Posts tagged ‘farming’

Agricola – How Can Farming in the Seventeenth Century Be So Much Fun?

Introduction

Agricola, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, has taken the board-gaming world by storm.  In 2008 it won, among other prizes, the International Gamers Award and the German Spiel des Jahres in the category of complex games.  So why is this game about farming in the seventeenth century so popular?  Let’s have a closer look.

Components and Theme

Despite the small size of the box, Agricola comes with a lot of components.  For one thing, you get around 400 cards, nearly all of them different from each other, and each of them nicely illustrated.  You’ll find that the English translation of the text has a few minor errors in it, but these are fairly insignificant.  Each player gets her own board (much like in Puerto Rico), which depicts fifteen farmyard spaces.  There are further boards (many double-sided) on which the main action of the game takes place.

In addition, every player gets five people tokens and a set of wooden fences and stables.   But that’s not all.  There are wooden markers to indicate produce (grain and vegetables), animals (cattle, boars, sheep), and resources (wood, reed, clay, stone); and there are square cardboard markers to indicate rooms (made of wood, clay, or stone) and fields.  The production of this game is high class, and certainly justifies the price of the game.  It really gives you the sense that you are building your own farm, collecting resources, hiring labourers and craftsmen (the occupation cards), putting up fences, adding rooms, and so on.  There is a sense of progression and development here, a sense that you can pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.

However, the real appeal of the theme is not simply farming, but also the sense that you’re building both a family and a business.  You start out with two family members (a husband and a wife), and over the course of 14 rounds you can grow your farm as well as your family (you can have up to three children).  You start off with 2 wooden rooms, but at the end you might have a nice 5-room stone mansion.  The game gives you a sense that you’re achieving something.  And we’re not talking about a momentous achievement (like conquering the world or building a huge business empire); instead, Agricola gives the satisfaction of raising a family on a kind of hobby farm.  Who doesn’t like that?

Moreover, there’s a certain realism to the game – every number of rounds there is a harvest, and your family needs to survive or go begging (the latter option nets you negative points).  Likewise, actions have to proceed in logical steps.  You can’t bake bread in large quantities until you have an oven (a major improvement), and to build an oven you need clay and stone.  You further need grain, and if you want to get grain in larger quantities you’ll need to plough a field and sow the grain you have.

Complexity

Agricola is one a very select few games that have two separate rule-sets, one for the so-called “family game” and a more advanced version that adds greater complexity.  The main difference between the two versions is that the full game adds the occupation and minor improvement cards.  At the beginning of the game each player gets 7 of each, and can use the actions spaces on the main board to play them from his hand, and add them to his farm.  A minor improvement might be a plough or a bean field, and an occupation might be a baker or a scholar.  These cards thus make your farm more efficient and will generally raise your score.

However, the family game is quite good in its own right, and provides a nice way for new players to learn the game and for those not into deep strategic gaming to participate in the fun.  The success of Agricola can thus be explained in part as the result of its wide audience appeal.  It scales well from 2-5 players (with additional action spaces added for more players), and the addition of the minor improvements and occupation cards makes for a very intense gaming experience.  Expect to be totally immersed in this one!

What makes Agricola easier to play, on the other hand, is that the decisions at the beginning of the game are much easier than later on.  Whereas at the outset you might have a choice between around a dozen actions (depending on the number of players), at the end that number has more than doubled. In fact, every round a new action card is revealed that one of your family members can use. In round one (comprising the first four rounds), for instance, we get a “take sheep” action, a “build fences” action, a “sow and/or bake bread” action, and a “minor of major improvement” action. This is what makes Agricola easier to learn than another top ranked strategy game like Puerto.  There is no need to know what all the cards and actions do right away – even though this may give some advantage later on.  Instead it’s easy to delve right in and learn as you go.

Final Assessment

I have played Agricola more than thirty times now, with all numbers of players (1-5) and with both the family game and with the additional decks of cards (I, E, and K). I expect to be playing Agricola for many years to come.  Of the many Euro-games I’ve played this is by far my favourite.

Of course the game has some weaknesses, but at least some of them are easily fixable.  Many critics will argue, for instance, that whoever gets dealt the best cards (minor improvements and occupations) will win automatically.  For one thing this is a gross overstatement.  Occasionally you might get a really great opening hand – in one five-player game I scored 79 points! – but generally everyone has a good shot at winning.  Nevertheless, the rule-book suggests a good fix for this minor problem.   Before the game begins, you should draft for your opening hand.  This adds a bit of a CCG feel to it.  I’m a big fan of drafting in Magic: the Gathering, so for me this is a perfect fit.

Others complain that there is not enough interaction between players in Agricola.  This is only true in the sense that you can’t go and rob your neighbour’s farm.  However, you do have the chance to block other players from using action spaces, and if you play this game only with an eye to your own farm you will not win very often.   On the other hand, it also doesn’t help to block just to spite others, because no one can really afford to waste any actions.

Agricola, then, offers truly immersive game play for a wide range of audiences.  This is my game of choice if I have a couple of free hours.  There is nothing quite like it.

Get your own copy of Agricola

April 20, 2009 at 2:38 am Leave a comment

Agricola Board Game – New Product and Tutorial Video Posted

We have posted a new video about Agricola. The goal of the video is to allow you to see the components of the game and understand the basic mechanics of the game. This should be enough for you to determine if you think it is the type of game you would like and how to get started with your first game.

We did not attempt to show every aspect of the game, nor is it a review style video.

Hope this helps you determine if the farming-themed board game, Agricola is a game for you.

November 12, 2008 at 10:40 pm 4 comments

Agricola Board Game – Our Experiences Playing This Game

Written by Gary Bacchus

What Is Agricola?

For those of you not in the know, Agricola has taken the board gaming community by storm. This representation of farming in an age gone by has captivated people, launched internet debates, and pretty much became source for the hype mill for the past year or so. With comparisons being drawn to its spiritual successor, Le Havre, and because of its new post-Essen awards, I took a sort of retrospective view of how I encountered Agricola

Learning About Agricola

The first inklings I had of Agricola were due to one my co-workers reading about it in the pre-release lists for Essen 2007. By the time the official lists came out, the Internet hype machine was primed and ready to go. The buzz around the Geek was already making comparisons to classic Euro games like Puerto Rico, Tigris and Euphrates, etc. This was going to be an epic affair. I read the translated rules that appeared on the Geek and found the mechanics of the game easy to come by. I wondered how the wide variety of cards was going to affect the game. I didn’t really look after getting into the details as my co-worker had the game pre-ordered so it should arrive in a little while. Right?

Flash forward a little while and we find that a slight supply chain problem had worked its way into our sheep breeding, family raising, and corn harvesting dreams to the tune of several months. However, our enthusiasm didn’t wane too much and we were rewarded with our first experience with Uwe Rosenberg’s big box extravaganza.

The First Play

My first play with Agricola was a three-player affair with very accomplished gamers who had not yet played the game. After reading a couple of reviews and session reports, I felt I had a basic grasp of what I needed to do. I knew that the cards I had in hand would dictate my strategy and guide me down the path to an assured victory. One small problem with that. The game doesn’t reward a concentration on one strategy but a effort in maximizing my efforts in all manners of agricultural discipline. Unfortunately, I found this out as the points were being counted up, not by reading the writings of those who had already played the game. They probably assumed that you knew to set up a food making system, so you didn’t have to worry about feeding your family. Then, one may proceed to improve their quality of life.

“Oh, that’s just like real life. Except with a scorecard.”

The light went on and subsequent plays became much less complicated.

Introducing Agricola to Friends

Like all good board game geeks, I succumbed to the “cult of the new” itch and had my own copy of Agricola in short order. The first challenge was the family. I am fortunate to have a wife and child who not only put up with this rather obscure hobby of mine but actually participate in said pastime. While this wouldn’t be the heaviest game that has ever crossed the table (Power Grid is a regular favorite and Twilight Struggle has made it to the table once or twice), this game would be the most rule heavy game we’ve ever played. While the mechanics of the game can be boiled down to “have one farmer, take one action,” the game is complex in that the victory conditions aren’t readily apparent. Sure, like most Euro games, the player with the most points win. However, most Euro games do confront you right away with the point scoring mechanics. Agricola, on the other hand, can sneak them up on you if you’re not watching your player mat very closely.

Teaching Challenges

The big challenge in teaching this had to be imparting the importance of using all of the agricultural activities upfront without complicating it by explaining everything all at once. Again, this game supports diversity. All that being said, everything did go fairly well even if I had to give away some of my tactics while the game progressed. Very soon, I had fully functioning Agricola opponents in my midst.

But What About The Non-Gamers?

The next challenge was my non-gamers friends. That’s right. I decided that I would unleash the horrors of primitive agricultural life on my more uninitiated friends. These friends had played and enjoyed games like Ticket to Ride, Eketorp, and Shadows over Camelot before, but they had never really seen a truly heavy Euro style game before. This was going to take a little more effort.

The advantage that I had with my family (I didn’t even realize this until then) was that some of the mechanics in Agricola could be seen in other games that they had played before. My friends, however, didn’t really have that advantage of experience. So, my approach took a little bit longer and eventually involved a mock round to make sure everyone understood what was going to happen.

I wouldn’t necessarily suggest this game as the first Euro style game you introduce. But, when you do, just prepare to take a more protracted approach. A person who is accustomed to games one finds in the regular market will not be used to having that many choices on their turn. Be sure to simplify their options for them and even walk them through their first turns to get them started. Recall that most folks aren’t ready to think too far ahead when playing a board game.

Expectations For the First Time You Play

I’ve found that the first game of Agricola that you’ll play is probably going to be an exercise in confusion. Doubly so if your host is really experienced. A hint to ease new players into the game is to explain the scoring briefly up front and make sure they keep appraised of the actions that are coming up in the current stage by looking at their round summary cards. Also, go ahead and throw them a few tactical hints to get the game started. Make sure that they’re able to get started on their food producing abilities. Once they’ve got that sorted, improvising on the rest should be pretty simple.

Pick up your own copy of Agricola.

November 12, 2008 at 4:30 pm 1 comment

Agricola is Out! We have Some Copies!

You may or may not have heard about the game that has everyone buzzing in the game markets.

This game is called Agricola, published by Z-Man Games. This is the same publishing company that has given us two other gems: 1960 – The Making of the President and Pandemic.

For many months now, everyone has been asking “When’s it coming out?” Well, it came out on Friday, last week. We received two of them from our suppliers, so if you want them, you need to jump NOW!

I also noticed on the Z-Man site that Agricola is SOLD OUT! They have no more… The next wave of reprinting will be in late September. This means that if a retailer actually has a few, they may not get more for a little while (about two months). This is similar to what has happened repeatedly with Pandemic.

So, what is this game about and why the strange name?

Agricola is latin for “farmer”, so that should give you a hint as to what the game is about. You develop a farm. Essentially you have to decide if you are going to build a larger home, so you can have a larger family. A larger family allows for more actions per turn. However, larger families also require you to produce more food. To produce food, you plow fields. To raise animals, you need to fence pastures. Each family can also have occupations. You earn points by growing your hut to a clay hut, and then to a stone house. Everything else you do to balance food requirements and increase the comfort of life gets you points, as well…including family growth.

Each game is different because there are about 166 occupation cards and 146 different improvements. And, the best part – the game lasts about 30 minutes (even shorter for the family game).

One of the cool things about this game is that there are seperate rules for solo play, a shorter family game, and a full set of rules. This means that if you are looking for a game that does not require other gamers, this will fit the bill.

You can pick up Agricola from us in two places:
On our Agricola product page

The going rate for this game is around $48 – $55. The price at http://www.bestdanggames.com is $49.99.

This game comes in a standard size box, but it is ALL components, so the box is heavier than you would expect – it weighs in at just about 7.5 pounds. A standard game is around 2.5-4 pounds.

August 14, 2008 at 6:20 pm Leave a comment


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