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Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small» Forums » Reviews

Subject: The Sandbox Without The Bully rss

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Daniel
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For Two Players! It's all about animals! That is the tagline for Uwe Rosenberg's two-player only take on the smash hit game Agricola. What is is about Agricola that has made it such a success in the boardgame world topping the rankings of BoardGameGeek for many months and settling in to the #6 spot eight years later? Agricola is perhaps the quintessential worker placement game in which players seek to grow crops and raise livestock in order to feed their farmers and score points mainly through the well timed selection of actions and denial of those same actions to the other players. All Creatures Big and Small follows in its older brother's footsteps. No game is for everybody and Agricola had its downsides such as substantial playing time and a built-in frustration inherent to the structure of the game as players must feed their farmers and build their farm a certain way or else get hammered by the negative scoring penalties. How does Agricola's smaller brother stand up?


Testing out a Home Workshop/feeding troughs strategy


First of all, Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is simpler. It tosses out the decks of role cards and minor improvements. No more cards to think about. These farmers also decided to streamline their operations and specialize in animal husbandry. No more tilling land, growing vegetables, or baking bread in ovens. Who wants to eat yucky vegetables anyway? The goal of the game over eight rounds of 3 actions each is to use your workers to select actions on the main board in order to build up your ranch and stack up tons of cows, pigs, horses, and sheep. Each animal is worth a point and you get bonus points (or negative points) for collecting enough of each type. The player with the most points wins. Players in All Creatures will just focus on growing a ranch made up of enclosed pastures that you build with fences and building tiles that offer unique advantages (for example these buildings may be worth points, offer additional storage for animals, or offer a bonus or unique player power).

Setup is a breeze and total playing time is about 30-40 minutes. What impresses me most about All Creatures is how "meaty" this game feels since it is such a casual affair. Each decision is tense as you must not only keep building toward your strategy but also keep in mind what your opponent is trying to accomplish (you may need to execute a well-timed blocking action). It is deeply satisfying to weigh the various options that you have before you and form your strategy. Chaining buildings together so that they work together in scoring points or helping to build the rest of your farm is very rewarding, as is going for animals at just the right time so they can begin breeding each turn and make your life that much easier (but you better have planned it out and made storage space to keep them all!). You always need to accomplish one more action than you have workers to do so and your opponent may block you at any moment. Action denial is the name of the game and if that is something that bothers you about Agricola, then All Creatures will not be your cup of tea either.

All Creatures strikes me as more of a free-form sandbox experience as opposed to Agricola's rather punishing approach. If All Creatures is the sandbox, Agricola is the cattle prod hitting you every time you stray off script. Agricola is like a downhill slalom ski race where each player is in a mad dash rounding the narrow gate markers at the precise moments the game tells them to-- whoever is the most efficient racer, cutting off his opponents at just the right moments, wins. Any straying off course and you are severely punished in Agricola. All Creatures, on the other hand, is the sandbox approach. Maybe I will focus on this building over that one or focus on upgrading stalls into stables or maybe I will focus on getting the valuable horses instead of the all too common sheep or maybe I will build a ton of feeding troughs instead of a bunch of fences. All Creatures does not feel punishing like it's older brother. Yes, there are negative scoring penalties at the end if you don't have at least three of each animal at the end of the game but this is not hard to accomplish and the penalty is never overly punishing if you decide to forgo an animal type. You have much more freedom to explore alternate strategies stringing combinations of buildings together to create end game bonus points elsewhere.

You always feel that you are building toward something if we are still in the sandbox metaphor. In Agricola, sometimes you get cut off of what you intended to do and/or you must waste a turn in a desperate attempt to feed your workers or else be brutally punished with negative scoring tiles (getting back to the narrow gates in time to make the turn). In All Creatures, there is always something you can do to add to your ranch. It's all good. Casual players, who might otherwise be put off by how competitive and punishing Agricola can be, will always have an animal they can add to their pen, or a building they can buy, or a resource they can take in All Creatures. Sometimes you might get cut off from your ideal move, but there is almost always something you can do to otherwise improve your position. When you reach the end of eight rounds, both of you can look at your farms and feel proud of what you have built. Often times, in overly aggressive games of Agricola, you barely scrape by, count up all your negative modifiers and call it a day even with your house barely added on to and your farm looking fairly pathetic. Some games of Agricola made me feel like I really was a poor begger whose farm was in shambles at game end.


Here is a farm at the end of a game


The buildings are the heart of the game and the base game only has four that will be in every game. Both of the expansions for All Creatures give you more buildings so that you add a random assortment to each game thus making each game different. If you buy All Creatures you must also plan on buying one expansion to really complete the experience with deeper strategic decisions and much needed variability and replayability.

The theme is the same great farming setting, the gameplay is tense and competitive, the mechanics are light and easy to pick up, the game is highly replayable (with at least one expansion) while the playing time is incredibly short. It's a filler-length game that often I want to play back to back to back and so does anyone I play against. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is one of the classic 2-player games of all time.
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John Burt
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Nice review!

A couple of additional points:

The game is very compact. Wife and I frequently play it on restaurant tables when we go out to eat.

We don't like to play aggro, so intentional blocking is not allowed. This style in no way diminishes our enjoyment of ACBS (ditto for the big game, which we love too).
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Tom O'Brien
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Spot on review!

This game is my new obsession and has seen 13 plays in the last two weeks. My only complaint is that my wife consistantly beats me!
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Daniel
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Santee
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I have noticed that playing aggressively and trying to block your opponent usually means that you are not getting what you need. Sometimes you just end up hurting yourself playing that way. When playing with the Mrs., we tend to just do our own thing and play very casually.
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David Janik-Jones
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Waterloo
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Up Front fan, Cats were once worshipped as gods and they haven't forgotten this, Combat Commander series fan, The Raven King (game publisher) ... that's me!, Fields of Fire fan
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Slywester Janik, awarded the Krzyż Walecznych (Polish Cross of Valour), August 1944
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Great review. This game strips out everything I simply hate/despise in Agricola, and makes a rather fun game.
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