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Subject: Agricola: Not much fun. rss

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Harald Torvatn
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Agricola is a clever game of farming. It takes the worker placement mechanism of Caylus and applies it to simple actions which combine to build a farm. For example, to get a sown field, you have to send a worker to the «Plow» action, send a worker to the «Take one grain» action, and then send a worker to the «sow» action. This results in a sown field, which you will eventually harvest three grain from, and which can then be resown by using (some of) the grain you get, the already plowed field and a new «sow» action to again eventually harvest three more grain.

Many other similar microactions combine to build other things, like a larger hut with a larger family (which will enable you to do more actions), pastures with animals in them (which produce more animals all by themselves), equipment which enables you to eat your grain or animals more efficiently or a better hut which gives you more victory points.

Between the actions which build your farm, you have to (until your animals or fields produce enough food) do things like «Day labourer» acions to gain the food you need.

To help you, you are dealt a hand of cards which you can play during the game, if you want. They are dealt randomly, and will be different for each player, and each game.

There is much I like in Agricola. I like the way everything relates to the theme. I like strategic desicions, and decisions like those in Agricola, making their effect felt many turns in the future must surely be great strategic desicions? I also like randomness in games, and like the fact that both in the cards dealt, and in the order the different actions becomes aviable, randomness plays a fairly big part in this game.

But I find Agricola is not much fun to play. Somehow, the desicions which at first glance seem difficult, fun and strategic turn out to not be.

There are different reasons for this in different stages of the game.

At the start of the game, the combination of how many actions you must do to make something work and the chaos caused by the other players using the action spaces you want somehow undermines the effect of your decisions:

Since only one player can occupy each action each turn, I generally don't get to do what I want. Fine, but I need to do three or four actions to make anything work, and must take many other actions between them because the action I want to take is occupied by someone else. Therefore I invaribly end up with having many pieces of farm not fitting together laying around. And then looking back to turn one from turn four, I remember that in turn one I thought hard about whether to plow (to eventually get a sown field) or get wood (to eventually get a pasture with some sheep which can reproduce), but before any of these plans reach fruition, I have both plowed and gathered wood. So looking back, how important and difficult was that desicion really?

Action after action spendt by just picking up a piece of your farm, then another piece. Not very exiting. Sometimes there are interesting decisions, but far to often it is just choosing between that little piece of farm which does not fit togehter witht the pieces I have or that other little piece of farm, which does not fit together with the pieces I already have.

The midgame is actually quite interesting and fun, but much to short. Because just when you start to get things working, the endgame starts.

The endgame is dominated by the game's overcomplicated scoring system. This system is structured in a way which makes the first of everything the most valuable: Your first sheep, vegetable, pasture, grain and so on is worth much more than your second. So now you must patch holes in your farm: Go out and pick up more small pieces of farm, but now calculate just how much each piece is worth, so you are sure to take the piece which is worth the most points. And it gets worse the closer to the end the game gets: «Taking the increase family action will give me three points, fencing that last open space will give me two, but if I increase family I will need more food. If getting food will cost me a point, I prefer the fencing action, since it is likely to be the next player's best action (he already has a big family). Is there a way to get food without losing points? I have four boars, three gives me as much points as four, but wait, they will get a baby boar, and five gives me one more points than four, eating one is out of the question. But I have two sheep. If I eat one, I end up with one, if I eat none, I end with three. But one sheep scores just as many points as three, so I increase family and then eat one sheep for a gain of three points.» Not a fun calculation to do, even less fun to wait for others to do.

Then there are the cards. You are dealt two kinds, but they both acts as improvements on your farm.

The cards make the game more fun: IF you are dealt a good combination of cards, you actually can have strategic direction (and thus fun) from the very beginning of the game: Your actions and choices may be something more interesting than just picking up piece after piece of farm. (Unfortunately, I have not come across any combination of cards which can make the endgame fun.)

There are several problems with the cards however. The first one is the IF above. I really have nothing against luck being dealt randomly, but I dislike fun being dependent on getting a combination of cards which makes strategic sense.

Also, the effect of the cards seem to have a rather big effect on who wins. While this can't be measured, I like to think that most of the games I like is mostly won by playing more skilled. Usually after a game, those who did not win point out things they could have done differently. After a game of Agricola, we look at the hands dealt, compare them, and agree that the one with the best hand was the one who won. It may be of course, that all of us just play each and every game of Agricola with the same level of skill as each other. If that is the case even small differences in hands dealt will do the difference. It may also be that we think this because we can see and evaluate each hand of cards after the game, we do not log die rolls or card draws in other games. But regardless of the reason, the feel of cards determining winner is very strong, and not a good feeling.

The third problem with the cards is that I can see my luck before my eyes when the game starts. In many (most?) games with a luck element, luck will sometimes (very rarely in good games) favor one player so much that it will overcome almost any difference in skill. But when that happens, the other players don't know before the game, and can have fun trying. In Agricola, I have had hands which I felt pretty sure I would win with (and then won) and hands which I have known from the start are not good enough to win (and lost.). Kinda takes the fun out of trying when you know all your luck when the game starts.

But the components, heavy cardstock, wooden bits and lots and lots of high quality cards, are nice, if not really beautiful.
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Tom
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I agree with you on many points you have made, although many of the points you think are negative are viewed as positives for me.

None the less good to see a different perspective on BGG!

Harald wrote:
Agricola is a clever game of farming. It takes the worker placement mechanism of Caylus and applies it to simple actions which combine to build a farm. For example, to get a sown field, you have to send a worker to the «Plow» action, send a worker to the «Take one grain» action, and then send a worker to the «sow» action. This results in a sown field, which you will eventually harvest three grain from, and which can then be resown by using (some of) the grain you get, the already plowed field and a new «sow» action to again eventually harvest three more grain.

Many other similar microactions combine to build other things, like a larger hut with a larger family (which will enable you to do more actions), pastures with animals in them (which produce more animals all by themselves), equipment which enables you to eat your grain or animals more efficiently or a better hut which gives you more victory points.

Between the actions which build your farm, you have to (until your animals or fields produce enough food) do things like «Day labourer» acions to gain the food you need.

To help you, you are dealt a hand of cards which you can play during the game, if you want. They are dealt randomly, and will be different for each player, and each game.

There is much I like in Agricola. I like the way everything relates to the theme. I like strategic desicions, and decisions like those in Agricola, making their effect felt many turns in the future must surely be great strategic desicions? I also like randomness in games, and like the fact that both in the cards dealt, and in the order the different actions becomes aviable, randomness plays a fairly big part in this game.

But I find Agricola is not much fun to play. Somehow, the desicions which at first glance seem difficult, fun and strategic turn out to not be.

There are different reasons for this in different stages of the game.

At the start of the game, the combination of how many actions you must do to make something work and the chaos caused by the other players using the action spaces you want somehow undermines the effect of your decisions:

Since only one player can occupy each action each turn, I generally don't get to do what I want. Fine, but I need to do three or four actions to make anything work, and must take many other actions between them because the action I want to take is occupied by someone else. Therefore I invaribly end up with having many pieces of farm not fitting together laying around. And then looking back to turn one from turn four, I remember that in turn one I thought hard about whether to plow (to eventually get a sown field) or get wood (to eventually get a pasture with some sheep which can reproduce), but before any of these plans reach fruition, I have both plowed and gathered wood. So looking back, how important and difficult was that desicion really?

Action after action spendt by just picking up a piece of your farm, then another piece. Not very exiting. Sometimes there are interesting decisions, but far to often it is just choosing between that little piece of farm which does not fit togehter witht the pieces I have or that other little piece of farm, which does not fit together with the pieces I already have.

The midgame is actually quite interesting and fun, but much to short. Because just when you start to get things working, the endgame starts.

The endgame is dominated by the game's overcomplicated scoring system. This system is structured in a way which makes the first of everything the most valuable: Your first sheep, vegetable, pasture, grain and so on is worth much more than your second. So now you must patch holes in your farm: Go out and pick up more small pieces of farm, but now calculate just how much each piece is worth, so you are sure to take the piece which is worth the most points. And it gets worse the closer to the end the game gets: «Taking the increase family action will give me three points, fencing that last open space will give me two, but if I increase family I will need more food. If getting food will cost me a point, I prefer the fencing action, since it is likely to be the next player's best action (he already has a big family). Is there a way to get food without losing points? I have four boars, three gives me as much points as four, but wait, they will get a baby boar, and five gives me one more points than four, eating one is out of the question. But I have two sheep. If I eat one, I end up with one, if I eat none, I end with three. But one sheep scores just as many points as three, so I increase family and then eat one sheep for a gain of three points.» Not a fun calculation to do, even less fun to wait for others to do.

Then there are the cards. You are dealt two kinds, but they both acts as improvements on your farm.

The cards make the game more fun: IF you are dealt a good combination of cards, you actually can have strategic direction (and thus fun) from the very beginning of the game: Your actions and choices may be something more interesting than just picking up piece after piece of farm. (Unfortunately, I have not come across any combination of cards which can make the endgame fun.)

There are several problems with the cards however. The first one is the IF above. I really have nothing against luck being dealt randomly, but I dislike fun being dependent on getting a combination of cards which makes strategic sense.

Also, the effect of the cards seem to have a rather big effect on who wins. While this can't be measured, I like to think that most of the games I like is mostly won by playing more skilled. Usually after a game, those who did not win point out things they could have done differently. After a game of Agricola, we look at the hands dealt, compare them, and agree that the one with the best hand was the one who won. It may be of course, that all of us just play each and every game of Agricola with the same level of skill as each other. If that is the case even small differences in hands dealt will do the difference. It may also be that we think this because we can see and evaluate each hand of cards after the game, we do not log die rolls or card draws in other games. But regardless of the reason, the feel of cards determining winner is very strong, and not a good feeling.

The third problem with the cards is that I can see my luck before my eyes when the game starts. In many (most?) games with a luck element, luck will sometimes (very rarely in good games) favor one player so much that it will overcome almost any difference in skill. But when that happens, the other players don't know before the game, and can have fun trying. In Agricola, I have had hands which I felt pretty sure I would win with (and then won) and hands which I have known from the start are not good enough to win (and lost.). Kinda takes the fun out of trying when you know all your luck when the game starts.

But the components, heavy cardstock, wooden bits and lots and lots of high quality cards, are nice, if not really beautiful.
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Mike Petty
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I appreciate the review. I haven't had a chance to play Agricola yet, but I also haven't been trying very hard to do so. From the first that I heard of the game it looked to me to be as you describe--not much fun.

Judging from its appeal I'm sure it's a very good game. I've just been wondering, after reading all the positive feedback, where I'd find the fun to be. Reading your review assures me I probably wouldn't find it. The theme of farming seems extremely dull to me. Having been in the eurogame scene for 13 years now I'm growing so weary of pure resource management. Add to this the fact that a game can go for over two hours and I'm wondering why I'd give it a try.

I see many gamers who can literally have a blast working out the best move in a resource management system. As I said, that doesn't do much for me anymore. Is that pretty much the source of the fun of this game? If so it may be the first eurogame that has become this popular, but that I'll actively avoid.


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Jerry Hagen
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As evidenced by my 10 rating I don't agree with this review, but it offers a clear description of why one might not enjoy the game. Thanks for the dissenting voice.
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jbrier
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This is a very good review in some parts because it is very descriptive of how the game flows and what happens. I can't doubt that this is the product of a sensible mind sitting down and giving an honest opinion of a game in good faith (which is what BGG needs more of, by the way). But it's like politics- two reasonable people can vehemently disagree and fail to see eye to eye because their paradigms are just completely different.

Paradigms aside, I disagree about the luck of the cards being so influential as to know the winner a priori; nor do I think that a hand with "synergy" is required to formulate a strong strategy (one can have a strong strategy without cards).

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Joel Weeks
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I actually like the scoring system. And I like having to devise a strategy from a different set of tools each game. It just doesn't capture my imagination.

Um, I'll take a cow, Um I'll build a fence.

It feels like a CCG about farming.

Now, my family are all farmers except for me and a couple of other cousins.

I've worked on a farm. Its not much fun and neither is Agricola.
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Asif Kazmi
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There are many variants you can play with, and several of them even mentioned in the rulebook. The best one for you would be the draft variant, similar to drafting in CCGs such as Magic the Gathering, where you each take a card and keep passing your hand to the left until everyone has their 7 cards. This will alleviate much of the luck factor.

It is refreshing to hear a negative viewpoint though, even though I personally love the game.
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Jacob Lee
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Harald wrote:
The third problem with the cards is that I can see my luck before my eyes when the game starts.


But with so many cards in the game, you have no way of knowing how your cards stack up against everyone else's. It could be that everyone has a similar level of "luck" with their cards. If there were only 50 cards in the game with skewed strength among them - then it would pretty much suck to not get the best cards. I'm nowhere near sampling every card in the game, but I know there's enough variety that nobody should be "stuck" or in a position to give up in round one.

I hear what you're saying about luck in the cards because I've often levelled this complain at Martin Wallace's games. But I don't think it's as pronounced in Agricola as you suggest.

I do think it's a little biased (but unavoidable) to compare cards after the game is over. People are more likely to see the winner's hand as being the best (i.e. "Yeah, you had the better cards. That's why I lost.")

I don't think Agricola is a perfect game, but I guess the luck factor doesn't bother me nearly as much as it does to other people.
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Mark Johnson
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I think you have hit the nail on the head with this review. Agricola is a well crafted game with interesting mechanics, but I find the game has pacing problems. The building up in the 1st half to 2/3's of the game feels kind of long and boring. When you actually have workers and resources enough to accomplish tasks in the game, making it fun, it's over before you know it.

I also agree with your accessment of the cards. I feel they introduce a catch 22: Since the cards seem to be a little on the unbalanced side people can play the 'Family' version which has no occupations/minor improvements, but then there will be less variety and players can't accomplish as much in the game.

After playing 4 or 5 games with drafting variant, I can honestly say there seems to be less of problem with unbalanced hands that affects who wins the game. I also like that you can try to get cards to match a specific strategy you want to try rather than, for example, you virtually have to go early plowing due to being dealt the Field Watchman, randomly. The only issue with this is that drafting does add a fair chunk of time to the game.

Did you even mention the fiddliness?

I'm not enamoured by Agricola, but I do respect it and will play it if requested.
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I heavily agree with your review, most of all, use and luck of cards. Granted I've only played the game twice, but it seems the player who gets the better combination of cards has a greater advantage over the poor schmucks who get a crappy hand. In both games the player who received the better combo in cards won the game. They were able to get "at least"! 7 of their 14 cards out maximizing their choices. I on the other hand was only able to get 3-4 cards out cutting my chances of piggybacking my choices. Now, there are two arguments against this opinion. 1. if you acquire crappy cards increase you ability to score points on the board. 2. Over several games the cards will even out and you might get a hand that works in your favor. To this I say, I can only position myself to maximize my score on the board if I have no competition for any other spot. This is virtually impossible since your opponents need the resources, improvements, etc. as much as you do and will compete for the better options. I have no problem with competition for worker placment, just the skills/improvements the cards give. I feel in caylus everyone is on a level field. I also don't want to wait several games (time) until I get the "better hand." Caylus cuts down this luck and I get a better feel for building a strategy. I've reduced my rating for Agricola from a 9.5 to an 8. I don't think it will hold up as #1 and will eventually fall below Puerto Rico (don't even get me started on that one.)
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zollom
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Eeeville wrote:
I also agree with your accessment of the cards. I feel they introduce a catch 22: Since the cards seem to be a little on the unbalanced side people can play the 'Family' version which has no occupations/minor improvements, but then there will be less variety and players can't accomplish as much in the game.

After playing 4 or 5 games with drafting variant, I can honestly say there seems to be less of problem with unbalanced hands that affects who wins the game. I also like that you can try to get cards to match a specific strategy you want to try rather than, for example, you virtually have to go early plowing due to being dealt the Field Watchman, randomly. The only issue with this is that drafting does add a fair chunk of time to the game.



Good suggestion, I forgot about the drafting variant. I'm definitely pushing for this the next time we play. When I tell you the two times I played, the hands I received were such useless crap. I am not joking. This might help out. Which variant do you find to work the best? The Mulligan variant seems like a good one as well.
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john f stup
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i'm limited to a few solo and 1 two player game but already can see some of the reviewers points. it seems like a light way to pass the time with friends and have some fun and some interesting decisions to make and the components are top notch which alone could add another point or so to the ratings. but there are plenty other games that do the same things and in some cases better. so for now my jury of 1 is still out on the game but for now the evidence seems to convict it of not quite being what it is cracked up to be. the case continues?
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Richard Diosi
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Harald wrote:
At the start of the game, the combination of how many actions you must do to make something work and the chaos caused by the other players using the action spaces you want somehow undermines the effect of your decisions:


This is what I DO like about this game (and some other resource allocation games).

Given that some players seem to think the game is multiple solitaire, your point just goes to show that it isn't really but that still will not make everyone like the game...which is the way the world usually works. Different strokes for different folks I guess
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Drew Spencer
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Harald wrote:
After a game of Agricola, we look at the hands dealt, compare them, and agree that the one with the best hand was the one who won.


No scientist would accept this procedure. There's a good chance you agree that's the best hand because of confirmation bias. There's a lot of first-hand accounts claiming both that the cards introduce too much chance and that they don't introduce much at all. I haven't played enough to even have much of an idea one way or another.

If someone would be willing to do it, we could get more insight into whether they do by an interesting procedure. Have one of these groups of fairly evenly skilled players who frequently play Agricola record their starting hands. Create polls here on the geek for each set of starting hands (without letting people know which one won, of course) and have people vote for which hand they think is the "winning hand," and then just compare that against which hand actually won. It might even be fun.

Good review, by the way. I don't disagree with most of what you say, although I agree with the initial comment that much of what you say is bad is exactly what I like about the game.
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Julian Steindorfer
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i think that it is a fact that after some games ,when people really understood this game , useless cards and combos suddenly turn into usefull. and i think you can´t hardly understand this game before you played it at least 10 times.
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Mark Johnson
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zollom04 wrote:
Good suggestion, I forgot about the drafting variant. I'm definitely pushing for this the next time we play. When I tell you the two times I played, the hands I received were such useless crap. I am not joking. This might help out. Which variant do you find to work the best? The Mulligan variant seems like a good one as well.


Well, I have tried all methods but mulligan. I am familiar with mulligan due to CCG's I've played. This is my opinion:

3:1 -> The option of discarding 3 for 1 helps hand issues and it's nice that it can be done anytime. I no longer use it because I found that it's best to decide what cards you plan on playing from the beginning. People in my group tended to agree because they would do it as well. Then came an issue of timing, so we would take turns discarding 3 to get 1. Takes almost as long as draft. ***

10-3 -> The option of having 10 and discarding to 7 helps but again I don't use it. Basically I have a distribution method (more on that here) for cards and with this method it's not possible to use this variant when playing with a certain number of players assuming that you only play with deck of a specific letter. ***

Mulligan -> Seems like it would be good but would be very inconvenient with my card distribution method [7 different decks between occupations (1+, 3+, and 4+) and minor improvements (0 VP non-travel, travel, 1 VP, and 2+ VP). I would want to have to shuffle 7 decks, maybe multiple times because you can mulligan multiple times. ***

Draft -> Seems to help balance more so than the other methods. I also find it helps facilitate you focusing on a strategy you want more so than the other methods. If you do get a great card, however, you may want to take it over something that would help a strategy you wanted to try, so it's not foolproof. It also does add a fair bit of time to each game.

*** -> Most importantly, this method doesn't facilitate playing a game with a strategy you want to try. Also, if someone has an amazing card synergy from the start, this isn't going to change, just like if you have no cards with synergy, it doesn't mean you'll get any with the extra cards. It helps but doesn't ensure balance.
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Nebenerwerbsbauer wrote:
i think that it is a fact that after some games ,when people really understood this game , useless cards and combos suddenly turn into useful. and i think you can´t hardly understand this game before you played it at least 10 times.


I totally agree, after several plays and a few solo plays, I wondered if I had made a bad purchase. Its farming, and how fun can that be?

HOWEVER, two weeks after getting it, we've played it almost every night. With each play the depth of the game and importance of your decisions becomes more clear. Now the games score higher and are closer and more cut throat. Likewise, I think it takes several people who have played it alot to understand what's going on. You can't make a decision on it after 2-3, or even 5 plays. So needless to say, I like the game... but I will concede I can see why some people might not for the reasons stated above.
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Ten times is a lot of time to give a game that leaves an unpleasant taste after a play or two.

Thanks for the great review. I've been reading as many as I can. While some have me leaning towards Agricola, yours confirms my gut: that wrapped up in a clever, woody package is a actuarial table. Nothing kills my gaming buzz faster than a table full of people spending the last three rounds mumbling:
"Ok, that's one point there..."
"Three, four, no! Three only, becaus-"
"Build that for two..."
"If I can do this action now, I'll get two, but that'll cost me, so..."
"Four...five--damn."
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banyan wrote:
Harald wrote:
After a game of Agricola, we look at the hands dealt, compare them, and agree that the one with the best hand was the one who won.


No scientist would accept this procedure. There's a good chance you agree that's the best hand because of confirmation bias. There's a lot of first-hand accounts claiming both that the cards introduce too much chance and that they don't introduce much at all. I haven't played enough to even have much of an idea one way or another.

If someone would be willing to do it, we could get more insight into whether they do by an interesting procedure. Have one of these groups of fairly evenly skilled players who frequently play Agricola record their starting hands. Create polls here on the geek for each set of starting hands (without letting people know which one won, of course) and have people vote for which hand they think is the "winning hand," and then just compare that against which hand actually won. It might even be fun.

Good review, by the way. I don't disagree with most of what you say, although I agree with the initial comment that much of what you say is bad is exactly what I like about the game.


If you could get 4 players to play 4 games against each other passing starting hands to the left after each game and see how each hand performed in each player's control. There is still some bias in this experiment because it would only work if all players were of equal skill and on games 3 and 4 each player would have more infomation about which cards were in play and perhaps change strategy to block other players options. But it would be an interesting experiment.
 
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btanchel wrote:
banyan wrote:
Harald wrote:
After a game of Agricola, we look at the hands dealt, compare them, and agree that the one with the best hand was the one who won.


No scientist would accept this procedure. There's a good chance you agree that's the best hand because of confirmation bias. There's a lot of first-hand accounts claiming both that the cards introduce too much chance and that they don't introduce much at all. I haven't played enough to even have much of an idea one way or another.

If someone would be willing to do it, we could get more insight into whether they do by an interesting procedure. Have one of these groups of fairly evenly skilled players who frequently play Agricola record their starting hands. Create polls here on the geek for each set of starting hands (without letting people know which one won, of course) and have people vote for which hand they think is the "winning hand," and then just compare that against which hand actually won. It might even be fun.

Good review, by the way. I don't disagree with most of what you say, although I agree with the initial comment that much of what you say is bad is exactly what I like about the game.


If you could get 4 players to play 4 games against each other passing starting hands to the left after each game and see how each hand performed in each player's control. There is still some bias in this experiment because it would only work if all players were of equal skill and on games 3 and 4 each player would have more infomation about which cards were in play and perhaps change strategy to block other players options. But it would be an interesting experiment.


No question about all the possible biases.

I had an idea. How about have the OP list all the 4 hands for a specific game? Or better yet, from several games... and make a poll to see if we guess with confidence the winner from each match.

If a high number of people pick the correct winner, then there is no question that luck of the draw was the predominant factor in those victories.

My impression is that he plays with people that are too polite to gloat about their wins and just have the courtesy to blame it on better luck than skill.

Very thoughtful review.

At this point, I can't get enough of Agricola. I am having a lot of fun with it.
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joelbear wrote:
I've worked on a farm. Its not much fun and neither is Agricola.
Man, this made me laugh out loud. I wonder if this is a universal sentiment. I too grew up near farms and have worked them. I, too, am not in a huge rush to recall those halcyon days in boardgame form.
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I find that playing with only one deck at a time is the easiest and pretty much foolproof method to having balanced hands of cards. You simply cannot mix the decks if you want any semblance of balance.

Alternatively, you could deal out a fixed number of cards from each deck, but this still doesn't fix the "I have a card that benefits/hurts another card and the odds of anyone getting it are almost zero since we played with a hojillion card deck".
 
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Eeeville wrote:

Draft -> Seems to help balance more so than the other methods. I also find it helps facilitate you focusing on a strategy you want more so than the other methods. If you do get a great card, however, you may want to take it over something that would help a strategy you wanted to try, so it's not foolproof.


That's the great thing about drafting (in general, not just in Agricola) - it's often a tradeoff between taking a great card and taking one that works well in your strategy. The skill lies in being able to evaluate which is more likely to help you :-)
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In your games, how many cards do you end up playing by games end. It seems (especially in the solo game) there is too much else to do other then playing cards. Food seems to be a premium (esp in the solo - start with none, 3 per adult game). In my few plays, I have only actually played on average 3 cards per game! Am I missing something? Are you all playing much more?
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Julian Steindorfer
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Bassfisher44 wrote:
In your games, how many cards do you end up playing by games end. It seems (especially in the solo game) there is too much else to do other then playing cards. Food seems to be a premium (esp in the solo - start with none, 3 per adult game). In my few plays, I have only actually played on average 3 cards per game! Am I missing something? Are you all playing much more?


yes you miss something , you should be able to use every "after" action , that means if you add a family member or renovate ,use the improvement action.
 
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