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Subject: Impressions from a 4p Agra demo rss

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Ben Johnson
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At GenCon this past August I had the opportunity to demo Agra with 4 players. I found out about the game from the GenCon preview and with the combination of Quinned Games and Michael Keller (I'm a big fan of La Granja), this was my #1 game to see at the Con. I ended up demoing the game with 3 other players and we got to play a little over half a game.

Without going into a full rules explanation, every turn you will place a worker to either get/convert resources or to do one of the 4 actions located at the top of the board.

The main actions allow you to build buildings, hire people who give you unique abilities, adjust the rarity of resources (from 1 to 3) or take some minor actions on your player board.

In the beginning all you can really do is place a worker and get resources. What is interesting about resource generation is that you have a player board that has a rondel of sorts that dictates how much of a resource you generate. At the start, you generate 2 of every resource. You can increase this by removing blockers and by moving a marker that will allow you to produce more of one resource but less of another.

2 of the basic resource types can be used for building, so generally people would start by gathering building resources and then building a building. That brings me to buildings... I was not super thrilled with this. When I hear "build a building", I think that I spend resources to build a unique thing that benefits me and maybe gives me some kind of ability. In this case "build a building" means unlock a resource conversion worker placement space for everyone. You do get to activate it first, and you do get some points and a little special ability token for favors, but the fact that I wasn't creating anything and was helping everyone else didn't sit great with me. The special ability token also didn't really strike me as overly interesting or useful.

The entirety of the board is basically resource upgrade worker placement spaces. They don't generate anything for you, they just convert one type of resource into a better type. There are specific paths (arrows) from the lower tier resource spaces to higher tier spaces. These arrows are a crucial part of understanding how resources convert, and unfortunately they are really hard to see over all that art. This is another criticism I have of the game: there is a ton of beautiful art on the board, but it is overshadowing the crucial information and kind of (totally my opinion) distracting you from the fact that really it is just a a bunch of worker placement spots to get resources. That's it. The whole beautiful board is just "turn resource X into resource Y". Maybe that is thematic, but I found it kind of a let down.

Next, you can turn in resources that you've generated to either complete an order or acquire a unique ability (person). Here again, I was underwhelmed with the options. There are 3 "active orders" indicated on the track and the orders all require just two resources, usually the refined resources. Unlike many games where you acquire the order and it is yours, the orders are public. So, if you and another player are building toward one of the orders and you aren't aware of that and the other player snags it, you're out of luck and the order marker moves down making the previous order unavailable. On filling an order you will turn in resources and get points based on how late in the game it is.

Similar to orders, there are sets of persons you can hire, and players have access to a specific set based on how late in the game it is. Each of the person cards depicts 2 or 3 resources and a unique power depicted in the bottom half of the card. Interestingly, you may not have all the resources at one time, so you can partially fill one of these cards and another player can complete it. When this happens, the person who contributed the most gets the card, but all contributing players split the points. The powers themselves were hit and miss. The iconography wasn't super clear and the abilities themselves were not super useful.

The third action is to adjust the rarity of resources in the game. To be honest, I don't think anyone at the table understood that mechanic and none of us used it. That is probably due to our inexperience, but I also feel like if one of the 4 main actions isn't really usable in the first half of the game, that's not a good sign.

The last major action was to take two different actions on your player board: remove a blocker to generate more resources, move one of your resource markers two spaces, changing the amounts of resources you generate, and move up your meditation track. These got used a couple times, but not to great effect.

Speaking of the meditation track: This track on your board you can move up by spending resources and in doing so it increases the effectiveness of you meditation. On your turn (I forget at beginning or end) you can make one of your already placed workers meditate. When you do, you can take a number of the meditation actions based on your track. These meditation actions were not particularly exciting or often used.

The one final interesting thing I would mention is the Lacerda-esque kick out action. Unlike many worker placement games where spaces are exclusive, in Agra anyone can go anywhere. If you go to an occupied space, you kick out the opponent worker which gives them a favor token. players can turn in favor tokens on their turn to take a number of minor actions as illustrated on the player board. I rather liked this, but didn't feel I was putting my favors to great use. Also, if your worker is meditating and you get kicked out, you don't get the favor, presumably because you already got a free meditation action.


I came in to Agra looking for a deep euro strategy game along the lines of La Granja. Agra is not that. I would want to play it again before I could say definitively, but my first impression is that Agra is basic worker placement game that has been WAY over produced. That big board with all that beautiful art is just dressing around a series of resource generating worker placement spaces. That cool stand up emperor track is just a substitute for order cards and a guild track.

At any given point in Agra I wasn't really enjoying the choices I was making. I feel like most of the decisions are just "what resource do I make this turn." I spent the game playing with the meditation and acquiring persons, and I wasn't really enjoying that. I didn't feel like I was doing anything cool or getting anything all that useful. If I played again, I think I would just focus on buildings and orders. Those two things seem to synergize well and get you immediate points. Like I said, I would want to play it again to see what I may have missed, but I'm not super eager to do so. I really feel like the majority of the game is just sending workers to make resources. Every now and again you spend them to get some points, but that's about it.

If you're looking for worker placement and resource conversion, there are many other games that I think do this better. I don't consider it a very deep game because all you do is generate and spend resources. I also wouldn't consider it to be an overly light game because of all the small side decisions you can be making regarding managing your player board and abilities to get. It looks like a medium euro, but I feel like that "medium" title is only skin deep. I would want to play it again to verify, but I feel that underneath that skin is a mechanically simple game with lots garnish that add the appearance of depth, but in reality are just distraction.
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Eric Hartnett
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Thank you for your impressions. I was really looking forward to this but you've taken the wind out of my sails a bit. I'll definitely still give it a look but my expectations have been tempered. Thanks again!
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Phil Hendrickson
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Sounds a bit like Century: Spice Road: the board game.

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Łukasz Małecki
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Why the long rulebook then? An honest question, didn't have a chance to read it yet. From the description above, it seems like you could teach the game on several pages.
 
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d Michel
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Did you get a chance to do a post game wrap up with the other folks you played with, and if so, did they share your opinion of the game? I was looking forward to this one so I'm curious.
 
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Ben Johnson
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rednar wrote:
Why the long rulebook then? An honest question, didn't have a chance to read it yet. From the description above, it seems like you could teach the game on several pages.


I haven't read the rulebook, so I can't say. I would think much of that would go toward explaining the side actions I mentioned, like the ways to use favors, the way to user meditation actions, what all the unique powers from persons and building perk tiles do, and explaining the major actions.
 
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Ben Johnson
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dearolddad wrote:
Did you get a chance to do a post game wrap up with the other folks you played with, and if so, did they share your opinion of the game? I was looking forward to this one so I'm curious.


After playing for about an hour, we all had to stop because we had other scheduled events. I think we got through a little over half the game. I recall everyone had an ok time, but I don't recall anyone being overly enthusiastic about it. The impression I got is that, like myself, Agra wasn't exactly what they were expecting.
 
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Mike Keller
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Thanks for you first Impression (and this is what it is).
Finally Agra is a game about ressources: There are 16 of them and they are demanded on different spots in the game. This is the structure of the game, simple, isn't it?
As the designer of the game this the structure to build on. So i put a certain amount of "side actions" and little twists into the game. If you play Agra the first time, you will not see all the possibilities of the game (like in many other euros)... but there is more .
So if you expect from your first game a whole different experience than from another worker placement game, you probably wont experience it. But i can guarantee if you like the ressource aspect and stick with the game, there are a lot of different "things" to explore and experience in Agra.

Just my 2 cents...
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Cory Yates
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very helpful....thank you! Also, I should add it's nice to see a designer chime in without sounding overly defensive on a semi negative impression of the game.
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Ben Johnson
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Freakgeims wrote:
Thanks for you first Impression (and this is what it is).
Finally Agra is a game about ressources: There are 16 of them and they are demanded on different spots in the game. This is the structure of the game, simple, isn't it?
As the designer of the game this the structure to build on. So i put a certain amount of "side actions" and little twists into the game. If you play Agra the first time, you will not see all the possibilities of the game (like in many other euros)... but there is more .
So if you expect from your first game a whole different experience than from another worker placement game, you probably wont experience it. But i can guarantee if you like the ressource aspect and stick with the game, there are a lot of different "things" to explore and experience in Agra.

Just my 2 cents...


Thank you for the reply Michael. As you said, my post is purely gut reaction and first impression from a little more than an hour with the game. I agree that I think there is more to discover in Agra which is why I'd like to try it again.

The root of my issue may be that without knowing anything about the game, I built a fictional game in my head and Agra wasn't that

I do think people should try it as it has some interesting ideas, but I would hope they have a better idea of the mechanisms that drive Agra than I did, so they know if it is for them or not.
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Frank Wong
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I have a chance to play this games twice in few days ago.
I would say it is above average, but not really a great game we are expecting.
I agree that the mechanism is simple, but you really required precise calculation and long term planning to play the game well.

Clearly the rule book is not well-written. The structure is not well-organized that some parts are confusing.
 
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This review doesn't really mesh with the other review. Granted this one has a lot more words, but the other says it has "Vital Lacerda-like" gameplay. This one makes it sound like Big Istanbul.

I guess I'm eager to find out which it ends up being. If it ends up being Big Istanbul at least my wife will enjoy playing it with me. I hope it's a crushing Vital Lacerda style game though.

Edit: Either way I already bought it a while ago XD
 
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Mike Keller
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Quote:
I have a chance to play this games twice in few days ago.
I would say it is above average, but not really a great game we are expecting.
I agree that the mechanism is simple, but you really required precise calculation and long term planning to play the game well.

Clearly the rule book is not well-written. The structure is not well-organized that some parts are confusing.


Who is expecting a great game here and how great?
Hypewise i would say, that some of you have big expectations. But a game is never that good as it is in Hype-Mode (same with games who win some awards...they don't get better because of this surprise )
Just calm down your expectations and then you will discover a fine game with lots to explore and a lot of interessting choices to make.

The rules are fine like they are...maybe there could be less, but i like it like this - it's a nice composition of interessting mechanics
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Frank Wong
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Freakgeims wrote:
Quote:
I have a chance to play this games twice in few days ago.
I would say it is above average, but not really a great game we are expecting.
I agree that the mechanism is simple, but you really required precise calculation and long term planning to play the game well.

Clearly the rule book is not well-written. The structure is not well-organized that some parts are confusing.


Who is expecting a great game here and how great?
Hypewise i would say, that some of you have big expectations. But a game is never that good as it is in Hype-Mode (same with games who win some awards...they don't get better because of this surprise )
Just calm down your expectations and then you will discover a fine game with lots to explore and a lot of interessting choices to make.

The rules are fine like they are...maybe there could be less, but i like it like this - it's a nice composition of interesting mechanics


I agree that it is a fine game.
As I mentioned, it is above average.
I especially like the "farming system" ( I dont remember the exact name) and the stunning artwork of this game.
Am I am expecting for another game to find out more of the game.
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alan beaumont
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Half Right
aFamilyOfTrees wrote:
Without going into a full rules explanation, every turn you will place a worker to either get/convert resources or to do one of the 4 actions located at the top of the board.
There are a whole bunch of things you might do before or after your main action, so there is a whole bundle of ways to go about your business. It's a major actions salad!

Quote:
The main actions allow you to build buildings, hire people who give you unique abilities, adjust the rarity of resources (from 1 to 3) or take some minor actions on your player board.
You trade as well as adjust a value (which can be a big help) and those minor actions have a major effect on production.

Quote:
In the beginning all you can really do is place a worker and get resources. What is interesting about resource generation is that you have a player board that has a rondel of sorts that dictates how much of a resource you generate. At the start, you generate 2 of every resource. You can increase this by removing blockers and by moving a marker that will allow you to produce more of one resource but less of another.
You might also be gaining actions and/or points, because the Trader's elephant gives gifts and then seeds the board when you displace him. It's a great way to discourage stereotypical openings.

Quote:
2 of the basic resource types can be used for building, so generally people would start by gathering building resources and then building a building. That brings me to buildings... I was not super thrilled with this. When I hear "build a building", I think that I spend resources to build a unique thing that benefits me and maybe gives me some kind of ability. In this case "build a building" means unlock a resource conversion worker placement space for everyone. You do get to activate it first, and you do get some points and a little special ability token for favors, but the fact that I wasn't creating anything and was helping everyone else didn't sit great with me. The special ability token also didn't really strike me as overly interesting or useful.
Just building a building is a great way of earning Rupees (= VPs), so it's a benefit in itself, outweighing any reason not to.

Quote:
The entirety of the board is basically resource upgrade worker placement spaces. They don't generate anything for you, they just convert one type of resource into a better type. There are specific paths (arrows) from the lower tier resource spaces to higher tier spaces. These arrows are a crucial part of understanding how resources convert, and unfortunately they are really hard to see over all that art. This is another criticism I have of the game: there is a ton of beautiful art on the board, but it is overshadowing the crucial information and kind of (totally my opinion) distracting you from the fact that really it is just a a bunch of worker placement spots to get resources.
Nailed it. There are actually other things held on the board, but the overall effect is very hostile to smooth play and decision making. What were the play testers thinking, or perhaps they were ignored?


Quote:
That's it. The whole beautiful board is just "turn resource X into resource Y". Maybe that is thematic, but I found it kind of a let down.
Not quite true, it also houses the action spaces and bonus goods action spaces, but the board is needlessly awkward.

Quote:
Next, you can turn in resources that you've generated to either complete an order or acquire a unique ability (person). Here again, I was underwhelmed with the options. There are 3 "active orders" indicated on the track and the orders all require just two resources, usually the refined resources. Unlike many games where you acquire the order and it is yours, the orders are public. So, if you and another player are building toward one of the orders and you aren't aware of that and the other player snags it, you're out of luck and the order marker moves down making the previous order unavailable. On filling an order you will turn in resources and get points based on how late in the game it is.
In fairness you can pretty much see who you are competing with as their resources sit alongside yours! I've played two full games and never really felt thwarted in this way. Of course, you might instead wish to plan for the subsequent orders, as one of my opponents actually did!

Quote:
Similar to orders, there are sets of persons you can hire, and players have access to a specific set based on how late in the game it is. Each of the person cards depicts 2 or 3 resources and a unique power depicted in the bottom half of the card. Interestingly, you may not have all the resources at one time, so you can partially fill one of these cards and another player can complete it. When this happens, the person who contributed the most gets the card, but all contributing players split the points. The powers themselves were hit and miss. The iconography wasn't super clear and the abilities themselves were not super useful.
Aside from the (shamefully) unclear icons I beg to differ. Points are hard to come by. Just buying the Notables generates Rupees and every little edge gives enough of a nudge somewhere to be worthwhile.

Quote:
The third action is to adjust the rarity of resources in the game. To be honest, I don't think anyone at the table understood that mechanic and none of us used it. That is probably due to our inexperience, but I also feel like if one of the 4 main actions isn't really usable in the first half of the game, that's not a good sign
It's you; the ability to freely change goods into other goods is very powerful.

Quote:
The last major action was to take two different actions on your player board: remove a blocker to generate more resources, move one of your resource markers two spaces, changing the amounts of resources you generate, and move up your meditation track. These got used a couple times, but not to great effect.
It's you again. Resources fuel the game. Building your engine isn't trivial.

Quote:
Speaking of the meditation track: This track on your board you can move up by spending resources and in doing so it increases the effectiveness of you meditation. On your turn (I forget at beginning or end) you can make one of your already placed workers meditate. When you do, you can take a number of the meditation actions based on your track. These meditation actions were not particularly exciting or often used.
This isn't the rule. You can meditate with any or all remaining upright workers and it is a very good way of generating extra useful actions. If you don't exploit this to the full you will struggle to do anything with efficiency.

Quote:
The one final interesting thing I would mention is the Lacerda-esque kick out action. Unlike many worker placement games where spaces are exclusive, in Agra anyone can go anywhere. If you go to an occupied space, you kick out the opponent worker which gives them a favor token. players can turn in favor tokens on their turn to take a number of minor actions as illustrated on the player board. I rather liked this, but didn't feel I was putting my favors to great use. Also, if your worker is meditating and you get kicked out, you don't get the favor, presumably because you already got a free meditation action.
Again, Favour actions are a crucial way to oil your engine, once you have devised a plan of action.

Quote:
I came in to Agra looking for a deep euro strategy game along the lines of La Granja. Agra is not that.
It's still too early to say; I like La Granja, but had a miserable time the first couple of plays. I think there is a similar learning curve here.

Quote:
I would want to play it again before I could say definitively, but my first impression is that Agra is basic worker placement game that has been WAY over produced. That big board with all that beautiful art is just dressing around a series of resource generating worker placement spaces. That cool stand up emperor track is just a substitute for order cards and a guild track.
You're not wrong about the art which, I suspect, is swamping a much neater earlier design, but there is a solid game hiding under it all.

Quote:
At any given point in Agra I wasn't really enjoying the choices I was making. I feel like most of the decisions are just "what resource do I make this turn." I spent the game playing with the meditation and acquiring persons, and I wasn't really enjoying that. I didn't feel like I was doing anything cool or getting anything all that useful. If I played again, I think I would just focus on buildings and orders. Those two things seem to synergize well and get you immediate points. Like I said, I would want to play it again to see what I may have missed, but I'm not super eager to do so. I really feel like the majority of the game is just sending workers to make resources. Every now and again you spend them to get some points, but that's about it.
You haven't played a full game yet, I would be interested in your reactions a couple more plays in.

Quote:
If you're looking for worker placement and resource conversion, there are many other games that I think do this better. I don't consider it a very deep game because all you do is generate and spend resources. I also wouldn't consider it to be an overly light game because of all the small side decisions you can be making regarding managing your player board and abilities to get. It looks like a medium euro, but I feel like that "medium" title is only skin deep. I would want to play it again to verify, but I feel that underneath that skin is a mechanically simple game with lots garnish that add the appearance of depth, but in reality are just distraction.
Not proven, but accurate on the extravagant decoration front.
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