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Subject: [The Dissenting Opinion] - A negative review of Agricola rss

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Jeff Hannes
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Disclaimer: This is a devil's advocate review, written to present a minority viewpoint. In truth, I love Agricola. It's probably my favorite game right now, and I gave it a glowing review HERE. But I do have friends who don't like the game, and I think there's some value in arguing the other side. I hope fans of the game will argue against my points, because ultimately I do think this game is a winner. But the minority should be heard! Consider this thread an experiment... if it's well-received I may do this for other games I've given positive reviews. If not? Well then maybe I can make this post the pioneer entry in a Geek List entitled "Reviews that Suck".

Number one on the charts, number one in your hearts? Not exactly. For nearly two years Uwe Rosenberg's Agricola has hovered at or near the top of the BGG rankings. Can 9 out of 10 geeks be wrong? In this gamer's opinion, yes.

I recognize that a lot of people like Agricola, but there are several reasons why the uninitiated should think twice before blindly jumping on the bandwagon.

A SHEEP SAYS WHAT?
First, let's start with the rules. For the most part the mechanics are clever and well-conceived, but they are Cumbersome with a capital "C". This is a very difficult game to learn, packed with small, but significant rules that are easy to miss. While it is certainly possible to decipher and fully digest the rules from the included rulebook, doing so successfully on your first go is no small feat. Simple but important rules, like the fact that you can cook animals in your Fireplace immediately after taking them [er, but not after breeding them] are easily lost in a sea of sub-rules, exceptions and clarifications.

It's all in there, if you can find it, but because there is SO much to digest, new players are just as likely to miss some of the more fundamental rules -- like the fact that spaces with arrows *accumulate* each turn the resources are left untaken. While I personally didn't make this mistake, these forums are replete with others who were less fortunate in their attempts to play their first (or second or third) game of Agricola successfully.

And even once you know the rules cold, teaching the game to new players is still a chore. I have yet to teach this game to a group where at least one player's eyes didn't eventually glaze over and ask to "just get started and figure it out as we go". Unfortunately, because of Agricola's unforgiving nature, there are many rules you simply can't afford to gloss over. Inherently, most new players are expected to do poorly in their first game. And while some greatly enjoy games with learning curves, there are a significant number of players who are just as likely to never want to play the game enough to reach the required point of understanding to make it an enjoyable game.

A game that's hard to teach is a game that's hard to find players for, and that's a legitimate strike against Agricola that needs to be considered before you make the not-insignificant-investment required to purchase this game.

DRAW, WIN, OR LOSE
My next big complaint with Agricola has to do with the randomness. On its face Agricola is a seemingly well play-tested and well-balanced game. But this delicate and carefully-designed balance can be completely shattered by the luck of the draw when it comes to the mnior improvements and occupations the players are dealt at the start of the game. Some cards are clearly more powerful than others, as are some combinations of cards. The random distribution can lead to one player having a distinct advantage over the others before the game even starts.

Yes, I'm aware there is a method that allows you to draft the cards to reduce the randomness, but realistically this method is only useable if all the players are experienced. The problem is getting to that point. If I play a few games where the winner seems to have been pre-determined by a particularly powerful set of cards, I'm not likely to be inclined to keep playing the game to reach the point where I can reduce the randomness.

Some have suggested that I just play the game without the cards, but then I'm really not getting my money's worth, am I? Agricola is an expensive game... it retails for $70 USD. I have to believe a significant part of the cost comes from the 300+ cards the game includes. Ok, so the Family Game is playable, and some really enjoy it. But if that's the ONLY method of the game I have a chance of liking, it seems like I'm paying too much for the game.

GOT WOOD?
I won't go off on the farming theme... While personally I might prefer an "agricultural" game where you are playing space aliens planning an invasion by harvesting pod people, it'd be somewhat pointless to judge a Euro-game too harshly for its theme. Lest this review try to serve as an indictment for a very large subset of the board game hobby, I'll accept Agricola for what it is... A Euro. And as Euro themes go, there are quite a few people out there who DO like the farming concept. I mean, look at the number of people who play Farmville.

That said, I do have issues with the execution of the theme. Wooden discs for resources? Cubes for animals? The abstract quality of the components detracts significantly from the sense of theme, and makes it feel more like you're, well, pushing cubes (and discs) around. While I can accept this in a Euro game where the theme is *clearly* pasted on, I have a much harder time accepting it in a game which tries to put so mention attention into its theme. Once again, I know there are upgrade options available, but a game needs to be judged on the merits of its base contents, not its potential add-ons.

The mechanics SORT of fit the theme... the planting and harvesting mechanic in particular seems like it belongs in a game about farming. But a significant number of mechanics ignore the theme completely in favor of game-play. The worker placement, while necessary and fundamental to the mechanics, does nothing to support the theme without some serious back-bending to try to justify the thematic implications. And while I realize Agricola is a game about farming and not a simulation of actual farming, the notion that diversity is favored over specialization flies in the face of most forms of agriculture. Which leads to what is perhaps my biggest complaint with the game...

YOU MUST CHOOSE... (but not really)
I could not rightfully write a negative review of this lauded game without addressing one of the most frustrating aspects of it, something that can (and probably should) be an issue for veteran players as much as new players. And that's the rigid and complex scoring system.

Unless you happen to be dealt one of the few cards which allow you to pursue a single-minded strategy, you are forced to "play to the middle" as it were. For the record, I *don't* agree with critics who say Agricola is "scripted"... That tag simply can't be applied to a game where your opponent's choices directly hinder or prevent you from taking the action you wanted to take. (For similar reasons, I also reject the notion that Agricola is multi-player solitaire. It is impossible to ignore what your opponents are doing in this game, if for no other reason than that when you go to take an action, it may no longer be available to you.)

But I do believe the scoring requirements make many aspects of the game feel scripted. At some point everyone is going to have to take a vegetable. And a grain. And a cow. And a boar. And a sheep. And plow a field. And fence a pasture. Sure, you can ignore one or two of these things and still win, but in most games, everyone is going to do most of them, and the only real difference seems like the order in (and extent to) which you do them. But even then you're limited to a variance of only 5 points in each category. Given that solid winning scores will be at least in the high 30s and up, that's a fairly small range. Diversify or Die... that should be Agricola's motto.

The problem with this it that it contradicts the CCG-style feel of the 300+ cards that are so essential to Agricola's replay value and variability from game to game. You have all these different cards with different abilities, but ultimately your path to end is still shaped in large part by rigid scoring requirements that punish you for ignoring a category while giving you no major gains for doing exceptionally well in a category.

Also, some of the point breakdowns don't make much sense. 1 point for a 2x2 pasture, but 4 points if I fill it in with fences? Yet, since the 1-point setup can only house one type of animals and the 4-point setup can house all three, there's no question which is better. There is never a reason to *choose* to do less in a category. More (but not too much!) is always better, and that severely limits the range of possible strategies the game *could* have offered. If there were a tangible benefit to having 1 big pasture instead of 4 smaller ones (other than costing fewer resources), there would be more meaningful decisions.

One of the things I enjoy most about games like Magic is that you can try any strategy you can think of, no matter how off the beaten path. Some will be more successful than others, but at least the way the game is structured you always have a chance to win. This simply isn't the case in Agricola. I might like the idea of having a farming-heavy vegetarian strategy where I plow 9 fields and produce a huge surplus of veggies and grain, but if I do this I WILL lose. Horribly.

I feel like Agricola would be much more interesting and enjoyable game if it allowed for more varied and *extreme* strategies. Unfortunately, in practice opportunities to execute unorthodox strategies are few and far between. In most games you play you must follow the jack-of-all trades path or suffer from venturing on the road not taken.

THE WORD
Overall what do I think? I think Agricola is a very well-designed game... there's no disputing that. But for a multitude of reasons, some rightfully feel it simply isn't fun. It's hard to learn, and hard to play. Calculating your final score is like doing math homework. If you get excited by a particular action, there's a good chance an opponent will shut you out by taking it first. You may be dealt sub-par cards that put you on an uneven playing field before the game even starts. If you don't establish your "food engine" early on your future turns will be a struggle to survive and little else. And even if you do everything right, your farm is expected to look a certain way at the end. No points for creativity allowed.

So while I respect that a great number of people enjoy and even love this game, my gaming group will never get there. At a steep $70 price tag, it simply isn't worth it.


Edit: Changed the line about it not being fun and it not being for me, because as others accurately pointed out, those were the few things in this review I don't actually believe to be true.
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Katie Schumm
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Agree with many of your points! I have a love/hate relationship with Agricola, and am on the verge of selling my upgraded copy. One of my issues with the game - and this is a matter of personal preference - is that the game feels too "high pressure", in the same way that Operation or Perfection was growing up. It may not have a physical timer, but the mental timer is always running on this game, and it makes me edgy to the point of distraction.

Also, let me point out again, for the record, that this is potentially a terrible game for 2-player spousal play, seeing as the majority of 2-player Agricola strategies involve resource deprivation.Let's just say that can lead to monstrous arguments about who in the marriage really is the bigger douche.

Thank you for the dissenting viewpoint!
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Jeff Hannes
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ldsdbomber wrote:
theres already a geeklist somewhere, i think called

definitive list of negative reviews.

Yes, but do they suck? My disclaimer was just meant to be a self-deprecating note that if people didn't like this style of review I'd own up to it. Can't dish it if I'm not willing to take it, you know?
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John Bradshaw
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wonderwitch wrote:
the game feels too "high pressure", ...It may not have a physical timer, but the mental timer is always running on this game, and it makes me edgy to the point of distraction.

That sums up my view perfectly. The pressure is unrelenting and I find I'm too tense while playing it! I never turn down an opportunity to play - and I'm not bad in the circles I've played in, but I'm sure my stress levels should not be at that level when playing a boardgame.

(Of course, the above just emphasises what a very good game it is)
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Seghillian wrote:
wonderwitch wrote:
the game feels too "high pressure", ...It may not have a physical timer, but the mental timer is always running on this game, and it makes me edgy to the point of distraction.

That sums up my view perfectly. The pressure is unrelenting and I find I'm too tense while playing it! I never turn down an opportunity to play - and I'm not bad in the circles I've played in, but I'm sure my stress levels should not be at that level when playing a boardgame.

(Of course, the above just emphasises what a very good game it is)

I also agree on the "pressure" problem. This is why my favorite way to play is with my girlfriend, and only her. We are able to sit back and enjoy the game with fairly relaxed attitudes, which removes some of the pressure. We're still quite competitive, but the atmosphere between us helps make it feel less tense.

On the other hand, playing with some of my other friends makes the pressure almost overbearing.
 
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Craig Hallstrom
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I love Agricola - but definitely agree with the sense of stress you get when playing it. That is the main reason I can't get it to the table as often as I would like.

Fortunatley my group has found Florenza - which for me has a similar Agricola thought process without quite the stressful feel. (Though Florenza suffers from not adjusting as well to higher player numbers - i.e. 5 is not really do-able and the resource deprivation at 4 can make it un-fun for the victim)
 
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Matt Shields
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xanalor wrote:
Disclaimer: This is a devil's advocate review, written to present a minority viewpoint. In truth, I love Agricola. It's probably my favorite game right now, and I gave it a glowing review HERE. But I do have friends who don't like the game, and I think there's some value in arguing the other side. I hope fans of the game will argue against my points, because ultimately I do think this game is a winner. But the minority should be heard! Consider this thread an experiment... if it's well-received I may do this for other games I've given positive reviews. If not? Well then maybe I can make this post the pioneer entry in a Geek List entitled "Reviews that Suck".

I certainly give you credit for trying something new!

I'm totally happy to read negative reviews from people who want to share them, and I agree that there is value in considering those viewpoints. There is lots of value in confronting criticism openly and honestly. But unless I'm doing it for a debate competition, I'm not sure there's much point in arguing viewpoints that you don't actually have.

It feels kind of pointless for me to actually engage any of the comments you make in your review because I have no idea if they have anything to do with your actual viewpoint. You probably do actually believe some of the things you say, but others you probably don't believe but are just throwing out there. Not sure how to deal with that other than to ignore the whole thing.
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Jeff Hannes
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Quote:
I certainly give you credit for trying something new!

I'm totally happy to read negative reviews from people who want to share them, and I agree that there is value in considering those viewpoints. There is lots of value in confronting criticism openly and honestly. But unless I'm doing it for a debate competition, I'm not sure there's much point in arguing viewpoints that you don't actually have.

It feels kind of pointless for me to actually engage any of the comments you make in your review because I have no idea if they have anything to do with your actual viewpoint. You probably do actually believe some of the things you say, but others you probably don't believe but are just throwing out there. Not sure how to deal with that other than to ignore the whole thing.

Heh, a valid viewpoint. The funny thing is, after writing this I realized I actually agree with every single point I posted. I even made a point to refute the criticisms I DON'T agree with (scripted, multi-player solitaire). The thing is, for me personally, these criticisms are not enough to outweigh what I consider the positives.

In an interesting aside... Every year I run a roleplaying tournament, where competitors are judged for their ability to get into the character and a bunch of other set criteria. It's all very subjective, and the in the final round it's often a very close call. Over the years I've learned that the only way to figure it out in the end is to build people up and tear them down... You have to nitpick on every bit of minutiae to figure out who did the *least* wrong. I shudder at the thought of what one of the competitors might think if they walked in on the middle of the judging discussion, because at a certain point (after talking them up) we're only focusing on the negative.

So I guess I see Agricola in that light... Even the best game has its flaws. Ultimately it's a question of whether or not those flaws are strong enough to outweigh the positives. And I'm certain there are plenty of people who feel they do, otherwise the game would be a 10.0 and not an 8.XX.
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Andy Andersen
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I own it and have never played it. After reading both of your reviews, I'll play it, no wait, I won't. Yes, I will. No, I won't.
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Mike T
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Nice review.

You know, it might actually be easier to write a quality negative review if you actually like the game. Many negative reviews display fundamental misunderstandings about the game, because the reviewer just doesn't like it enough to learn it properly (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's hard to get much from a review when it starts with "my friends made me play this boring game the other night."

The key is to critique the game honestly. There is nothing dishonest in pointing out flaws in a game you like quite a bit. Here, I agree with all of your points: the only thing I'd change is the "It simply isn't fun," which doesn't seem quite as honest, since you admit to enjoying it. Maybe distance it a bit, say "some people just don't find it fun."
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Christopher Foster
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smcmike wrote:
Many negative reviews display fundamental misunderstandings about the game, because the reviewer just doesn't like it enough to learn it properly (not that there's anything wrong with that).
I've noticed this as well. In these cases, it's tempting to defend the game with "Well, actually..." statements, but I often get the idea that the reviewer isn't interested. I'd prefer to spend energy explaining the nuances of the game to someone who is genuinely curious.
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Don D.
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I like the concept here because there just isn't enough negative stuff on these forums (not every game can be the best ever and I want to know that before buying). However, I don't see much use from a review that has little credibility since the author started by saying he doesn't actually believe anything he wrote. We need more negative views from people who actually hold them!
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Eddy Richards
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I like Agricola, and will always play it quite happily, but I can see the justice in some of your negative comments. As you say, no game is perfect, in some cases the flaws actually make the game (imagine Agricola without the worker placement mechanic - my, that would be dull!).

However, I would take issue with your claim that
Quote:
the notion that diversity is favored over specialization flies in the face of most forms of agriculture
- this is true in modern times, but for subsistence farmers, who mostly eat what they grow (like many people in developing countries today and like the medieval farmers in the game), diversity to reduce risk (and to ensure food supplies all year round) is essential - though arguably this is not captured in the granularity of the game, and thus your criticism is valid. What I mean is, you would need to diversify within the category of vegetables, growing different things throughout the year which can cope with different levels of rain etc, to make sure you get something, at least - but in the game, this is just reflected by one generic veggie. I would agree that a real farmer wouldn't need to diversify to the extent the game demands. Perhaps an alternate scoring would be -1 if you don't have any animals at all, or adding up all the animals and treating them as one commmodity, or something. Might be better thematically but would totally screw up the gameplay, so I'm not actually suggesting trying this! Sorry, rambling a bit here, I guess what I'm trying to say is that the scoring system is a bit too restrictive and that if there were more options for ignoring things on purpose (as opposed to never getting around to doing them) it might be better; however, it's difficult to see how this could be implemented in the game as it is without massive restructurings elsewhere, so I'm not volunteering to try it!

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Lawrence Low
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Jeff, I give this review a 10 !!! And I hardly ever give 10s, you know.This is what a negative review should look like.

BTW, you would make a very good trial lawyer - serving either defence or prosecution devil
 
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Ethan Larson
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wonderwitch wrote:
Also, let me point out again, for the record, that this is potentially a terrible game for 2-player spousal play, seeing as the majority of 2-player Agricola strategies involve resource deprivation.Let's just say that can lead to monstrous arguments about who in the marriage really is the bigger douche.

My wife and I play this a lot 2P. :)
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Matt N
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So, I really liked the stuff in between, but the first paragraph really conflicts with the last paragraph:

xanalor wrote:

THE WORD
it simply isn't fun.
Quote:
Calculating your final score is like doing math homework.

Quote:
No points for creativity allowed.
Quote:
So while I respect that a great number of people enjoy and even love this game, my gaming group will never get there. It isn't for me, and at a steep $70 price tag, it simply isn't worth it.

You should be honest when doing a negative review for a game you like. If you don't really believe these sentiments, you should say, "Calculating your final score can feel like doing math homework," or something similar. As it is, I'm hard-pressed to hold the math in the final score against the game compared to the math in Power Grid, which is relatively continuous and much more tedious.

I do like the style, where an expert player in a game highlights its shortcomings - and does it seriously (you might not like this game if you hate fun and kittens!). I would even go further and state your number of plays up front so people know what you're talking about.
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Jeff Hannes
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dond80 wrote:
I like the concept here because there just isn't enough negative stuff on these forums (not every game can be the best ever and I want to know that before buying). However, I don't see much use from a review that has little credibility since the author started by saying he doesn't actually believe anything he wrote. We need more negative views from people who actually hold them!

Actually, to clarify (now that I've modified the one line about the game not being fun and not being for me), there's nothing in this review I don't believe to be true, nor did I preface it that way. I merely said that in actuality I liked the game. Everything I pointed out are legitimate gripes I have about Agricola.

Stunna wrote:

You should be honest when doing a negative review for a game you like. If you don't really believe these sentiments, you should say, "Calculating your final score can feel like doing math homework," or something similar.

Oh, I have to make sure my 6-year old does her homework every night. Believe me, I'm not bending the truth at all when I say that to me calculating the final scores is like doing math homework. I'm not a huge fan of the 7 Wonders endgame either for the same reason.

But I definitely appreciate the feedback. This review is certainly a work in progress, and if I do any more like it I'll take all this into account. I hadn't initially intended for it to be so truthful (in fact my initial disclaimer before I posted it called it a work of fiction), but it really did turn out that way [er truthful, not fiction]. Apart from my conclusion (not worth it), I stand by everything I put in the review.

Maybe in the future I'll leave out the conclusion altogether... It's just so ingrained in me that all reviews must have a definitive conclusion that I felt compelled to include it.
 
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Geoff Burkman
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Quote:
At a steep $70 price tag, it simply isn't worth it.

I found your OP to be well-written (although, of course, contentious) and reasonably well-argued, but then you went and closed with the above-quoted gem, and hit one of my buttons. No biggie, but I will argue it anyway.

One: No one frequenting this site would ever dream of paying full list price for a game anyway, so the statement is invalid.

Two: The simple fact remains that even if someone did pay full list, once they and their gaming group manage to climb up the learning curve (which, given that even children reputedly have minimal problem learning it), the game has immense replayability, and the unit cost per gaming hour drops rapidly (which is, of course, true for almost any game, up to and including monster wargames). A mere nine 4-player sessions, at two hours each, or twelve at 1.5 hours each, drops the cost below $1/player-hour, a tremendous entertainment value when compared to movies, sporting events, theater, concerts, amusement parks, and so on and on and on.

You took a cheap (and demonstrably false) parting shot after a great article; surely you could have come up with something better. It was a weak close to an otherwise fine start.

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I always love to see negative reviews, because they tend to be uncommon or even non-existent for some games. Its nice to see a well done negative review for those of us who are maybe sitting on the fence for particular games and when yet another "this game is so awesome!" review doesn't help us much. I think this would be a great idea as proposed to continue this series to other games.
 
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Christopher Foster
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I like the style of the OP - a player well-versed in the game critiques it. After all, when someone reviews a game after one or two plays, they're more reviewing the game's learning curve. If I'm looking to buy a game, I care much more about a game's sweet spot - what is the game like once a player knows the rules and basic strategy and tactics? How does it play with 2-4 very good players? I think most of the points here would fit just fine in well-rounded positive review.

While I don't personally mind the scoring math (the drama of adding it all up, by hand!), there are several decent scoring apps and spreadsheets. Agricola Buddy (for Android) is my favorite.
 
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Simon Lundström
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Without reading all the replies I have one thing to add: I agree that the drafting thing isn't a good solution, because as you say, you need to be experienced in order to make the drafting work.

However, this CAN be combined with the family game. Beginning with the family game, and THEN adding the cards is a much better learning curve, and by the third game with cards it's easier to know which cards are powerful.
 
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Paul Agapow
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xanalor wrote:
YOU MUST CHOOSE... (but not really)

Nice review - I have mixed feelings about Agricola and you're captured a lot of the qualms I have. In particular, I'd highlight the rules and (as above) the forcing of a middle-of-the-road strategy. It's durn hard to learn how to play the game from the rules and, once you have, it's hard to teach other people. Like it or not, this increases the barrier to entry and the commitment you need to play Agricola.

The middle-of-the-road strategy isn't what I'd call bad, but it's definitely a less interesting game mechanism choice. As you say, for all the variety in the cards, the game scoring works hard to funnel you towards a narrow set of outcomes. Arguably, this makes game balance easier but it seems to miss an opportunity for inventive play and surprise.
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Ethan Larson
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MisterG wrote:
One: No one frequenting this site would ever dream of paying full list price for a game anyway, so the statement is invalid.

I paid $90 for Agricola including tax at a game shop. It was worth every penny.

MisterG wrote:
Two: The simple fact remains that even if someone did pay full list, once they and their gaming group manage to climb up the learning curve (which, given that even children reputedly have minimal problem learning it), the game has immense replayability, and the unit cost per gaming hour drops rapidly (which is, of course, true for almost any game, up to and including monster wargames). A mere nine 4-player sessions, at two hours each, or twelve at 1.5 hours each, drops the cost below $1/player-hour, a tremendous entertainment value when compared to movies, sporting events, theater, concerts, amusement parks, and so on and on and on.

Addressing the highlights in order:

I did pay full list.
They climbed up the learning curve no problem, in between 1 and 3 sessions.
You're right, play $/hour is very, very cheap.

I have 35 plays logged, and we still play on occasion.

The final math doesn't bother me, because it's obvious what is worth points: having some of everything. After one playthrough, people's scores increase a lot. Trena's sister Sarah built a 6-room stone house her first game, finishing with 3 points. Her next game, she got 20 or something like that. Sarah isn't a gamer, but she wanted to play again immediately.

AND you have the family version to help people learn.

If I were to complain about anything, it would be:

1) Cubes for animals in the Z-Man edition, but I understand why they did it that way.
2) Learning the game without someone who has played is painful; but that might be because I was missing some of the boards my first game, and the ones missing had the examples on back.
3) It's heavy, and hurts my arm on long-distance walks. :D
 
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David Jackman
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As someone who genuinely doesn't enjoy Agricola all that much, I think the points you make are solid, but somewhat missed the one that I take the most issue with: the lack of the feeling of growth or accomplishment.

You are always barely scraping by. Each harvest phase strains your little farm to the breaking point. Thematically, this works well. It just doesn't seem as fun.

The game ends right when your farm really could start taking off and giving you the satisfaction that, due to your meticulous planning, cutting corners, and occasionally going hungry, you actually got something out of it.

I love economic snowball games. Glory to Rome is an example of a game that lets you play with what you've created, sometimes rather painstakingly, before the game ends(most of the time). Even a game like Age of Steam, with its trademark tough decisions, Euro mechanics, and tight gameplay gives you more of a feeling of growth.

Ah, well. C'est la vie.

You are entitled to your opinion, especially one so well thought out and well written, but I think that it might be more productive to have a 'Devils Advocate' section of a positive review, rather than a completely separate review.

After all, the counter to your opinions and feelings about a game are still your opinions and feelings.

Cheers!
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Johannes cum Grano Salis
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"It's not hard to design a game that works, the real challenge is making one that people want to play again and again."--Martin Wallace
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xanalor wrote:
And while I realize Agricola is a game about farming and not a simulation of actual farming, the notion that diversity is favored over specialization flies in the face of most forms of agriculture.

It flies in the face of most forms of *modern* agriculture, which I'd argue aren't agricultural at all, but monocultural. I could pontificate on this all day, but I'll be brief here. Monocultures are demonstrably dangerous and wasteful, and diversity is a much more efficient way to farm if you want your farm to remain productive for any stretch of time. That factory farms predominantly engage in monocultures doesn't mean it's correct -- monocultures typically strip nutrients from topsoil without replenishing, rely on dangerous/unstable/untested chemical intervention in most stages of farming that otherwise would make use of animal waste or solar power (i.e., grass), feed animals food they cannot easily digest simply because it's cheap, medicate and/or fertilize to make up for suboptimal conditions, externalize most of their costs, and since there's very little biological diversity in a monoculture (by definition), pests and bacteria quickly adapt and run rampant, encouraging the use of more medication and chemicals. Most manure from a cow or pig monoculture cannot be used for fertilizer because it is so loaded with growth hormone, antibiotics and additives that it is actually toxic to plants. While small, diverse farming might not be as profitable or productive-per-acre as some would like, it is less wasteful, less destructive and less expensive than monoculturing. This is, believe it or not, a major reason I like the game of Agricola: because it represents a farm and not a Farm Fantasy.

*exhales*

...What? What's that you say? Nobody asked? Oh, OK. Let's talk about the game then. (My day job is writing Sustainability training. I think about this stuff ALL THE TIME.)

I'm probably exactly like the OP in that I love this game, but am starting to get uber-cynical (or is that "realistic"?) about who I play this with. I *love* the tension of this game, and I *love* how you never feel your farm is good enough or productive enough. That anxiety probably mimics how I would feel if I were in charge of feeding my family for a year exclusively from food I grew or raised. I *love* the variability that the cards offer, so that the game is never about just picking the same actions in a row every time you play.

The only thing I *don't* like about this game is the zero-sum nature of the actions. Yes, it's a game mechanism, but it often ruins the moment for me. I've got all this wood in front of me, but I can't build a fence, why, exactly? Because my neighbor just did? Why am I not allowed to plow my field because the guy to my right already did? Since when does a farmer call it a day because his neighbor already plowed his field? (I'm assuming this is what you meant by "serious back-bending to try to justify the thematic implications"? If so, no disagreement there.) While I can understand people who aren't wild about the farming theme, I prefer stuff like this to the umpteenth "let's all go get new armor for our elves and tromp off to the dungeon to kill the orcs and the evil wizard." Maybe it's just me, but you know fantasy's been overdone when vegetables start looking exciting.

I'm not sure what it says that I enjoyed a negative review from someone who likes the game, yet I do not often enjoy negative reviews by people who hate the game. Maybe because I don't like how people act personally offended when they play a game they don't like? Or because people are generally apt to write a review after only playing a game once? I don't know. At any rate, count me as someone who'd read additional reviews in this style. It's much more even-handed than a typical negative review. Cheers.

J
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