Posted by: gschloesser | July 13, 2011

Settlers of the Stone Age

Kosmos
2 – 4 Players, 2 hours
Designed by:  Klaus Teuber
Reviewed by:  Greg J. Schloesser

This was an ‘impulse’ purchase for me while attending the Spiel show in Essen, Germany.  I really didn’t know anything about the game, but saw the display at the Kosmos stand and just couldn’t pass it up.  For the most part, I enjoy the games in the Settlers of Catan series and this one appeared to offer some clever additions and twists.  I didn’t get the chance to play it during the Essen convention, as the Kosmos booth was probably the most popular site and was consistently filled with folks.  Thanks to a subsequent English outline executed by that good fellow Alan How, I’ve been able to bring the game to the table numerous times with various different groups. 

The theme is the dawn of mankind and its spread from the continent of Africa across the globe.  Nomads migrate from Africa, improving and developing in several categories and establishing tribes at various locations around the world.  The game does use the underlying mechanisms of Settlers of Catan, including resource production, trading, ‘building’ and victory points.  However, there are numerous new mechanisms and variations tossed into the mix that helps give the game a very different feel.  I’ve played it ½ dozen times and it does appear that this one has ‘legs’ and will be one that continues to be played into the future.  Indeed, it is quite likely my favorite of the Settlers family immediately behind the original. 

Players each begin with three tribes in Africa, as well as one nomad.  Tribes will yield resources just like in the basic Settlers, but there are only four types of resources in this game:  flint, skins, food and bones.  We’re talking the Stone Age here.  However, each player only has five tribe markers, so eventually existing tribes must be dismantled as they migrate from Africa and move to new locations.  That’s an interesting new twist as players are forced to abandon previous locations, which may have been resource-rich, to establish new tribes and earn victory points.  This process is encouraged further by the fact that some event chips discovered during the course of the game will cause portions of Africa to transform into desert, turning once lucrative locations into barren wastelands.  This is another very clever addition to the system and one that can be wielded with considerable nastiness!

After rolling for resource production and executing trades in the familiar Settlers fashion, players then use their resources to accomplish a variety of tasks: 

1)      Move a nomad.  True to their inherent nature, nomads are a restless people and tend to wander.  Nomads move two spaces, but require the expenditure of a food resource in order to make their journey.  Nomads can move additional spaces IF a player has progressed on the ‘food’ track, which requires the expenditure of various combinations of resources for each successive movement on that track. 

2)      Establish a tribe.  If a nomad has come to rest on a people chit, the nomads may settle down and a tribe can be established with the expenditure of the proper combination of resources (skin, bone & flint).  Once all five tribe markers have been placed (three begin the game in Africa), the player must move a previously placed tribe to the new location.  Tribes located in Africa must be moved first as mankind continues their outward expansion.  Once a tribe is established, the nomad marker is removed from the board and returned to the player’s stock.  The player takes possession of the people chip, which is worth 1 victory point. 

3)      Form a nomad.  Since the nomad marker was removed with the establishment of a tribe, in order to keep expanding it must be reconstituted.  This requires the expenditure of a skin and food and the marker is placed on a space adjacent to an existing tribe.  A player can have at most two nomad markers on the board. 

4)      Develop.  There are four areas in which a player can develop his tribes:  hunting, clothing, nourishment and construction.  There are four tracks, one each for these categories, located along the edges of the board, with each track containing five spaces.  Movement along each of these spaces requires the expenditure of a specified combination of resources and each movement also confers a special ability to the player: 

a)      Nourishment.  For each space moved along this track, a nomad can move one space further. 

b)     Hunting.  Each time a player moves on this track, he may move either the Neanderthal marker.  This marker serves the same purpose as the Robber in Settlers; i.e., blocking production of the hex on which it is placed.  It is far easier to move these markers than it is to move the Robber in Settlers, so resources can be stolen with greater frequency and resource production for territories can be blocked (and also liberated) more frequently. 

c)      Nourishment & Construction.  There are more than a dozen event chits that are located along the perimeter of the continents.  To reach these chits, players must be sufficiently developed in Nourishment and Construction.  If they have achieved the required level of advancement, they can cross to the event chit and take possession of it, executing the action upon it.  These action do a number of different things, including: 

i.      Move the Neanderthal or Carnivore

ii.    Award a victory point.

iii.  Cause a section of Africa to become a desert space

Further, the player who possesses the most action chits (with a minimum of two chits) receives a bonus of 2 victory points.  

Space 5 on each of the four development tracks also contains a victory point card.  The first player to reach that space receives the card and no other player can advance to that level for the remainder of the game. 

So, there are a number of ways to earn victory points in the game: 

1)      People chips:  1 victory point each.
2)      Victory Point Event chips – 1 victory point each
3)      Development Victory Point cards – 1 point each
4)      Most Event chips – 2 victory points
5)      People Bonus – If a player is the first to collect four different people chips, he receives this card, which is worth 2 victory points.

The game ends when a player reaches ten victory points, capturing the victory. 

As mentioned, there are enough new mechanisms and twists included in this new Settlers version to give it a truly different feel.  Even with ½ dozen plays under my belt, I feel as though I’ve only begun to explore the various strategies and pathways one can pursue.  There seems to be a sufficient number of ways to earn victory points that no one pursuit would be dominant.  In addition, although the board is static and not modular, it is large enough to offer various expansion paths and all players should be in a position to grab productive territories.  

Currently, the game is only available in German, but I understand Mayfair does have plans to release it in English.  There is some text in German on the development tracks and the player aid cards, but the meaning of this text is quickly grasped by the players.  Currently, there is only Alan How’s outline of the rules, but it truly is sufficient to play the game.  I’m sure it is only a matter of time before some industrious individual offers a complete translation of the rules.

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