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Subject: What to expect in Agricola - Wait, you haven't played it yet? rss

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Vojta Drevikovsky
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My first encounter with Agricola was few years back on one of our annual board game sessions at our cottage. Some people in the back were playing it, I quickly glanced in their direction and was told that the game is fun but it's long and has sheep in it. That sparked my interest (I like sheep, I think they're funny), however I didn't play it. Fast-forward to last year's April 26th when I bought the game. It was on sale in an internet shop, I had the money and BoardGameGeek ranks it as the third best game in their list.

In Agricola you play as a head of a family taking care of a farm in Europe of the 16th century. You have a small house for you and your spouse and a large lot to expand. Each member of the family is capable of performing one action during a turn and next to a choice of default actions at the beginning, a new action is added every turn. Actions could be anything from fishing, building a stable, collecting resources to baking bread, sowing seeds and plowing fields. There are many choices of what to do but in general, there are three ways of expanding: first it's building and upgrading your house and multiplying the family members, then it's collecting animals and breeding them in pens and lastly it's growing wheat and vegetables on your fields. The winner at the end is decided by points and to succeed, one usually must pay attention to all 3 branches.

That, however, is not an easy task since all the other players are attempting to get the best (the most useful) actions for themselves, as once an action was performed in a turn, it cannot be performed again. So you as a player usually struggle with other players for getting the right actions for yourself or at least the second (third-, fourth-) best and somehow still manage to prosper. There is one useful action for this - "being the starting player next round" action that holds an immense strategic power if timed well with accumulated resources.

So not only you clash with you opponents' plans but with the time itself as well. The game lasts only 14 turns and you NEVER have enough time (enough family members) to do everything you need. The obvious solution for that is adding a family member as soon as possible, since there is a great difference between being able to do two or three actions per turn. A very good example of the gameplay system follows: For a new family member, you need one more room in your house which costs wood and reed - 4 actions if you are lucky and gather all the resources needed in one go each - one to get wood, one to get the reed, one to build the room and one to procreate - 4 actions which in early game mean 2 whole turns. Of course you can be stalled by other players performing the actions that you need, thus prolonging your slow progress. Procreation is an action that appears sometime in the second round of the game, which means turns 5 to 7. So you have whole 4 turns to collect your resources and spend some extra time on developing your farm and then perhaps you take a chance, acquire the starting player position and hope that the next turn will bring a procreation action.

More family members does not only mean more workforce, it also means more hungry stomachs. Every once in a while (at the end of turns 4th, 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th and 14th) comes Harvest when you gather production from your fields, your cattle has babies and you have to feed your family. Food is perhaps the most important resource of the game (and also the least useful at the end since it doesn't give you any points). Feeding your family is an important event so you usually count if you'll have enough food for everyone when the Harvest comes but since you manage a farm, food is easy to obtain (in theory). After trading some resources for an improvement for your house (like a hearth or an oven) you can "exchange" any animal or vegetable you own for a certain number of food tokens (carnivores eat the animals, vegetarians can found their peace in this Vegan version of the game thread on BGG). So not only you are expanding your farm, multiplying your family and devise devious strategies to get as much points at the end as you can, you also must think about feeding your family now and then. "Is eating this cow good as it will feed two family members, or should I keep it for points at the end?" is just one of the questions you'll be pondering while playing Agricola.

There are two versions of the game - family version which focuses on building the farm, and a full version which adds an extra layer of strategy in form of two sets of cards for every player - professions and minor improvements - that can be played as an action and they will affect your gameplay somehow. You can gain extra food with every wood you get, or you might get more points at the end for some resources or something like that. The family version is truly a great game for cool parents, the full version is great for a gaming group sessions.

Agricola is a really good game. Its rules aren't exactly easy to explain but they are grasped very soon by new players (the family version's at least) and the game has an expansion which I haven't played yet, but I heard it adds to the complexity and the decision making process greatly. There's a lot to the game, a lot of board and pieces, the box is actually quite heavy for its size... Which is good I suppose, at least you get a lot of worth for little money - the game's out for some time so don't expect to pay much for it nowadays (if you still don't own it, that is :)). Don't be put off by the bad quality boxart, the game is gold inside.
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Tibs
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Not sure what you're looking for in art, but the box art is the best in the entire game, and it's actually very good.
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Ethan Larson
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kungfro wrote:
Not sure what you're looking for in art, but the box art is the best in the entire game, and it's actually very good.


Can't agree.

http://boardgamegeek.com/image/470327/eve-conquests

That is a game with good box art. We were in the game shop, and my wife who is a graphic designer said, "Shame all these great games have such horrible box art. Except that one." And she pointed to the EVE game. It really does stick out on the shelf as being one of the only boxes I can think of where the designers understand what to do with type.
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Derakon Derakon
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To be fair, the creators of that boardgame have years' worth of videogame resources to work with. They didn't have to create a new spaceship model because they have hundreds already. Most game developers have to do their art from scratch.
 
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Tibs
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Hmmmm. Yes that is very nice art.

But I too am a graphic designer. So let me rephrase:

The image on the cover of Agricola is well done. Though it is not mind-blowing by any means, and that fantasy games tend to have a high standard for artwork, this is a game about farming. It is a cartoony game about a humble profession, so the cartoony-humble artwork suits it very well. I wouldn't rather have anything as realistic or overtly computer-designed as the Eve Conquest cover, because it would add too much seriousness to this game, and that would create a theme-design dissonance.
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Mike T
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Yeah, what do you want, a really beautiful photo-realistic of a dung-pile?



edit: belatedly realized I set myself up for a crack about my bgg avatar there.....
 
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Geoff Burkman
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Just one nitpick: there's also a harvest at the end of Round Fourteen.
 
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Vojta Drevikovsky
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kungfro wrote:
Not sure what you're looking for in art, but the box art is the best in the entire game, and it's actually very good.


Uhhh, I still don't see how it is actually very good. The obvious use of photoshop leaf brushes and the sheep floating in the air just kills it for me. But you're right it's certainly doesn't add to the game seriousness.

I like the cover of Dominion, Dorn or Arkham Horror, for example. If I didn't know anything about Agricola, I wouldn't get interested based on the box art :/

I suppose it does have its own style, recently I was quick to recognize an Agricola-like boxart - At the gates of Loyang, another game by Rosenberg. It does look like Agricola in red... Also it's main picture is even more terrible. :D


smcmike wrote:
Yeah, what do you want, a really beautiful photo-realistic of a dung-pile?


Haha, not at all. I'm a fan of pencils or at least not so obvious computer graphic. Something like that wouldn't hurt the game's look but the publishers had their own reasons (probably financial) to have the game look like this.

MisterG wrote:
Just one nitpick: there's also a harvest at the end of Round Fourteen.


Thanks for pointing this out, I corrected it :)
 
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Derakon Derakon
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I'd guess that the reasons for the art are financial, yeah. They needed illustrations for hundreds of cards in addition to the box art, and it'd be worse to have inconsistent art between the box and the cards than it would to have bad box art.

Not only that, but having top-notch art on your game makes it more intimidating for your fans to modify it.
 
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Andy Andersen
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We've played it - just haven't finished it. Thanks for the reviewthumbsup
 
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