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Subject: Helping First Time Players Understand Agricola rss

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Clayton Ingalls
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I am always trying to figure out how to explain complex games so that new players can understand the basics well enough to play the game. When I explain a game for the first time I usually use the following order.

1. Explain the theme. What are we supposedly doing?
2. How do you win? You need this many points.
3. Tell how long it will take. 1-2 hours.
4. Explain all the rules. Here are the details and they will overwhelm you.
5. Summarize. Take all those details and turn them into the 3 or 4 things that the new person needs to know.

In this review I am going to do an abbreviated version of this process, then give my thoughts on what new players will like or dislike about the game. I am not going to do a full review explaining all the pieces and all the rules. There are plenty of reviews that do that. If you are looking to learn the game I recommend a full video review. These two are both very thorough.

http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/334149 (30 min)
http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/309019 (20 min)

Intro: The Theme
In Agricola you are small farming family trying to build up your farm, family, and fortune. You’ll never become the lord of the manor, but you might push through to become a middle class peasant.

How do you win?
You have the most points at the end of the game. It will take a little more than 30 minutes per person the first time you play.

The Board and Rules
The game takes up a rather large amount space, but I’ve got a big kitchen table. There is a central board that has all the possible actions on it. There is also a board with major improvements to buy, which help with food production to feed that family of yours. Finally, each player has a personal board, which is your house and farm.

To start the game each player has a husband and wife piece. Starting with the first player and going around the table, each person chooses an action to take. At the beginning of the game there are a limited number of actions, but as the game progresses a new action is added each round. Actions include taking resources or animals, building fences and rooms, doing a little home improvement, planting your fields, baking bread, and so forth.

The first time you play the game the number of options can get a little overwhelming. It doesn’t need to be. It is actually rather easy. One family member takes one action. Eventually you will want to build some sort of strategy, but the first time you play you can start by simply randomly choosing an open action. As the game progresses you will build a strategy. You won’t beat an experienced player this way, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?

There are several phases during the game and after each phase there is a harvest phase. During this phase you harvest your fields, you feed your family, and your animals have cute little baby animals. After the final harvest phase the game ends and you count up points.

Summarize: Basic Strategy for beginners
1. You need food. During the harvest phase each family member requires 2 food. The penalty for not having enough food is -3 pts per food you don’t have. 3 points is a lot. If this happens more than once you will lose the game. So you need to figure out a way to produce food. You can use an action to take food. The grain and veggies in your supply can be food. But most importantly, major improvements (fireplaces, ovens, etc) can turn your plants, veggies, animals, and resources into food. You will probably need one of these as you add members to your family.

2. Each family member is worth 3 points. Remember what I said earlier about that being a lot? A bigger family means lots of points and lots of actions taken.

3. Get a little bit of everything. You get negative points for not having pretty much anything in the game. Negative points are bad. If your opponent gets 1 point and you get -1 point, then that is a 2 point difference. That adds up quickly. Try not to get negative points.

4. Use your occupations and minor improvement that help you do 1-3.

What will you like about the game?
1. Balance. I hadn’t ever thought about whether a game was balanced or not before I played Agricola, because it just didn’t come up. The first time I played the game I kept talking about how balanced it is. If you push too hard in one area it means you suffer in other areas. The small penalty for not growing in a given area is just enough to make you need to work towards it. I once played the game and actually got a final score of -2 points because I set out on a path that led to imbalance.

2. You feel like you are doing what the game says you are doing. Some games’ themes are just thrown on top an already designed game. Everything about this game makes you feel like you are working your little farm. It is great.

3. Easy to learn. There may be a lot to learn in time, but the rules are actually pretty simple. Each of your family members get one action per turn. That is all you need to know to get started. The rest can be explained along the way.

What you might not like?
1. Stress! Have you ever felt like you just needed a few more hours in the day? That is what Agricola feels like. You will never get everything done that you want to get done. Because of this I usually feel like I’m losing, even when I’m winning. The whole game you feel like you are trying to catch up and get a break. But that is the life of a poverty stricken peasant, I suppose. Remember, I said it feels like you are doing this stuff.

2. Lack of player interaction. Although the actions you choose affect what actions other players choose, this isn’t a game that has high player interaction. It isn’t full on multiplayer solitaire, but it sometimes feels like it. I don’t mind it, but you might.

3. Setup and Take down
Agricola has a lot of pieces and cards. It takes a while to set the game up, to pour out all the pieces and get it all organized. We have come up with a great solution to this. We got a muffin pan with 12 spaces for muffins. Then we filled each tin with a different resource or animal or whatever. Now when we pull out the game we just have to lay out the board and cards and pull out the muffin pan. It saves a lot of time.

Final Thoughts
After playing this game many times I understand why it ranks number 1 here on the Geek (as of this writing it is edging out Puerto Rice by only 0.04 pts). It is all about the balance. No single move or path is going to win the game. It is only when you manage several paths well that you will begin to master it.

I have played this as 2-player at least twice as many times than with 3 or more players. It is true that there is more variety with more players, but it also takes a lot longer. Nothing significant is lost when playing this as a 2-player game. And you can play twice as many games in the same amount of time.

My final rating is thumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsupthumbsup. I thoroughly enjoy this game and at the writing of this review, I prefer it over any other game I own.

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Scooter
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Thanks for taking the time to put this together. I'm going to be playing Agricola with 2 new players tomorrow and I will be printing this review for my introduction of the game. Very well phrased summary and basic rules descriptions.

Thanks! thumbsup from me!
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C.J. Dunlap
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I've tried explaining this game to about a dozen people now, and I feel like everything you said is usually in my explanation. Next time I'll just pull this up!
 
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Gordon Adams
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Great introduction for new players.

There is one addition I would have added: the errata. It might confuse a novice. It did me !

Regards
 
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Sean
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jpseasia wrote:

1. Stress! Have you ever felt like you just needed a few more hours in the day? That is what Agricola feels like. You will never get everything done that you want to get done. Because of this I usually feel like I’m losing, even when I’m winning. The whole game you feel like you are trying to catch up and get a break.



Very well put. And I think this portion hits the nail on the head. It has proven to be the most important "disclaimer" for a new player in my experience: you will feel like you're losing.
 
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Christian Cheevers
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Great Review. I also did a review of Agricola but in a Kids point of view. If you want to see here my review.http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/399732.
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B C Z
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I always start with:

This is a game about not starving.

And then do pretty much what you've stated.

I also point out that the major improvements are all ways to generate food and that everyone really needs to get one of them unless they get a card in hand that does the job instead.
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Geoff Burkman
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Nice review/overview. Covers most all the bases. I've never really had the chance to teach the game to newbies, but if I ever do, I'm going to belabor them with the FEATS algorithm: Food Expended = Actions Taken = Score. The only thing potentially misleading about this equation is that the emphasis should be on gaining actions, rather than gaining food. You simply must gain actions to improve your score, and consequently must gain food to pay for those actions. Worse, these gains must be achieved, if not simultaneously, at least concurrently. As you point out, it's a challenging balancing act.
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Geoff Burkman
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I should also mention that I disagree with your assessment of low player interaction. The interaction is encompassed by the mechanic of alternating exclusive action selection. It's indirect, but rather high, in my estimation.
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Peter White
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byronczimmer wrote:

This is a game about not starving.


That would be a good #1.

Point #2 is this is a game about building an impressive farm. Diversity is the easiest way to make the farm impressive. Getting lots of stuff helps too.
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Andy Van Zandt
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MisterG wrote:
I should also mention that I disagree with your assessment of low player interaction. The interaction is encompassed by the mechanic of alternating exclusive action selection. It's indirect, but rather high, in my estimation.


i agree entirely with MisterG on that point.
 
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Matt N

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MisterG wrote:
I should also mention that I disagree with your assessment of low player interaction. The interaction is encompassed by the mechanic of alternating exclusive action selection. It's indirect, but rather high, in my estimation.


Well, I'd call it moderate interaction. Considering games like Tigris or El Grande, I can't call it high interaction. In the course of the game, other players will affect you to the point where you'll lose if you ignore them, but it's almost never in their interest to target you specifically (this is less true in 2 player or when only two people are any good). In Tigris and El Grande, it's often the best play to take from someone else and destroy their foothold on the board.

Or compare it to Settlers, a game of trading. It's not even close.
 
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Geoff Burkman
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Stunna wrote:
MisterG wrote:
I should also mention that I disagree with your assessment of low player interaction. The interaction is encompassed by the mechanic of alternating exclusive action selection. It's indirect, but rather high, in my estimation.


Well, I'd call it moderate interaction. Considering games like Tigris or El Grande, I can't call it high interaction. In the course of the game, other players will affect you to the point where you'll lose if you ignore them, but it's almost never in their interest to target you specifically (this is less true in 2 player or when only two people are any good). In Tigris and El Grande, it's often the best play to take from someone else and destroy their foothold on the board.

Or compare it to Settlers, a game of trading. It's not even close.


I'll go with moderate, that's okay by me. T&E is much more wargame-like, i.e. direct conflict, so I agree with you on that. Haven't played El Grande. As for Settlers, I dunno. My crew's so played-out on that one that when we do break it out, our games rarely see more than occasional trading; we just don't trust each other no more! So, the interaction factor in that one is pretty low for us.
 
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Clayton Ingalls
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MisterG wrote:
I should also mention that I disagree with your assessment of low player interaction. The interaction is encompassed by the mechanic of alternating exclusive action selection. It's indirect, but rather high, in my estimation.


I guess by low player interaction I mean this. What you do will affect each other some. So you should pay some attention to what the other person is doing. However, there is never a point where you have to ever look at the other person in the eye or speak a single word to them. They could be bleeding all over themselves and you would never have a need to look at them to notice.
 
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Geoff Burkman
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jpseasia wrote:
MisterG wrote:
I should also mention that I disagree with your assessment of low player interaction. The interaction is encompassed by the mechanic of alternating exclusive action selection. It's indirect, but rather high, in my estimation.


I guess by low player interaction I mean this. What you do will affect each other some. So you should pay some attention to what the other person is doing. However, there is never a point where you have to ever look at the other person in the eye or speak a single word to them. They could be bleeding all over themselves and you would never have a need to look at them to notice.


Roger that, but isn't that true of many other games as well? Chess? Backgammon? Parcheesi? Go?

Isn't it also true that most people don't actually play that way?
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