked with Roman numerals) are turned, face down, grouped separately, shuffled and then placed in their matching positions on the board. Two “enemy” pieces, the Neanderthal and the Sabertooth Tiger” are placed on land hexes on each side of the land bridge linking Eurasia and America. Finally, “Art” victory point cards are placed on the fifth space of each of the four progress charts. Now, the game begins.

The Settlers of the Stone Age follows a similar game play pattern as the original. The basics of rolling for resources, trading and expanding are here with new features added including the destruction (by turning into desert) African territories, and picking up “artifacts” which can earn Victory Points.

Each turn begins with the roll of the dice. The number rolled determines which hexes produce resources. Players get one resource card for each of their camps bordering a producing hex. Once resources are received, the player on turn may call for trading and swap resources (if a deal can be made) with other players. If you have THREE identical resources, you may swap them with the bank for ONE resource of your choice. An expensive deal for sure but a sometimes necessary one to get that vital missing resource. Now, a player can expand his holdings.

Choices are faced every turn. Players may create an explorer, move an explorer, convert an explorer into a camp and/or advance a progress marker. You may do any or all of these options as long as you have the required resources to fund the actions.

It costs one “hides” and one “meat” to create a new explorer. New explorers are placed on any hex intersection adjacent to one of your camps. Movement of an explorer costs one “meat”. As you move along the progress chart, one “meat” can propel an explorer a farther distance. When an explorer reaches an intersection with a tribe counter (worth 1 VP), you can convert the explorer into a camp (at the cost of one “hides”, one “bone” and one “flint”). Players are limited to only five camps. If they have already constructed all five, then, to construct another, one of the camps placed on the board must be removed. Finally, a progress marker may be advanced by playing the necessary resources (which vary depending on how far along the path you are) to gain advantages. The fifth level on each progress chart results in the player who reaches it first gaining a matching Victory Point card – and no other players may advance to that final space

As players expand across the world from Africa, they may encounter “exploration counters” (the counters with those Roman numerals). In order to reach these exploration counters, players need to have reached a certain level of progress on their “clothing” and “shelter’ progress charts. Assuming they have met those requirements (varying depending on which paths a player may take), a player may claim the exploration counter located there. These counters come in three varieties: enemies, desertification and adaptation.

Enemies result in the players moving the Neanderthal piece (found on the Eurasia/Africa side of the board) or the Sabertooth Tiger (found on the America/Australia portion of the board). Hexes where these pieces sit do NOT produce resources. In addition, the player may steal a resource card at random from the hand of another player who has a camp at the new hex.

Desertification counters force the player to put a desert tile on a terrain hex in Africa that matches the terrain shown on the counter. This African hex will no longer produce resources. Should a player be fortunate enough to turn over an Adaptation counter, the lucky player is awarded a matching Adaptation card worth 1 VP. The first player to claim two exploration counters gains the Exploration card worth 2 VPs. That player keeps it until another player has claimed MORE counters than he has. In that case, the Exploration card must be surrendered to that opposing player. Another bonus, an Expansion card, is awarded to the first player earning at least one tribe counter of each of the four types. The Expansion card, like the Exploration card, is worth 2 VPs.

The first player to amass 10 VPs wins the game!

Despite similarities (such as first rate graphic production), The Settlers of the Stone Age stands tall on its own merits. In this game, the routes to earning Victory Points are many and that gives you multiple strategies to follow to victory. The placement of the Neanderthal and Sabertooth Tiger can be a significant factor in limiting enemy production. (Be aware: the rules state the these pieces block the hexes they are on. This means they block production. Player pieces CAN move around them.) The way your production prowess changes as the board gets explored – and deserts compel you to shift settlements to more favorable locations – forces you to move across the board whether you like it or not. This fluidity of movement and expansion gives the game a very different feel from the classic Settlers of Catan.

Klaus Teuber continues to impress. He has taken a first class game in The Settlers of Catan and has reinvented it over and over again, keeping the concept fresh and appealing. The Settlers of the Stone Age is no exception. A high quality game all the way. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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