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Subject: A first look at Agricola (2 plays) rss

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Chris Ferejohn
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Questions and answers...

Where did you play Agricola?
I played it at Bay Area Games Day. A guy named David brought a copy and was nice enough to teach and play it. I played twice: one four player game and one five player game.

Was it in English?
David had printed out English small improvment and occupation cards, but everything else was in German. It took a little getting used to, but after the first couple of turns I pretty much knew what was what. It would/will be nice to see all of the available options in English though.

So, how do you play it?
Players take turns taking actions that are related to developing their farm (represented on a player board where players can build their house, fields, and pastures). Players get one action per family member; each player starts with 2 family members and over the course of the game can increase to up to 5. Each round of the game a new action is revealed that players may choose. Once an action is chosen, no other player can choose it that turn. Players also each have a hand of farm improvements and occupation cards that can be played using certain actions. At several points in the game, players must make sure their families have enough to eat. The game lasts 14 turns, and scoring occurs at the end of the game only; players earn victory points based on how developed the various areas of their farm are.

So, did it capture the thrill-a-minute life of the medieval peasant?
Har dee har har. If I may pull away the veneer of sarcasm it sounds like you are asking about the theme. Although the "take turns choosing actions" mechanism certainly can be applied to any theme (Caylus and Age of Empires III for example), the actual actions actually do have a "farm-like" feel to them. You can plow and sow fields, fence in and breed animals, etc. Euros often get a lot of grief (often justifiably) for having pasted on themes, but Agricola did a pretty nice job of integrating the theme into the game.

What did you like about it?
There is a very nice blend of strategic and tactical planning. Your small improvement and occupation cards will shape your strategy towards something that will allow you to take advantage of as many of them as possible. Tactically you need to see what other players are doing and try to be able to select the actions you want to select (and come up with alternative plans if you can't). After 2 games I feel like I haven't even begun to grasp all of the possible strategies.

What didn't you like about it?
Well its strength is probably its weakness. Because there are so many options, they can be overwhelming, especially to first time players. Both games featured a lot of analysis paralysis as players tried to figure out which of their bajillion options was best. Evidently there is a "beginner's option" in which you play with a subset of the cards; that seems like a good idea for the first couple games, but I didn't play that way so I can't really say how much easier it makes the game to pick up.

Also, with all these cards it seems like the game might be vulnerable to "killer combos" - combinations of improvements and occupations that give a player a tremendous advantage. This didn't really happen in our games, but there were definitely some cards that had a lot more synergy than others. When dealing with experienced players, it seems like there is a danger that whoever gets the better card draw will have a pretty decisive advantage. Perhaps this could be mitigated with a card draft for occupations and small improvements?

Who would you recommend this game to?
Anyone who likes heavy Euros for sure. I haven't played Caylus, but I've set it up and played a few rounds solo in anticipation of teaching it and I can definitely see the similarities, and I imagine Caylus fans will find a lot to like here, but enough differences that they won't feel like it's just a re-themed Caylus. If you like games that feature tough decisions every turn and a lot of thinking, both short and long term, this should be a winner for you.

Who wouldn't you recommend this game to?
First and foremost, the "casual gamer". This game (at least the non-beginner version) is decidedly *not* a "gateway game". The theme may be cute, but we had a whole table full of experienced gamers and we were all various states of befuddled in figuring out valid strategies. This is not a game in which first time players (even ones who are veteran gamers) are likely to be competitive with experienced players. Some Euro fans may even be turned off by the luck factor introduced by the cards.

How about you? Did *you* like it?
I enjoyed it immensely, but it should be pointed out that I'm a huge game whore. My ratio of "games I like" to "games I don't like" is, roughly, "a great big number"/3. That said, I do expect that I'm going to have to make the case to my wife about why a board game is worth $70 at some point. I'm definitely excited about the English version of this and expect to purchase it after these first two plays. Both games had a constant feeling of "ohhh, now I get it" - which is something I love to feel (justifiably or not - the fact that I kept on feeling it of course meant that I really wasn't "getting it" at all - or at least not all of it) when playing new games.
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Hareesh K
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I was one of the players in the 4-player game that Chris mentions. The players were 3 newbies and David G., who kindly supplied the game (including English-language cards) and taught us how to play.

I liked the game, but was dismayed at how much the starting hand of 7 occupations and 7 small improvements changed the rules. It's true that without those 14 cards, the game would be less interesting and less replayable, but with them, it becomes easy to get lost in the analysis of "Hey, card A would be great to play, but maybe I should play card B first, but then I need to take a bunch of other actions first to get resources to pay for card B, so maybe I should play card C to help me get those resources faster" and so on. Since the choice of actions is competitive, you even have to recalculate your plans when another player takes the action that you were counting on.

I had one of the "killer combos" that Chris alludes to above. It was the Axe, which allowed me to add wood sections to my house for 2 wood and 2 reeds instead of 5 wood and 2 reeds, and the Wet Nurse, which allowed me to add a family member for the cost of 1 food each time I expanded my house. Unfortunately, I only got to use this power once early, and once late... I just couldn't collect enough reeds to build house segments! If I had the "Clay Roofs" enhancement that allows you to build new house segments using clay instead of reeds, I could have romped to an easy victory.

I would like play Agricola again with all-English playing pieces; I think that might help my general confusion. Also, I'll feel less overwhelmed the next time, and might be able to keep track of what the other players' special abilities were so I could guess which actions they were likely to try to choose. With limited actions available, it's important to grab the good ones first, especially if they're extra good for other players.

I don't remember what the final score in our game was, but I think I ended up with about 31 points, within a few points of the leader (who had about 35).
 
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Chris Ferejohn
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I believe the other Chris (I was the one with dark hair and a goatee) won it. I came in a distant last with something like 24.
 
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UA Darth
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It is 45 at boardsandbits... so you won't need to make a case for a $70 game.
 
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Michael Smith
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cferejohn wrote:


My ratio of "games I like" to "games I don't like" is, roughly, "a great big number"/3.


Nice review!

Ok, I just got to ask... What are the three games you don't like?

 
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John Haley
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hareesh wrote:
Also, I'll feel less overwhelmed the next time, and might be able to keep track of what the other players' special abilities were so I could guess which actions they were likely to try to choose.


This is my biggest beef with the game. Having several opponents who each have cards that break a variety of rules in different ways under certain circumstances makes it exceedingly difficult to figure out what other players' optimal moves might be. It reminds me of Cosmic Encounter, of which I was never a great fan. I don't care much for games that lean heavily on special exceptions to the rules to achieve variety and replayability.
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Dean Hickman
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I liked the fact that you can have a wild boar as a pet inside your house.
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Antonio Ferrari
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You review is very useful to me. Thanks to it, I've definitely decided not to buy this game. In spite of one of the highest raitings, I don't like games like Caylus. I find Caylus a tedious game, and I'm afraid Agricola look very much like it. Furthermore I'm worried about the number of cards; I prefer simpler rules with less options... In my family we find games like 6 Nimmt, Niagara, Torres, Though The Desert, Balloon Cup, Taj Mahal, Scrabble, Portobello Market, etc. more funny and playable.
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Patrick Wilhelmi
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After having played Acricola several times I would like to add that although the cards might have an incluence on the game, their actual impact is not as heavy as a lot of people might believe here!
Your card hand needs to be thought through at the beginning and always has to be kept in mind. The playing of the right card at the right moment is crucial in winning the game (just like the starting position in Settlers with the Cities expansion) BUT there is a general way to go in this game which cannot be ignored (plowing early, getting new family members early etc.)
Here is an example: There is a certain plough, which lets you plough three fields whenever you would normally plough only one. WOW, this sounds nice. But to get it in play you will need three occupations and three pieces of wood. This is a wonderful endgame card but trying to play it early or in midgame will surely make you loose the game since getting all the prerequisites done will take much too many actions needed for more important tasks. But it is no looser card. Getting it means that you might concentrate on raising and eating animals while everybody else goes for the ovens, fields etc. which might be important if you started out as a late player. It gives you the opportunity to close your gaps quickly in the endgame.
The key to win this game is the actual effective use of the few actions you have.
Finding this out what to do with the cards is part of the cahrm of this game.
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Jeff Kahan
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af7hqs wrote:
You review is very useful to me. Thanks to it, I've definitely decided not to buy this game. In spite of one of the highest raitings, I don't like games like Caylus. I find Caylus a tedious game, and I'm afraid Agricola look very much like it. Furthermore I'm worried about the number of cards; I prefer simpler rules with less options... In my family we find games like 6 Nimmt, Niagara, Torres, Though The Desert, Balloon Cup, Taj Mahal, Scrabble, Portobello Market, etc. more funny and playable.


I just wanted to chime in that I'm not a huge Caylus fan myself. I don't find Agricola tedius in the least and it's similarity to Caylus is pretty superficial (move a guy to X to take an action). I also wouldn't let the number of cards hold you back either- the game plays quite well without them and they really aren't hard to manage. I definitely suggest trying to get in a game or two before completely ruling it out if possible.
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Fraser
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cferejohn wrote:

What didn't you like about it?
Well its strength is probably its weakness. Because there are so many options, they can be overwhelming, especially to first time players. Both games featured a lot of analysis paralysis as players tried to figure out which of their bajillion options was best. Evidently there is a "beginner's option" in which you play with a subset of the cards; that seems like a good idea for the first couple games, but I didn't play that way so I can't really say how much easier it makes the game to pick up.


The "beginner's option" is the Family version, where you play with no occupations or minor improvements. You just learn the basic game and how to get your farm working and feed your family. After one teaching expirement with cards we now always teach newbies the Family version and introduce them to cards on a second or third game.
 
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Larry Levy
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af7hqs wrote:
You review is very useful to me. Thanks to it, I've definitely decided not to buy this game. In spite of one of the highest raitings, I don't like games like Caylus. I find Caylus a tedious game, and I'm afraid Agricola look very much like it. Furthermore I'm worried about the number of cards; I prefer simpler rules with less options...

That's probably a wise decision, Antonio. Agricola doesn't feel too much like Caylus, but they're in the same family of games and the full game isn't particularly simple.

Quote:
In my family we find games like 6 Nimmt, Niagara, Torres, Though The Desert, Balloon Cup, Taj Mahal, Scrabble, Portobello Market, etc. more funny and playable.

Hmm, which two of these aren't like the others! I find Torres and particularly Taj Mahal to be very challenging games. If you can deal with Taj, you wouldn't have any trouble with Agricola! Just a thought.
 
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Steve Wall
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i didn't know it was for sale already. I thought you couldn't get it 'til april or may...
 
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Matthew M
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buckrivers wrote:
i didn't know it was for sale already. I thought you couldn't get it 'til april or may...


The English language edition is available for presale and will be ready in April or May. The German language edition is out there and has been played quite a bit, particularly at conventions when pasted-up copies have been present.

-MMM
 
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Antonio Ferrari
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Larry Levy wrote:

Hmm, which two of these aren't like the others! I find Torres and particularly Taj Mahal to be very challenging games. If you can deal with Taj, you wouldn't have any trouble with Agricola! Just a thought.


Thank you Larry, I'll take your comments into consideration.
A.
 
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