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Subject: Ahh Agricola. How I do love thee. (A Review) rss

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David McMillan
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Agricola. How do I review Agricola without gushing? I honestly do not know if I can. I have played a lot of board games in my life time and Agricola comes the closest to being the perfect game as any I have ever played. What do I mean by "perfect game" exactly? Well, I was first introduced to euro-gaming with The Settlers of Catan. That game blew my mind and I played it feverishly. However, it started to become very clear to me that Settlers, being the great game that it is, is VERY dependent on the luck factor. You could grab up the best placement spots and be in what is theoretically the very best position to win but, if your numbers never come up, you will lose most egregiously. Luck will always be a factor in any game. The real trick is finding a way to downplay the luck factor and up play the skill factor. Agricola manages to do just that with flair and finesse. We’ll get back to the luck factor in a little bit. First, however, let me tell you how the game works.

Agricola is a game of farm building. The word "Agricola" literally is Latin for the word "farmer". The game is played in a series of 14 rounds. There are a limited number of actions available in the first round and a new action is added each round. Each player begins the game with a board that is squared off into 15 segments. Two of these segments are occupied with the two rooms of your house and you have 1 family member residing in each one of these rooms for a total of two family members. The starting player begins the game with 2 food and everyone else begins with 3 food apiece. This will all become important shortly but, for now, just remember: 2 family members and 2-3 food.

To perform an action, the active player signifies that they are taking the action by placing one of their family members on top of it. A player cannot take an action that a family member belonging to any player is already on top of. This means that, once you take an action, that action is no longer available to anyone until the next round. The actions vary in their usefulness. Some actions are resource gathering. Some are building, Some you just collect food from. Some of the actions (like the resource actions) will replenish each round and, if nobody takes them, will continue to accumulate until someone does. These resources are used, in turn, to build things... things like fences, stables, rooms for your house, and fields.

Since we are on the topic of resources, let me go into some further detail about the various resources and what they are used for. There are 5 basic resources: wood, clay, reed, stone, food. Wood is used in almost everything. It is used to build fences and stables, to add rooms to your wooden hut, and can also be used to generate food if the conditions are right. Wood is one of the most sought after resources in the early game and, as such, you’ll want to make sure that you have plenty of it. The second most useful resource (as far as building purposes go) is clay. Clay is used to upgrade your wooden house to a clay house. Like wood, if the conditions are right, it can even be used to generate food. I hesitate to mention it now because I am trying not to get ahead of myself, but clay is also very important in the early game because it used to purchase some very valuable Major Improvements. I will talk more about Major Improvements and Improvements in general in a bit (I promise!). Reed isn’t half as useful as wood or clay, but it is necessary if you are wanting to add rooms or upgrade your home. Like wood and clay, it can also be used to generate food in certain situations. Stone is used to purchase a few Major Improvements as well as to upgrade from a clay house to a stone house. There is really no benefit from upgrading your home other than to score some extra points at the end of the game. The most important resource in the game, however, isn’t used to build anything. It’s just food. Without food, your family members starve and, when they starve, you pay a hefty price for letting them starve.

In addition to the resources I have laid out above, there are also commodities available that will help you build and grow your farm. There is grain, vegetables, sheep, wild boar, and cattle. In order to plant grain or vegetables, you must first plow your fields and then sow them with the grain and/or vegetables from your supply. All of the verbs and nouns from the previous sentence are actually actions that begin appearing later in the game with the exception of "plow" and "grain" which are available on turn number one. When you plow a field, you take a plowed field tile from the supply and place it onto your game board in one of the empty segments. Later on, if you have taken either some grain or a vegetable and have added it to your person supply, you can then take the "sow" action and place the grain and/or vegetables into any empty plowed fields that you have.

Sheep, boar, and cattle can be placed into pastures. A pasture is defined as any field or collection of fields completely surrounded by a fence or a field with a stable in it. Each fenced in pasture segment can hold up to 2 animals apiece as long as they are of the same type. An unfenced stable can accommodate only one animal and you can also keep one animal in your house as a pet. If you have a stable in a fenced in pasture, then the entire capacity of that fenced in pasture is doubled.

Every few rounds, there is a harvest phase (which is clearly marked on the game board). The harvest phase consists of three separate sequences. First, there is the actual harvest wherein you remove grain and vegetables from your fields and add them to your supply. Then comes the family feeding sequence. Each family member requires 2 food apiece. If you have the right Improvements in place, you can convert animals and vegetables into food or your family can eat raw grain or raw vegetables in which case, each vegetable or grain is worth 1 food apiece. You can also mix and match these methods if need be. The important thing is, if you are unable to feed your family members, then you will receive one beggar card for each food that you were unable to come up with. These beggar cards are worth -3 points apiece at the end of the game, so feeding your family is of tantamount importance. If you are a shrewd player, then you can effectively cripple your opponents by denying them the actions that they will need to take in order for them to come up with the food that they need. Such tactics are allowable, but they might not make you the most liked person at the table. The final sequence is the animal breeding. If you have two or more of a kind of any animal, then one single offspring is produced. If you have room for the animal, you can keep it. If not, then you have to "let it go" (thanks to sandswoll for the catch!)which means it gets returned to the supply.

I know. I know. I keep mentioning Improvements and you are dying to know just what the heck they are. So, I will tell you. There are two kinds of improvements: Minor and Major. Minor improvements come in the form of cards and you only have a few to choose from as you are dealt seven cards at the beginning of the game and those are the only seven you can work with. These cards add various functionality to your game. Some might turn out to be more useful than others. For example, there are some that allow you to pick up extra resources when you take other resources with your family members. There are some that can lower or outright negate the costs for building or upgrading various buildings. There are some that allow you to place down resources that you can gain in future rounds. These are just a few examples. There are literally over 100 of these cards that you might wind up with. The Major Improvements are placed on their own board off to the side of the game board. Once one of these is purchased and removed from the board, it is inaccessible to other players unless it is placed back by some means. The Major Improvements are used primarily to increase food production. The ovens allow you to convert grain to food at a much better rate than you normally could and the fireplace and cooking hearth allow you to convert grain, vegetables, and animals into food as well. There are also Major Improvements that allow you to convert building resources into food (presumably you’re making clay pots and trading them for food or building furniture and trading it for food, etc.). Every Major Improvement is worth "card points" at the end of the game and some are even worth "bonus" points.

On top of the Improvements, there are also Occupation cards (you start the game with seven of these, too) and, like Minor Improvements, they add functionality to your game and some even award "card" points as well as "bonus" points.

So, how do you win a game of Agricola? By having the most points at the end of the game? How do you earn points? Well, that’s easy, too. You score points based on how many of each building type, commodity type, and field type you have at the end of the game. All of the following will score you points:

Negative points scored for each one you own:
- Empty fields
- Beggar cards

Points scored based on how many you have that will score you a -1 if you have none of them:
- Plowed fields
- Pastures
- Grain
- Vegetables
- Animals

Points scored based on how many you have:
- Family members
- Clay rooms
- Stone rooms
- Fenced in stables

“Card" points from Minor and Major Improvements and various Occupation cards.

“Bonus" points from Minor and Major Improvements and various Occupation cards.

And that’s it. For such a simple concept, this game is full of complexity and possibility. Your entire strategy could turn on a dime the moment that someone else takes a resource that is vital to your plans. You have to be flexible and fluid when you play this game or you’re not going to fare well and you’re not going to have much fun. The luck factor only appears in two places in this game: your initial card draws and whether or not someone else takes an action that you have your eyes on. In both of these cases, the luck factor can be mitigated somewhat. In the case of your cards, you could simply choose to not use them at all. In the case of the actions being taken, you can use the "Starting Player" action to ensure that you get first pick of the actions on the next round. If you really need wood, the "Starting Player" action will guarantee you that you will get wood in the next round. This is a game of efficiency, resource management, and choices. If you make the right moves and are as efficient as you can possibly be with each and every one of your turns, then you will do well. The Occupation cards and Improvement cards guarantee that no two games will be exactly alike. There are even extra decks of varying complexity that can be used standalone or mixed in with everything else.

And, as incredible as it seems, it gets even better. What really drew me to Agricola was its SOLITAIRE mode. Yes, you heard that right. Agricola can be played solo... and it’s freaking hard. In the solo game, you begin with ZERO food and all of your family members cost 3 food apiece during the harvest phase. If you’re playing a single solitaire game, it can be very tough to get ahead, but it feels very rewarding when you finally do.

For you new players, I only have three tips for you:

Feed your family. The beggar cards are almost guaranteed to lose you the game and you want to avoid them at all costs.

Don’t go card crazy. It is very tempting to try to play every Minor Improvement and Occupation that you have in your hand. Collectively, that’s up to 14 actions to play all of them. That’s a lot of wasted actions. Instead, try to find one or two of each that work in harmony and try to get those out.

And lastly, try to negate those negatives. At the very least, you’ll want to have at least 1 of everything. You could have an amazing overall score and then watch it get eaten away by all of the little -1 points. By not having any fields, pastures, vegetables, grain, or animals you are already looking at -7 points from just those alone. If you do wind up having to eat a negative point, try to find a way to balance it out by getting an extra point somewhere else.

There is enough challenge in this game to keep me coming back time and time again. I have played hundreds of games now and it has yet to get old. I love, love, LOVE this game and heartily recommend it to anyone that doesn’t already own it.

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Joe Brown
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Change your name from "CarcassonneFreak" to "AgricolaFreak"



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Stephen Woll
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CarcassonneFreak wrote:
.... If you have two or more of a kind of any animal, then one single offspring is produced. If you have room for the animal, you can keep it. If not, then you can turn it into food if you have the necessary Improvements. Otherwise, you have to "let it go" which means it gets returned to the supply.

First of all, Great Review! I believe this may be my go to review for this game. Only minor nitpick would be the bolded phrase above.
A: When you have capacity for a total of 2 animals, and after feeding you have 2, the animals simply do not breed. You may not cook during the breeding phase. If you do not have the space/room for the newborn, you don't get it.

B: If you have room for, and have 3 animals, and during feeding you do not need to eat one of them to feed, you may still eat one (if you have a cooking improvement) for the food and still have the remaining 2 animals breed back to the 3 you started with.



I agree, this game does NOT get old. I have well over 400 plays of this game, and would play anytime. I own all current decks in print, and personally know people who have designed cards for the next deck. Terrific game.
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David McMillan
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I have also written a review for Carcassonne.
 
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David Janik-Jones
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In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this | Transgender pride | Unconditional love, pride, and support | LGBTQ Ally | The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!
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Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
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While I absolutely despise the game, your review is excellent and for players interested in what makes this game a great one it's a perfect primer, hence the thumb and the GG.

I know I'm one of those rare Agricola haters on BGG. What utterly kills the game for me? "A player cannot take an action that a family member belonging to any player is already on top of." I recognize the game is a good one, but absolute choice denial as a mechanic just kills any game for me.

But really, really excellent review, and a great template for others to emulate when reviewing games (a nice mix of personal and mechanics and balanced). Well done.

(Oddly enough, not a fan of Carcassone either. But one man's fish is another man's poisson, after all.)
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Geoff Burkman
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Not a wargamer, either, I would take it?
 
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David Janik-Jones
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In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this | Transgender pride | Unconditional love, pride, and support | LGBTQ Ally | The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!
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MisterG wrote:
Not a wargamer, either, I would take it?
Grognard since the 1960s, and I notice you're an ASL fan, so I know you're just kidding.

The best wargame designs never prevent you from doing something ... your opponent's actions may make it more difficult to accomplish something, but never entirely eliminate the possibility because the natire of the battlefield must include chaos and friction if properly modelled in the best wargames (either design for cause or design for effect types). None of the better wargame designs I currently own or play (or can even think of having played in the last 40+ years) would put you into a situation like that. Even your favourite, ASL.

The unofficial motto of Combat Commander from GMT is never, ever give up. Strange things happen on battlefields and small numbers of brave men can overcome incredible odds (my late father-in-laws individual act of bravery/foolishness in Italy is proof of that, as is his Cross of Valour).

But to get back to my point that I think you know I was making: Many Euros like Power Grid never entirely eliminates/blocks your ability to, say, buy resources you need at auction, but opponents can make it more expensive to do so. Even when they do, there are always other things you can do that will maintain your place in the game. Same for Troyes, Vinhos, Maria, Homesteaders, and Samurai etc.

But there are certain things you must do early in Agricola to maintain a mathematical chance of winning ... failure to do so by opponents blocking you too many turns in a row and you will lose. Those three games were played with some damn good players, one of whom can tell you with remarkable accuracy that you can't win at a certain point.

I recognize Agricola's a great game, but that mechanic? Not for me. But I'm up for a wargame any time.
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Mark Mitchell
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I hated the board game, but I love the ipad version. The lack of fiddlyness and fast play enables you to quickly try different approaches really opening the game without losing hundreds of hours playing the analogue version. Add asynch multiplayer and it rocks. It is a very clever game, on the ipad I don't get as frustrated as playing it face to face. It's still not much more than resource management of many variables but its a nice relaxing play on the ipad. If someone cracks open the board game forget it, yawnfest. I'd rather play something exciting like netrunner, magewars, Spartacus or xwing.

Having to wait out others turns is painful, asynch for me is the perfect way to play.
 
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Steve L

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DaveyJJ wrote:
[q="MisterG"]The best wargame designs never prevent you from doing something ... your opponent's actions may make it more difficult to accomplish something, but never entirely eliminate the possibility because the natire of the battlefield must include chaos and friction if properly modelled in the best wargames (either design for cause or design for effect types). None of the better wargame designs I currently own or play (or can even think of having played in the last 40+ years) would put you into a situation like that. Even your favourite, ASL.

In chess, arguably a wargame albeit a stylized one, if I move my piece immediately in front of your pawn it entirely eliminates the possibility of moving that pawn. Does that ruin chess as a game? No. It may ruin _that_ game of chess (or maybe not) but that's different.

*snip*

DaveyJJ wrote:
But there are certain things you must do early in Agricola to maintain a mathematical chance of winning ... failure to do so by opponents blocking you too many turns in a row and you will lose. Those three games were played with some damn good players, one of whom can tell you with remarkable accuracy that you can't win at a certain point.

So if your opponents are blocking you from doing what you need to do to win, they're probably not taking Starting Player. If you take SP then you have the initiative and you can block THEM from doing what THEY need to do on the next turn. If life gives you lemons, start a lemonade stand and use the money you earn from it to buy oranges

DaveyJJ wrote:
I recognize Agricola's a great game, but that mechanic? Not for me. But I'm up for a wargame any time.

No game can satisfy everyone. While I have ideas for house rules that I think might improve Agricola (reducing the luck involved in how much different sets of occupations/minor improvements help different players) that mechanic seems fine to me.
 
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