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Subject: Home-brewed Mini-Expansion: The Itinerant Trader rss

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Recently, I played Stone Age for the first time. On the surface, the similarities to one of my personal favorites, Agricola, were striking: both games involve worker placement, feature food, wood, clay, and stone as items to acquire, and rely on the number of workers to determine how many different actions can be taken. Both games require players to allocate resources to building upgrades, and both games necessitate feeding of players' family members. However, I was not only captivated with the directness and simplicity of resource acquisition (random as it may be), but also with how much less stressful Stone Age is than Agricola. As I played through Stone Age, I realized which stressor is allayed in Stone Age compared to Agricola: in Stone Age, you can exchange a good for food, whereas in Agricola you cannot make that exchange without an appropriate Occupation or Minor Improvement. This inspired me to create a homebrew mini-expansion to Agricola: The Itinerant Trader.

Thematically, I can imagine a traveling merchant, or itinerant trader, frequenting farms in the countryside and trading farm resources for finished products or, in this case, processed food (e.g. sausages, milled flour, and so on). This traveler takes the form of an additional board that is placed among the other boards in the gameplay area. There are four Action spaces on the Itinerant Trader board that are only usable after Phase 4 of each round immediately preceding a harvest (when family members return home), but before Harvest Phase 1 (The Field Phase). This intermediate phase is the Itinerant Trading phase.

This is a summary of the four Action spaces:

- The farthest left space is the Part-Time Work space. On this space, any player can place up to two family members. By placing family members here, a player is not required to feed those family members during the harvest. However, those family members do not return to the player's home board until the next of the next round. For example, if Player 1 has three family members but only two food, Player 1 can place two family members on the Part-Time Work space, but Player 1 would not be able to deploy those family members to perform actions during the next round. At the end of the round, those family members return home, along with other family members that belong to Player 1. Note that family members have to be placed here before trading goods or resources for food takes place.

Last Harvest Rule: during the last harvest, the Part-Time Work space can be used, but any family members that are placed on that space do not count toward the player’s Final Scoring because the family member is not present with its family! This may seem like a steep penalty, but it may make sense to place a family member there if there’s a shortage of food and a player doesn’t want to take -6 points worth of Begging cards.

- The middle left space is the Goods to Food space. On this space, any player may place one or more family members to convert goods to food. For example, if Player 2 has three family members, Player 2 can place all three family members on the Goods to Food space to convert, say, three sheep to three food. Likewise, Player 3 can place two of her family members on the Goods to Food space to convert one wild boar to one food and two grain to three food. Any player can perform one conversion for each family member placed on this space.

- The middle right space is the Resources to Food space. On this space, any player may place one or more family members to convert resources to food. This space works similarly to the Goods to Food space, except that three wood can be converted into one food, two reed or clay into one food, or one stone into one food.

- The farthest right space is the Wares for Trade space. On this space, the remaining pile of Minor Improvement cards (after they have been dealt to players during game setup) are placed, forming a Wares for Trade pile. During the Itinerant Trader phase, each player can send one family member to the Wares for Trade space. That player draws the top three cards off the Wares for Trade pile, keeps one card, and places the other two, along with one Minor Improvement from his or her hand, at the bottom of the Wares for Trade pile.

Similar to other phases in Agricola, players send family members to spaces on the Itinerant Trader board with the player who is the Starting Player during the immediately preceding round going first. However, unlike any other phase of Agricola, multiple players can place multiple family members on the Itinerant Trader’s Action spaces. Thus, Player 1 (who is the Starting Player) could place two family members on the Resources to Food space and Player 2 can do the same, while Player 3 places three family members on the Goods to Food space and one on the Wares for Trade space and Player 4 does the same. By this, the Action spaces are not conventional Action spaces.

Any family members deployed to spaces on the Itinerant Trader board remain in their spaces until the end of the Itinerant Trader phase (or until the end of the next round if placed on the Part-Time Work phase). In this way, for instance, if a player has two family members and sends one to the Goods to Food space, one to the Wares for Trade space, and one to the Resources to Food space, then those family members cannot be redeployed to other Itinerant Trader spaces during the current Itinerant Trader phase.

At the end of the Itinerant Trader phase, all family members who were not deployed to the Part-Time Work space are returned to their farms.

As an aside, the Goods to Food space was inspired by the Fireplace Major Improvement, but with a less advantageous trade ratio, and the Resources to Food space was derived from the Dock Worker occupation, except that trades yield food and not other resources. As for the Wares for Trade space, I thought it would add more variety to the game if players were allowed to trade in Minor Improvements for other ones. In this way, players would have opportunities to see more of them in one game instead of having those undrawn Minor Improvements never appear.

My hope with this mini-expansion is to create a more laid-back Agricola gaming experience for groups that prefer building a farm without stressing out over feeding the family, as well as increase the variety of Minor Improvements visible during each game. Sure, this results in a less rigorous Agricola experience, but I have found that certain gamers (whether casual or serious) would rather focus on the worker placement and tableau-building aspects of the game without being overly preoccupied with the harvest. The Itinerant Trader board provides an "out" for those gamers without doing away with the harvest. Of course, if a player still cannot feed their family after availing themselves of the Itinerant Trader, that player must still take Begging Cards as stipulated in the rules.

Please let me know how this board works with your group. If you have any constructive comments, I'll be sure to make any reasonable changes.

1st Edition


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Jan-Willem van Leeuwen
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Interesting idea! If my group would play with this I think the 'Part-time work' space might be taken now and then in cases of urgent need for food. It's basically a delayed day laborer.
The other two spaces wouldn't be taken more than once a game, since it's a high price to pay for food. But we're pretty experienced and competitive; I think in a less experienced group this would be a welcome addition to lessen the stress of feeding.

Now, for some nit-picking:
- The extra board looks great, although I'm missing the title of the 'Part-time work' space. Also, I think it would be better to have icons explaining resource conversion in 'Resources to food' instead of text (like you already have in the 'Goods to food' action).
- What happens if I play 'Part-time work' before the last harvest?
- There is a bread-baking symbol on the 'Goods to food' card. Thematically you're trading, not baking. So It wouldn't count as baking bread. I mention this because baking bread triggers a couple of occupations.
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Benjamin Kerenza
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Not bad.

From a negative stand point the food tension for me is quite important in the game so this would really damage the interactivity of fighting over the main board.

That said that dynamic is not for everyone. I wonder if you could inject some additional interaction with this variant by making the trades limited and having an actual market that fluctuates dependant on what players trade in so if lots of players trade in stone you can buy back stone from the market at a reduced rate making the decision on what to trade in more interesting.
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Hello Jan-Willem,

Thank you for your excellent comments! I was hoping for some positive criticism and you gave me some. I've considered your suggestions and made some changes...

- The extra board looks great, although I'm missing the title of the 'Part-time work' space. Also, I think it would be better to have icons explaining resource conversion in 'Resources to food' instead of text (like you already have in the 'Goods to food' action).

Ask and ye shall receive! Right after I submitted my idea to BGG, I noticed the same thing you did and had already created an alternative graphic with a "Part-Time Work" title and a larger merchant picture.



As for the icons, I would like to do that, but as I looked through the cards of the base set, whenever resources are converted to something else, icons aren't used in the card text. Perhaps, this was a standard that Uwe Rosenberg (or Lookout Games) established when writing cards for resource conversion. To stick to that standard, I went without icons. In fact, the Dock Worker Occupation (on which I based this Action space) does not have icons and features text similar to what I have.

- What happens if I play 'Part-time work' before the last harvest?

As I was driving home yesterday, I thought about this issue. I have edited the main section of this post with a special "Last harvest" rule. Please let me know what you think.

- There is a bread-baking symbol on the 'Goods to food' card. Thematically you're trading, not baking. So It wouldn't count as baking bread. I mention this because baking bread triggers a couple of occupations.

Good catch! I removed the bread symbols from the border of the Goods to Food game text. That would take away any confusion. From a theme standpoint, though, instead of baking bread, the Itinerant Trader is simply receiving a player's grain and giving food in return.

Anyway, as you stated, the Itinerant Trader is targeted at either less-experienced groups or gamer groups that just don't enjoy the particular stress of family feeding in Agricola. I have a game group at work with some serious gamers and they don't enjoy Agricola mostly because of that stressful element. I, on the other hand, love that aspect of the game because feeding my family is a wonderful mental puzzle that requires more creativity and efficiency to address.

Once again, thank you for your insights!
 
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Hello Benjamin,

Thank you for your comments! In some ways, I agree with you: the food tension is an integral part of Agricola, if you're looking for a seriously challenging gaming experience. Personally, that's one of the aspects of Agricola I relish because it forces me to plan ahead and avoid having to take Begging cards.

However, as you said, that dynamic is not for everyone. In my family, I have two young boys who enjoy the game, and my wife will play on occasion, but what bogs down the game when we play as a family is that periodic realization that my boys and/or my wife have of being short on food. What ends up happening is a lot of over-analysis, resulting in some of them not enjoying the game. Also, I am in a gaming group at work that meets at lunch and some of them just don't enjoy how "strict" food conversion is in Agricola. In Stone Age, players can swap resources for food at a one-to-one ratio, which does hurt players because they are losing resources, but at least they have a way of escaping the -10 point penalty. In Agricola, as you know, if you can't feed your family, you take Begging cards at a -3 penalty for every missing meal. In this way, I suppose that I am trying to capture that dynamic in Stone Age; and, I can't afford to buy that game right now, so I'm just re-tooling a game I already own.

Anyway, for Agricola-philes, the Itinerant Trader may not be well-liked. Yet, if you happen to have some casual gamer friends to whom you want to introduce Agricola but have a relaxed time doing it, then you may consider my board.

Thanks again!
 
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Okay, so I've done some more tweaking of this mini-expansion: I added a Wares for Trade space. On this space, you place the remaining pile of Minor Improvement cards after they have been dealt to players during game setup. During the Itinerant Trader phase (before the harvest phase), each player can send one family member to the Wares for Trade space. That player draws the top three cards off the Wares for Trade pile, keeps one card, and places the other two, along with one Minor Improvement from his or her hand, at the bottom of the Wares for Trade pile.



I've made changes to the rules in my initial post to reflect this change in the Itinerant Trader board. Thanks!
 
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