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Subject: 9 reasons why I avoid Agricola - a negative review rss

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Filip W.
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I usually love building games. I love the feeling of watching my empire grow, of exploring new horizons then putting them to good work. I enjoy expanding my possessions, building an efficient engine, churning up the economic pressure and stamping out a few million victory points. And yet, in every one of my seven games of Agricola I've been bored.

Yeah, that's right. I'm one of those anti-establishments saboteurs that take everyone's fun away by talking about the Emperor in therms of clothes, or lack thereof. But I can't help myself, when I'm asked to play Agricola nowadays I stall, I meander, I delay and if all else fails, I suggest going out for hamburgers. Here's why:

1. I find Agricola to be counter intuitive

I like the theme of farming, the whole whip the horses, plow the land, sow, grow and use your children as cheap labor. But there's a point in every game of Agricola I've played where I'm stumped: "What? I can't plow my field (build my house/go fishing/other) because someone else did it already?" And that's the point where the game comes to a crashing halt for me.

Compare this to Le Havre, a game I enjoy immensely. Much like Agricola it has a pasted on theme (yes it does, you could use Star Wars miniatures to play Le Havre) but there the theme works with the mechanics - at no point do I imagine myself, from a thematic standpoint, being able to do something while the mechanics prevent me from doing it.

The way I see it, farming is generally a solitary pursuit. You don't need your whole village to plow or sow your field, or if you do, you and all your impoverished hick buddies come together to plow and sow (yes, I like to rhyme, call me old fashioned) every field in the village, communal like. If you couldn't everyone would starve and we wouldn't get a game about it. And when my intuition tells me that something should be possible and the mechanics tell me it's not I get frustrated. With Agricola I get frustrated enough to want to stop playing.

2. Agricola is neither solitaire nor multiplayer
Take Race for the Galaxy It is almost pure solitaire with no player interaction whatsoever. I enjoy that. I can focus on my own empire and let my opponents do what they wish. Sure, I'll get a better score if I try to outguess which phases they will take, but I can ignore them if I want to. At the other end of the spectrum there's EastFront (or Axis and Allies, if you wish), a game wholly dependent on player interaction - no interaction no war.

Agricola is basically a solitaire game - the whole developing your farm thing can be done without player interaction, or the game wouldn't be listed as accommodating 1-5 players. Even so, when playing with others (I've never tried playing it by myself) I'm constantly blocked by their actions. Yes, I realize that that's the whole point of the game, but for me it's rather boring when doing it (I like the building aspect, not the blocking aspect) and very frustrating when having it done to me (see the above point).

At the same time, there isn't any real interaction in Agricola, no way to really affect your opponents. If I was a farmer in medieval Germany and wanted to screw my neighbors I'd get myself a club, bash them over the head and torch their farm. Maybe I'd even piss in the ashes. Or I'd tell everyone that they're heretics. In Agricola I get to put my boat in the middle of the pond so that they can't go fishing. To me that means the worst of both worlds - neither solitaire enough nor multiplayer enough.

3. I can't see the logic behind my opponents' moves
If I play Axis and Allies I can predict where my opponent will strike next. In RftG I know which actions I can expect. In Agricola, what my opponents do is a complete mystery to me.

In part this is due to the trickle down effect in blocking actions - if someone takes the action that I would expect someone else to want they'll do something suboptimal that I don't expect. But a major part is due to mechanics and cards.

The mechanics favor short term behavior. All you need in the beginning is food and to be in the position to grow your family when the card comes out. And you need wood to the point where you'll likely to collect it even though there's preciously little of it out (I hear this is mitigated in the expansions, I haven't played with them and don't feel the need to). That means that there are a few optimal actions and a few optimal strategies - everything else is suboptimal, a target of opportunity if you wish. To me that's plain boring - I don't want to be locked into a few strategies, not then there are loads and loads of things to do.

The other part comes with the cards - the card draw affects strategies and I have no idea what cards, or even types of cards, there are. When playing with experienced players I ask about something on one of my cards and they immediately say "oh, you got that card, use it like this". I don't want to be forced to know all the cards to be able to follow why my opponents do something and why. And when I can't see the reasons behind something I get very frustrated - Agricola makes me feel stupid.

4. I get frustrated when I'm locked out
I mentioned this in the solitaire/multiplayer part but I get really, really frustrated when I feel that I'm getting shafted and I can't reason out why. I can see the one or two actions I really need. Then someone else takes them (especially with 5 players I never seem to get what I want) and I'm left out in the cold. I don't even get to compete for it - they take it, game over.

What I like with auction games like Modern Art is that you get compete for scarce resources. In Agricola its all about being first, if you are you get to pick and chose, if you aren't your doomed until you are. And if the guy to your left keeps insisting on taking first player then you're stuck. You have to get the first player away from then, then they take it back and you're back in last place. I like Caylus' player order mechanic a lot better - shifting the entire player order around instead of relying on how players sit around the table. That way you do get something even if the guy to your left grabs first player on the next turn. In Agricola I simply get angry.

5. I don't get to follow my plan
The locking out mechanic means that you need not one or two plans but gallons of them: I want to get the sheep but if some one else takes them then I need to build an oven but if someone else builds it first then I need to get some wood but if someone else takes the wood then I need to go fishing but if someone else goes fishing then I need to play something else.

I like to have a plan, I like to see it unfold, to follow it through and test if it really does work. I Agricola I can have a plan but I get locked out of it often enough that l'll need to adapt it on the fly, all the time. And that, to me, means that I have no plan, that I simply act from action to action and hope for the best (yes, I know some Agricola fan will point out how they have a plan and they always follow through on its baroque three hundred contingency levels and always win but I don't find that type of thing amusing).

6. I lack a visual aspect to the game

I guess this ties in with the "not seeing the logic behind my opponents' actions" but I'm a visual person. I like games where I can get visual cues to what's about to happen: lots of full worlds in the tableau and not any cards in hand? One consume/trade phase coming up. Swarm of troop transports heading for the English channel? Sound the alarm and move the Panzer closer to the beaches. In Agricola I'm not able to do any of this.

Sure, I could ask people how many resources they have, or cards, or whatever but that doesn't let me follow that they're doing on a visual level. Instead I have to sit and think through every possible action, which I hate because it turns me into a total Analysis Paralysis victim and makes me a bore to everyone else.

7. I don't find enough interesting decisions

What's this? I complain that there are too many decisions in planning and now that there aren't enough? Bah, humbug, warning for bitter, old Scrooge!

Hey, hold on. I didn't say there aren't enough decisions, not even that there aren't enough significant decisions (every decision is significant if you want to maximize your score). But when playing Agricola I don't get an emotional payoff from most decisions.

When I plan an attack in Twilight Imperium 3 or bet on what action an opponent will pick in RftG I get that tickling of tension, the butterflies of chance. In Agricola I can't make myself care about the decisions I make - they simply don't seem very interesting. This is because...

8. There's too much accounting and not enough gaming
Agricola is all about optimizing your current situation - what is better, what works better, right now. What will get me more points, what will, in two or four or ten turns, push me that single crucial cow, boar or grain above the point bracket limit. That means counting and recounting your optimal action. That action will set me on a course that will get me 2.3 points and 4.5 food per action while this course will get me 2.5 points and 4-and-three-quarters food per action.

This type of optimization and re-optimization is about as exciting to me as watching political debates in a language I don't understand. And not one of those funny debates where the senators rush the floor and start bashing away at each other either, no this constant calculating is on the level of drainage solutions in Upper Mongolia.

This is also the reason why I don't remember a thing from any of my games of Agricola - not what choices I made, not who won, not nothing. On the other hand I do remember when I managed to invade L.A. playing the Jap in Axis and Allies (don't ask how long my troops managed to stay there though...), when I pushed through to patch a huge hole in the Russian lines in EuroFront or even when I managed to put down 5 6-cost developments in RftG. But from Agricola - nothing. The stories the game tells aren't gripping enough to me to be remembered.

9. There's not enough interaction between the players

I'm not talking about the solitaire/multiplayer issue but the simple chit-chat around the table when I normally game. Some games, like most wargames, Ameritrash games and quite a lot of Euros, encourage talking (for social games, like Werewolf or Diplomacy, it's a foregone conclusion). Agricola doesn't encourage table talk at all. Everyone is too busy calculating their next optimal move, their noses buried deep inside their farmlands. While I don't mind this in a short, fast game (like RftG - don't I bring that one up a lot?) in a long, slow game like Agricola it's a definite turn off for me.

So will I ever play Agricola again?
I'm sure I'll never suggest it and will suggest alternatives if someone else does. But if there are no alternatives, if the options are watching that Mongolian drainage debate, well... I might be persuaded. But I'm pretty sure I'll do it to accommodate my friends and not for the game itself.
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Geoff Burkman
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I disagree with almost everything you've written, but will defend to the death your right to write it and the chutzpah with which you wrote it. Nicely done!

Oh, say, you wanna play a game of Agricola? devil
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Filip W.
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MisterG wrote:
I disagree with almost everything you've written, but will defend to the death your right to write it and the chutzpah with which you wrote it. Nicely done!

Oh, say, you wanna play a game of Agricola? devil


Well, I don't know. How about some burgers and a few hands of RftG?
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Daniel Danzer
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To the point. Thanks.
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Corin A. Friesen
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filwi wrote:
... and a few hands of RftG?

*grabs gun*
 
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Mike T
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I think every complaint you have against Agricola could equally be applied against life in general.

Nice review.
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Jeremy Voltz
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filwi wrote:
Compare this to Le Havre, a game I enjoy immensely. Much like Agricola it has a pasted on theme (yes it does, you could use Star Wars miniatures to play Le Havre) but there the theme works with the mechanics - at no point do I imagine myself, from a thematic standpoint, being able to do something while the mechanics prevent me from doing it.


Um, Agricola has a pasted on theme? I'm a bit hard of reading, so could you repeat that? wow


(Otherwise nice review!)
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Pertti Pasanen
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I appreciate your analysis and somehow understand it, though I disagree with everything.

One thing amazes me: People need to post threads where they explain why they don't like a Agricola (there are some very similar to this around). That, if anything, is a sign of a unusually great game!

However, I understand that some people don't like it. I like it. Of the top rated games, I don't like Puerto Rico or Power Grid or Princes of Florence very much. I own all of them and Agricola but I only want to play 'Gric. Both me and my friends find PR and PG and PoF dry, themeless and repetitive compared to Agricola. Even the top rated games divide people's tastes surprisingly much.

One point stated by OP is only partly opinion based (points 1, 2, 4, 6, 7 and 9 are personal opinions and some are IMO mostly countered by "play more and you see deeper -comment", like points 3, 5, 7 and 9). Namely, there is some accounting in the game, because you have to play little with the resources every turn. Even this is not much more than in other worker placement / resource collecting games. meeple

But I disagree about having to calculate optimal points choice turns ahead. You can't, like OP said himself in point 5 - someone else is going to mess your accurate plans anyway.

The best choices are very intuitive. Big stack of anything is always great to have, because you get points from all aspects of the farm.

Still, the game is not all about tactics. You'd better have big lines planned. Unfortunately you need experience to see the possible lines. And to see how the cards change the relative balance of things. And to see what others are planning to do. And to see, when to destroy someone else's plans with your worker. And so on.

It think this game is as good as a non-computer-game played with boards gets. Good theme, extremely well balanced for every number of players 2-5 (very rare thing to see in a game), strategic and tactical, interactive just the right amount, great visual aspect, much more interesting decisions than in other top rated games, eliminates analysis paralysis (until the last round, when you can actually calculate something), variation level usually only seen in card games like MtG or RtfG...

The only negative aspect IMO is that Agricola takes more time to learn or teach than board games without this many variability-giving cards.
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Rauli Kettunen
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I've never had any interest in playing Agricola (would even have to pay me to bother watching people playing it). Still, I want to thank you for your suffering. Now I have words to convey why I'll never try Agricola (beyond the default: It's a Euro ).

And yes, it did hurt giving a thumb to a Swede !
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Marc Morley
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I've experienced most of things you listed with other games at one point or another. None of them are that frustrating to me and quite often I like it when you force others to adapt their plans on the fly. The "Do the best with what you got." mentality can be frustrating at times but also very rewarding when you are able to ride it out to victory. If anything the long term planning that can be wiped out by a series of bad rolls in Axis & Allies is far more frustrating to me than having to alter a decision for a single round, but to each his own.

A nice review, enjoyable to read.
 
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Filip W.
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yardapeJV wrote:
Um, Agricola has a pasted on theme? I'm a bit hard of reading, so could you repeat that? wow


(Otherwise nice review!)


Sure: Agricola has a pasted on theme

Seriously though, try this experiment: replace every name in Agricola with a name from Race for the Galaxy (instead of rooms, planets, instead of sheep, genes, instead of food, goods etc.). You's still have a game that holds together as the mechanics aren't connected to the names/theme (you could do the same in reverse, assigning RftG cards names from Agricola - RftG has a pasted on theme as well).

But try it then with a game that's heavily connected to its theme, like Axis and Allies and it won't work ("Ok, I'm going over to your vegetable patch and I'm bringing four potato dibblers and three sheep against your single wild boar and one stone room, roll 'em and see who prevails.")
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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filwi wrote:
But try it then with a game that's heavily connected to its theme, like Axis and Allies and it won't work ("Ok, I'm going over to your vegetable patch and I'm bringing four potato dibblers and three sheep against your single wild boar and one stone room, roll 'em and see who prevails.")


Easy: My 4 goblin skirmishers and 3 cave-trolls are going to invade your capital, Krhtgfsd-dfgr-de4!!fr4. Your 1 zergling and 1 Star trooper won't stand my attack.

In this very same manner you can make any game a pasted-on theme game.
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Loc Nguyen
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3-4-5 are all based on experience. I use to feel that way, but not after the 10th or so play.
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"L'état, c'est moi."
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junakones wrote:
One thing amazes me: People need to post threads where they explain why they don't like a Agricola (there are some very similar to this around). That, if anything, is a sign of a unusually great game!


I wish, quite frankly, that there were more reviews like this which clearly outline why people don't like a particular game.

Corollary to that, I wish people would refrain from posting disingenuous comments about how they disagree with everything the original poster says.

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Mike T
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leroy43 wrote:
I wish, quite frankly, that there were more reviews like this which clearly outline why people don't like a particular game.

Corollary to that, I wish people would refrain from posting disingenuous comments about how they disagree with everything the original poster says.


I don't see anything disingenuous about disagreeing with the original poster! Fans of the game could "rebut" the OP point-by-point, but that would be a silly thing to do, since reviews are subjective things and there are too many games in the world to suggest he should spend more time on a game he doesn't like.
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Andrei Filip
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Ponton wrote:

Easy: My 4 goblin skirmishers and 3 cave-trolls are going to invade your capital, Krhtgfsd-dfgr-de4!!fr4. Your 1 zergling and 1 Star trooper won't stand my attack.

In this very same manner you can make any game a pasted-on theme game.


You make a fine point but I don't think this is what he meant. There is a strong relation between the mechanics of Axis & Allies and the theme, one that would not function outside war-centric themes. You build troops, you send them to fight, you conquer territories, you build more troops and send them again to fight. The mechanics are suited for any game depicting a war, being the Second World War or any other conflict. But it would not function as well with an economic theme, don't you agree?

In Agricola on the other hand the farming theme has little to do with the mechanics. Sure, they are adapted to a somewhat successful degree but it's still a general layout that can fit a large array of themes and if you were to look at the pure mechanics I doubt farming would be the first thing that jumps to mind.
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Nice review. I have a completely different experience from you and I think it's a game that depends heavily on who you are playing. It's far from multiplayer solitaire when we play and there is a lot of interaction, but that's our style of play. Others may well just sit there silent and play their own game, ignore what others are doing which is also possible and to me tedious. I like needing to work out several options and it's a key point of the game rather than an issue. Maybe you should grab the first player action more

As to choosing actions and being blocked out I see it as a game of risk management. Trying for the perfect farm is pointless and quite boring after a few plays, you need to try for the best farm. You either like that sort of game or not really.

I play wargames and keep my themeing and mechanics interest to that. In a Euro I really do not care if something does not make sense. The game would be the same for me if it was simulating a morris dance. If I want theme I play Wargames or American style games.

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Jon W
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filwi wrote:
Take Race for the Galaxy It is almost pure solitaire with no player interaction whatsoever. [....] Sure, I'll get a better score if I try to outguess which phases they will take, but I can ignore them if I want to.

Kinda lost me with this contradiction. You also ignore the other main form of interaction in Race, leeching.
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fixpix wrote:
You make a fine point but I don't think this is what he meant. There is a strong relation between the mechanics of Axis & Allies and the theme, one that would not function outside war-centric themes. You build troops, you send them to fight, you conquer territories, you build more troops and send them again to fight. The mechanics are suited for any game depicting a war, being the Second World War or any other conflict. But it would not function as well with an economic theme, don't you agree?

In Agricola on the other hand the farming theme has little to do with the mechanics. Sure, they are adapted to a somewhat successful degree but it's still a general layout that can fit a large array of themes and if you were to look at the pure mechanics I doubt farming would be the first thing that jumps to mind.


The mechanics of Agricola are suited for any game depicting economic competition, being early-modern farming or any other economic competition. Clearly the mechanics of Agricola would not support a war game, just as Axis and Allies would not make for a good farming sim.



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The underlying theme of this review seems to be summed up by
Quote:
'I get frustrated when I'm locked out.'
and
Quote:
'Agricola makes me feel stupid.'

I love Agricola, but I feel these two emotions every single time I play.
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junakones wrote:
I appreciate your analysis and somehow understand it, though I disagree with everything. :)

One thing amazes me: People need to post threads where they explain why they don't like a Agricola (there are some very similar to this around). That, if anything, is a sign of a unusually great game!


No, it is a sign of somone who wants to express their negative opinion/review about a game so that others might read and understand it and formulate their own opinions. It has nothing to do with a game being unusually anything good, bad, or indifferent.

If all we see on this site are glowingly positive reviews fishing for thumbs, then this site will be lost as a resource for anything but game photos, pictures of women playing games, and pictures of cats in game boxes.

The more well thought out reviews reflecting many opinions of games the better for the site.
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Excellent review. While I really enjoy Agricola, this is one of the best negative reviews I've read in a long time. I wish there were more reviews like it out there.
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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fixpix wrote:
Ponton wrote:

Easy: My 4 goblin skirmishers and 3 cave-trolls are going to invade your capital, Krhtgfsd-dfgr-de4!!fr4. Your 1 zergling and 1 Star trooper won't stand my attack.

In this very same manner you can make any game a pasted-on theme game.


You make a fine point but I don't think this is what he meant. There is a strong relation between the mechanics of Axis & Allies and the theme, one that would not function outside war-centric themes. You build troops, you send them to fight, you conquer territories, you build more troops and send them again to fight. The mechanics are suited for any game depicting a war, being the Second World War or any other conflict. But it would not function as well with an economic theme, don't you agree?

In Agricola on the other hand the farming theme has little to do with the mechanics. Sure, they are adapted to a somewhat successful degree but it's still a general layout that can fit a large array of themes and if you were to look at the pure mechanics I doubt farming would be the first thing that jumps to mind.


Harvesting crops that can be eaten, baked to bread; a house that needs to grow before you can get new members, hm, I don't know if there are any other themes you might paste on. Agricola is mechanically strongly related to its theme.

If I wanted to, I could paste a theme on any war-centric game and make it an economic one or whatever. Like, in Japan, there's a big cake eating competition. You've already attended to with your 4 apple pies and 5 walnut cookies. Now, I'm also going there with my 6 giant birthday cakes and 12 jelly beans. Let's start eating. Whoever runs out of food, loses. Silly, pasted-on theme to any war-centric game. Easy.

Therefore, I am very careful what I call 'pasted-on'. Any pure abstract game with a theme deserves to be called so. Any thematic game does not. Easy examples for what I'd call pasted-on: Keltis, Bohnanza, Race for the Galaxy, San Juan... (I guess any card game might fit into this category)
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Pertti Pasanen
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GetFunkadelic wrote:
junakones wrote:
I appreciate your analysis and somehow understand it, though I disagree with everything.

One thing amazes me: People need to post threads where they explain why they don't like a Agricola (there are some very similar to this around). That, if anything, is a sign of a unusually great game!


No, it is a sign of somone who wants to express their negative opinion/review about a game so that others might read and understand it and formulate their own opinions. It has nothing to do with a game being unusually anything good, bad, or indifferent.

I still disagree with this phenomenon having nothing to do with the game's properties.

Reading this kind of threads, I get quite the same feeling as if a columnist wrote a piece with a headline "Why I hate [insert popular thing]".

Perhaps this is not an indicator of how good the game is, it is more of an indicator of how popular something is. There more you have to explain it to others, the more you think others will not easily agree with you.

GetFunkadelic wrote:
If all we see on this site are glowingly positive reviews fishing for thumbs, then this site will be lost as a resource for anything but game photos, pictures of women playing games, and pictures of cats in game boxes..

The more well thought out reviews reflecting many opinions of games the better for the site.

Indeed.


Actually, I originally thought for quite a moment if I should reply anything to the original text. Opinions are opinions. But then, there were some arguments that IMO were caused by inexperience. Should we let people think that any Puerto Rico is a trivial game always won by the owner of Wharf (if that happened in somebody's gaming group and he told that in forums)?
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Bill Gallagher
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Good review.

I agree that's certainly not the most realistic farming-based board game out there (thanks to the blocking tactics you describe). I have a few comments:

1. Being locked out: One needs to make contingency plans in the event plans have to change. There are few 'bad' options, even with your last choice.

2. Yeah, it can be frustrating when the person on your left always takes the First Player action. It can be tempting to take that as your first action - but at what cost? Unless it's critical that you go first in the next round to ensure a specific action, there are usually better options out there (even as the fifth player). There may be 'one or two actions you really need'; however, there may well be six or seven choices that will help you down the line. Worried about whether you'll have enough food to feed your family at the third harvest (Round 9)? Use that last action in Round 8 to grab some food/sheep!

3. Your point #8 applies to a number of games. Analysis paralysis is alive and well in Power Grid, Through the Ages, and at least a score of other BGG Top 100 games.

4. Your point #7 says it best - if you don't get any excitement playing Agricola, there are many great games to choose from - and no shortage of opponents to play them! There's no game that's universally liked by everyone - and Agricola is certainly no exception.

5. Have you tried the Family Game (no Minor Improvements or Occupations)? That might make the game more palatable for you.
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