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Subject: A Review a Week #15: My grandfather would have hated this game rss

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Lance
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First things first, yes I missed last week with my “review a week” series. I was fairly busy and had other stuff going on, but I will post two this week as long as you stay off my back, my adoring fans, or at least all one of you that took the time to send me a geekmail.

Anyway, as you may well know, this is my attempt to rate and review every single game in my collection. While some of my reviews have been quite topical, say the one about Middle Earth Quest, others have been a little behind in the times, such as this one you are reading right now. I will try to make it interesting, but I will be honest, I probably am not breaking new ground with this one other than my opinion, and probably not even there either, so if the teaser of the title brought you in here, you may want to skip ahead to my thoughts at the end. Anyway, on to my review.

Overview and Components

Well unless you just woke up from a coma, you should know that Agricola is a game about farming. Using workers, you earn resources that enable you to feed and take care of your “family”. As the game continues, you will upgrade your hut, till your fields, keep and slaughter animals, and try to have the best little plot of land as humanly possible. The components for the game are well made. You get a ton of cards, some cardboard place mats for the farms, and a ton of wooden components representing your farmers, the animals, grain, vegetables, and so on. There are a lot of options for people to pimp out this one, I myself own a bag of animeeples, but none of that is necessary to enjoy the game.



How do you play?

OK – there are tons of reviews out there that will take you through the game turns step by step, so I am going to skip the intensive overview and just touch on the basics. Agricola is essentially a worker placement game with some card driven actions and hand management thrown into the mix.

Going in turns, each person will place one of their farmers (you start with two, but if you have children you get more) on a spot on the board that will allow you to collect the resources placed there, or take the action that is printed on the space. Only one person can use each spot in each round, so you will have moments where you will have an action that you wanted to take but someone else has already taken it.

You will collect several different resources that will help you build your farm, such as wood, clay, and stone. You will also collect resources that will help you earn points and feed your family, like vegetables, sheep, and cows. Perhaps the most important resource of all is food, as if you cannot feed your family, you must turn to begging which causes you to lose points at the end of the game. Some places will allow you to collect food, like the fishing pond, but more importantly, a well made farm will let you grow your own food or slaughter your own animals to feed yourself, allowing you to use your actions to improve your farm instead of wasting them on collecting food.

Now the game would be the same thing over and over again if it was not for the cards in the game. Before you take a single turn, each person is dealt a hand of “Improvement” and “Occupation” cards. These cards usually allow you to break the rules in some way, such as using less resources to build certain improvements, or giving you an extra action because you have a guest staying at your house. Since the deck of these cards is huge, the combinations of the hands you will get will be different pretty much every time you play. It is up to the player to use shrewd actions and timely play to use the hand of cards they receive in the most efficient way.

After you get through the game turns, you will total up your victory points and determine who is the winner. Certain items will be worth more than others, like vegetables or cattle, but more importantly, if you do not have a balanced farm, you will lose points at the end of the game. This is a very good mechanic of the game since it keeps people from just focusing on one aspect and forgoing other options.
Agricola takes around 2 hours to complete, more with more players, and can be played solo or with up to 5 people.

My opinion

My grandfather Leo was a really awesome person. I don’t just say this because he was my grandpa, I say it because he did so much in his life. In World War II he was an artillery spotter that had to go on long reconnaissance missions behind enemy lines. He had tons of stories to tell me when I was a little kid about the things he saw, and he was smart enough to ignore my questions when I asked him anything that would have been a little too much for a little kid to comprehend. Plus, he was a bonafide war hero. He and another guy saved a bunch of lives when they ran into a burning ammunition depot to put out the fire after it had been hit by incoming artillery. I have a picture of him getting the silver star pinned on his chest by General Mark Clark for those actions. My grandma used to joke that If he hadn’t done what he did, he would not have got to come home that Christmas for three weeks, and then my Dad might never have “gotten started” as she put it.

Anyway, I tell you this because when my grandpa got home from the war, he inherited the family farm in North Dakota and started making a living, and he made a good one. But after 10+ years of running a farm, he sold off his land, ran for the position of County Sheriff, won it, and never looked back. One day, when he and I were hanging out towards the end of his life, I asked him why he had gotten rid of the farm. He mentioned lots of things, like how it was getting tougher to make a living, and how he thought the farm life was difficult on my grandma, but most of all, he said, “being a farmer was so damn boring!” – and then he laughed his infectious grandpa laugh and ordered another beer.

I told you that story for a couple of reasons. For one, I wanted you to know how cool my grandpa was. For two, that one statement succinctly describes Agricola for me to a “T”.

Let me say this though – Agricola is a fantastic game, and deserves the recognition that it gets. There is so much about this game that is just downright enchanting. Watching your little parcel of land grow and expand, pushing the little pieces around the board, figuring out some sort of fantastic synergy between your improvements and occupations – all of those things make Agricola great.

For some people.

For me, I see Agricola as a chore. Collect this, improve that, add this, take this job, have a kid, etc. People rave about having so many different options to win. I don’t see that I guess. Take a look at the scoring chart and see what makes you the most points – more people and stone houses with lots of rooms. That’s what you should be shooting for in every game. More people is even more self explanatory since the more people you have the more actions you get to take – that’s just a downhill slide to points right there. I don’t find it particularly stressful to figure out how to feed your people either. It always seems to me that you have ample ability to feed your starving mouths, either via your own produce or by the board.

Ultimately, when I play Agricola, and I do end up playing it quite a bit because it is a favorite of my gaming group and my family, I have a two hour session of minimal player interaction coupled with me putting a puzzle together that always ends up looking the same when I am finished. Sometimes the pieces I have to use are a little different, but it always looks the same in the end – a 4 room stone house with 4 or 5 people living in it with just enough fields and pastures to maximize my points. Usually I end up placing first or second but for the most part I don’t really care that much – I am just glad I am done.

I would never give Agricola a bad rating though. There are games out there that deserve to get trashed on, but this is not one of them. As I said before, for what it is, it is as close to perfect as I have found, and for the right people, it is gaming nirvana. However, for me, it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.


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Your grandfather is awesome.
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Geoff Burkman
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Nicely written. And I suspect you actually like the game a lot more than you're letting on.
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Dan
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Great story! Why are grandpas always so much cooler than we are? (Mine escaped Stalin Russia before WW2, came to the US without much English, and went to Yale--wtf??)

I'm surprised to hear you think its work. Aren't you an RPG fan? Part of the fun for me in an RPG is the sweating over the best way to level a character. Anyway, just an interesting observation.

Thanks for another great review.

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Richard Young
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I play games that I enjoy playing. I stop playing them when I stop enjoying them. Catan/Dominion, are you listening?

Family is one thing, and I hear you there. But, you need to think about cultivating your gaming group into adopting a system (of game choice) that might rescue you from being subjected continuously to games you don't like. I imagine you may have allowed a small dose of hyperbole into the narrative, for effect, but it brings up a good question that could apply to a lot of groups and that is, "how do you go about choosing what game to play?" We don't outright grant a veto to anyone (I know groups that do), but we do strive for consensus in our games and we try to be sensitive to a person's strongly held opinions. Or, maybe you're just ridiculously easy to get along with.

This review reminds me a lot of a terse post I remember seeing a while back in response to another review: "I've been a farmer and it wasn't fun, and neither is this game..." I have no real life farming experience so the game elicits enough imagined rural nostalgia in me when I play that I haven't reached the saturation point, yet. And I don't think I've had to play the game as often as you might have either. But maybe I should start thinking about an exit strategy because I can't find fault with anything you've said about the game - and I've never understood why it is as high on the Geek meter as it is...
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
However, for me, it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.

...couldn't help but notice you rate it a 7...
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Alex Rockwell
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UndeadViking wrote:
As I said before, for what it is, it is as close to perfect as I have found, and for the right people, it is gaming nirvana. However, for me, it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.

Yep, this doesnt mean its a bad game, it just means that youre not a real gamer! REAL gamers love games about farming!


http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/301443


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Lance
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cferejohn wrote:
Quote:
However, for me, it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.

...couldn't help but notice you rate it a 7...

Yup. Recognition for how well it is made and the superior design. Not so much my personal enjoyment.
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Alex Rockwell
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UndeadViking wrote:

Yup. Recognition for how well it is made and the superior design. Not so much my personal enjoyment.

He knows that we know where he lives....
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Mike T
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First, great review.

Quote:
Take a look at the scoring chart and see what makes you the most points – more people and stone houses with lots of rooms. That’s what you should be shooting for in every game. More people is even more self explanatory since the more people you have the more actions you get to take – that’s just a downhill slide to points right there. I don’t find it particularly stressful to figure out how to feed your people either. It always seems to me that you have ample ability to feed your starving mouths, either via your own produce or by the board.

Ultimately, when I play Agricola, and I do end up playing it quite a bit because it is a favorite of my gaming group and my family, I have a two hour session of minimal player interaction coupled with me putting a puzzle together that always ends up looking the same when I am finished. Sometimes the pieces I have to use are a little different, but it always looks the same in the end – a 4 room stone house with 4 or 5 people living in it with just enough fields and pastures to maximize my points. Usually I end up placing first or second but for the most part I don’t really care that much – I am just glad I am done.

Here's where I (predictably) disagree with you a little bit.

1. You say it's basically simple to feed your people. This is more or less true, but that more or less depends on the game size and your opponents. In a 4 player game, it's pretty easy to not starve. In a 2 or 3 player game, against an opponent determined to screw with you, it can be a different story. Sure, you might get your family fed, but you might not be able to do much else either.

2. While the 4 room stone house is a great way to get points, it's not the only one. I'm not saying that this isn't a valid criticism: there is a formula for a successful farm, but there's a bit more variety than you imply here. I've won games with a 3 room wood hut, and I've lost to an 8 room stone house.
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Simon Lundström
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This review rocks in every aspect.
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Lord Chambers
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UndeadViking wrote:
I have a two hour session of minimal player interaction coupled with me putting a puzzle together that always ends up looking the same when I am finished. Sometimes the pieces I have to use are a little different, but it always looks the same in the end – a 4 room stone house with 4 or 5 people living in it with just enough fields and pastures to maximize my points. Usually I end up placing first or second but...
You've hit the nail on the head. Still, I still enjoy each game greatly. Almost every round has a tipping point where a player has to consider one course of action over another, and the mental gymnastics required to evaluate the ramifications of either is euphoric.

"If I leave 3 stone on the board to take the 6 wood I'll have enough to fence off a bunch of my farm in the coming Renovation/Fences action, which it looks like I'll be able to snag. But that other player could grab the reed on that open reed spot, and then she'd be able to use the renovation square. Nah, she's probably not going to do that because she needs those two board to feed. I could counter her reed grab by getting start player anyway, and playing that improvement I've been wanting to play anyway. Wait, I forgot about that improvement. Is it important enough to play this round even if she's not threatening with a reed grab? No, I won't need it that badly unless I can't build fences. But is it really such a certainty that someone is even going to take the wood this cycle? Lets see, player one has a bunch already (is it enough for him?) player two is probably going to feast on the boar, and player three...player three looks like she's probably in need of more wood for a bigger pasture. Hmm, I should probably take the 6 wood now. But goddamn I can't really leave 3 stone laying around can I? Seems so daft...I wonder, what could I build if I took the 3 stone instead...oven...grain needed for baking...should I pay the sycophant for one...may be forced to build oven next round if I wanted to have grain ready for baking...."

And so on and so forth. This is what I like. And why it can't be nearly as fun when you have to ignore 80% of these considerations so you can move before someone types "zzzzzzzzzzzz" online.
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Branko K.
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UndeadViking wrote:
However, for me, it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.

Ooh, such a great review, I didn't expect a sucker punch twist in the end.

However, I do agree, somewhat. I've come to dislike the "a little bit of everything" approach Agricola takes, not because of its tactical implications but rather because it always means you end up with the similar-looking farm. And after you get experienced enough, odds are each gameyou are ending up with an identical farm. If anything, for variety's sake it would be cool if one could perhaps try out a livestock-only or grain-only strategy or even real-estate-only strategy. The cards allow this somewhat, but only to an extent that they give you a slight push in one segment so you have more time to develop other segments, which you are still mandated to do.

But I don't think it's a "tired ponderous game of pushing wood", it's a bit harsh. I like Agricola and enjoy it, even though it's not a game I would play very often. If I was forced to play it again and again perhaps my feelings would change, but for a game that gets played once or twice per month it works pretty great.
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Chris Ferejohn
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Quote:
However, I do agree, somewhat. I've come to dislike the "a little bit of everything" approach Agricola takes, not because of its tactical implications but rather because it always means you end up with the similar-looking farm.

Sure, somewhat similar, but in every other VP game your score is *exactly* identical. Some arbitrary number on a VP track. One of the things I really like about the scoring of Agricola is that your play-mat *is* your scoreboard. Much more interesting than moving a doohickey around the board to score points.
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Brian Mc Cabe
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Can't your dislikes be applied to all games, and life in general?
With most things, you've got to go in with the right attitude or it all becomes monotonous.

Wake up, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, off to work, come home, eat dinner, play board games, off to bed. Same thing tomorrow.

It's the camaraderie, the little things that your personality adds to life's experiences.

Brian
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kronlin
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I give this review 2 thumbs up.
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I give it a 7 and feel about the same way you do. Well said.
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Vern Ryan
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Agreed. I can see it's a good game and has interesting mechanics but it just isnt very exciting or appealing. You've said it well and many others have as well, the game feels more like a chore than a form of entertainment.
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Timothy Pride
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Nice review! You sum what you like and don't like on Agricola perfectly.

But I have something for your conclusion

UndeadViking wrote:
it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens plastics/token at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills gameboard until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.

Not that I hate it, I just found it funny that anybody can use it as Ameritrash/Wargame hater just by changing few words. It's all about perspective.


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Lance
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Darkmot wrote:
Nice review! You sum what you like and don't like on Agricola perfectly.

But I have something for your conclusion

UndeadViking wrote:
it is a tired, ponderous time of pushing and placing wood tokens plastics/token at a table with a few friends doing the same thing, in which all of us are stuck on our farming treadmills gameboard until we reach a conclusion that is neither a surprise, nor as fitting a reward for the efforts we just went through.

Not that I hate it, I just found it funny that anybody can use it as Ameritrash/Wargame hater just by changing few words. It's all about perspective.



Good point! Maybe I should copy and paste that response in the future for games I don't like!
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Lance
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Zimeon wrote:
This review rocks in every aspect.

Thank you for the incredibly kind compliment!
 
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Branislav Berec
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Very nice review!

Game pashion comes from inside us and there's no formula for that. I love chess, it's THE game for me. It took me a while to discover its beauty but then it became my heart-affair.

However, although the rest of my playing group admit that it's a great game, they don't like it. For them, it's boring, mathematical, no fun... you name it. I could disagree with everything "bad" they say about chess.

Where's the truth? Deep inside us. I hate game ratings, I can't give any game any "overall" rating. For some of us Agricola is a 10/10 game. For others it's 2/10. It's about what you feel when you play it.

I like the way you describe your feelings. I can't agree and I can't disagree because there's no "correct" feeling and there's nothing to agree or disagree with. Therefore I never say "The Game is boring" or "The Game is a superhit"... I always say "I find it boring" or "I love it, I can't get enough of it..."

That's the nature of games, and I like it the way it is.
Anyway, it was a very nice reading! Thank you!
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Cardinalle wrote:
Very nice review!

Game pashion comes from inside us and there's no formula for that. I love chess, it's THE game for me. It took me a while to discover its beauty but then it became my heart-affair.

However, although the rest of my playing group admit that it's a great game, they don't like it. For them, it's boring, mathematical, no fun... you name it. I could disagree with everything "bad" they say about chess.

Where's the truth? Deep inside us. I hate game ratings, I can't give any game any "overall" rating. For some of us Agricola is a 10/10 game. For others it's 2/10. It's about what you feel when you play it.

I like the way you describe your feelings. I can't agree and I can't disagree because there's no "correct" feeling and there's nothing to agree or disagree with. Therefore I never say "The Game is boring" or "The Game is a superhit"... I always say "I find it boring" or "I love it, I can't get enough of it..."

That's the nature of games, and I like it the way it is.
Anyway, it was a very nice reading! Thank you!

Haha pashion,

you are right! and kudos to the review! It makes me happy to see such proud enthusiastic people.

I agree with you on how it's all from within. This isn't a game for everyone but for people who were fans of say A Tale In The Desert (me me me me) or perhaps games like harvest moon and such. The joy is in creating, not destroying for me (i'm a carebear)

Group hug! lol
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Everett Hathaway
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It was great to hear a little about your grandfather.
Thanks for sharing that.
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Roger McKay
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Boze wrote:

Haha pashion,

you are right! and kudos to the review! It makes me happy to see such proud enthusiastic people.

I agree with you on how it's all from within. This isn't a game for everyone but for people who were fans of say A Tale In The Desert (me me me me) or perhaps games like harvest moon and such. The joy is in creating, not destroying for me (i'm a carebear)

Group hug! lol

Yes. I am a Harvest Moon fan also, and it was factor in my getting this game. I would like to see a truer simulation of HM, though. With more crops and seasons affecting what actions you can take.
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