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Subject: Agricola - A fun but frustrating game rss

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Graham Marsden
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I've played this game three or four times and it's a good game, but there are elements of it I find intensely frustrating.

The first point to note is that, for some unfathomable reason, many actions are only available *once* per turn eg ploughing fields, baking bread, fencing off fields etc and if someone takes that action before you do, you're unable to do it too.

This, to me, is bizarre. If I am running my farm, what does it matter what my neighbour is doing? Just because he decides to bake bread, why on earth should that preclude *me* from doing the same thing?

Secondly if you're playing against someone who knows the game well you're going to be at a disadvantage because eg there's a couple of cards that turn up around (I think) Year 5 which let you expand your family without building a new room on your house and the experienced player knows to get "first player" the turn before to ensure they can claim that card.

Thirdly pretty much once you start on a strategy you're stuck with it eg if you're relying on growing grain to bake bread for your food supply you need to ensure that you get to the "bake" action first otherwise you'll run out of food when harvest time comes around and end up with negative points for begging.

There isn't that much of a luck factor, mostly it's strategy except for the Occupation and Improvement cards you get dealt at the start. This often tends to decide your strategy for you!), eg if you're lucky you can get a good synergy going as some cards/ occupations can be combined such as if you have the Landing Net every time you pick up Reeds you get an extra 2 Food and if you have the Basket Weaver you can convert 1 Reed to 3 food at Harvest time meaning it's much easier to feed your people!

There is a risk of Analysis Paralysis at times (normally when someone else is going for a similar strategy to yours and you need to work out a backup plan) but very often, as mentioned, once you start down a path you're pretty much compelled to stay with it because you don't have the time to waste.

You rarely get the chance to make what I call "luxury moves", ie you actually manage to get ahead of the game (mostly meaning you have sufficient food to feed your family!) and can actually afford to take a turn to do something which will benefit you (eg buy a couple of animals) which wasn't in your original plan.

It's definitely a game where you benefit from being very familiar with the deck and the order that cards turn up and having the ability to make long term plans.

It's fun, but there definitely frustrating elements which seem to be there simply for gameplay purposes than for to make any logical sense.
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Tor Sverre Lund
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Yeah, it's a game :)
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Jonathan Beach
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All the points you make that frustrate you are some of the elements of the game I love. It's my first worker placement game and I just love it. It's about efficiency while paying close attention to the other players. The starting player action is VERY valuable to ensure you get the resources/actions you need. It's very challenging. There is no doubt players with experience will have the immediate edge on you. Like you said the luck value is very minimal. But, this game is not for everyone either. There are log more worker placement games out there and I believe each one shares your first comment of one action per player.
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Lacombe
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
Secondly if you're playing against someone who knows the game well you're going to be at a disadvantage because eg there's a couple of cards that turn up around (I think) Year 5 which let you expand your family without building a new room on your house and the experienced player knows to get "first player" the turn before to ensure they can claim that card.


This is a non-issue, as the possible cards that could turn up in any given stage of the game are printed quite clearly on the back of the player-aid card.
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Graham Marsden
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NateStraight wrote:
This is a non-issue, as the possible cards that could turn up in any given stage of the game are printed quite clearly on the back of the player-aid card.


It's not simply "oh, that card could turn up" it is *knowing* what that card does and that it's one of the most useful in the game, plus that potentially subsequently distorting your strategy to make a dash for it.
 
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Lacombe
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
NateStraight wrote:
This is a non-issue, as the possible cards that could turn up in any given stage of the game are printed quite clearly on the back of the player-aid card.


It's not simply "oh, that card could turn up" it is *knowing* what that card does and that it's one of the most useful in the game, plus that potentially subsequently distorting your strategy to make a dash for it.


Alright, but that's not really what you said [or at least what I took from it, obviously ]

Late round family growth is generally less important than late round plow-and-sow, I find.

At most, you're going to get 2 actions [and NET 1, since you have to spend an action to go there] and 3 pts from that family growth, at a cost of 4 food.

Plow-and-Sow, on the other hand, will give you at least 2 points [the extra field, plus covering up a space], usually considerably more, and is a food GAIN.

But, yes, the game does reward experienced players, just not for the reason it seemed you suggested.
 
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Graham Marsden
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uniconfis wrote:
It's my first worker placement game and I just love it. It's about efficiency while paying close attention to the other players. The starting player action is VERY valuable to ensure you get the resources/actions you need.


Yes, I see that, I just prefer games like Stone Age where each player gets to be Starting Player in turn, otherwise you have to start distorting your strategy to manoeuvre yourself into a position where you can grab the SP action card.

That's fine if you like that sort of game mechanic, but for me, as with the only one person can use the "Bake Bread" action it just makes the game more artificial because the mechanics dictate the play.
 
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Lacombe
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
the mechanics dictate the play.


Such is the essence of anything we can accurately call a "game", though.
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Andrew Foerster
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Games that aren't frustrating to a new player are probably going to be pretty shallow games (Apples to Apples), so I appreciated the difficulty in getting into it (not that A2A doesn't have its place).

The blocking of actions is essential to the challenge and the dynamic. If, thematically, this bothers you, then maybe consider that each spot is hiring your village's only specialist to execute the action, or exhausting that person's supply (in the case of a resource). If you're wondering how, thematically, you don't have to pay the worker, then maybe consider that you're using communal tools to build fences or bake bread, or that you're gathering resources from a communal space or pool. If you can't buy communal resources, then you must have a really hard time suspending your disbelief for movies and books.

The tension is definitely a big part of the fun (or, for many people, the lack of fun) of the game. Trying to put together a strong farm while also feeding your family and growing and all that is an extremely tense tightrope walk (though one that gets much easier the more you play) and there will be games where you do everything you can to feed and end up with a barren (and low-scoring) farm for your efforts. I guess surviving, in that case, is a form of victory in itself. It does get easier and in future games you should find yourself taking vegetables and livestock to "cancel negatives" (boost farm value) or taking the "luxury actions" (like Fence+Renovate or Plow and Sow) to rapidly fill out your farm. A quibble is that the scoring rewards balanced farming, but in general most of this balancing happens at game end, so it becomes a game of specializing in the best manner so you have free actions to artificially balance your farm at the end.

You are not necessarily stuck with a single plan once you've committed, and the cards do not have to dictate your strategy. It's not necessarily easy, but if baking is getting crowded, you can try to switch to ranching. Theoretically, you'll need to gather some livestock at some point so doing so earlier isn't a bad thing. The problem, of course, is that you may not have time to put up the infrastructure to feed, but there are ways of avoiding having to change horses if necessary (taking starting player to ensure you can bake). The cards can help, and may change the game, but it does take actions and resources to play many cards. Actions and resources you can use to other ends. Also, games are also lost (pretty frequently, I'd venture) trying to mold your play to your hand ... e.g. Mushroom Collector rewards you for picking wood early and often, almost to the point of wasting your own actions and neglecting other resources if you're not careful. The cards don't generally make the game, but if they bother you, you can play without.

Keep playing and hopefully a lot (but not all!) of the frustrations should diminish.
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Mike Hulsebus
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I see all the best points have already been covered (I agree!)

If that bugs you, perhaps you would enjoy the following geeklist:
That is illogical captain! - Logical inconsistencies in otherwise fine games
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Matt Shields
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NateStraight wrote:
Rockwell_666 wrote:
Secondly if you're playing against someone who knows the game well you're going to be at a disadvantage because eg there's a couple of cards that turn up around (I think) Year 5 which let you expand your family without building a new room on your house and the experienced player knows to get "first player" the turn before to ensure they can claim that card.


This is a non-issue, as the possible cards that could turn up in any given stage of the game are printed quite clearly on the back of the player-aid card.


More to the point though, if you're playing any decent game against someone who knows the game well, and you are an inexperienced player, you are going to be at a disadvantage.

If the new player isn't at a significant disadvantage against the experienced player, the game probably doesn't have much substance. Agricola has lots of substance and it takes time to learn.
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Mike T
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As everyone says, of course experienced players have an advantage. I appreciate that the learning curve can be intimidating, and it's not much fun to get crushed and not really understand why, but the same thing will happen in every complex game.

One point worth mentioning: you say
Rockwell_666 wrote:

Thirdly pretty much once you start on a strategy you're stuck with it eg if you're relying on growing grain to bake bread for your food supply you need to ensure that you get to the "bake" action first otherwise you'll run out of food when harvest time comes around and end up with negative points for begging.


If you get more experienced, you'll discover that flexibility is absolutely key. Yes, if your only way to feed is an Oven, you're going to get in trouble, particularly against good players. Building a secure food base means more than building an efficient food base, it means being sure that you'll be able to feed no matter what your opponents do to stop you.
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Karl von Laudermann
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
I've barbequed this game three or four times and it's a good game, but there are elements of it I find intensely frustrating.

You left the verb out of your sentence, so I inserted one for you. No need to thank me.
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Brian Mc Cabe
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I've only played four times and have not gotten better between game one and game four, which was way back in February.

Everything you call frustrating I call great gaming. I would love to play this more often, but it doesn't hit the table at our group any more. They've moved on.

When a player has more experience, he necessarily is going to be a better player and deserve to win. He isn't going to lower his standards to help me out, because there are two or three other players he's got to beat, too.

I don't get frustrated. I do what I can do and try to pick up one or two things I could have done. I also read Geoff Burkman's sessions. He's always got a little tidbit or one will appear in the responses.

Playing once a year hasn't allowed me to implement those tidbits, but there they are.

Brian
 
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Graham Marsden
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andrewfoerster wrote:
Games that aren't frustrating to a new player are probably going to be pretty shallow games (Apples to Apples), so I appreciated the difficulty in getting into it (not that A2A doesn't have its place).


I've played more than a few "non-shallow" games in my time, but not many that have the "Eh? That's daft!" feeling I get from Agricola.

Yes, ok, you can make up justifications for the "blocking" (hiring the only specialist in the village etc) but why are you limited to a set number of fence pieces? You can amass huge amounts of wood, but once you've used the 15 Fences that come with your colour, that's it, tough. There's no reason for it other than a game mechanic.

Quote:
If you can't buy communal resources, then you must have a really hard time suspending your disbelief for movies and books.


If a film or a book requires me to suspend my disbelief simply so the plot can be advanced, most certainly I do have a problem with it. Consider the difference between a Handwave and a Lampshade, at least in the latter case someone's admitting that "ok, we know this is ridiculous, sorry, but now let's get on with having fun."

Quote:
in future games you should find yourself taking vegetables and livestock to "cancel negatives"


Ah, yes, thank you for reminding me of another frustrating niggle. *WHY* do I need to have a field of grain or vegetables and get "fined" if I don't? Why can't I go for an all-livestock farm? (Well, apart from the problem of a limited number of fence pieces of course...!)

As you say "it becomes a game of specializing in the best manner so you have free actions to artificially balance your farm at the end", but why should I have to "artificially balance" my farm simply because that's the way the scoring system works?

The game is billed as "A game of agriculture and development", but what it really is is "A game of playing to the scoring chart because that's what the designer thought was best."

Quote:
Keep playing and hopefully a lot (but not all!) of the frustrations should diminish.


Maybe, but there are lots of other games to play...
 
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Graham Marsden
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karlvonl wrote:
Rockwell_666 wrote:
I've barbequed this game three or four times and it's a good game, but there are elements of it I find intensely frustrating.

You left the verb out of your sentence, so I inserted one for you. No need to thank me.


I have *no* idea what you mean whistle

(Waves hand "This is not the edit you're looking for...")
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Mike T
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Do you know what I hate? Chess. It's so stupid that the pawns can't move backwards. What sort of foot soldier can't move backwards? And how does it make sense that only one can move at a time? What sort of army moves one man at a time? What really doesn't make any sense to me, though, is all those sacrifices. Instead of throwing themselves at their class-brothers, I think the pawns should turn around and start a revolution.
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Geoff Burkman
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
I've played this game three or four times and it's a good game, but there are elements of it I find intensely frustrating.


As others have mentioned, this means the game system is funtioning properly.

Quote:
The first point to note is that, for some unfathomable reason, many actions are only available *once* per turn eg ploughing fields, baking bread, fencing off fields etc and if someone takes that action before you do, you're unable to do it too....This, to me, is bizarre. If I am running my farm, what does it matter what my neighbour is doing? Just because he decides to bake bread, why on earth should that preclude *me* from doing the same thing?


The mistake you're making, as many, many other players have done before you and will no doubt continue to do after you, is that you're conceptualizing the game as some sort of simulation, ala "Farmville."

It ain't, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you'll begin enjoying the game for what it is, or move on to something more your style.

Quote:
Secondly if you're playing against someone who knows the game well you're going to be at a disadvantage because eg there's a couple of cards that turn up around (I think) Year 5 which let you expand your family without building a new room on your house and the experienced player knows to get "first player" the turn before to ensure they can claim that card.


As others have already noted, this is not a situation that is in any way unique to Agricola. Other than that, you know what they say about reading the manual...

Quote:
Thirdly pretty much once you start on a strategy you're stuck with it eg if you're relying on growing grain to bake bread for your food supply you need to ensure that you get to the "bake" action first otherwise you'll run out of food when harvest time comes around and end up with negative points for begging.


Absolutely not true. Agricola is all about flexibility and adaptation.

Quote:
There isn't that much of a luck factor, mostly it's strategy except for the Occupation and Improvement cards you get dealt at the start. This often tends to decide your strategy for you!)


No.

Quote:
There is a risk of Analysis Paralysis at times (normally when someone else is going for a similar strategy to yours and you need to work out a backup plan) but very often, as mentioned, once you start down a path you're pretty much compelled to stay with it because you don't have the time to waste.


Again, no. Read a few of my session reports and notice how the leaders typically switch from one mode of "attack" (I use the term advisedly) to another and back again. Other than that, yes, there's certainly the risk of AP. This is true of almost any and every worker placement game, at least the ones I've ever played.

Quote:
You rarely get the chance to make what I call "luxury moves", ie you actually manage to get ahead of the game (mostly meaning you have sufficient food to feed your family!) and can actually afford to take a turn to do something which will benefit you (eg buy a couple of animals) which wasn't in your original plan.


The more you play, the better you'll get at this.

Quote:
It's definitely a game where you benefit from being very familiar with the deck and the order that cards turn up and having the ability to make long term plans.


Certainly the player should be familiar with the general order of appearance of Round cards. You simply can't play the game properly without that knowledge. This falls under the heading of "Read the..." well, you know.

And be warned: genuine "long-term" plans in Agricola are generalized contingency plans at best, and baying at the moon at worst. My advice: don't make them.

Quote:
It's fun, but there definitely frustrating elements which seem to be there simply for gameplay purposes than for to make any logical sense.


The logic in this game is in the play mechanics, not in the theme. Get those thoughts out of your head. As I've defined it in my review of the game, Agricola is "a tactile competitive spreadsheet game with a core mechanic of sequential, exclusive action selection." The one thing it is not is a simulation, or even a simulation of a simulation.

Keep farming, though, and mayhaps it'll grow on you, too!

Edits: yes, and it's a good thing they don't pay me to edit things...whistle
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Graham Marsden
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MisterG wrote:
Agricola is "a tactile competitive spreadsheet game with a core mechanic of sequential, exclusive action selection."


Well why doesn't it just *say* that on the box!

As for Reading the Manual, fine, but unlike some players I know, I have other things to do rather than memorise rulebooks and lists of cards to determine the optimal strategy in "a tactile competitive spreadsheet game with a core mechanic of sequential, exclusive action selection."

Thanks for your comments anyway

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Geoff Burkman
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You are more than welcome. I leave you with a bit of display marketing from the back of the box:

"The 17th Century: Not an easy period for a farmer!" -- This tells the prospective buyer that the game is not going to be a cakewalk. There is also mention that the game is intended for 12-year-olds and up (coincidentally, the same age recommendation for most of Avalon Hill's classic wargames), another strong indication that Agricola is not a "pick up and play" sort of a game.

The game description down the center of the back of the box also clearly indicates a plethora of cards with which the game is played. This would indicate (to me anyway) that learning the cards is likely to be essential to doing well in the game. Much like "Dominion," for instance, or learning the various races and special powers in "Small World."

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Stephen
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
The first point to note is that, for some unfathomable reason, many actions are only available *once* per turn eg ploughing fields, baking bread, fencing off fields etc and if someone takes that action before you do, you're unable to do it too.

This, to me, is bizarre. If I am running my farm, what does it matter what my neighbour is doing? Just because he decides to bake bread, why on earth should that preclude *me* from doing the same thing?


It's funnier if you ask this about the family growth action. "Yes I know what the neighbours are up to; I can hear them all too well. What does that have to do with us? Oh, the noise gave you a headache, I see."
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Bryann Turner
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Rockwell_666 wrote:

...I just prefer games like Stone Age...


I understand the liking of Stone Age. I really do. It's a fun little game. You get to roll dice, you get to play with cool bits, and hey, you don't even have to feed your workers if you know what you're doing.

It suffers from some problems though. For example, only one player can plow a field at a time. That's just crazy! You'd think in all of cavemandom there would be more space for fields. Also, only one clan can procreate at the same time, too! That's just insane! They're cavemen, what else is there to do but hunt, gather, and procreate?

In all seriousness though, Agricola is awesome. It's obviously not your cup of tea, and that's fine, but it truly is a remarkable game if you're willing to take on the learning curve.
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Jim Cobb
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You seem to have a lot of issues reconciling the game's mechanics and rules with its theme. Perhaps you would enjoy abstracts better.

All themed games are abstractions with artificial limitations (game rules) imposed on them; otherwise it would be a different activity (whatever the theme actually is). At least without a theme you won't have to worry about how everything makes perfect logical sense in the real world.

 
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Blorb Plorbst
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I think we're all bozos on this bus.
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Rockwell_666 wrote:
NateStraight wrote:
This is a non-issue, as the possible cards that could turn up in any given stage of the game are printed quite clearly on the back of the player-aid card.


It's not simply "oh, that card could turn up" it is *knowing* what that card does and that it's one of the most useful in the game, plus that potentially subsequently distorting your strategy to make a dash for it.


A good teacher should point out that those cards are there and that they are very valuable.

Beyond that, after playing the game once, you will know about them. Don't expect a first game to be anything more than a learning game.

I love that there's always a constant pressure to feed your family. It's part of the game that really drives the theme for me -- I get a sense of the desperation of subsistence farming, the satisfaction of living through another year and when I am finally able to get ahead on food, a sense of peace and prosperity.
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David Norman
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StephenV wrote:
Rockwell_666 wrote:
The first point to note is that, for some unfathomable reason, many actions are only available *once* per turn eg ploughing fields, baking bread, fencing off fields etc and if someone takes that action before you do, you're unable to do it too.

This, to me, is bizarre. If I am running my farm, what does it matter what my neighbour is doing? Just because he decides to bake bread, why on earth should that preclude *me* from doing the same thing?


It's funnier if you ask this about the family growth action. "Yes I know what the neighbours are up to; I can hear them all too well. What does that have to do with us? Oh, the noise gave you a headache, I see."


Maybe the village only has one stork?

David.
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