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Subject: Overly Complex and Artificial rss

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Adam Field
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My first review on BGG

For context, I've played three or four games with three or four players, two with two players and twice in the solo mode, and I'm now ready to give my opinion on this game.

In a nutshell: Good, but overrated, overly complex and hard work.

Pros: I love the first player selection mechanism, and the fact that using the occupation and minor improvement cards means different resouces and action are of different values to each player. Being able to look at the farm you have crafted at the end of a game adds to the fun.

Cons: Rather than list all the cons, I'll focus on the biggest ones, which are the lack of anything approaching elegance in the game's design, the overheads of running a game and the stress in playing it.

Elegance is important, and if the central idea of the game is an elegant one, then you should be able to complete the design of the game without having to add layers of complexity just to make it work.

For example, the game runs over a certain number of turns, with harvests occurring more frequently as the game progresses. Why? To ensure balance. You need the time at the start of the game to build up your farm, and by the time the end of the game comes, your farm is producing enough to feed you in one turn rather than four. You can only ever collect one grain from the collect grain action, but if you get a sheep, you'll get one less than if you manage to get sheep next turn. Collecting resources are like this too - the longer you leave it, the more is on the square. Why? To ensure that enough of each resource enters the game. This artificial balancing pervades Agricola, and for me is the reason that it will never be a great game.

My second gripe with Agricola is that the set-up, pack-up and turn-start overhead are just far too high. This touches somewhat on the lack of elegance in the game. Agricola is essentially a big box of stuff, all stuck in hundreds of poly-bags. Setting up a game takes about 15 minutes, packing a little more and every turn there's an overhead for looking after the board. Harvests are particularly bad for this.

Finally, and this is more of an 'our game group' thing, I just find Agricola stressful to play. It's like doing work. It may be that this is because it's one of the heaviest games we play, but there's a lot of thought that needs to go into analysing which action will be best for you, worst for your competition, and which ones are likely to still be there when your turn comes around again. I find a four player game, lasting two hours, to be an exhausting ordeal.

Having said that, it's a solid game, and I'm happy that I'll play it occasionally, but it will never get as much time as Puerto Rico, which is similar in concept but far more elegant in execution. Now *that* game is a joy to play.

What mystifies me is why Agricola is #1.

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Eric Jome
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Adam, this is a fantastic review. That is, without regards to the opinion you express here, you've really done a great job writing a useful review. Good work.
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Dan Silverman
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I understand your second point perfectly, and your first one to a certain extent.

What I'm wondering about is the stress part. What is the difference, in your mind, between stress and tension? From what you wrote, something like Power Grid would be equally stressful, with vast amounts of balance and "will they auction this power plant" and so on. I guess I just don't quite see why this is a complaint, rather than a note about it being longer than you necessarily prefer in a game, which I can understand just fine.

Also, Advanced Civilization is probably not the game for you, if you don't like 2+ hour games.

edit: Agreeing with the previous comment, though. Well-written, regardless of my personal opinions.
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Adam Field
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Quote:
What I'm wondering about is the stress part. What is the difference, in your mind, between stress and tension? From what you wrote, something like Power Grid would be equally stressful, with vast amounts of balance and "will they auction this power plant" and so on. I guess I just don't quite see why this is a complaint, rather than a note about it being longer than you necessarily prefer in a game, which I can understand just fine.


The difference is that in Power Grid (another game I *love*) the layers of complexity built into the game are primarily to prevent runaway leaders. I'll grant you that Power Grid isn't a perfectly elegant game, and there are turn overheads to it, but it gets a lot closer to elegance than Agricola.

In Power Grid, if someone gets the power plant that you want, you can always get a different one (unless you're playing the China expansion board - which comes highly recommended). If someone builds in the spot that you want, you can always build somewhere else (unless phases 2 or 3 have just been triggered and all cities have been built on once/twice), it will just be more expensive.

In Agricola, once the wood has gone, there's no more wood. If you can't harvest enough wood, it may affect the development of your farm for turns to come. Wood is really important early on to expand your house and to build fences. But if you get the wood, you may not be able to get the sheep, and then how are you going to feed your family?

Agricola strikes me as a game built of agonising choices, rather than a game containing agonising choices. As I mentioned in the review, this is just the preference of neither myself nor the people I game with.

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Nick Kosareo
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Kudos for a well thought out review. I hope you don't get any backlash on your opinion. It's a perfectly valid one (I've said time and time again that the fiddliness and time commitment prevent Agricola from being played commonly in my group).

I always find it strange to play Bohnanza and then Agricola and see how much less polished Agricola feels.
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mike christiansen
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Excellent review. You were clear without taking up 2000 words.

I know what you are saying on this. Powergrid is the same thing for me. Its just not fun enough for the stress at my table. I would still like Agricola, but you have lowered my expectations.
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Adam Field
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Quote:
I guess I just don't quite see why this is a complaint, rather than a note about it being longer than you necessarily prefer in a game, which I can understand just fine.


I don't mind two-hour games. What I'm saying is that I find a two-hour game of Agricola to be an ordeal.

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How odd - "elegant" is a word I use regularly when describing Agricola.

It's a complex game, but easy to teach and for new players to pick up, as none of the individual steps in playing are hard. Tricky design problems, such as how to ratchet up the pressure on players to feed their families, are resolved simply - "elegantly" - by reducing the number of turns between harvests. No horribly complex rule exceptions here.

The game functions like a well-engineered piece of clockwork. Put it down - set it in motion - watch it run - marvel at its efficiency!

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gobfrey wrote:

Agricola strikes me as a game built of agonizing choices, rather than a game containing agonizing choices.
I think this is a big part of what turned me off with this game. I'm not against making tough choices, in fact I think it's fun in the right context, but Agricola is nothing but rough choices and after a while it's just no darned fun. And the rewards for making those choices suck, the whole darned game seemed like an endless exercise in 'just barely making it.'
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Adam Field
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Quote:
It's a complex game...


OK, elegance is an overloaded concept. People use it to mean different things. To clarify:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elegance - Elegance is the attribute of being unusually effective and simple.

This is what I mean.

I agree with you that it's like a piece of clockwork. I'm sure they must have used computer simulation to get everything to interact so well. And marvel I do at how such a complex system can be brought together with balance. And while each rule is simple and easy to explain, the system as a whole is not simple, and therefore not elegant.

An elegantly designed timepiece is one that can tell the time just as accurately, but with fewer cogs. Agricola, in my opinion, has far too many cogs!

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gobfrey wrote:
My first review on BGG
Cons: Rather than list all the cons, I'll focus on the biggest ones, which are the lack of anything approaching elegance in the game's design, the overheads of running a game and the stress in playing it.

Elegance is important, and if the central idea of the game is an elegant one, then you should be able to complete the design of the game without having to add layers of complexity just to make it work.


If you want to play something elegant, I would play Puerto Rico. I enjoy both Agricola and Puerto Rico for very different reasons. I have to say that PR is by far the more elegant game. There is less downtime, less brain burn, and the layers of strategy and interaction to the game are just as rich as that of Agricola w/o being overly complicated.

There are two things that I have issue with Agricola:
a) Difficult to teach and grasp than Agricola to new or light weight players (there is a lot of information you require to play the game)
b) Long term strategies in Agricola are difficult to grasp for new or light weight players. This is due to:
- Complex decision matrix
- The distance between the interaction of actions and the end game scoring

PR solves both these issues:
a) There are only 7 actions (and always 7 actions). Its easy to explain and after the first 3 turns of a game. Everyone knows what each of the roles do.
b) Decisions that are made by a player have a direct correlation between
the action and the end game/player strategy. Its much easier to grasp player interaction in PR. You have a direct impact on your opponent by denying shipping, or buying a building before them, or taking an action to optimize the number of victory points you have. Victory Points are gained incrementally, and once you have them, you have them. In Agricola you are continously trading VP for to run your Farm engine. This is a difficult concept to grasp for some people.

Not that I don't enjoy Agricola. I think that its a great game. Its just not for everyone and its not as elegant as PR.
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Ken K
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Quote:
...with harvests occurring more frequently as the game progresses. Why?


Obviously the planet of Agricola is spiraling toward the sun, thus shortening each season.

You didn't even mention that you can put your presumably three month old baby to harvest wood and gather stone. These aren't medieval humans.

I love this game.

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bryden
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Comment to the original post:

You are where I was over a year ago.

I played Agricola solid for about 2-3 weeks. I mean, no other game was played. I was not getting it. I felt like all I was doing was managing the game elements. It felt like work.

I went back to Puerto Rico and it was like coming home. Agricola sat on the shelf for a bit.

I came back to it about a month later and set up an organization system for all of the components and the "game" was reborn. It is my current favorite due to the variety in each game.

I am not one to get hung up on theme or it is the "in thing". It took me 6 months to decide to buy Agricola and it has paid back the expense of the game in my mind. I want a good game that will get played.

I feel that Agricola is and has. The ranking is the ranking. This should not sway your opinion. I do not own all of the games in the top 10 because everyone else thinks they are great. I own 4-5 of them because I enjoy those types of games. The others are not my thing and I will likely never buy them. This does not make them bad games and nor should I publically trash them.

This does not change my opinion of Puerto Rico or other games that I own.

I agree that Puerto Rico has a certain elegance about the way that it plays. It is a unique game.



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A H
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I'm using the same definition - I just disagree, strongly, with your conclusion.

For what it achieves, I feel that Agricola is, precisely, unusually effective and simple.
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Mike Betzel
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I fully agree on the "stressfulness" of Agricola. There aren't many turns and as you mentioned the game accelerates with harvests coming more frequently. Your first few turns are spent getting your infrastructure in place and often you don't feel like you've accomplished a whole lot. Then all of a sudden in the last few rounds you have more family members and can get more done. If you haven't got up and running by that point, though, you are doomed.

The other thing that makes Agricola stressful is that anything you don't accomplish in the game costs you points. You need to do a little bit of everything to even be competitive. Most games allow you to focus on a single aspect or two and pursue those to victory. In Agricola you need to figure out what internal machine you can build up that'll let you do everything. Also, many Euros are all about earning points as you go, but again in Agricola you'll actually lose points for things you neglected and for failing to feed your family. You aren't just trying to earn points, you need to work from losing the ones you've managed to earn so far! All of these factors really come together to make the game stressful and feel like "work".

Oddly enough one of my highest scoring games of Agricola was my first! I didn't know enough about the game mechanics and just sort of did whatever seemed best at the time and I did pretty well. Every game after that I find myself focusing too much on the aspects I ignored last time, meaning different things get neglected and points foregone.

As I've played more I've started to see that you really just have to take what you can get when you can get it. Focus too much on one thing and you'll miss out on everything else. A little bit of this here, a little bit of that there; just make sure you get at least one extra family member along the way

Agricola isn't quite your normal Euro and I can fully understand why someone might not enjoy it. In fact my feelings still aren't solidified. Sometimes I enjoy playing, other times it's just way too much work and not enough fun.
 
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cold_fuzion wrote:
gobfrey wrote:

Agricola strikes me as a game built of agonizing choices, rather than a game containing agonizing choices.
I think this is a big part of what turned me off with this game. I'm not against making tough choices, in fact I think it's fun in the right context, but Agricola is nothing but rough choices and after a while it's just no darned fun. And the rewards for making those choices suck, the whole darned game seemed like an endless exercise in 'just barely making it.'


    This is my fundamental issue with "worker placement" which is currently the darling of the game mechanics. Too often your decision boils down to mathematically analyzing every single option available and finding the "least worst" of them to take. I don't understand why it's so popular. It's a lesson in heartbreak turn after turn.

    Power Grid presents a map of options -- something that is a real strength in a game with a geometric element to it. The location you have in mind may become unavailable on short notice, but you are able to spatially eliminate vast parts of the board visually and then focus in a detailed fashion on the one or two plausible options that will allow you to continue on your chosen path. Tikal presents this, Settlers, Ticket to Ride, Thurns & Taxis, even Blokus provides an array of options. Every wargame ever invented does too. These are the games that provide the intensity to me without the frustration of the guy to your right taking what you want each turn.

    Role Selection takes away options for no "elegant" reason and in my opinion isn't always pleasant. But it's bearable when done right. Worker placement is just pain on a stick and I don't understand why everyone gets so fired up about it.

    One last thing -- can you describe to me the difference between your use of the word "elegant" and the idea of a simple ruleset? They seem largely synonymous, though some of your discussion seems to indicate that you consider theme an important factor in its makeup.

             Sag.


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Adam Field
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Quote:
One last thing -- can you describe to me the difference between your use of the word "elegant" and the idea of a simple ruleset? They seem largely synonymous, though some of your discussion seems to indicate that you consider theme an important factor in its makeup.


Elegance is about how the game elements fit together. It's not about how simple each individual rule is; I can quite easily express extremely inelegant concepts using elegant language. It's about the system, and how the rules interact.

And yes, matching the theme is very important to me. I can forgive the game for allowing me to send out my 3-month-old baby to harvest the grain (because how else can you grow your family), but the ever shortening years and the the fact that two sheep breed as many lambs as ten sheep are sloppy game design.

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Thank you for a fantastic review.
Whilst I don't necessarily agree with everything you've written, you have expressed your opinion in a thoughtful and clear way, without resorting to cheap shots.
If only there were more reviews of this nature, rather than the usual restating of the rules which frequently happens.

Thank you
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matthewgeom wrote:
Thank you for a fantastic review.
Whilst I don't necessarily agree with everything you've written, you have expressed your opinion in a thoughtful and clear way, without resorting to cheap shots.
If only there were more reviews of this nature, rather than the usual restating of the rules which frequently happens.

Thank you
I usually try to refrain from restating the rules when I write reviews, but they usually get rejected for not stating the rules of the game. I don't bother writing reviews very often anymore.
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Let me preface my statements by stating that Agricola isn't my most favorite game in the world, either.

If you find Agricola to be overly complex and having too much "overhead", then for God's sake, whatever you do, don't even think about playing the likes of Roads & Boats or Antiquity. In comparison, Agricola looks elegant as hell, so it's all a matter of perspective.

Quote:
You can only ever collect one grain from the collect grain action, but if you get a sheep, you'll get one less than if you manage to get sheep next turn.


That isn't necessarily true. If you manage to get sheep next turn, there's a greater likelihood that you again will only have one available to you. It is only in the less likely event that nobody took sheep the previous turn, that you can get more than one.

You compare it to Power Grid, and being able to buy some other power plant, but, "In Agricola, once the wood has gone, there's no more wood." Correction - there's no more wood this turn.

Yet once someone takes the last coal in Power Grid, there's no more coal this turn. Once someone takes the only power plant available that powers enough cities to make it worthwhile, there's no more power plants you want. (And how many dozens of times has this been the case in games I've played?)

Once someone takes Boston, there's no more Boston. Not until the next slot on Boston opens up, which could be several turns away.

You also talk about "artificial balancing" being pervasive in the game, which strikes me as being a little ironic, when I consider Power Grid to pretty much be the poster child for "artificial balancing". (I say this as a fan of Power Grid, but knowing its nature.)

Having said all this, I'll reiterate - Agricola doesn't exactly blow my skirt up. Frankly, I'm not enamored with any game system wherein my choices from turn to turn are reduced for me in semi-chaotic fashion, by the players who go before me (which, again ironically, is what ruined Puerto Rico for me, too). This reduces any illusion of planning to the reality of contingency planning, turn after turn. If you can string together enough contingency actions in a semi-coherent fashion (or the players in your group are unconscious), then you can fare better than your opponents. But that is not to say such an endeavor is what I define as "enjoyable", and I can see how it would seem stressful to you,
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Matt Lee
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gobfrey wrote:

What mystifies me is why Agricola is #1.


While I disagree with some of your opinions, but felt they were well explained, I felt this line took away a bit of your credibility. Clearly, enough people felt that the game worked well enough for them that the rankings here reflected a higher "happiness" rating than any other game at the moment, but since it is somewhat arbitrary and subject to opinions only, it seems odd that your well reasoned opinions are closed with such a subjective question that hurts your reasoned arguments.

In particular, I note the "stressful" comment is something that can be argued about games that you like better. Power Grid is just as stressful to people who hate doing so much math (and woe unto them if someone tried to throw Illuminati at them!), and to others, that stress is enjoyable. Hence the cries of 10s and 1s that forever haunt every single game on this site.
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Andreas Krüger
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Quote:
Having said that, it's a solid game, and I'm happy that I'll play it occasionally, but it will never get as much time as Puerto Rico, which is similar in concept but far more elegant in execution. Now *that* game is a joy to play.

What mystifies me is why Agricola is #1.


For me, PR is more difficult to play because it is hard to see who will benefit the most from an action. An Agricola action is mine alone, which makes it easier.
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gobfrey wrote:
but the ever shortening years and the the fact that two sheep breed as many lambs as ten sheep are sloppy game design.

Certainly you're entitled to your opinion, and you've hashed up a few cons that most of the people I play with ignore because they love Agricola, but this last statement's too much. It would be sloppy game design IF sheep bred one-to-one and the years were the same length. But it's not sloppy game design if it keeps the game tight (you've said so yourself). And sure it's annoying if someone else takes your action, and even unrealistic that you can't cut wood if your neighbor does too, but the elegance of Agricola is that you can probably get it later. There is always a path to victory and it's unlikely you can be blocked out of competing.

What you mean to say is that it is unrealistic. Agreed. But it's not sloppy, and you shouldn't be heaving insults around when this "artificial balance" is found in other games that you favor. Power Grid has an unrealistic player turn system, but it works great for the game. Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn't be more realistic (and maybe even fun) if players bid to have the first turn for commodities buying and power station purchasing.

Anyway, I hope you give the game a few more chances. It really does vary a great deal more from play to play than Power Grid and PR. I've seen each resource be scarce in one game and plentiful in another. But let's reserve the insults for games that deserve them. Potions is sloppy game design. Not Agricola.
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Andreas Krüger
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Quote:
Role Selection takes away options for no "elegant" reason and in my opinion isn't always pleasant. But it's bearable when done right. Worker placement is just pain on a stick and I don't understand why everyone gets so fired up about it.


Er... What is the difference?
 
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    Generally role selection gives you some level of action to work with while worker placement generally boxes you out of a position completely. Neither are favorites of mine.

             Sag.


 
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