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Subject: 2 player review after both short and long version.. rss

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Bryan Downie
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After dropping a couple of hints to my lovely wife, she gave me Ora et Labora for Christmas. We finally got a chance to play the short and long version this weekend (2 player only). I'll be referencing a few of Uwe's other games in this review and you shouldn't expect to be able to reference this review to help you learn the game.

We played the french short game and the irish long version.

Initial impressions: There is a LOT of replayability in this game. The Irish vs. French buildings introduce a few gameplay changes by making certain resources more or less scarce (e.g. wheat is more important in the Irish game). Thus, the dynamics of resource collection are variable between the two variants, although many plays will be required to determine how variable that is.

A short summary of gameplay: In the short player game, each player gets two actions in a round. In the long player game, each player gets effectively 3 actions in a round. An action can be used to perform one of three actions:

1) Use a building by putting one of your three monks on an unoccupied building. This is also how you get resources off the production wheel, or flip resources over to the advanced/VP containing side.
2) Fell a forest or clear a bog, giving you wood (critical for building buildings or for energy) or peat (energy), respectively.
3) Build a building, spending the resources (e.g. wood) needed. If your prior (one of the three monks) is free, you get an extra action where you can use the building immediately. This is mega important because the currency of the game (like in many of other of Uwe's games) is the number of actions you have.

Puzzle Element: One of the aspects I really like about OeL is the implementation of the puzzle aspect. I've always felt that the puzzle element in vanilla Agricola was a bit lacking (I have little experience with the expansion). In Agricola, it is very rare for an initial decision on location of tile/pasture to have an influence on the late game - your ability to fill your empty spots are more dependent on what actions are available to you rather than where you've extended your house.

In contrast, the puzzle element is very active in OeL. Wood is not only critical for building many buildings, but it and peat are the only way to get energy which you need for the mega points that are settlements. Access to both wood and peat are generally limited by the number of forests and bogs you have (when you fell a forest, you have one less forest).

When you expand, you have a choice of whether to reduce your access to vital resources by choosing an expansion tile with few or no forest/bogs, or reduce your ability to build buildings (since you can't build into spaces that have forests or bogs). Additionally, felling forests or clearing bogs require actions.

Chain actions: One of the elements that I really enjoy is the ability to build up action chains. At one point in the game I had a building that let me (when used by a monk) remove my prior from a building and then build a building. Because my prior was now free, I could use him on the new building. Moreover, I had another building which let me use an occupied building (two monks can't be on the same building).

So if I had all three monks available to me in the situation above, I could first build a building, then use it with my prior as an extra action. Then I use the first building to remove my prior and build a new building, which I promptly use with my prior for another extra action. Then I use the second building to re-use my first building to remove my prior, build a building, and use it with my prior (extra action). So I earned three extra actions that round (which puts me way ahead in the action = currency calculation).

Blocking: At first, I wasn't convinced there's that much blocking available (and hence interaction, since you can't trade), but after a couple of games, it's there, but it's very subtle. It might be different in the 3-4 player games. The key to blocking comes in how you use another player's buildings. Rather than assigning your own monk to their building, you hire the other person's monk by paying the other player in coins (one of the basic resources you can collect).

It's important to understand how you get your monks back after they've been used. If it's the beginning of a round and you have no free monks (they have all been assigned to buildings), you get all of your monks back (also when another player is the one taking actions).

The fact that you hire another player's monk is the core of the blocking mechanic, because you can block a building not only by using it yourself, but if you have no monks available when the other player is taking actions (due to the funky way the actions in a round are structured), you can prevent other players from using ANY of your buildings. So if you've monopolized the stone production buildings (an important resource for building advanced buildings), you can effectively lock out all the other players for at least one round simply by assigning your workers. This blocking mechanic can, sadly, work in reverse as well: If other players use all your monks before your turn in the round comes along, you can't use your own buildings, even if they're free! It's a really intriguing mechanic that I really like.

Victory Points: You can get victory points from settlements (where you get points based off the buildings surrounding the settlement, further ramping up the puzzle aspect), from individual buildings, and from advanced resource tiles. Whether the game really supports going after one particular VP strategy or offers a more balanced approach, I don't know yet.

Comparison to Le Havre: I've read a lot of comparisons to Le Havre, and while I'd say it's the most similar of Uwe's games that I've played, OeL is really a totally different game. The blocking mechanic is entirely different and with three monks, more difficult. There are way more choices available to you because it is much easier to build buildings (I can't think of any of the buildings in OeL that require advanced resources to build). This really tends to lead to analysis paralysis, where there are so many options available near the end game that determining the "best" choice can be very difficult. It does, however, reward creative use of chaining combos as described above, which is a unexpected and rewarding element of the game.

Does it obsolete a game?: I can still see myself playing Le Havre or Agricola, particularly with less gamery gamers. Le Havre I find to be especially good with new players because of the dynamics of the game. You have a single action each round, and in the beginning of the game, you have very few alternative actions. OeL has more actions per turn and more choices from the very beginning of the game, plus the whole settlement and puzzle component. It is simply a more complex game with more stuff to pay attention to. That being said, it is a LOT of fun.

Will I never play the short version again? I will prefer to play the 2 player long version in general, as you lose about half the cards in the short version. That being said, I think the core strategies are about the same, so if I really needed to play OeL and didn't have much time, I'd still play and enjoy the short version. The short version IS an excellent introduction to the game, however.
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Richard Ham
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Considering how much you enjoyed the "puzzle" element, you really owe it to yourself to get a copy of Agricola: Farmers of the Moor, since it adds the exact same gameplay to Agricola.

Also, we haven't tried it yet, but my thinking is that with the short game, the buildings available could be chosen randomly, using the full set of cards. Since they're all allowable in the long version, I don't see any reason not to use them in the short version, making every game setup unique (which is one of the things we enjoy most about Agricola & Le Havre), and it'll keep the playing time under control (we tend to be slow methodical players).
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Bryan Downie
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I dunno about choosing the buildings randomly. I think you would need to have a couple buildings that were going to be in the game no matter what (e.g. the stone quarry). Otherwise you'll end up in situations where there are no more buildings available because the raw resource isn't there. Or where there's no point to collect grapes because the winery doesn't exist. So while it could work, I think it'd require a bit of playtesting..

Thanks for the tips about the expansion. I've avoided getting it because of how rarely Agricola hits our table...
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Richard Ham
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Yeah, I shouldn't have said randomly, because I had assumed the stone quarry and stone merchant would definitely have to be purposely seeded in. I hadn't thought about the top end VP generators though... good point. Hmm, will have to give this a more thorough looksee before our next game
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Scott Nelson
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Review after review, I want to play this more and more. Deeper than Le Havre? I haven't heard that before, but it is good to hear. My wife loves the deeper game, and I like the puzzling aspect more when you add Farmers to Agricola, so it will be right up my alley as well.
Also, as a designer, I will be looking at the clever mechanisms that are unique to the game, or known mechanisms that are reproduced differently; I get my "fun" in games usually this way; "Wow, that is ingenious!", is what I want to hear myself say while/after playing a game. Very few games have led me to say it, but I know Tigris and Euphrates was one, and the very simple mechanisms of Jaipur was another; thie first was Carolus Magnus, but it was also my very first euro I ever played. I hope O&L has what it takes to get to my "Wow!" factor.
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David Larkin
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rahdo wrote:
Considering how much you enjoyed the "puzzle" element, you really owe it to yourself to get a copy of Agricola: Farmers of the Moor, since it adds the exact same gameplay to Agricola.


And the Agricola: Gamers' Deck. That contains cards that give you extra production if you plant fields that are orthogonaly adjacent to stables and similar such stuff
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mikivr ugo
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How much time 2 player long version?
 
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Grzegorz Kobiela
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Cody Fleming
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Neurobry wrote:

Blocking: Rather than assigning your own monk to their building, you hire the other person's monk by paying the other player in coins (one of the basic resources you can collect)


Did I miss this? I had only read that you could pay a coin to use YOUR monk on someone else's land. If the winery or beer distillery has been built then it costs two coins to use someone else's buildings. And you can always use a wine or a beer to pay a work contract as well.

I've been known to misinterpret a rule before and I don't have them in front of me...
 
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Richard Ham
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Yup, Neurobry is right... you're hiring their monk to work their building for you
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sechzger
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How would you grade the long and short version?
 
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Bryan Downie
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So after having 6-7 games under our belt, we play the long version exclusively. It takes about 2 hours to play now that we know how everything works together. Both of us really like the game and it's definitely in our top ten.
 
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Philip Thomas
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mistersox wrote:
Neurobry wrote:

Blocking: Rather than assigning your own monk to their building, you hire the other person's monk by paying the other player in coins (one of the basic resources you can collect)


Did I miss this? I had only read that you could pay a coin to use YOUR monk on someone else's land. If the winery or beer distillery has been built then it costs two coins to use someone else's buildings. And you can always use a wine or a beer to pay a work contract as well.

I've been known to misinterpret a rule before and I don't have them in front of me...


You never put your monks on other people's lands. When you want to use someone's building you must hire THEIR monk (they choose which one).

One coin then two coins is correct. In France you use wine, in Ireland Whiskey (NOT Beer)- and in either case the wine or whiskey is consumed rather than handed over to the other player (they get nothing, because they're busy getting drunk!).
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