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Subject: Clash of the Agriconauts, or The High Street Gang Completes a Pentagram! rss

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Geoff Burkman
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Kettering
Ohio
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A few nights ago, my crew and I were invited to game with a New Guy, Jimmy, a fellow I happened to meet here on the Geek. Awesome, thought we—fresh competition, a new perspective, and a chance to investigate 5-player Agricola! Who could ask for more? Not us, that’s for sure, and so this past Sunday evening, the four of us assemble at my place and pile into Brian’s car for the trip down to the New Guy’s Place, not all that far away. About halfway there, I happen to mention that one of Jimmy’s microbadges on the Geek indicated that he was a Wiccan. This conversational sally turns out to be a mistake.

“A what?” Ron, Skyp, and Brian exclaim simultaneously.
“A Wiccan, dudes,” says I, “You know, like the Druids or whatever.”
“What, a tree-hugger?” asks Skyp.
“No, no, more like a tree-worshipper.”
Ron bridles. “Does that mean he’ll be hogging the wood all the time?” As those who’ve read a few of my earlier session reports may recall, that’s one of Ron’s standard stratagems. He clears his throat nervously. “Do you think he eats children?”
“What?” I ask, incredulous, “he’s a Wiccan, not a member of the Manson family!”
“Did they eat children?” Skyp pipes up.
“No!” says I, “They just messed with their minds.”
“Well, maybe this guy’ll cast a spell on us or something,” says Brian.
“Yeah,” says Ron, “or lock us in a cage and cook us for food!”
“I don’t think so,” I reply. “His microbadge said Wiccan, not Wicker Man.”

We drive in silence for a while.

“Well,” says Ron, “if he’s wearing an upside-down crucifix, I’m going home.”
“Oh, shut up!” says I, “That’s Satanists. Anyway, it’s a long walk.”
“Do we have any holy water?” asks Skyp.
“What difference does that make?” says Brian, “You’re Jewish.”
“I don’t know,” says Skyp, “But I’d still feel safer.”
“Look,” I say, “will you guys just knock it off? Jimmy’s a gamer, and that’s all you need to know. I wish I’d never said a word about it. Grow up, will you?”
We arrive at Jimmy’s place. “See?” I say, “It’s a nice house in a nice neighborhood.”
“Yeah,” says Ron, “Well, Ted Bundy lived in a nice house, too, didn’t he?”
I sigh. “Ted Bundy was not a Wiccan. I think he was a Republican or a Methodist.”
“Is being a Wiccan worse than being a Scientologist?” Brian asks.
“Nothing is worse than being a Scientologist,” I answer.
“How about a Jehovah’s Witness?” Ron replies.
Now I know I should have just shut up, I think. We pull into Jimmy’s driveway.
“Just behave yourselves, okay? Be sociable.”
Jimmy’s two adorable young daughters answer the door. The younger one stares at us, shrieks with delight, and runs to fetch her father.
“You think those are his familiars?” whispers Ron.
“Shut up!” I hiss back, “or your butt’s going to get familiar with my boot.”

Jimmy comes to the door. He’s a handsome fellow about eight feet tall, or so it seems. He is not dressed in flowing black robes, nor does he have horns growing out of his head, nor is there the sound of eldritch chanting emanating from his home. He’s got a Samuel Adams in hand; how normal is that? Jimmy introduces his lovely wife, Michelle, and the aforementioned adorable daughters. None of us are struck down by lightning, which I take as a good sign. Eventually, the ice is broken and we all sit down to a game of 5-player Agricola. Michelle graciously makes it known that she’ll just kibitz, though I can tell she’d like to play. Being a mom sometimes has its drawbacks, I know. We play with the cards, of course, and Jimmy has no beef with our usual pass-the-garbage draft. In fact, he does quite well with it, as the reader will shortly see. We begin to play….

Round One/Sheep
Jimmy – 1G
Ron – 3C(3)
Geoff – 4W(4)
Skyp – Occ/205/Reed Collector (4R>
Brian – Animals (1sheep + 1f)
Jimmy – PF
Ron – 3W(3)
Geoff – SP + Corn Sheaf (1G)
Skyp – 1RSW
Brian – DL(2f)

Jimmy opens the contest with an ordinary grain play. I think I hear Brian mumble something about children of the corn, and kick him under the table. Ron, delighted by the presence of the bountiful 5-player Clay pit, promptly empties it. I take the wood, later kicking myself under the table for not getting out a timely Occupation. Not so dumb, Skyp guarantees his early reed supply while Brian, unduly fascinated by the new-to-us Animals space, nabs a wooly and a food. Jimmy plows, complementing his grain acquisition, Ron reverts to his standard focus on wood, and I grab the button to get a cheapo grain and first crack at whatever next Round. Skyp takes another 5-player spot we’ve never encountered before, and Brian scarfs up more food, obviously up to some kind of monkey business, perhaps in honor of Darwin’s upcoming 200th birthday.

Round Two/Sow & Bake
Geoff – 1R(2)
Skyp – 4W(4)
Brian – Occ/291/Lover (-4f)
Jimmy – 1G
Ron – 3C(3)
Geoff – 3W(3)
Skyp – SP + Corn Sheaf (1G)
Brian – 1RSW
Jimmy – PF
Ron – Animals (1sheep + 1f)

As is my wont, I snap up the stacked reed, hoping to get a room built ASAP (a strategy that will backfire on me in the extreme), Skyp liberates the woodpile, and Brian reveals the source of his unusual food fetish, the high-maintenance, potentially game-breaking Lover. Jimmy repeats his play sequence from Round One as Ron and I scoop up basics, Skyp takes the button, passing along the cheapo grain card, and Brian visits the local Bag o’Goods. Ron polishes the Round off with an Animal appropriation of his own. Meanwhile, Jimmy regales us with stories of his stint in Baghdad tangling with camel spiders and the like, and his lovely wife googles up images of bite-marks from those selfsame arachnids on her laptop. Who would have ever thought that farming could be so gross?

Round Three/MIMI
Skyp – SP + Wood-fired Oven (3f)
Brian – 4W(4)
Jimmy – S&B (2Gf)
Ron – MIMI/CH4
Geoff – 3C(3)
Skyp – 3W(3)
Brian – 1RSW
Jimmy – TP (3f)
Ron – Occ/157/Berry Picker
Geoff – Fish (3f)
Brian – DL (2f)

Skyp nails down the button to play a lo-fi oven, and Brian promptly nabs the premier wood. Jimmy gets his grain machine in gear, and Ron follows up with a hearth—if Agricola allowed trading, they’d be in business. With an eye toward an oven of my own, I take the clay, Skyp refreshes his wood stores, and Brian squirrels away futures. Jimmy stocks up on food, Ron finally pops out an Occupation that nets him seven food by game’s end—not a bad deal at all, I kill and gore the trout, and Brian puts in some time at the local general store. Everyone appears to be making decent headway.

Round Four/Fences
Skyp – BR(1)
Brian – 4W(4)
Jimmy – 3W(3)
Ron – 1R(2)
Geoff – BR(1) +1s
Skyp – 1RSW
Brian – Occ(1)/158/Turner
Jimmy – 1C(3)
Ron – Sheep(4)burn4(8f)
Geoff – SP + Field (PF-1f)
Brian – 3C(3)

Skyp opens the harvest Round of Stage One by generously accomplishing his hut expansion on the 5-player subsidiary construction space. What a mensch! Again, Brian hits the prime woodpile, and Jimmy puts his own forestry skills to work. Ron jumps the beckoning reed, and I confidently expand my hut, erecting a stable to mark property lines. Skyp hits the general store, Brian ocks* wood into unlimited backup food, not a terrible deal, and Jimmy scoops up some clay. Ron mercilessly slaughters the woolies, I nip the button along with a reasonably priced field, primed for adding a peep next Round, and Brian burns down the potential clay bonanza for Round Five. Fine. I scowl, wondering if I can talk Jimmy into putting a curse on Brian’s farm. Probably not. Everyone feeds his family without mishap.

*You know grokking? Well…now you know ocking. Welcome to the club.

Round Five/Stone
Geoff – MIMI/Fp2
Skyp – Occ(1)/256/Stone Carver
Brian – 4W(4)
Jimmy – 3W(3)
Ron – 1RSW
Geoff – 3C(3)
Skyp – PF
Brian – SP + Fishing Rod
Jimmy – Fish (2f)
Ron – 1G
Brian – BR(1)

I’m torn by too many options, felled by analysis paralysis, and thereby studiously ignore the unfamiliar 5-player Round Five family growth, finally settling for a fireplace. Somehow, I’m thinking my doom originates right there in River City. Skyp drops down his second Ock, another resource-driven food source. Brian and Jimmy clear any tract of wayward forest, while Ron hits up the five and dime and I take the clay booby prize. Skyp plows (“When in doubt, plow!”); Brian co-opts the turn start and unreels a Minor that turns out to be worth five food, beating a sharp stick in the eye by a reasonable margin. Jimmy scavenges, Ron picks up corn seed, and Brian builds the game’s next hut expansion, a move that in retrospect may well have cost him a better finish. Once you have a peep without room thanks to the Lover (or however), there’s little point to expansion (except maybe a pressing need for stables) until you can build two rooms at once, leaving yourself in position for immediate growth. Plus, you save an action.

Round Six/Renovation + MIMI
Brian – 1R(2)
Jimmy – 4W(4)
Ron – 3W(3+1f)
Geoff – FG
Skyp – 3C(3)
Brian – MIMI/Fp3
Jimmy – PF
Ron – BR(1) +1s
Geoff – Sheep(2)
Skyp – 1RSW
Brian – TP(3f)

Unsurprisingly, Brian jumps the reed. Jimmy and Ron swoop down on the forests, denuding them, and I make up for lost time by hiring on some help. Skyp takes clay, Brian takes the other fireplace, and Jimmy works the soil. Ron adds to his hut and pops out a stable, I snag the sheep, Skyp hits up the what-not space, and Brian finishes the Round with some food gathering, pleased with the unexpected retention of the turn start.

Round Seven/Family Growth + MI
Brian – 4W(4)
Jimmy – S&B (1Gf)
Ron – 3W(3+1f)
Geoff – Occ/225/Field Watchman
Skyp – SP + Grain Cart
Brian – Fish(2+1f)
Jimmy – 1S(3)
Ron – FG + Cooking Corner
Geoff – 1G(+PF)
Skyp – 1C(3)
Brian – BR(1) +1s
Geoff – Animals(1b)burn(2f)

As a harvest moon beckons, Brian and Ron scavenge wood around Jimmy’s new grain field. I get out my first Occupation, which ends up only barely worth the effort, saving me a whopping one action. Shoulda tried something different. Skyp grabs the button, putting out a Minor by which he, too, barely profits. Perhaps Jimmy has the power to cloud men’s minds, much like The Shadow do. Brian fishes, Jimmy relieves the stone space of its bounty, and Ron ecstatically grows his clan, bumping up the power and glory of his hearth. I lamely exercise my Watchman, who is obviously no superhero, disillusioned or otherwise, and Skyp pulls in more clay. Brian builds his second add-on. Befuddled, I acquire and roast a boar, stupidly ignoring the sheep`n’food selection. Am I dumb, or what? Whatever the answer to that question, Skyp, Brian, and I step out back for a nicotine break. We’re all relieved to see that there’s not a pentagram in sight, although a numinous gibbous moon gleams in the night sky. We smoke hurriedly, superstitious nonsense scampering around the backs of our brains, stub the butts, and return to comforts of Jimmy’s sanctum sanctorum for the second half of the game. None of us have been turned into toads, which I take as a good omen..

Round Eight/Boar
Skyp – MIMI/CH4
Brian – 3C(6)
Jimmy – SP + Straw-thatched Roof
Ron – 4W(4+1f)
Geoff – 1R(2)SW
Skyp – 1G(+2G)
Brian – Sheep(2)burn1(2f)
Jimmy – Ren + Stone Oven(8f)
Ron – 3W(3+1f)
Geoff – PF
Brian – 1R(2)
Ron – Occ(1)/199/Renovator
Geoff – Animals(1boar)

Skyp exercises his start privilege by picking up the hearth Ron previously upgraded, and Brian can’t resist the discount clay. Jimmy takes the button for the first time, and puts out a nice Minor that pretty much eliminates his need for reed. Ron focuses on wood, as is his bent, while I hit up the stacked reed plus extras spot. Skyp utilizes his Grain Cart for the one and only time he’ll do so in the game, Brian lures a wooly into his house by killing the other one, and Jimmy then lowers the boom (at least on me, renovating his two-room hovel to clay and activating the Stone Oven, solving his food issues for a solid two Rounds. After Ron continues his pogrom against wood, I plow (Yay! Thanks, Jimmy!), Brian snaps up more reed, and Ron slashes costs on future renovations, which pays off nicely down the line. I cap things off with a weak animal grab, wondering why Brian chose not to grow his peeps, and how Jimmy could read my mind.

Round Nine/Vegetables
Jimmy – SP + Shepherd’s Crook
Ron – 4W(4+1f)
Geoff – 3C(3)
Skyp – S&B (1Gf +3f)
Brian – Boar(2)burn2(4f)
Jimmy – 3W(3)
Ron – Fence(14)
Geoff – Ren + Clay Oven(5f)
Skyp – FG + Stone Exchange> (2C>2S)
Brian – FG
Ron – Animals (1sheep +1f)
Geoff – 1G(+PF)
Brian – TP(3f)

Jimmy hangs onto the turn start, dropping down a Minor that translates to any easy two woolies later on, more a convenience play than anything. Ron completes his assembly of fencing materials, I claim the clay for obvious purposes, and Skyp gets his grain machine going. Brian chows down on piglets, Jimmy chops wood, and Ron fences while the fencing is good. I renovate, claiming the Clay Oven and a comfortable amount of food. Skyp goes forth and multiplies, swapping off clay for stone. Brian sires progeny as well. Ron claims his first animal, I work in my fields, and Brian snaps up more food. Everyone feeds easily as we transition into the endgame. By now, Jimmy’s wife has said her goodnights and left us to our own pre-Industrial devices.

Round Ten/Cattle
Jimmy – 1S(3)
Ron – 4W(4+1f)
Geoff – 1R(2)SW
Skyp – 3W(3)
Brian – Ren + Gypsy’s Crock
Jimmy – Fences(12) + 2sheep
Ron – 1R(2)
Geoff – 3C(3)
Skyp – Occ(1)/292/Market Woman
Brian – SP + Corn Sheaf (1G)
Ron – PF
Geoff – 1C(3)
Skyp – 1V +2G
Brian – Fish(3+2f)
Brian – Cattle(1)burn1sheep(2f)

Jimmy opens the Tenth with another stone bargain, Ron continues confiscating timber, and I pursue visions of large clay mansions. Skyp takes woodpile B because it’s there. Brian gets in on the renovation game, playing a Minor that lies fallow. Why he didn’t upgrade his fireplace is beyond me. Jimmy builds two pastures, one over-sized to accommodate the perks of his Shepherd’s Crook. Ron looks to his next room, and I carry on toward mine. Skyp swaps an Ock play for two eventual grain, not a great trade, but at least he puts it to use. Brian jumps the button, passing along the free grain. Ron plows, I continue brick production, and Skyp avails himself of and then boots out the back door the poor old wretch he dragooned into peddling her wares, insinuation notwithstanding. Brian finishes the Round up with an orgy of food procurement.

Round Eleven/Stone
Brian – 4W(4)
Jimmy – Boar(2)
Ron – 3W(3+1f)
Geoff – Sheep(3)burn2(4f)
Skyp – 3C(3)
Brian – 1RWS
Jimmy – S&B (2Gf +8f)
Ron – BR(1) +1s
Geoff – SP
Skyp – MIMI/Basketmaker’s Workshop
Brian – PF
Ron – FG + Boar Breeding (1boar)
Geoff – Cattle(1)burn(3f)
Skyp – 1S(1)
Brian – Animals (1sheep +1f)burn(2f)

Brian and Ron clear out the woodpiles, indifferent to Jimmy boorish activities (sorry, had to get that one in), while I make my next major boo-boo choosing to abuse the woolies rather than put my grain to work. Skyp nabs clay, Brian the mixed goods, and Jimmy happily loads up two more fields and provides himself two more Stages’ worth of food. Ron wisely builds another room. I then stupidly take the button without an appropriate Minor to play, instead of doing something useful like upgrading my fireplace. Skyp immediately meemees for a handful of points and an extra food source. Brian plows, Ron unfailingly family grows, picking up a free piggy, and I generate requisite food. Skyp takes the stone for food, and likewise Brian a wooly. I don’t know about my opponents, but I’m starting to feel pretty badly squeezed.

Round Twelve/Family Growth w/o
Geoff – FG w/o
Skyp – SP + Field (PF-1f)
Brian – 4W(4)
Jimmy – PF
Ron – 1S(2)
Geoff – 3W(3)
Skyp – S&B (1Vf +6f)
Brian – 1RSW
Jimmy – 1V
Ron – Ren + Dovecote (2f>
Geoff – 1R(2)
Skyp – Cattle(1)
Brian – Fences(12)
Ron – 1G
Brian – MIMI/Field (PF-1f)
Ron – Animals (1boar)

Intent on staying in the race, I take the roomless family growth. It’s hard to argue against two actions for one, but I’m afraid it’s too little, too late. Skyp plows a field the hard way, taking the button for no real purpose. Brian takes more wood, Jimmy plows, Ron nabs stone, and I again stumble by taking wood instead of attending to more pressing matters. Skyp quickly activates a vegetable field and cranks out food for his peeps. Brian gets the last elements of renovation in order, Jimmy eliminates another negative, and Ron bumps his hut to clay, popping out the Dovecote for more points and a modicum of food. I take the last reed I’ll need for expansion, now despairing of renovation. Skyp erases one of his own negatives, Brian fences, Ron preps for some real farming, Brian turns over the Field he just got from Skyp in the only way left, and Ron stocks his pastures with another ambulatory dinner.

Round Thirteen/Plow & Sow
Skyp – 4W(4)
Brian – Ren
Jimmy – FG w/o
Ron – P&S (2Gf)
Geoff – S&B (1Gf +5f)
Skyp – BR(1)
Brian – Boar(2)
Jimmy – SP + Field (PF-1f)
Ron – 1V
Geoff – 3C(6)
Skyp – 1S(2)
Brian – Sheep(2)burn1(2f)
Ron – 1RSW
Geoff – 3W(3)
Brian – Fish(3+2f)
Ron – PF
Geoff – BR(2)

Skyp ignores the screwage potential of Plow`n’Sow to scarf up wood, Brian astoundingly fails to take the button to guarantee himself last Round renovation, effecting the process now without benefit of an accompanying Minor (or Major), and Jimmy finally expands his action quota to three. Ron happily takes advantage of Skyp’s oversight (and mine) to sow his grain, and I finally Sow`n’Bake, mostly to generate food. Skyp then does me the favor, for the second time in the game, of building a room on the wrong action space. Brian herds swine, Jimmy guarantees himself a last shot at wood and one more field, and Ron cancels one of his last negatives. I acquire another roomful of clay, Skyp assures himself more food, Brian woolifies. Ron snaps up the last necessities for his own renovation plans, I take the last woodpile, Brian cleans out the fishing stocks, Ron plows a field, and I finish the Round with a near-useless double room build.

Round Fourteen/Renovation + Fences
Jimmy – 4W(4)
Ron – Cattle(2)
Geoff – FG w/o
Skyp – SP + Slaughterhouse
Brian – P&S (1Gf)
Jimmy – Ren + Fences(3)
Ron – Boar(2)
Geoff – 1G +PF
Skyp – Occ(1)/177/Wooden Hut
Brian – 1V
Jimmy – S&B (2Gf +1Vf +8f)
Ron – TP(5f)
Geoff – Fences(8)
Skyp – 1RSW
Brian – PF
Ron – Ren + Field (PF-1f)
Geoff – Animals (1sheep +1f)burn(2f)
Brian – Sheep(1)burn(2f)

Jimmy takes the woodpile, prepping for final renovation. Ron ropes in the last loose herd, removing his last major negative. Sans grain and too unnerved to take some, I take the easy three point growth, denying it to everyone else (this is also known as closing the barn door after the horse has escaped). Skyp plays a near-pointless Minor, not even bothering to squat on MIMI. Brian claims Plow`n’Sow, an acceptable screwage move, and Jimmy bumps his tiny hut to stone, maxing out his pastures in the process. Ron restocks his boar, and now I desperately snag a grain, if only to plow another field, hoping against hope that I’ll somehow be able to bake in my next turn. Skyp puts out a final Ock that, point-wise, transforms his wooden hut into a clay one. Brian scrounges for points, and Jimmy seals my fate by activating three more sown fields and simultaneously fulfilling his final feeding frenzy, pretty much driving me to effing distraction. Ron tightens the screws by clearing out the last available food reserves. Backed into a corner, I fence. Skyp grabs up unconventional foodstuffs, Brian plows a last field, and Ron upgrades to stone, plowing a last field as well. Brian and I end things with a final burst of animal extinction.

Final Scores (Occupations Played, Minor/Majors played) and Commentary
Ron – 40 (2 Occ, 4/1)
Jimmy – 33 (0 Occ, 3/1)
Brian – 33 (2 Occ, 3/1)
Geoff – 25 (1 Occ, 2/2)
Skyp – 14 (4 Occ, 6/2)

I’ll leave whatever other analyses I may have to those interested enough to parse them from the above session report. Skyp’s poor showing I attribute to his well-developed fear of begging cards, a handicap that I’ve been doing my best to coach him out of. I’d like to say own mediocre score hinged on spacing on the Round Five growth, but I’m wondering if that’s not more of an excuse than a reason. Brian, who did well enough to tie for second, could have done better if he hadn’t wasted his efforts building an unnecessary room in Round Five. Jimmy played quite well, despite his unorthodox (to us, and thus unopposed) strategy. I note with interest that he never once cooked animals for food. Whether this was accidental or purposeful, I can’t say at this time. Whatever it was, it worked. Ron’s play embodied his typical wood strategy. He took 27 sticks outright, plus two more from the mixed goods space, compared to the 14+4 that Skyp managed to take, or my horrendous 13+2. If you need a demonstration that getting a fair share of the wood is essential to scoring well, that’s it. Everything else was gilding the lily, to beat another metaphor to death.

As Brain drives us back to our staging area, which is to say my house, we chat about the game and our new gaming buddy.
“Jimmy’s pretty cool,” says Brian.
“Yeah,” says Skyp.
“No question,” I agree, “that he knew how to play.” As if the stacks of games in his living room weren’t a small hint. “I’m thinking next time he may well kick our butts, and I’m not talking about not letting us smoke cigarettes.”
“You shouldn’t smoke anyway. It’s bad for you,” Ron pipes up.
“Thank you, Dr. Ron,” say I.
“My pleasure,” he smirks.
“I guess being a Wiccan’s not all that bad after all,” says Brian.
“I dunno,” says Skyp. “Maybe he put a spell on us. Maybe that’s why I was nodding out near the end of the game.”
I look at him reprovingly. “Maybe it was because you drank so much soda pop you knocked your blood sugar levels for a loop.”
“Well, yeah, there’s that, too,” he admits.
“His wife and kids were nice,” says Ron.
We all agree. The rest of the trip to my house is made in relative silence, with the momentary exception of some spaced-out young nutjob who pulls up next to us at a stoplight, cranks up his already booming stereo, flashes us devil horns, grinning like a madman. Obviously, he wants to drag. We decline, watching with amusement as the kid peels rubber as soon as the red blinks to black (who needs green in Ohio?), tires shrieking, exhaust billowing, and the tail end of his truck slewing back and forth as he fights to stay in his lane. I vaguely remember being that callow once upon a time. And where’s somebody to put a hex on a maroon like that when you really need one?

We make it back to my place otherwise unscathed, and as we disembark from Brian’s car and disperse, I hear Skyp say to Ron, “Do you realize we completed a pentagram by playing with a fifth player?” I suppress a laugh, and turn toward my house.

Next report: Close But No Cigar, or Hey! Look at That! Skyp Didn’t Lose!

Thanks for reading, and as always, comments and questions will be cheerfully refunded!
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