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Subject: Third Time Pays For All, or MisterG vs Ronbo: The Tiebreaker rss

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Geoff Burkman
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Anyone who’s played Agricola more than a few times quickly comes to realize the equivalence of food, actions, and victory points. The relationship can be very roughly expressed as Food Expended = Actions Taken = Score, or FEATS, as I like to call it, as in “Feats, Don’t Fail Me Now!” This algorithm will, of course, vary from game to game depending on what cards are played and what sort of efficiencies can be achieved, as well as what measures the opposition takes, but as a general rule of thumb, it holds up pretty well. Food equals actions equals points. Learn it, live it, love it.

What throws many players, at least in the initial experience of learning the game, is that actions cost less food in the early Stages than the later ones. In Stage One, with rare exceptions like the appearance of the Lover or the use of the Winter Action in the “Through the Seasons” variant, actions only cost a half a food, while in the last Stage, each action costs as much as two food, again with certain exceptions. That escalating cost is precisely the reason that players are forced to establish some sort of food engine, be it via baking grain, cooking animals or vegetables, or using sources like the Fish Pond, Day Laborer, or some sort of card-enhanced stratagem.

Met for the third time on the fallow fields of Agricola, Ron and I once again played with a deal-ten-drop-three draft. Sorry to say, I came up pretty empty as far as Minor Imps go, and in fact never played any of the “permanent” ones I had. Oddly enough, the “passable” ones I owned served me quite nicely. Even more oddly, Ron never played any of his permanent Minor Imps either. All in all, ‘twas passing strange indeed! The only two Minors that saw action were Building Material and the Field. How many times does that happen?

Enough blather; let’s see what happened…

Round One/Sow & Bake
Ron – Occ/Field Watchman
Geoff – 3W(3)
Ron – 1G + PF
Geoff – SP + Field> (PF-1f)

Ron opens the proceedings with the (somewhat) dreaded Field Watchman, a quite powerful Ock for those intent upon setting up a strong grain/food engine. I counter with a simple wood grab. Ron then breaks himself even on his Ock, and I take the button, coughing up a food for a pass-along field of my own, setting myself up for stacked reed. My intentions are quite plain: I’m going to build a room and expand as soon as possible, having been spanked last game for failing to do so.

Round Two/MIMI
Geoff – 1R(2)
Ron – 1C(2)
Geoff – Occ/Wood Collector (5W>
Ron – MIMI/Fp2

MIMI says hello, the reed is mine, and Ron predictably swipes the clay. I get out the only Ock I have that’s worthy of early play, a long-term 5Wood, and Ron even more predictably buys his fireplace, absolutely no surprise there beyond a raised eyebrow at his not retaking the button to gain next Round’s 6Wood. Usually wood mania outstrips any other impulse Ron has in the game, but he’s also very big on an early cookery, so like I said, no surprise. I’m always willing to take advantage of an opponent’s oversight.

Round Three/Sheep
Geoff – 3W(6)
Ron – Occ(1)/Clay Worker
Geoff – 1G
Ron – SP + Field> (PF-1f)

Naturally, I fall upon the wood. Ron now seemingly forgets about his Watchman and pops out another Ock, one that provides him a long-term 5Clay. Not awful, but I’m thinking he’d have been better off taking advantage of that Watchman. Instead, he ignores it until the final Round of the game. Of course, I encourage this by immediately claiming a grain with my second peep. Unperturbed, Ron now nabs the button, sending the Minor field back to me. Fair enough, I can live with that.

Round Four/Fences
Ron – Fish(4f)
Geoff – DL(2f)
Ron – 1R(2)
Geoff – BR(1) +2s

Now Ron gets sneaky, emptying the fish pond and pretty much forcing me to hit up Day Laborer in order to feed my family. Fair enough again; I’m wise to his wily ways. He then gloms the stacked reed (so much for a double build for moi), and I crank out a room, along with a pair of stables. How will Ron respond to the sheep threat? We shall see, soon enough. Dudes home, and fed.

Round Five/Stone
Ron – 3W(6) +1C
Geoff – Sheep(3)
Ron – 1C(3+1)
Geoff – SP + Building Material> (1C)

Tempting as the woolies must surely be, Ron cannot resist the stacked wood, especially with its clay bonus. I bopeep the little beggars, tails wagging. Ron piles up the clay, and I take the button away from him again, picking up a clay that he’s otherwise seemingly determined to never let me have. That’s okay; two can play at that sort of game.

Round Six/Family Growth + MI
Geoff – 1R(2)
Ron – 3W(3) +1C
Geoff – FG + x
Ron – Occ(1G)/Bricklayer

Quite naturally, I claim the stacked reed, the rarest commodity in the game. Ron gathers in more wood and the bonus clay, still ignoring his Watchman, as well as the potential of a button grab. I add a worker to my family, sans Minor. I could play the Spit Roast, but truth is I don’t want to spare the wood; I’m going to need every stick I can get for my next room. Ron drops down the Bricklayer, a fine complement to his enhanced clay-gathering abilities, but again, a button grab would have left him in a much better position, imnsho. My ability to feed my family is unassailable, but he could deny me the stone next Round, which would certainly be a hindrance to my rather transparent plans.

Round Seven/Renovation + MIMI
Geoff – Fish(3f)
Ron – Sheep(2)burn2
Geoff – 1S(3)
Ron – Ren>C + Fp>CH4
Geoff – MIMI/Stone Oven (4f)

Preferring not to offer up my sheep to the gods, I fish. Ron has no similar ovine mercies, and a compelling reason against them: he needs to feed. I snap up the bargain stone. Ron knows the Well can be mine if I want it, but instead of blocking MIMI and making life difficult for me, he chooses to renovate his hut, bumping his fireplace to a hearth in the process. Relieved that I’m not going to have to visit Day Laborer and sacrifice my grain to feed my family, I go ahead and procure the Stone Oven, turning that lonely grain into plentiful, delicious bread. My family is fed with one to spare, and my newborn wooly scampers off into the wilderness, since I have yet to acquire a cookery. Just don’t wander back too close, little sheep, or the big, bad wolf is gonna getcha…

Round Eight/Boar
Geoff – 1C(3)
Ron – 3W(6) +1C
Geoff – MIMI/Fp2
Ron – 1R(2)
Geoff – 1G

Having been reminded that my food engine needs some bite to it, I take the clay, which also serves to derail Ron’s hut-building opportunities. Sweet! Ron vengefully sweeps in the 6Wood plus. I build a fireplace—no more Mr. Nice Guy, li’l woolies!—Ron nabs another stack of reed, and I pick up another grain.

Round Nine/Vegetables
Geoff – Boar(2)burn3sheep
Ron – Sheep(2)burn2
Geoff – BR(1)
Ron – Fences(15)
Geoff – FG + x

Much as I’d like to crank out another room, I simply have to assure myself food for three without, if you’ll pardon the expression, giving away the farm. I capture the boar and slaughter the sheep. Sorry, but I warned ‘em. Ron must be thinking the same thing, since he bypasses building a clay room (he has enough clay thanks to his Bricklayer) and pulls a “Mars Attacks” on the sheep. Perhaps he didn’t trust me to leave them alone if he went for the room—and he would have been right! Ack! Ack! Ack! Ack! I have every reason to build now, and do so, following up with Family Growth after Ron fences. I’m almost starting to feel sorry for his poor, seemingly useless Field Watchman. Almost.

Round Ten/Cattle
Geoff – 1G
Ron – 3W(6) +1C
Geoff – 1V
Ron – BR(1) +3s
Geoff – PF
Geoff – S&B (1Gf/1Vf +4f)

Time now to be offensively defensive: I snag a simple grain, once again denying Ron’s Watchman its due. Ron clears the 6Wood, seeking stabilization. Get it? Get it? Oh, never mind. I glom a veggie, and Ron finally enjoys the luxury of building a room, along with a trio of stables. I wrap the Round up with another plowed field, and a nice, utilitarian Sow & Bake. Things are looking very copasetic on my farm.

Round Eleven/Stone
Geoff – 1S(4)
Ron – Cattle(2)
Geoff – 1R(3)
Ron – FG + Building Material> (1C)
Geoff – 1C(3)
Geoff – Ren>C + Fp>CH5

Much as I’d love to deny Ron the double-stacked reed, another potential room, I can’t ignore the superb value of a 4Stone. It has renovation spelled all over it, or the Well, if I so choose. But truthfully, it’s the renovation that’s of paramount importance. Then, Ron surprises me by snagging cattle instead of the reed. It’ll mean three points down the line, and a 4food, but I’m still a bit nonplussed, though not enough to resist scooping up the beckoning reed. Ron at long last hires on a third peep, tossing the traveling Minor back to me for a clay he never uses. I think at this point he’s recognized the writing on the wall. He’s certainly going to by the end of the next Round. I scarf the 3Clay, renovate, and claim the other hearth, a most timely acquisition that will mean one critical extra food very shortly. Dudes home, jiggety-jig, and we scramble to placate the gods of subsistence. Now I see why Ron was practically forced to take the cattle: he has to burn them both to provide for his newly expanded troop. I sacrifice a raw grain and a torched piggy to satisfy my own family. Life is tough at times. We move into the endgame.

Round Twelve/Plow & Sow
Geoff – 3W(6)
Ron – Boar(3)
Geoff – (burn1boar) Ren >S + Field> (PF-1f)
Ron – Sheep(3)
Geoff – Occ(1)/Mason (1StoneRoom)
Ron – Fish(5f)
Geoff – FG + Building Material> (1W)

For once, my first play is as forced as forced can be. I have to think about fencing and think about it now, or risk a punitive strike by Ron. He probably has no genuine use for wood (having already converted to clay and built max fences), but it’s possible he has a Minor or two that need wood, and there’s always the Joinery to consider. I take the 6Wood; I simply can’t afford not to. Ron herds boar while I slaughter one to pay for another field as I renovate to stone. Ron herds sheep, and I unleash the Mason. Ron sighs and fishes, my workforce expands, with a stick of wood to boot. There was really nothing he could have done to stop me.

Round Thirteen/Family Growth w/o
Geoff – 1G
Ron – Cattle(2)
Geoff – P&S (1Gf/1Vf)
Ron – 1V
Geoff – Occ(1)/Master Builder (1StoneRoom)
Ron – FG w/o
Geoff – 1S(3)
Geoff – MIMI/Well (1f>

Again I cramp Ron’s style by taking the grain. He brings home the beef, forlorn. I sow a few fields, he eliminates a negative, and I use the last of my fresh ham to build my sixth stone room, something I haven’t accomplished in scores of games (if ever). Disconsolate, Ron hires on a cheap peep. I close out the Round securing the Well. It costs me a veggie, two boar, and a grain to feed my dudes, which is fine by me. The points lost are more than fair payment for the ones I’ve gained.

Round Fourteen/Renovation + Fences
Geoff – P&S (1Gf/1Vf)
Ron – 1G + PF
Geoff – 3W(6)
Ron – PF
Geoff – Boar(2)
Ron – 1V
Geoff – Fences(12)
Ron – S&B (2Vf/1Gf)
Geoff – Sheep(2)

The final Round is a flurry of negatives elimination. Ron knows he can mess with my fencing plans, but chooses to boost his own score as much as possible, rather than try to deflate mine. It wouldn’t make any great difference. Due to a slight miscalculation, my array of rooms and fields keeps me from maximizing pastures when I fence, but no matter. Dudes home, rack ‘em and stack ‘em. My dinner menu comprises a veritable culinary trifecta: one each of grain, veggie, boar, sheep and food. Can’t say I’ve ever done that before. Ron puts two boar and a sheep to the knife to sate his own crew’s appetites. A quick survey of the boards tells the tale…

Final Score (Occupations Played, Minors/Majors Played)(Wood taken/bonus)(Rounds as Starting Player)(Total Primary/Secondary/Tertiary Actions)(Points Per Primary Action)

Geoff – 49 (3 Occ, 4/3)(21/6)(11)(43/6/0)(1.140)
Ron – 36 (3 Occ, 2/1)(21/0)(3)(32/4/6)(1.125)

Note how close we both came to the FEATS algorithm: I spent 47 food, and Ron spent 35 food. The extra food that I generated (and spent) stemmed from one thing. I grew as early as I could, and used that multiplier to grow again and again. Increasing one’s actions is the key to this game, and that first growth, as many writers on these boards have described, is of primary importance. You simply cannot afford to fool around; if you don’t have a third peep by the end of Stage Two, or at very worst Stage Three, you are most likely going to lose to the player who does. You don’t have to be the first to grow (and the more players there are in the game, the more latitude in this you have), but you’d best not be too far behind. By the time we got to the endgame (the last three Rounds), Ron was laboring under a seven-action deficit, a handicap virtually impossible to overcome.

How did this happen? Mostly, it was due to a lack of focus on Ron’s part. His initial play of the Field Watchman was a decent one. It’s a strong Ock—I think we all know that by now—but it has to be used, or it’s worthless. Ron could have had a nice grain engine going by the end of Stage One, but he shifted his efforts to obtaining a fireplace that he didn’t use for five Rounds, then shifted again to building a clay engine, and at that, one that wasn’t strong enough to really support early renovation to clay. Further, he ignored getting a room built in Round Five or Six, a near-unpardonable sin given that he had all the requisite tools at hand. It’s one thing to adapt to an opponent’s moves; it’s another thing entirely to constantly shift focus willy-nilly. This was a game I would have dearly loved to play again, with each player playing the opponent’s hand. I feel certain I could have done far better with Ron’s holdings than he managed himself.

Ron’s first major misstep came in Round Two, I believe, when he marked time picking up a premature fireplace. I think he’d have been much better off had he popped out the Clay Worker right then, and then snagged the button to get the 6Wood in Round Three. From there, he could have put the Watchman to work, gotten his grain engine going, picked up his fireplace (or with any luck, a hearth in one shot), and gotten to work on an oven in Stage Two. His build-and-grow routine would be one step behind mine, but that handicap would have been far from insurmountable. Alternatively, he could have saved the Watchman for his late game efforts, gotten the Clay Worker and Bricklayer out earlier, and concentrated on a clay machine. But, to misquote Cornelius Ryan, he “went an Occupation too far.” He bit off more than he could chew, and it cost him any chance at the win.

As always, I hope Constant Reader enjoyed this account. Stay tuned next week for “Takin’ Care of Business All the Time, or MisterG and the Pieceworker Meet JimmyO and the Bricklayer.”
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