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Subject: From A to Z: info and opinions on Agricola rss

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dave de boer
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(With apologies to the letters J, K, N, Q, V, X, Y)

A is for Art. Art for me includes the overall presentation of the game. Agricola makes a good presentation from the box inward without being exceptional. The art on the Occupation and Improvement cards is pretty simple, but it serves well enough. Art is not a major factor for me with most games. Agricola’s art supports the theme well and does not detract from the game experience at all. It is adequate, not outstanding (Note - if you go and look at the room tokens, you notice a little bit of humour, as the artists have drawn a game of Agricola on the kitchen table).

B is for Bits. Agricola has a lot of bits. There are several decks of Occupation and Minor Improvement cards. There are cards for Major Improvements, begging penalties, additional actions in 3, 4 and 5 player games and (most handy of all) there are cards for scoring at the end of the game. Besides cards there are cubes for animals, discs for resources and vegetables and tokens for food. There are tokens for fields and rooms. Finally, each player has a set of wooden pieces to be used as fences, stables and to represent the members of their farming family. Quite a lot of bits! Which makes setting up and taking down the game a bit(!) of a chore. The quality of all these bits is very good and solid.

Agricola does not have a standard game board. The set up is more akin to Puerto Rico, with a central board where resources are accumulated and actions selected. Each player has their own play mat for the development of their farm.

One important note regarding the bits is that replacement bits are available for the animal and vegetable tokens. For those who like cooler bits, there are animeeples and vegimeeples, but of course you have to get them separately.

C is for Complexity. How difficult is Agricola to learn? This is somewhat subjective and depends on how much gaming you do and what level you are comfortable with. Agricola is definitely not a gateway game. On the other hand, it is not outrageously difficult either. Those who enjoy games like Settlers, Puerto Rico, Stone Age, Pillars of the Earth, etc will have no trouble learning Agricola. The action selection mechanic is simple enough to understand.

D is for Duration. One of the highlights for me is that a 2 player game of Agricola can be finished in slightly less than an hour (not counting set up and take down). The experience of the game feels like it should have a longer playing time. When I finish I feel like I’ve accomplished much more than an hours worth of gaming. With more players, of course, the play time goes up. Way up, if you have players who are prone to A/P. One nice thing is that there is usually not any significant down time. Players take turns placing their family members on the action slots, which goes pretty quick.

E is for Expansions. Not surprisingly, this popular game has already begun to breed expansions. Besides, the animeeples and vegimeeples (which are not expansions in the technical sense of the word), there have been some new decks of cards made available in various ways. Z-deck was added to Z-man produced pre-orders. The X-deck (available only from Spielbox magazine and from Essen 08) adds aliens and some humour. L deck is a tiny expansion deck made available in Europe. O deck was printed only in German and made available as a promotion in Austria. Finally, Essen 08 had a giveaway expansion called Through the Seasons, which provided some tweaks to the available actions based on spring, summer, fall and winter.

F is for Fun. In my books, fun is the most important measure of a game. Fun comes in different currencies (which makes it a very subjective measure). Agricola style fun is the fun of building and fiddling. The biggest advantage of this kind of fun is that even the loser(s) can have the fun of having built something. Agricola is also the fun tension of competing for the same resources and action spots. It is the fun of simultaneous scoring at the end to see who came out ahead. It is the fun of getting a new set of Occupations and Minor Improvements at the beginning of each game. Agricola has a very high entertainment value first because of the high replayability and second because you feel you are always running behind in getting things done. You never reach a point in Agricola where you have ‘solved’ the game.

G is for Game play. There are three things which dominate the game play of Agricola for me.

(1) First is the Occupation and Minor Improvement Cards. At the beginning of the game you are dealt seven cards of each type. Except in special circumstances you cannot get more of these cards. The Occupations and Minor Improvements give you bonuses during the game and when scoring. They shape your strategy. There are enough different cards that you will hardly ever get the same combinations. There is a family game variant of the game where these cards are not used. To me Agricola would not be near as much fun without these cards.
(2) Second is food. Whenever I play Agricola I spend half the game thinking about food. At increasingly shorter intervals, Agricola players encounter a harvest at which time they have to feed their growing families. If you don’t have enough food, the penalty is rather severe and will likely set you back too far to catch up. At the beginning of the game, you have 4 turns to get 4 food. On the last turn, you have only that single turn to collect 8 food (for a 4 person family) or 10 food (for a five person family).

(3) Third is the growth curve of your farm. The growth curve starts very slow, and it seems like nothing is happening on your farm. However, as you are able to grow your family, and as you get Occupations and Improvements in play, and as better actions become available, you will suddenly see your farm expand very rapidly. The finish of Agricola is always very much of a rush.

H is for History. Agricola has won several awards, including the 2008 Spiel des Jahres special prize for complex game. Agricola was also awarded the 2007 Meeples Choice Award, the 2008 BoardGameGeek Golden Geek Award and the 2008 International Gamers Award for General Strategy/Multi-Player game.

I is for Interaction. Interaction in Agricola mostly consists of competition for the same things. You and your opponents both want the same resources and the same actions. Each action can only be used once per turn, forcing you to choose carefully and to silently grumble when someone else takes the spot that you wanted. There is some potential for screwage for players who carefully watch what their opponents need and take it before they do. Agricola is not a war game where you can blow up your opponent’s farm and send his sheep into orbit or sabotage his grain fields. On the other hand, it is also not (in my humble opinion) a multi-player solitaire game either.

L is for Luck. How much is at the mercy of luck is in Agricola? Very little. The Occupation and Improvement cards are dealt randomly at the beginning of the game. There is a variant which allows you to draft cards instead. The only other random element is the order of the actions, which are revealed one per turn. The randomness here is very minimal, since the most an action can vary in position is three spots.

Even though there is very little randomness, players should be aware that they will not have control over everything. Each action can only be taken once per turn, which means you may not be able to do what you wanted to.

M is for Mechanics. Very simply, the game works like this... There are fourteen turns in the game, which are divided into 6 sections, each ending with a harvest. The harvests take place on turns 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14. Players begin with two family members, each of which can perform one action per turn. Large goals, such as planting a field or baking bread usually consist of a series of actions. (For example, planting a field means you must (a) use an action to gather grain, (b) use an action to plow a field, and (c)use another action to sow the grain in the field. Several of the action spots have resources like wood, clay or stone that are used for things like fences, renovations, stables and improvements. Each harvest the players need to feed their family, which gets more and more difficult while the game progresses. One of the players first priorities is to grow their families, adding more people who can do actions, but this also puts added strain on the food supply.

There are several areas of endeavour in Agricola. Players need to expand their fields, build and expand their house and family, make improvements like ovens, plows, etc, and build up herds of livestock. At the end of the game points are scored for each of these areas, with points subtracted from areas where the person had nothing. Whether or not a person is successful often depends on how well they make use of the Occupation and Improvement cards they were dealt at the beginning of the game.

O is for Opinions. Agricola is the game that finally knocked Puerto Rico out of the top spot on BGG. It has been at or near the top of the Hot Games List for over a year. 5916 BGG users have given the game a rating. Of those, 4852 have rated the game 8 or higher. 1561 users (myself included) have given the game a rating of 10!

Reading through the Personal Comments on Agricola you will find that people like the game for:

a. Replayability. There are many comments about the multiple strategies and about the Occupation and Minor Improvement cards.
b. the Worker Placement mechanic. A lot of people like games with this mechanic.
c. Theme. Quite a few people comment on how well the theme works
d. Tension. This game is by no means a walk in the park. One user waxed eloquent by comparing Agricola to being locked a burning room. All the players are doomed, he said, its just a matter of degree. That comparison is a little over-the-top and makes the game sound more difficult than it is. Nevertheless, I do feel that I can never do all that I want to do.
e. Solo play.
f. the extra decks. Getting the I and K (and Z) decks included makes it feel like you bought the expansions with the base game.

Among those who like the game, there are some minor complaints.

a. Set-up is lengthy
b. Some Occupation or Minor Improvement cards are obviously better than others.

P is for Play-it-Again. This is a major factor in Agricola’s favour. The replayability comes as a result of the various decks of cards as well as the multiple strategies. I can’t emphasize enough how different one game can be from another.

R is for Rules. The rules are well written and easy to comprehend. My main comment here is to express appreciation for the variants that have been included. There is a solo variant, a family variant, as well as a few other variants that can tweak the game here or there.

S is for Scale. Agricola works well for me regardless of the number of players (I haven’t tried solo play). The number and type of actions available to the players varies depending on the number of people playing. Also, the Occupation cards can be sorted according to number of players - there are certain cards designed for 3+ players or for 4+ players only.

T is for Theme. In case you didn’t already know, Agricola is Latin for farmer. The game has a Medieval setting. The game does an excellent job of meshing theme and mechanics. Its just you and Mrs Farmer growing your family peacefully and building up a better farm and a better life for yourselves. Nothing blows up (sigh), there are no nukes, no elves, no dragons or T-34 tanks. A great family theme.

U is for Uniqueness. Many have observed that Agricola is a mish-mash of mechanics that you already find in other games. Agricola’s genius seems to be the blending of these mechanics into something that is more than the sum of its parts. Agricola seems to have a certain je ne sais quoi. The aspect I appreciate most about Agricola is the micro-management. Each action is simple, basic, fundamental. In Agricola I don’t build cities or conquer lands or build massive armies (not that those things aren’t fun). Instead I bake bread, plow a field, make a vegetable patch, renovate my house. This gives the game an earthy feel of a life that we can relate to and makes it different from a lot of other games.

W is for Weight. I take weight to refer to the amount of brain energy needed for a game. The more rules there are and the more decisions need to be made the heavier a game is. Agricola’s weight comes more from the decisions than the rules. There are so many things you can do at any given time. Agricola is not a game that plays itself. You have to carefully weigh all your options and re-evaluate your plan constantly. For this reason, you need to watch out for the optimizer and for the player who suffers from A/P. They can really slow the game down! Agricola’s weight is just about right for providing a satisfying gaming experience without burning out your synapses.

Z is for Z-man Games. Kudos to Z-man games for getting this game into the English speaking market. They can add this game to a growing list of superb titles.
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James Bentley
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Cleburne
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Bored are we?



Just kidding. Good job!
 
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Lindsay Thomas
United Kingdom
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Hey, you missed some letters:

J is for jokes. There are some humourous touches to Agricola, like the room tiles showing tables with a half finished game on it.

K is for Kids. Agricola can be played with young kids, especially if you stick to the family version. My 4 year old daughter likes playing this game. She loves collecting the animals. You should have seen how excited she got when she picked up her first sheep in our last game.

N is for Non-combatants. Agricola is very much a Euro game. So, you're not allowed to attack your opponents farm.

Q is for Quick. The game can be finished quicker than Power Grid, but not as quickly as Loopin Louie.

V is for Very good. Lots of geeks think that it's a very good game.

X is for X-ray. With all those wooden bits, Agricola would show up on the airport x-ray machine if you tried to smuggle 20 copies out of the country with you.

Y is for Yacht. You'll need a table the size of a small yacht to play Agricola on. All those boards take up a lot of room.
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Geoff Burkman
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Kettering
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And here I coulda sworn that X was for xylophone!
(Kudos for filling out the alphabet)

troubadour wrote:
...It is adequate, not outstanding (Note - if you go and look at the room tokens, you notice a little bit of humour, as the artists have drawn a game of Agricola on the kitchen table).


You'll also find a game of Bohnanza in a few rooms.

Quote:
... Quite a lot of bits! Which makes setting up and taking down the game a bit(!) of a chore.


Which is where organization comes in. Store those bits in an appropriate compartmentalized storage box(es) and set-up and tear-down will be a breeze!

Quote:
...Agricola is definitely not a gateway game.


I tend to disagree with that, at least in the case of the Family version, which I consider to be a fine gateway game, especially to the card-drenched full game.

Quote:
...Finally, Essen 08 had a giveaway expansion called Through the Seasons, which provided some tweaks to the available actions based on spring, summer, fall and winter.


My crew has come to the opinion that Agricola: Through the Seasons is broken. I'll have an article posted about this soon.

Quote:
F is for Fun. In my books, fun is the most important measure of a game.... You never reach a point in Agricola where you have ‘solved’ the game.


Currently I agree with this 1000%. The game is fun no matter which version you play, with near infinite replayability, and nothing (so far) to indicate that it's broken (though many would argue that certain cards tend to be overpowered, if not outright broken).

Quote:
G is for Game play...the cards...They shape your strategy....There is a family game variant of the game where these cards are not used. To me Agricola would not be near as much fun without these cards.


I would say that the cards influence your strategy, but should not be allowed to "shape" it. The core game (i.e. the Family version) exemplifies all the basic strategies needed to do well (acquiring resources, expanding your hut and family, upgrading the former and feeding the latter). I find the Family version to be just as interesting and challenging as the full version. The greatest danger in the full game is letting yourself be bewitched by your cards and forgetting the basic routes to victory.

Quote:
... On the other hand, it is also not (in my humble opinion) a multi-player solitaire game either.


Not entirely, but it strongly resembles one.
Quote:
...Each harvest the players need to feed their family, which gets more and more difficult while the game progresses.


If you're playing properly, I would say that feeding your family tends to get easier as the game progresses. Playing properly, of course, means getting a decent food engine going, which usually means acquiring at least a fireplace and/or oven.

Quote:
a. Set-up is lengthy


As mentioned above, proper organization will lessen this minor problem.

Quote:
b. Some Occupation or Minor Improvement cards are obviously better than others.


That's putting it mildly.

Quote:
T is for Theme. In case you didn’t already know, Agricola is Latin for farmer. The game has a Medieval setting. The game does an excellent job of meshing theme and mechanics.


By and large, yes, although this meshing does little to create any genuine verisimilitude vis-a-vis farming. Yet, somehow, it all still works!

Quote:
U is for Uniqueness. Many have observed that Agricola is a mish-mash of mechanics that you already find in other games. Agricola’s genius seems to be the blending of these mechanics into something that is more than the sum of its parts. Agricola seems to have a certain je ne sais quoi. The aspect I appreciate most about Agricola is the micro-management. Each action is simple, basic, fundamental. In Agricola I don’t build cities or conquer lands or build massive armies (not that those things aren’t fun). Instead I bake bread, plow a field, make a vegetable patch, renovate my house. This gives the game an earthy feel of a life that we can relate to and makes it different from a lot of other games.


All very subjective, of course, as I find Caylus (Agricola's direct inspiration) to be equally evocative, just about a different aspect of pre-Industrial Age life.

Quote:
W is for Weight.... you need to watch out for the optimizer and for the player who suffers from A/P. They can really slow the game down!


Especially because they're usually the same people!

Quote:
Z is for Z-man Games. Kudos to Z-man games for getting this game into the English speaking market. They can add this game to a growing list of superb titles.


Here, here! I can't really speak for the rest of their titles, but for me their reputation is assured simply by Agricola.

Good post, sir! Entertaining, readable, and comprehensive. What more could a geek ask?
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Giedrius Siaulys
Lithuania
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Hello,

I have a question about gameflow. At the start of each round when first player makes his play he plays:
1. One his family member, then action goes to second player, he plays his one member, then third player plays, etc. After all players played their first family member they play their second etc etc.
or
2. First player makes play for all his family members (lets say 5 at once), then second player makes play for all his family members, then third etc.

Why i am asking this question? We are now playing 2 variant, and the problem is a first player always plays action "First player" on his turn and then plays any other useful actions with his family members. That way he allways stays first player, grabs resources and best actions and player before him allways acts last and that is really frustrating. After reading rules few times we could not decide which is the rigth way to play the game but we found second variant very powerful.

I hope you undestood my problem, English is not my native language,

Thank you, Giedrius
 
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Geoff Burkman
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To answer your first question, yes, players alternate placing their family members on action spaces in turn order, i.e. Player 1, Player 2, Player 3, Player 1, Player 2, Player 3, and so on (unless someone has a card that disrupts this, like the Taster). No question, it would be insane to let Player 1 use all his family members before anyone else could play. The Taster is strong enough an advantage; good thing there's only one of him!

If Player 1 is taking the Starting Player action, sooner or later he has to actually use this advantage to take a resource that's been accumulating. That is when Player 2 can then take Starting Player to turn things around. There's no way that the first player can keep ahold of Starting Player unless the second player (or any other player in the game) lets him.
 
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Giedrius Siaulys
Lithuania
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Thank you for your answer :)
 
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