Friday, October 2, 2009

Board Game Review: Agricola

Normally I cross-post my reviews on my blog, Facebook and on BoardGameGeek. Agricola, however, is the #1 ranked game at BGG and has so many reviews and articles, another one won't do anyone there any good.

Though we always have new games that we play intensely for a short time, and others become regulars in the rotation, Agricola is our all-time favorite board game. I enjoy the metagame aspect of the board games hobby - that is, the hobby outside of the games themselves: reading articles and reviews, looking for user-made additions to print up for use with the games, extra little pieces and mini-expansions, etc. Nowhere is this more evident than with Agricola. The game comes with the following in the box:

- 3 player decks: E, I and K
- 5 boards, one for each potential player in the game
- Many little wooden bits: cubes in 3 different colors representing the 3 kinds of animals in the game, yellow grain discs, orange vegetable discs and a set of family markers, fences and stables in each of the 5 player colors.
- A set of action cards, one of which gets flipped each turn
- A set of Major Improvement cards representing upgrades to your farm such as a fireplace, a well, etc.
- Lots of little cardboard food tokens, and a set of begging cards for those who fail to feed their family.
- Tiles representing rooms in your houses and plowed fields
- A scoring pad
- Badly written rules

I have added/bought/printed the following:
- The Z-Deck
- The Ö-Deck
- The X-Deck
- The L-Deck
- The Through the Seasons postcard expansion
- Little wooden sheep, cattle and boars to replace the cubes that come with the game
- Little wooden grain and vegetable tokens, replacing the discs that come with the game
- Stickers for the family markers
- A dice game spinoff called Agricola Express, for which I bought blank dice and printed up stickers.
- Custom score sheets
- A Plano box to store all the wooden bits

They have also recently released player boards with alternate art. Who am I kidding, I'll wind up with a set of these. Once you're locked into a serious board game collection, the tendency is to push it as far as possible.

Look how far I've gotten without telling you anything substantial about the game! On another day I'd care more, but I'm writing this review which no one will read mostly for my own entertainment, and also to take my mind off the pain from my abscess tooth. My face hurts, is it killing you LOL?!!!1

Okay, Agricola is about farming. Farming the 17th century specifically. In fact, "Agricola" is latin for farmer. It's also pronounced "Uh-GREE-Co-Luh" or "Uh-GRIC-Oh-Luh." Of course, I sometimes prefer the american bastardized pronunciation of Agri-COLA. You know, because Americans are all smart, rich geniuses.


Now, where were we? Yes, Agricola is a European boardgame for 1-5 players about farming. A 2-player game takes about an hour, with 5 players the game runs as long as 2-3hours, especially if there are new players at the table. You start off with a husband and wife and a 2-room wooden house. Each turn you may take one action for each member of your family. Eventually you can take the Family Growth action to add a family member. Of course, you need to build an additional room for your house first, and to do that you have to spend some of your actions collecting wood and reed. The game consists of 14 rounds, harvests after turn 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14. A harvest means 3 things:

- Your planted crops yield one additional grain or vegetable for your supply
- Your animals make love and have offspring
- You must feed your people 2 food each or take a begging card (lose 3 points) for each food you are short. It's possible to take a begging card and win, but it isn't very likely.

It's a tense game of micromanaging resources, long-term planning and difficult decisions. You score points at the end of the game for having a varied farm. So while you may focus on a bread-baking strategy or an animal cooking strategy to feed your people during the game, if you want a high score you'll need to branch out and try to have crops, pastures, a variety of livestock and a big, stone house full of family members. You'll often feel like you're doing very poorly until the last few rounds. Many people dislike the game for this reason, playing Agricola feels like being an inexperienced juggler. There's always a ball about to hit the floor, more behind it, and you're not sure how you're going to catch them all.

The action cards get added to the board in a semi-random order to help keep the game fresh, and that's where the family game ends. The advanced game adds cards to the mix, drawn from a huge pool and this is where the game really shines. Each player gets 7 Occupation cards and 7 Minor Improvement cards taken from the E Deck (for beginners) the I Deck (Interactive) or the K Deck (complex) or a combination of the three if you wish. There also the aftermarket decks available to help spice things up a bit. There are hundreds of cards in the game, and the real fun is seeing what you're dealt in a given game and finding the best way to make them work for you.

Occupations are just what they sound like: professions (or pseudo-professions) for you to play that give you special abilities and options during the game. For example, there is the Mushroom Collector which says that whenever you collect wood, you may leave 1 piece behind and take 2 food instead. There is also a Barbecue Minor Improvement card that says you may cook any number of animals and gain an extra food for each.

You can often make combos with the cards you're dealt, which appeals to my Magic the Gathering gene; the above photo is from a game where I made an essentially infinite supply of vegetables. It should be noted that I also lost the game.

Every decision has long-lasting effects, and one or two blunders can mean the difference between success and failure. Agricola is not a difficult game to learn how to play, but it's a difficult game to learn how to play well. We've logged 75 plays of Argicola, more than for any other game and, while we don't play it as frequently as we once did, we usually bring it out at least once a month. I wouldn't recommend it to new gamers as it is a bit complex and unforgiving, and the theme may be a turn-off to some, but if you're a fan of Eurogames you owe it to yourself to try Agricola.


Blogger Hannes Ullrich said...

Nice! I have to visit more often so I get to play Agricola more. I have it at home and played twice but there are virtually no people around me interested in board games...unless I serve good food and wine, which happens sometimes.

Hope all goes well with your tooth, I had one pulled this spring. Don't wait too long in case it has to go, there should be affordable ways to fill the gap!

October 3, 2009 at 7:35 AM  
Blogger Addicting Games said...

There’s a lot to talk about when it comes to Agricola, and while everyone won’t be a fan, one thing is for certain; there’s no denying the huge amount of content and built-in variants to the game.

January 5, 2010 at 3:12 AM  

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