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Subject: Why or when do we need a cooking hearth instead of a fire place? rss

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Marcel Van Assen
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I am a regular player of Agricola, and played it approximately 40 times. Usually, I play it with three other people, and when we play we combine all occupation and investment cards. The average number of points I get is around 40.

When we play, we hardly ever use the cooking hearth. In our opinion for good reason. However, perhaps we miss something. That's the goal of this post - to find out reasons for taking the cooking hearth.

As our playing group sees it, the costs of the hearth are high, and the benefits relatively low. What are its benefits?

Obviously, it is easier to feed your workers. Since we hardly ever play the card, it is a bit difficult for me to guess its exact benifits. Assume (i) effective use of the hearth as the primary food source, (ii) use of it in the last four stages, and (iii) feeding 3,3,4,5 workers in stages 3,4,5,6, respectively. Then one needs 30 food. Using the cooking hearth instead of the fire place one can only save goods if one does not use sheep to feed the workers. If grain is used to feed workers, up to 5 grain can be saved (10 instead of 15), or 5 pigs, 5 veggies, or 2 cows. Ok, that was my estimate of its maximum benifits. Now the costs.

Obviously, the hearth costs four (or five) clay. However, the costs are not so much what you have to spend to get it, but also what you could have done otherwise while taking the hearth. One alternative is to buy the clay oven. Then you use one stone and three clay instead of four clay, and (i) you get an additional 2 points, (ii) can bake one grain for free to obtain 5 food. This free baking immediately reduces the (already optimistic) advantage of the cooking hearth over the fire place from 5 to 3,5 pieces of grain, while getting two points less with the hearth. Each additional baking of bread in later stages reduces the advantage of the cooking hearth, and even might be transformed into an advantage - saving more grain (or animals, if you use the hearth to convert animals into food) with the oven. Note also that buying an oven while at the same time having a fire place substantially reduces options to get food for other players in the game.

Instead of using the four clay to obtain the hearth, you can also use it for a renovation action - which gives you 2-4 points and an option to play a (minor or major) investment.

So, to summarize, if we have the option to buy an oven, we buy an oven instead of a hearth. Do we make a mistake here? In which circumstances would you convert your fire place into a hearth?

Thanks in advance for your valuable comments!
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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With a Cooking Hearth and early veggies you get a really good food engine. I always prefer a Cooking Hearth to a Fireplace. With "Spices" in hand, veggies become even more of a great food source. Also, later I'll be able to get more food from surplus boars and cattle.
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Geoff Burkman
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assen wrote:
...What are its benefits? Obviously, it is easier to feed your workers. Since we hardly ever play the card, it is a bit difficult for me to guess its exact benifits. Assume (i) effective use of the hearth as the primary food source, (ii) use of it in the last four stages, and (iii) feeding 3,3,4,5 workers in stages 3,4,5,6, respectively. Then one needs 30 food. Using the cooking hearth instead of the fire place one can only save goods if one does not use sheep to feed the workers. If grain is used to feed workers, up to 5 grain can be saved (10 instead of 15), or 5 pigs, 5 veggies, or 2 cows. Ok, that was my estimate of its maximum benifits.


The hearths have three benefits: A) they bake bread at 3food per in addition to cooking animals, B) likewise, they cook veggies at 3food per, and C) they cook boar and cattle at a +1food rate over fireplaces. Their advantage is thus utility. Ovens can't cook animals or vegetables and are limited in their capacities to bake bread. As far as I'm concerned, the best way to acquire a hearth is to pick up an early fireplace and then upgrade to a hearth right around the second half of the game, often in conjunction with renovation to clay. Best is to take advantage of a waiting 4Clay and buy the hearth upfront.

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... Now the costs. Obviously, the hearth costs four (or five) clay. However, the costs are not so much what you have to spend to get it, but also what you could have done otherwise while taking the hearth. One alternative is to buy the clay oven. Then you use one stone and three clay instead of four clay, and (i) you get an additional 2 points, (ii) can bake one grain for free to obtain 5 food. This free baking immediately reduces the (already optimistic) advantage of the cooking hearth over the fire place from 5 to 2,5 pieces of grain, while getting two points less with the hearth. Each additional baking of bread in later stages reduces the advantage of the cooking hearth, and even might be transformed into an advantage - saving more grain (or animals, if you use the hearth to convert animals into food) with the oven. Note also that buying an oven while at the same time having a fire place substantially reduces options to get food for other players in the game.


The Clay Oven is only a one point advantage over a hearth, not two. It also, of course, requires that pesky stone to obtain, which can be a pain to get ahold of at times, depending on how many players there are. Also, you have to carefully sequence your plays to maximize the value of an Oven, i.e. get the grain first. Sometimes this is no problem, sometimes it is. Hearths don't require this sort of care.

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Instead of using the four clay to obtain the hearth, you can also use it for a renovation action - which gives you 2-4 points and an option to play a (minor or major) investment.


I never consider clay spent on a cookery to be something I would have otherwise used to renovate, and typically in the early game, it's far more important to get a food engine going anyway.

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So, to summarize, if we have the option to buy an oven, we buy an oven instead of a hearth. Do we make a mistake here? In which circumstances would you convert your fire place into a hearth?


"If we have the option..."; that's the key phrase. If I've got the requisite grain in hand, if I've gotten the stone I need, then, yes, I'll generally opt for the Clay Oven over a fireplace. Those are big ifs, especially with multiple players in the game. As for conversion, I think I covered that above. All things being equal, I'll do it by Round Eight, plus or minus one, when veggies and the meatier animals make their normal appearance.

Of course, all this would be modified by whatever choice cards one may have to play, or whether you're playing "Through the Seasons" or not.
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Craig Liken
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A couple of points:

In 2 player you can't get access to stone for a good while, so cooking hearth may be a better option than an oven.

The cooking hearth is more versatile than an oven - you can also Bake as many times as you like on one bake action with it.
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Mike T
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Usually, I play it with three other people, and when we play we combine all occupation and investment cards. When we play, we hardly ever use the cooking hearth.


I'm not sure what you mean by "we combine all occupation and investment cards."

This comparison seems to be more about Clay Oven v. Cooking Hearth, as oppose to Fireplace v. Cooking Hearth. I think Geoff already covered Clay Oven v. Cooking Hearth pretty well, but of course it's worth mentioning that there is only one Clay Oven.

Similarly, there is only one 2-clay Fireplace. Now, unless I have cards that make the Hearth necessary, (for instance, cards that allow early veggies, swine or cattle), I'm usually really happy to grab the 2-clay Fireplace. If, however, it's a choice between a 3-clay Fireplace and the 4-clay Hearth, it's pretty easy.

I don't think the best way to evaluate the Hearth is in saved animals/veggies/grain. Think of it more as efficiency of actions, and flexibility. When you have a Hearth out, it's a lot harder to get trapped at harvest-time, which frees you up to take the really nice non-food actions early in the round. It's also about pace: two food (from cooking 2 pigs, for instance) doesn't seem like a big advantage... unless you need it, in which case it will cost you an action or 6 points.
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Marcel Van Assen
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Thanks folks, for all your helpful comments this far - they really sharpened my insight. I would like to add some points to the discussion, and also to explain some of my initial points.

In comparing the additional utility of the cooking hearth with the fireplace, I compared the action in which you take the hearth (which does not yield a point because you have to return the fireplace) with another comparable action that gives you food, for instance, buying a clay oven (in addition to the fireplace you already have). The clay oven gives you an additional 2 points, whereas the hearth does not give you additional points. I add this point to explain what I initially stated, not as an argument for or against buying the hearth.

In my opinion, an important point oncerning strategy; someone brought up that it is not as much the saving of goods but the additional utility in getting food that makes the hearth valuable. I like to think in terms of how many goods an action or card saves, since goods are points at the end of the game. If the hearth allows me to have more goods at the end of the game (in addition of giving me easier access to food), then this is for me a good argument in favour of buying the hearth.

Anyway, I reconsider my opinion on the utility of the hearth; if I can get veggies, boar, or cattle early in the game, I will be more tempted to buy the hearth .

As a final note; I usually play in a group of four. Stone already appears at round 1, and the clay oven can be purchased already at round 2. Indeed, the ovens are much harder to obtain in 2- or 3-player games. This suggests that the hearth is especially a good and powerful base of your food engine in 2- and 3-player games.

 
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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I don't worry about a food engine until the middle of the game. Family growth is more important to me, usually. Therefore, by the time I purchase the Cooking Hearth, either there are already boars/veggies in game or they soon will appear for the first time (if I couldn't get my hands on them earlier through minor improvements). Also, I do not first build the Fireplace and then turn it in for a Cooking Hearth. I usually try to get the Cooking Hearth directly.
 
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Michael Link
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I'm actually becoming increasingly bearish on the clay oven. I had a game last week with government-subsidized quantities of grain owing to the Field Watchman and bought the clay oven. It was painful to be only able to bake 1 grain per action. Even the stone oven has its limitations: You cannot feed a maximum family with grain alone using it unless you burn 2 raw grain, have an appropriate Occ, or another cookery.

With the Cooking hearth, you get an unlimited 3:1 grain bake but with superb utility in cooking animals. So being short 4 food after baking 2 grain just means a 2 sheep or 1 cattle grab.

When I evaluate my food engine, I tend to think about if it can feed 5 people without needing a second cookery. The stone oven is just about worth it; the clay oven falls short in my eyes. Furthermore, since you get the same return on sheep with the FP or CH, I tend to buy the FP2 early and trade it in later (unless I get a fortuitous 4 clay). The clay oven is only good as an early or adjunctive food engine--or if you intend to troll the sow space buy baking twice per harvest. I can see that being effective in some games.
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Dan Spurgeon
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I think the Hearth is well worth the extra 2 clay to bring it into play early.
 
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Andrew Clarke
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Perhaps slightly tangential, but my reading of the rules (Appendix 1,2, Sow and/or bake bread) is that fireplaces and cooking hearths can turn only 1 grain into food each per bake bread action. Only the Wood-fired oven in the minor improvement deck is able to convert any amount of grain.
But I could be misreading this. Anyone care to clarify?
 
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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Fireplaces and Hearths can turn any number of grain into food. They don't show any limitation like the Ovens. Also, this is somewhere in the rules, but I won't bother to check where now.
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Carl Olson
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Ponton wrote:
Fireplaces and Hearths can turn any number of grain into food. They don't show any limitation like the Ovens. Also, this is somewhere in the rules, but I won't bother to check where now.


It's ruled by omission on the cards and on page 6, under Baking Bread. The description of the ovens includes "up to 1 [or 2] Grain" where the fireplace and hearth descriptions do not include that phrase. The Oven cards specifically limit the number of Grain per action, but the FP/H cards do not.
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Mike T
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In comparing the additional utility of the cooking hearth with the fireplace, I compared the action in which you take the hearth (which does not yield a point because you have to return the fireplace) with another comparable action that gives you food, for instance, buying a clay oven (in addition to the fireplace you already have). The clay oven gives you an additional 2 points, whereas the hearth does not give you additional points. I add this point to explain what I initially stated, not as an argument for or against buying the hearth.


This makes your argument a bit clearer. If you are comparing the upgrade from Fireplace to just buying the Clay Oven in addition, it's really a question of timing and pace. If I upgrade from Fireplace to Hearth, it's almost certainly going to be in addition to a renovation. I usually renovate relatively late: often by the time I renovate, the Clay Oven is long gone. So, often it's not a question of Hearth upgrade or Clay Oven, it's a question of Hearth upgrade or random minor improvement. In addition, the Hearth upgrade is free, and the Clay Oven is not. Clearly if you have the resources the Oven is worth more, but I don't always have the resources when it is convenient for me to upgrade.

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I like to think in terms of how many goods an action or card saves, since goods are points at the end of the game. If the hearth allows me to have more goods at the end of the game (in addition of giving me easier access to food), then this is for me a good argument in favour of buying the hearth.


I really don't like this method of looking at it, for a couple of reasons.

a) The goods you are saving with a hearth are likely to be animals. I often fence late, and my capacity for animals is therefore limited. The number of animals I enter the late game with is largely based upon my capacity, not the efficiency of my cooking.

b) A more efficient cookery encourages you to take animals, and changes the nature of those grabs. Sometimes you're gonna take those doubled boar and eat them immediately regardless of whether you have a FP or a CH. With a CH, that's likely to solve your food problems for a harvest, and free you up to take another action. With a FP, it isn't. The CH hasn't saved any boar, but it has almost certainly increased your score.
 
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Rob Shaw
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assen wrote:
Instead of using the four clay to obtain the hearth, you can also use it for a renovation action - which gives you 2-4 points and an option to play a (minor or major) investment.

So, to summarize, if we have the option to buy an oven, we buy an oven instead of a hearth. Do we make a mistake here? In which circumstances would you convert your fire place into a hearth?


Is it possible that you are missing that it does not cost clay to upgrade from a fireplace to a hearth? The hearth only costs clay if you do not already have a fireplace. So you can basically upgrade for free when you renovate.
 
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Chris Boote
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assen wrote:

In comparing the additional utility of the cooking hearth with the fireplace, I compared the action in which you take the hearth (which does not yield a point because you have to return the fireplace


You do know that you EITHER return a fireplace OR pay 4/5 clay, don't you?
You don't do both!
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aracne
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Chrisboote wrote:

You do know that you EITHER return a fireplace OR pay 4/5 clay, don't you?
You don't do both!


Really? I didn't know it. And I've played more than 30 games. blush

I guess it changes things a little...

Edit: can somebody point to where is it explained in the rules? I can only find the generic "improvements have requirements on the upper left and costs on the upper right corners". With that reading, returning a fireplace is a requirement, of the same kind as "X jobs" that many cards require. Are those cards free too?
 
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Eugene van der Pijll
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aracne wrote:
Edit: can somebody point to where is it explained in the rules?

It's in the appendix, under "Major Improvements", but more clearly, it's on the card itself:

See the "or"?

(There are some languages with mistakes in translation here. I know the Dutch cards don't have the word "or" here...)

Quote:
I can only find the generic "improvements have requirements on the upper left and costs on the upper right corners". With that reading, returning a fireplace is a requirement, of the same kind as "X jobs" that many cards require. Are those cards free too?

I don't understand what you're saying here... The "return fireplace or" is in the upper right, and is therefore a cost.
 
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aracne
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Thank you! My copy is in Spanish, and has no "or" on the cards. I was wondering why everyone was so sure, but with the English card is very clear.

I'm almost sure that the "return a fireplace" in my version is on the upper left corner, but I do not have the card right now to confirm it.

 
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Andrew Clarke
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Hmmm.
That's a really bad printing mistake. It changes the game a lot. I can certainly see why you'd never wan't to build a Cooking Hearth when you have to pay 4-5 Clay plus a fireplace.
 
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Nils Miehe
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Just two arguments I haven't seen so far (might be that I missed them):

Hearth Oven: While converting animals into food can be done any time you have to rely on the according actions when baking. This can result in food shortage when you couldn't take the action. Or you have to make sure to get the actions by going there first and thus missing other good offers.

Fireplace Hearth: The OP calculated how many animals/vegetables he could save by replacing a fireplace. Unfortunately this calculation is too reduced as it ignores the reproduction of the animals and the fact that a saved vegetable might be exactly the one you need for the next Sow-Action...
 
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