About a year and a half ago, a friend of mine turned me on to something that has changed not only how I spend my time, but my money as well. He introduced me to the previously unknown world of board games. When I was growing up, I played video games – a lot. My friends and I would run marathon sessions of whatever hot game was out at the time and I remember spending what little money I had on new consoles and games. Even though I loved video games, board games never really struck a chord with me.
My experiences with these types of games usually revolved around classics like Monopoly or Scrabble and to be honest, they just weren’t as intriguing or exciting as video games. As a result of limited exposure to games that never really interested me, I assumed that board games just weren’t for me. Wow, was I wrong!
Once I got a taste of what board games had to offer, I was hooked. I soon learned that these games were not only fun, but they were rich with themes, stories, mechanics, and strategies. As I began to sink more time and, thanks to my wife’s infinite understanding, money into this hobby, I realized that playing these types of games with my children could provide us with not only a lot of fun, but also a lot of educational value.
One title that our family loves and that hits upon a number of educational lessons is a game called Stone Age. Stone Age was created by Bernd Brunnhofer, is published by Z-Man Games, and is currently ranked 8th in the family category of games on BoardGameGeek.
Stone Age is a beautiful and thematic game that uses “worker placement” as its key mechanic. Basically, what that means is players take turns placing their various workers (represented by wooden figures lovingly known as “meeples”) around the board in order to take certain actions. The majority of these actions are focused on gathering resources in order to build huts for your village. For example, if you need some wood in order to purchase a hut, you would place some of your workers (you start with 5) in the forest, or if you need some brick, you would place workers in the clay pit.
Once everyone has placed their workers, you roll dice equal to the amount of workers placed, and then calculate how much of that resource you receive based on its value. So if you place 3 workers in the forest, you would roll three dice. If you then rolled a 15 with those dice, you would receive 5 pieces of wood because wood has a value of 3. All four resources have different values, with wood being the lowest at 3 and gold being the highest at 6, so planning your moves in order to make the most out of each turn is key to winning the game.
The game continues until one of the 4 stacks of huts have been purchased, and then scores are calculated. There are some other actions you can take with your meeples during the game that help you get more stuff or help mitigate some of your dice rolls, but ultimately gathering resources and purchasing huts is what you’ll be aiming to do. Oh, and don’t forget to feed your workers!
Mental Math & Division – This was one of the first games I purchased when I first started getting into the hobby. I was originally drawn to it for the theme and the gameplay, but I soon learned that it was a great game to show young children how division works. Because they get to decide how many workers to place at each location, they are getting to determine the reason for their calculation.
As a result, I find that my 2 kids are way more motivated to want to do the math than they are when they are asked solve a random math problem on a worksheet or out of a booklet. Once we get into the calculation part of the game, this is where the real value of this game shows up. If my eight year old son places 4 of his workers in the mountains in order to gather stone and then rolls his 4 dice, it is pretty incredible to watch him make a quick mental math calculation and figure out that his roll of 13 will get him 2 pieces of stone (stone has value of 5 and you always round down).
Action & Reaction – One of the things I love about games is that every action that I choose to take on my turn will have a consequence or benefit at some point during the game. As a result, I can play around with different strategies each time I play which gives most games a ton of replay-ability.
This kind of planning and thinking about potential ramifications has not only proven to be really fun for my kids, but it has also led to some good discussion about how actions lead to reactions. Being able to ponder potential outcomes and see how they are related to the decisions they make has been one of the coolest aspects of playing these types of games with my two children.
Stone Age is a game that asks you to consider many different options, with your choices leading to a variety of positive and negative outcomes. If you place too many workers at a resource site, you may not have enough to gather the food you need to feed them, thus losing points. If you focus too much on buying huts, you may not have enough resources to buy some of the other bonus cards that are offered during the game.
Having my kids experience the struggle of making these kinds of decisions has proven to be a great way to talk about weighing pros and cons as well as short vs. long term planning.
History – This one may be a little far-fetched, but playing a game with this type of theme can definitely bring up discussions about how people lived during other periods throughout history, and how much our lives have impacted by the advancement of technology. I feel that anytime we can talk about topics that don’t come up on a regular basis is a plus.
Now obviously I’m a little biased because I’m always looking for a reason to play a game these days, but I truly believe that Stone Age has helped both my son (8) and my daughter (6) become more familiar and confident with the concept of division. They also get pretty excited when they see positive outcomes to plans and decisions that they set up earlier in the game. All in all, Stone Age is a game that not only allows us to spend quality time together, but has also provided us with another avenue to explore educational concepts.
If this game interests you, check out the amazon links above. There is also a easier version available called My First Stone Age that may be more suitable for younger players.