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Subject: E-I-E-iOS: A Review of Agricola for iPhone rss

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Ben Marshalkowski
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Brighton
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I am not great at Agricola. It took me dozens of plays just to become competent at the game. I own it, but haven’t played the tabletop version in years. Frankly, I should probably sell it. So in June 2013, when the iOS version of the game released, I shouldn’t have been interested in it.

The gameplay’s the thing

Agricola can be an intimidating game. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sneaky about it. To the casual gamer, you look at the boards and sure, there are a lot of components, but it’s a game about farming. How hard can it be? In my experience, the game gives beginners a crash course in the Five Stages of Grief.

- Denial that you can’t get all the building materials you need

- Anger at Uwe Rosenberg

- Bargaining with other players not to take the Occupation space this turn

- Depression at how many -1 categories you have

- And finally, Acceptance that you can at least Grow Your Family Even Without Room in Your House

Is it judging by its cover if you’ve read the book before?

So what would compel me to purchase the iOS version of Agricola? Two things. One reason was my trust in Playdek, the game’s developer. The second reason, a very bad reason on its own, was the look of the game.

I think most iOS boardgamers would agree that Agricola is one of the best-looking tabletop-to-iOS ports out there. Playdek and publisher Lookout Games didn’t just copy and paste the board from the tabletop game, but instead created a dynamic village with each of the action spaces as a hut or shop for your family members to visit.

There is a bit of a learning curve to remember what each of the signs in front of the buildings means, but you can reveal the space’s name with a tap. Your farm has the same treatment, with your house, fields and pastures dynamically growing and populating with plants and animals.

Who’s got the button?

The Occupation and Improvement cards are where the game falls into familiar tabletop port territory. Available cards appear as a row of square tiles you can pull up with a touch of one of two buttons: a Well for Major Improvements, and a Windmill/Book combo for Minor Improvements and Occupations. You can see Playdek’s influence on the game by tapping any of those square tiles, which pulls up the card layout from the tabletop game and reveals the card’s effect on the game.

Once a card is played, its square token appears to the left of your farm, which takes you out of the visual theme, but is more convenient for reference than having an animated sprite of each Occupation and Improvement. Anything you can use on your turn becomes a token, either in your resource stockpile at the bottom of the screen, or in a space at the bottom right reserved for useful tokens at any particular time.

Any way you play it

Agricola for the iOS also provides a number of popular options for play, including AI and online multiplayer, solo series rules, and Occupation card variants like draw-10-discard-3 and drafting. One limitation is that right now, only the ‘E’ deck is available for Occupations and Minor Improvements. This will be more than enough variety for new players, but the game may get a little stale for players who are used to the additional decks.

Playing a solo game takes about half an hour, less if you’re a few games into a solo series and have your Occupations sorted out. And as usual with iOS games, setup and breakdown are as simple as opening and closing the app. I wonder if my enjoyment of iOS games is relative to the amount of components the tabletop version requires. Regardless, the ease of playing a game and the simplicity of the cards (for now) makes it a lot easier to grasp the game, build strategies and actually enjoy yourself.

End of the season

In conclusion, Agricola for the iOS takes one of the most venerated tabletop games of the past 20 years, if not all time, and does an amazing job of bringing it into the digital space. It impresses on all fronts: staying true to the gameplay, capitalizing on a more dynamic interface, and allowing for variations that have emerged over the game’s history. It's a great way for new players to test-drive the game. It is also a great travel/remote version for veteran players, though replayability may be an issue until other decks are released.

I give it four out of four vegetables.
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Roger Fawcett
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Northwich
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Rats! I opened the review hoping you had written the whole thing like the nursery rhyme. Good review anyway, although I don't have an iphone!

 
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Geoff Burkman
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Kettering
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E-Deck only? Thank you for reassuring me that I still have no need for an IPhone whatsoever.
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Matt Shields
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MisterG wrote:
E-Deck only? Thank you for reassuring me that I still have no need for an IPhone whatsoever.


He's intending to do all the decks. I and K were scheduled to be out right about now. Not sure if they are still on schedule, but as far as I know that's still happening.

The developer indicated they would probably do other decks as well, but I imagine that will depend at least in part on how popular the game is. I imagine adding decks is relatively time consuming.
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Matthew M
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Moved to Agricola (iOS)
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