22nd Nov2019

‘Age of Dirt’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

age-dirt-box

If you look back to my reviews of both Stone Age and Stone Age: Anniversary Edition, not to mention Evolution: Climate, you’ll probably get the impression that I am quite the fan of games that deal with ancient history, probably because I love exploring the educational aspects of these games with younger members of my family. Age of Dirt is another game that, like Stone Age, is based on the daily activities of prehistoric men and women, only this time, it uses an inventive cardboard tower called “The Tunnel” to introduce the same randomness that Stone Age delivered with dice.

The concept of Age of Dirt is very simple, and in short, players will be taking it in turns to either place their workers into a work place, retrieve them from a workplace or spend their resources on one of several possible options. The options for spending resources include building invention cards of which there are usually two to choose from, but one option for the players is to spend some herbs and take a card back to their own board for use later, essentially reserving it. The winner of the game is the player who scores ten “Rock Stars” (also known as victory points) first.

Mechanically, the three actions that players can choose from are very quick and simple. Each player begins the game with four workers and there are potentially three more to unlock through use of the “Love Tent” which, well, it does what it says on the tin and allows players to access additional workers. You might need more because aside from simply having more workers out at gather locations when a recall action is taken, it’s also possible to lose workers in a few ways – firstly, they can be killed by a predator if the predator exits The Tunnel at the same time as them, or a worker may simply end up stuck in The Tunnel for a period of time.

If you imagine that sending out workers is as simple as placing them into the covered box (which obscures how many workers are there) for the resource you want, then you’d be spot on, but you don’t get anything just for sending out a worker. Instead, when you recall workers, you’ll choose one of the gather locations and move it in front of you along with all workers (including those of opponents) in front of you. You’ll then take a personal reward – for example you’ll take a stone from the mountains – and then you’ll put everyone’s workers from this location (and any predators if applicable) into The Tunnel.

The Tunnel is a sort of eight inch high totem pole with three oddly shaped pieces of cardboard stuck through it. When workers are placed into it, they bounce around and down, then hopefully out of the shoot at the bottom. In reality, about a quarter of the workers put into it will get stuck on one of the ledges, meaning that they are essentially lost (at least for now.) Any player who does get their workers back out of The Tunnel will now take the resources associated with the gather location, based on how many workers return.

On later turns, if one of the previously stuck workers comes out, they bring with them whatever resource was just gathered (because you’ll have forgotten what they went in for and remember, they got lost because cave people are stupid….) This feature is really Age of Dirt‘s selling point, and let me tell you, younger players love it, whilst hobby gamers hate it. It’s one of the silliest and most irreverent things I’ve ever seen in a game and it sort of limits the peak of what the game can be described as to “a fun family game” or a “early evening warm up” at best – but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.

The spending resources action is relatively simple and usually involves simply trading the appropriate resources for an invention card to score points. There are a few other things you can spend your hard fought resources on however, such as upgrading your cave (flipping it to hold six resources instead of four) or repairing your spear or drum. Spears can be used to fend off predators that would otherwise eat your workers when both come out of The Tunnel at the same time, whilst the drum can be used to allow a player to bash The Tunnel once with a cardboard club that comes included in the game. When either is used, it is flipped and can’t be used until repaired.

There are a few more things to mention about Age of Dirt, such as the small deck of event cards that can be shuffled into the invention deck. Event cards must be resolved immediately when drawn and will usually cost the players a few resources, workers or something else in return for a benefit. The Ughlympic Games, for example, asks the players to throw all of their workers into The Tunnel, with the player who has most emerge winning the games and claiming the torch token, which acts as a permanent spear.

Component wise, Age of Dirt is very nicely done. There’s no board, and the game is based around the central tower along with the three resource gathering locations and the love tent. Each of these structures is attractive and interesting on the table, with the only downside being that the joins on the resource boxes are very thin and will certainly tear over time. The good news is that the game box has an excellent insert that enables all components to be stored without dismantling them. Wooden tokens are unusually small but nicely shaped, and all the tokens are bright, uniquely cut cardboard. The manual is just OK, leaving some items (like how to use event cards) poorly explained, but the game is so simple that it hardly matters.

When all is said and done, games like Age of Dirt serve a purpose for when playing with younger players, family members or on a very casual basis. It’s a gateway game of sorts, but The Tunnel is so unique that it can’t really be compared to a lot of other games and therefore it is both interesting in its own right and fairly useless for teaching hobby gaming fundamentals. Regardless of anything else, it’s a good looking, enjoyable way to spend about forty minutes just laughing with your friends, and that’s never a bad thing as long as you don’t take the random outcomes too much to heart.

*** 3/5

Age of Dirt is available online at 365Games.co.uk, or at your local games store. Don’t know where yours is? Try this handy games store locator

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