I'm an academic by trade, and as such I sometimes get a chance to peruse textbooks used in courses other than mine. Today I was browsing through a popular text book used for Sociology or History I think (or was it Micro-Economics?) and I came across a rather interesting case study, a case study that in many ways could be categorized as a session report of the game Agricola. So here it is, including editor's notes. I apologize for the rather rambling style of the original author - or perhaps we should blame his editor - but I give it to you in its entirety. I hope you'll find it interesting, if only for academic reasons . . .
The Session - Waiting for the Government Subsidy.
Sometime around 1673, somewhere in what is now Germany, there lived a husband and wife. Their names, predictably enough, were Jack and Jill. Both had some issues. For starters, neither was very happy with their name. Whenever they played games, for instance, Jack liked to call himself "the Jackel," and he would make claws with his hands when he played Hunters and Gatherers. Jill - who thought her husband was rather daft - just smiled a wan smile and groaned.
Another problem they had was that they were poor. Very poor. The economy was in recession and all the major German wagon makers were asking the Reichstag for money. The only reply they got was "Do you think vee are die makers of wagons? You figure out wat to do - no billionen of reichsmarks for you! First you need to stop paying so much to people who just put the knobbly thing on the wagon wheel every day. It's just click, bang, boom, all getan - hundreds of times in a row. Any fish-wife could do dat! Why do the German volk need to play for the volk's wagons?"
But here the story digresses into irrelevant economic details. This is a history of little people, and for them it was a tough time. Jack and Jill were farmers by trade and had to eke their living off the land. Rather interesting word that - "eke." It comes from Old English ecan, eacan, eacian (addition, reinforcement) which is also related to our word "augment" (both are from Germanic auken) - and so to eke out a living means to make something go further or longer. And indeed, Jack and Jill did need to make things last longer: there were rumours that the government (here we go again) was planning to subsidize farmers in a major way, but only in about fourteen turns, I mean months.
Jack and Jill would have to survive four fourteen months. They still had a few loafs of bread in the cupboard, but the mice were nibbling away at those, and they wouldn't have another harvest for four months. What to do? These were not Easy times, and it looked like Komplex solutions were needed [Editor's Note: We have retained the unwieldy German capitalization here, because the odd capitalization of adjectives may be significant. See Dirk Henn, The Capitalization Equation: Playing Games with German Capitals. Berlin: Brechen Verlag, 2001. Pp. 12-8.].
What really annoyed the couple even more was that their neighbours (Uwe and Melissa) lived so close to their property that they had to compete for all the same resources. Fortunately, Uwe wasn't much of a lumberjack, and Melissa spent most of her time translating foreign languages, so Jack and Jill were not too worried.
However, Jack and Jill did have a big debate about how best to tackle the situation. Jack was all for hiring other people to do the work. "Just think," he would point out, "we'll have to languish a little longer now, but the rewards will be so much greater. I have a friend, and he's a plowman by trade. Why don't we hire him to help us out." And Jill replied, "yes, but that costs one food per field - we might need that you know?" To which Jack replied, "We'll just have to tighten the belten." And Jill said, "Aber naturlich, you're the Herr around here."
So Jack jumped up and ran over to his friend, Piers Plowman. Piers was a friendly fellow, a bit of a wandering preacher, but also quite skilled at digging ditches, plowing fields, and carting dung. Unfortunately, Piers was rather busy at the moment - he was writing some kind of poem filled with anti-fraternal satire - and said he would come by in four months, in seven months, and again in ten months. Jack, who thought he'd better be on his best fraternal behaviour, said that was very dependable of him to come so regularly, and went home.
His wife - who years later was interviewed by some fellow named Weber about her extraordinary German work ethic, and her propensity towards capitalist thinking - went into the woods to collect some lumber. She had been watching the farm of Melissa and Uwe, and had noticed Melissa starting to eye the woodpile at the edge of the forest.
Melissa and Uwe, however, decided to plow a field, and Uwe was sent out to do the work. For some reason he went as far away from his house as he could. He was always thinking long term, that man. Very strange.
Time went by, and other folks were hired at either farm. One day a Resource Seller came by to Uwe and Melissa's farm:
He seemed like a promising fellow, and for a moment Jack and Jill were jealous, but not for the kinds of reasons you might suspect. The resource seller was wearing pink, trying to impress Melissa, and when Melissa looked at him favourably, Jill also went a little pink in the cheeks. Jack's jealousy, then, was not difficult to explain, He was jealous that one man could so affect two women. [Editor's Note: Centuries later, Rene Girard would base his famous theory of the triangulation of love on this little-known case.]
However, the Resource Seller had one rather funny rule. He said, "You watch me. I will make this pile of resources, and you can get the top one when you receive that type of building resource from one of your actions. For example, you can have a few logs from me if you go and get some logs from over there by the forest."
"Hmmm," thought Jack, "this guy seems rather fishy to me. He's just trying to hang around our farms so he can play games with the ladies. Well, he's not playing Hunters and Gatherers with Jill! Not on my watch."
Melissa and Uwe, however, seemed quite taken by the Resource Seller, and every time they gathered a resource they had to watch very carefully whether they could match it to the top one on the seller's pile. It all seemed a gigantic pain to Jack, although Jill often looked wistfully out the window at the resource seller sitting patiently on his pile and flexing his muscles.
Soon Jack brought a man into her house, but Jill wasn't as interested in him. His name was Joel, and he had a large white beard:
He came once a week, so Jill nick-named him "weeks." Weeks said he really wanted to be a potter, or a ceramic artist, but for now he was just a simple Wood Carver. On a cold winter night they sometimes played a game Uwe had invented - it was called Bohnanza.
However, Jack played only with reluctance - jealousy again gripped his heart, jealousy that he himself hadn't invented the game. Weeks said it was "an Ok game," and that "it was some fun or challenge at least"; he would, he said, "play it sporadically if in the right mood."
"However," said Weeks, "have you heard of this game that all the people in stone houses play? It's called Agricola. People who own it say it's amazing, and they always want to play it. I think you should get it, but you may need a stone house first."
Those words would turn out to haunt them for many months.
The same month, Jill was wandering around in the forest, looking for wood and thinking about the sermon she had heard last Sunday. It was about the sin of Sloth, and Jill thought about all the time she wasted in the evenings playing games: "I could be so much more reproductive . . . I mean productive. Wait a minute - maybe we should have some children to help us on the farm. But that means another mouth to feed. Hmmn, it's an idea, but we'll probably have to wait till after the harvest. We don't even have a spare room yet anyway.
Just then Jill noticed that there were some sheep wandering around at the edge of the forest and she had another idea. Let's gets some clay, build ourselves a cheap little fireplace, and turn those cute little sheeples into delicious mutton.
So that's what they did. And so they ate lamb's meat for breakfast, lunch, and supper.
Sometime around the first harvest time Jack decided to get yet another guy to help them out. He was called the Wood Distributor:
If the Resource Seller had some funny rules, this man was even stranger.
He said to the couple, "Okay, this is my rule. At the beginning of every month you can call me up - send me a message by dove or something - and if you like I can take all the wood pile and distribute it evenly among these piles of clay, reed, and food that you seem to have in the neighbourhood. And, I have a special deal for you. If you lock in now at the base rate of 39.95 a month I will give you two deliveries of wood right now, for free, for nada, nilch, gratis. People say I'm crazy for giving such good deals, but these are tough times, and I'm just trying to help out."
At those words Jack promptly said "Where do I sign," but Jill thought, "well, that's certainly a strange thing to do. But maybe it will keep Melissa and Uwe from getting some wood. They'll start out in the morning and expect a big pile of wood for the taking. Oh, just to think of how surprised they'll be. Melissa will probably utter that blasphemous expression that she's so fond of. This will serve them right."
Her thoughts were interrupted by Jack, who thought he'd better ask Jill if she was okay with him signing. He was going to go ahead anyway, but he thought he might as well ask his "helpmeet," as he liked to call her. Jill always thought it was a funny kind of word, but then her native language was rather strange, being largely made up of long compound words that looked like loafs of bread stuck together after baking. She sometimes wondered if the sad drooping faces of her fellow people could be explained by the strange contortions of speaking the language of the volk. Jill rudely interrupted this digression about her thoughts by saying, "Yes, by all means sign."
The result was quite a contrasting picture on the two farms. Uwe and Melissa's resource seller just remained sitting on his pile, flexing his muscles, while the Wood Distributor - whose mug looked like a woodcut of Chaucer's Miller that Jill had seen once in a bookstore - ran around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Jill was a bit concerned about having to pay food to all these people who worked for them. The last harvest had not been a bad time. Uwe and Melissa had also scraped by, although they seemed to have visited the local food-bank, run by the fishermen's guild. Jill wasn't sure what she thought about that - somehow it didn't quite suit her idea of what an honest person should do, but then she felt bad for thinking that, and thought she'd better send them a nice card or something.
Soon after Jack and Jill managed to build an extension to their two-room house, and their neighbours were all in awe. Mr. Weeks helped them with the trim, and the Wood Distributor made it easier to get the resources in the right quantities. They also decided to build a stable while they were at it. Little did they know that would be the only stable they would build.
At this point Uwe and Melissa looked a little concerned. Melissa and Jill were both expecting, and Melissa wanted a baby room too. The same month that she got her wish, Jill gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. They called him Sebastian, but Jill soon gave him a nickname. She called him "Schweinsteiger," because she had great hopes that he would one day look after the pigs on the farm. Little did she know that he would be more interested in sports and women, but that's a different story.
Speaking of women, close to the second harvest Jack decided to hire yet another person, and this time it was a woman:
Jack told Jill "she's ridiculous! Have you seen her?" Jill couldn't guess what he meant by that. "Ridiculous?" "Yes," said Jack, "she's amazing, every farmer wants her, she's, you might say (he was struggling for adequate words to describe her)... she's like a fertility goddess, that's what she is. Sure, she looks a bit plump when you first see her, but she produces, baby she produces."
Jill looked a bit worried, and raised her eyebrows. Jack had seen this look before, and suddenly he said, "Oh, get your mind out of the gutter - she's into vegetables and grains. If you send her to the market she has this special trick, where she not only gets you the legume (Jack liked to use newfangled words), but you get two grains with it. How good is that?!"
Jill thought this was indeed "ridiculous" and quickly gave her assent. Since the plowman had already come by and their second field was nearly ready, this was good timing. Jill also couldn't wait to get a more varied diet. They still hadn't baked bread and she didn't feel a complete housewife without that important task.
Well, the market woman was indeed ridiculous, and during the next number of months the food came in faster they could eat. It was a time of abundance. They had bought a nice clay oven, and soon the loafs of bread came thick and steaming. Jill liked to open the windows and let the smell waft out into the farmyard so all the neighbours could enjoy it too. She considered it an act of charity. Unfortunately, it also meant that property taxes went up, but that was a small sacrifice to pay when you considered the moral benefits.
Meantime, Melissa and Uwe were scraping by. They were not poor by any means, but they certainly had to take the entertainment fund out of the budget. Uwe was not allowed any hobbies, and they never took any special trips to the big city [Editor's Note: Based on archival research it is believed that this is a reference to Essen. However, I. M. Rosencrantz already disputed this theory in his 1959 article, on the basis that in 1689 there was a Sebastian Schweinsteiger who played striker for the Strasbourg Klunkers, and given the lack of travel in the seventeenth century an Essen locale seems most unlikely].
Sometimes Uwe was seen wandering in the forest, however, and he talked about making a new game called Nottingham. Jill thought it sounded a lot like "Nothing Ham" which was an accurate description of their diet.
However, Uwe and Melissa were having some success expanding their farm. They built another room, and when they did this they hired a guy called the Fence Overseer:
He also had a special trick: he would stand on the top of the stable that was being built and then he would put his one hand over his eyes, and the other hand behind his back. Next he would look in all directions, and as he did so, fences magically rose out of the ground.
Jill thought it was witch-craft, but she hesitated about reporting him. What if he accused her back? She had heard that there was a book about witchcraft which said that women were especially evil. What was the line again, she wondered - oh yes, "when a woman thinks alone, she thinks evil." Perhaps I'd better stop thinking, she said to herself, and went back to work.
Since it was a time of abundance, particularly after the third harvest, Jill stopped worrying, and Jack started buying. He liked his gadgets and his toys. Soon the whole farm was cluttered with them. He called them "minor improvements" and said that they made life much easier. Over the course of time he got a flail, a bookcase, an herb garden, and a forest pasture:
In getting these toys he even had a special guy help him - a travelling salesman:
This guy seemed like the biggest joke of all to Jill.
He said, "I too have a trick. You see, I'm what you call a 'middleman.' I get things to you faster, and I'm part of a complex distribution plan that satisfies both the consumer and the producer. So everybody's happy. I can get you nice stuff for your farm without you having to travel far to get it. Makes sense doesn't it. In return I only take a small cut - maybe two percent (and that's based on 1672 statistics). It's the government, by the way, who makes the most money. They take about 30%, but you don't get to see that, because I've already figured it into the price."
"Nice," said Jack. "You help us."
Jill thought she'd better let Jack enjoy his toys and keep him happy. She had more pressing concerns. She had recently given birth to baby four, and another one was on the way.
However, the toy that Jack came home with - it was Valentine's, and Jill suspected he was trying to impress her - was a little unexpected.
"I've brought you a bakehouse honey," he said, "Come have a look. It's got all the latest features":
"We will have to return our clay oven, but that's not such a big deal when you see this puppy! It comes with an automatic baking action. Here, I push this button and it will get us 10 loaves of bread. Pretty ridiculous, eh?" [Editor's Note: this is the only occurrence in the local dialect of what would later be the typical Canadian expression to raise a question or a point of interest; its importance is disputed.]
Jill had to admit she was impressed. Just for fun she baked ten loaves of bread. Well, with the help of the flail there was now so much food the family didn't know what to do with it all. In the thirteenth month they had over twenty-one loaves of bread in the cupboard. Enough for next month too. It was a little bit of overkill, certainly, because they also had plenty of vegetables they could eat. Jack, however, said he was not a big fan of carrots, so that was that.
There were, however, two things that bothered Jill in the final months before they expected the government subsidy to come.
The first was that they were still living in a wooden hut. Sure they had five rooms, but it was still a wooden structure. Melissa and Uwe also still had a wooden hut, but Jill wanted the best for her children. When she asked Jack he said that there was just not enough clay around, and there was no one in the area willing to help out with clay. Their neighbours had taken a whole bunch to build a big cooking hearth at one point, and so no one had enough to renovate their house.
"But Jack," Jill tried another day, "Couldn't you just build a stone house then?" "Sorry," said Jack, "I checked with the village counsel, and the by-laws clearly state that you're not allowed to upgrade directly from wood to stone. It just isn't done. Makes the clay-makers guild unhappy."
The second thing that annoyed Jill was that Jack was accumulating way too many toys. So one day she shoved a broom into his hand and said, "Please sweep up the place, get rid of any 'minor improvements' you haven't used, and clean out this pigsty."
What Jill didn't realize was that the broom was a witch's broom and also had a special trick. When you used it, you could wish for seven new minor improvements, and you would get your wish...
Jack discovered this while sweeping the flail under the rug, and he immediately cried out, "this is ridiculous!" He wasn't sure what Jill would say, but he did find one minor improvement that might appease her. It was a clay pit:
There might just be enough time to fetch the clay and renovate the house. That would make her happy. He also built her a beautiful swan lake in the back yard to win two more brownie points, and even he treated her to another "major improvement," as he liked to call it: a pottery. The only person who used it, however, was Mr. Weeks.
Soon after the fourteen months came to an end, and the government inspector came to assess their farms to see if they qualified for the government subsidy.
They went to Melissa and Uwe's farm first. The cut off limit for subsidies was a score of forty on some strange chart the inspector had with him. "Hmm," he said, "looks like a nicely balanced farm, nothing fancy, but let's see: four fields, three pastures, four grain, three vegetables ..." His voice trailed off. Yes, you qualify. Congratulations. You have a score of 39. Well done. It was a good thing the Organic farmer didn't net you more points or you would have missed out. Now, where's Jack's Farm?"
The inspector had a quick look at Jack and Jill's farm and laughed. "You don't look like you're in need," he said. "You've got eight vegetable piles! You still have 11 loafs of bread! Ridiculous! What kind of a strange farm is this! And look at all these toys and machinery strewn across the farm yard. I like your pond by the way. Seems like a nice place to live. You could use your space a bit better though. Four open sections and no fences? Only one stable? But at least you've got a variety of animals - those are some nice boars in your forest pasture. So let's see, your score adds up to 44 points. I'm sorry, but you don't need a subsidy. You look like you'll cope just fine with the current recession. And if there's any trouble, the national banks are cutting interest rates all over the world, so it shouldn't be hard to get a loan. See you later!"
And he was gone. And life went on. But this story has come to an end. Please see the questions related to this case study at the back of your textbook, on pages 983-52.
Brief Final Note
After doing some further research into this interesting case study I discovered a few paintings in a local church in the area. They are not fine pictures from an aesthetic point of view, but they do seem highly relevant, so I print them here as follows:
Jack and Jill's Farm:
Jack and Jill's minor improvements and occupations (from a stain-glass window):
Uwe and Melissa's minor improvements and occupations
Uwe and Melissa's farm:
Disclaimer: This session report obviously contains many allusions to real people and BGG personalities, and I hope that it is taken as light-hearted humour, and nothing more. To be alluded to is an honour, as far as I see it. Thanks.
- Last edited Fri Dec 12, 2008 8:01 pm (Total Number of Edits: 2)
- Posted Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:40 am
B C Z
Are you accusing me of plagiarism?
This is a great session report, and a great story - I hope its length doesn't detract people from embarking to read it, because there's lots of amusing content to be enjoyed here.
Disclaimer: This session report obviously contains many allusions to real people and BGG personalities, and I hope that it is taken as light-hearted humour, and nothing more. To be alluded to is an honour, as far as I see it. Thanks.
I loved the allusions: I noticed gaming references to the designer (Uwe Rosenberg) and translator (Mrs Melissa), other Uwe Rosenberg games (Klunker and Nottingham), the annual boardgame Spiele (Essen), other game designers (Henn), BGG users (Weeks), as well as literary allusions to medieval poetry (Piers Plowman), religious references to the six deadly sins (Sloth) and the undesirability of blasphemy, and some economic and philosophical references. What other inside jokes did other readers pick up?
I hope this becomes a BGG classic. Excellent work, and nicely enhanced with appropriate pictures.
- Last edited Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:33 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Dec 11, 2008 2:31 pm
I knew there was something up when I caught this particular citation: "...Pp. 12-8." Anyone's who's reading books backwards bears watching.
Great report, btw, very entertaining!
Sebastian Schweinsteiger is a famous German soccer player. He plays on the wing for Bayern Munich and the German National team..
That was excellent, thanks for all of the work put into it!