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Board Game Review # 7 – Agricola

2010 August 23
by Michael Schroeder

“Hunny, we need to make babies before the other farmer couples do, so we have more actions to take! OK hun – just make sure we have enough food at the harvest to feed us all, or we’ll become the beggars of the county.” It’s time to get out your rakes and hoes and discuss… Agricola, by designer, Uwe Rosenberg – a deeply complex euro-strategy game by publisher, Z-Man Games.

Number of Players: 1-5

Age: 12+

Playing Time: 120-180 minutes, or approximately, 30 minutes per player

Agricola, Z-Man Games

Agricola, by Z-Man Games

What’s the game about: A description from the publisher’s web site…

In Agricola (Latin for “farmer”), you’re a farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else. On a turn, you get to take only two actions, one for you and one for the spouse, from all the possibilities you’ll find on a farm: collecting clay, wood or stone; building fences; and so on. You might think about having kids in order to get more work accomplished, but first you need to expand your house. And what are you going to feed all the little rugrats?

Agricola is a turn-based game. There are 14 game turns plus 6 harvest phases (after turn 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14). Each player starts with two playing tokens (farmer and wife) and thus can take two actions per turn. There are multiple options, and while the game progresses, you’ll have more and more: first thing in a turn, a new action card is flipped over.

Problem: Each action can be taken just once per turn, so it’s important to do some things with high preference. Each player also starts with a hand of 7 Occupation cards (of more than 160 total) and 7 Minor Improvement cards (of more than 140 total) that he may use during the game if they fit in his/her strategy. This amounts to countless strategies, some depending on your card hand. Sometimes it’s a good choice to stay on course, sometimes you better react on what your opponents do.

Agricola can also be played without cards (family game) and can even be played solo.

Basic idea in my own words: In Agricola, you begin the game as a family in a farm, represented by flat discs. The goal of the game is to have the most victory points at the end of the game, which is after the last harvest. There are 14 rounds in the game, with a number of stages, or “plays” within a given round. Some rounds have more than others, but at the end of each round, it’s harvest time. Harvest time represents the games built in clock, where during this phase of the game, you must be able to feed your entire family. In addition to the requirement of feeding your family, you also have the opportunity to obtain more vegetables and grain from your farming or dirt spaces as well as reproduce more animals, from any animals you may have.

Ultimately then, in this game, it’s your job to strategically balance timing of taking action spaces (which allow you to do something such as plant food or use an action card or build a pasture,etc.), playing your action cards right and being able to feed your family the required food, at harvest time. You do not ever want to miss an opportunity to feed your family because that is extremely costly to you. At harvest time, you must be able to feed your family 2 food. You can have family members ranging anywhere from 2-5. If you miss just 1 food, for 1 family member – you must take a beggar card, which is -3 victory points, at the end of the game. And there is no way to get rid of the beggar cards, unless you luckily drew a certain occupation card at the beginning of the game.

The game will often end within 10 victory points, give or take…not many. So it’s critical to not get one of these cards, and it’s also critical to try and balance out what you have on your farming area, at the end of the game. I say this because you receive points for certain resources you have at the end of the game. For instance, wild boards and steer, come out later in the game, so it’s wise to have these at the end of the game, as they are worth more points for you. Also, if you have any empty farming spaces on your farm, you receive negative points. See the example below to what a farming area looks like.

Agricola Farming Spaces

The top board is a prototype, look at the bottom board. The small blocks represent farming spaces, blue discs represent the players family members, the blocks on the very left represent the rooms of the house; the dirt spaces on top are where the grain and veggies get planted; the larger, blue, wooden rectangular pieces that look like a fence, represents a pasture to keep animals in; white cubes are sheep, brown cube is steer; black cube is wild boar; small blue house is a stable; orange disc is veggie; yellow disc is grain; other empty spaces that have nothing on it, will hurt you at the end of the game.

I’m not going to get into extreme detail of the game, as it would take too long, but I want to give you the basics of taking turns in this game.

A turn consists of this

So, you start the game with two family members, meaning you have two actions you can take in a stage, and remember, there are many stages within a round, so you don’t have to go immediately for the food. As the game progresses, you really should, and you do have the opportunity to make babies, and then they quickly grow up and you put them to work on the farm – this means you can have more actions to take in a stage. So it’s a nice thing when you have 3 actions in the game, when everyone else has 2, but you must make sure you will be able to feed them all, during harvest!

Well, can’t everyone do the same action and we all make babies at once? No. Once a player places his family member down on a action space, that’s it. Nobody else can put their piece on that space. They must wait until next stage. So if your keen on being able to, for instance, upgrade your house from wood to stone, you better hope nobody else claims that space before you do! But to make it even more complex, you have requirements for such things. For instance, you build a new room to a house, you need 2 reed and 5 wood, say your building another wood room. To receive the reed, you need to claim that space, then you have to have wood as well.

Here’s some more insight to resources. At the beginning of the game, the wood space, for instance, gets 3 wood chits put on that space. Player A, takes that space, so he receives all wood present there. Oops, there’s no more wood on the board. This means your going to have to wait until the end of the current stage, upon which, all resources get replenished. Whew, you can take that wood. If you really want it, make sure to take it first this time.

Agricola, 5 player game.

Agricola, 5 player game.

Who goes first in this game is important. Now which it’s not critical that you always go first – it’s wise to go first at least a few times throughout the game. Going first, costs an action. Say your getting tired of going 2nd or last, well, for one of your actions, you can place your family member down on the first player space, where you’ll get to go first next round, until someone else claims that space.

So looking at the big picture of this game, the turns aren’t complicated, there’s just a lot involved in thinking of what your going to take, and when.

In review, a turn consists of claiming an action space, and resolving it’s effect. Then it goes around the table, then you get to go again, for how many family members you have. Then at the end of that stage, you remove your family members and bring them back home, then replenish all goods. At this time, if the stage is the last stage of a round, it’s harvest time. So now is the time you have better not forgotten about… the good news is, later on in the game, when you have a amble supply of grains and veggies and animals, you can use it all as food, as you will receive a lot, depending on what resource it is.

Cards: The game also includes special cards. Occupation, major improvements and minor improvements. This game comes with tons of cards. At the beginning of the game, everyone receives 7 occupation and minor improvement cards. These cards allow you to break away from the typical rules. For instance, 1 minor improvement card allows you to double the amount of sheep you have in a pasture, where normally, your only allowed 2 of any animal in 1 block, if it’s in a pasture. So to play such cards, you must claim the action space that allows you to play these cards. Often, many cards will also have requirements to being able to place them.

Major improvement cards are laid out on a special board for everyone to see. These can be grabbed by anyone, granted you have the requirements for such. And with everything else, you must claim the major improvement action space. These cards are critical in the game, you must use some of these, or else your bound to fail. I actually played the game with my friends Tim and Matt. Tim and I are seasoned in the game but it was Matt’s first time. So we played the more simple family game where no minor improvements or occupations are used, and boy was it tough! I will never be playing family rules again.

In summary, that’s the flow of the game, from a higher level perspective. The game is actually much more involved than what I represented here. The decisions you make and when you make them are critical. You must think of what you opponents may want; you are advised to exercise some restraint at the correct times, so that once that certain action becomes available, your the first to nab it and much much much much more. This game has so many levels and angles of strategy, that it’s not for the faint of heart, but it’s one of my favorite games! I gave it a 10 on board game geek. For awhile it’s been going back and forth between Puerto Rico for the 1st and 2nd spot, and while PR is a great game. – in my mind, Agricola blows PR away. This is a complex resource management game, for the lack of a better term.

Component Quality: 5/5

The game includes cards of good card stock. The actual game boards are good stock and I love the illustrations. While the art is not detailed like Dominion or Citadels, it’s really nice and simple, yet pleasant. The game consists mostly of wooden chits, so I don’t see how there can be much wrong there. The only thing I advise you do, is go out and buy a craft box to separate and put all the pieces in. The game comes with baggies for all the chits and that just was a nightmare to play with – so get rid of them and buy a craft box.

Theme: 5/5

The theme of this game is so perfectly interwoven with the mechanics. The designer did an awesome job of taking time to think this game out.

Instruction Manual: 3/5

3 out of 5 isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I gave it that because there’s so much information that its overwhelming having to read the manual. I had to read it 5 times or so, before initially playing. It is organized, but this is the nature of the game – there is so much to cover. I did find a few typos or repetitions or wrong references, which threw me off. But the manual is full colored with examples and the paper is standard-good stock.

Luck Factor: 1/5

There’s not a lot of luck in this game. You make your own destiny.  The only luck is, the randomly drawn cards at the beginning of the game. For the most part, your stuck with those.

Strategy: 5/5

This is a strategy game…99%. It’s a heavy resource management game where there is virtually no luck involved. There is a huge balance that must be achieved, as well as racing against other players, and the clock. This game may give you slight anxiety 🙂 There is so many levels of strategy in this game, it’s crazy.

Overall Feelings: 5/5

This is virtually a perfect game in my eyes. It’s strategy is deep; the component quality and design of the game is near perfect. I would advise this for anyone that loves euro or strategy games. Now would I recommend this for my 50/60 year old parents? No. It’s too much for them. I can’t even imagine trying to teach them this game. Again though, it’s not for the faint of heart. If you like quick and easy games with easy cleanup, I would not recommend this game. But for everyone else, this is a must own.

 

Michael Schroeder is a board game enthusiast, has written an eBook entitled, “Beyond Monopoly: A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Board Games” (Kindle, Apple iBook), is busy designing games and owns an eCommerce board game store, Meeple Village! He also has a podcast that complements this blog, “Board Game Dialog (also available on other podcast aggregators).” He is mike6423 on BGG.

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Frank Hamrick permalink
    August 28, 2010

    You say you wouldn’t advise it for your parents who are in their 50’s/60’s.

    Well, I happen to love it and have played it quite a few times – learned it by reading the rules and playing it solitaire. And I’m old enough to be your parent’s parent’s (well, if they’re 50). 🙂

    But of course, I’ve been playing games all my life, including the majority of Avalon Hill games as soon as they were first released in 1958 or so. So Agricola was not that heavy IMO. I don’t think the difficulty of learning a game has so much to do with age as it does with experience in playing games. I’ve tried to teach young couples “simple” games only to have them say they were “too heavy,” because they’d never played anything but Monopoly, Scrabble, Pictionary, etc.

    I appreciate your review, otherwise, but did smile when you mentioned the age factor. 🙂

  2. kyle permalink
    September 20, 2010

    I’d recommend people who want to learn to play this game watch the Board Games With Scott Agricola video – I’ve pretty much made everyone who is going to play with me watch that first, as it saves me from explaining the game, and I think it does a good job of educating new players. Then I can answer any questions and fill in any gaps in the gameplay.

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