If you are a follower of boardgames at all, the name Agricola has taken on a mythical tinge by now. It is the current "it" game, and is only available in Europe right now, and only in German. That essentially renders the game unplayable, since every card (of which there are hundreds) is chock full of text. Which is too bad, because it really is one of the best games I have played (after one play, of course..)
It's actually sort of rare for me to agree with the BGG hardcore on games. I hate Puerto Rico, which is so mechanical that I feel like I am playing Solitaire, and don't really like Caylus. Still, Agricola is #2 on the BGG charts, and I understand why. The game (minus the language issues) is actually relatively simple once explained. Everything has a very logical flow, and the process for all the actions is clear (except for roads, more on those in a bit…)
The game play is fairly simple. You have a board in front of you that represents your house and your fields. You start with 2 wood house tiles, and 2 people. Each person can take one of the actions on the main board in a turn (which may be gathering materials, collecting animals, renovating your house, building fences, etc.) You can only take as many actions as you have people, so getting a 3rd person (you can have up to 5, but I have no idea how you would do it..) is pretty important (although feeding them is a challenge..)
As the game progresses (it is 14 rounds long) cards will be turned over that offer your people new resources or abilities to do. You start out with relatively few, simple tasks for your people to do, and by the end of the game, they will be taking more advanced actions.
Ah, but the heart of the game, and what gives it almost limitless replayability (while simultaneously controlling the complexity of the game – no mean feat!) are the cards. Each player is dealt a small deck (7 for 3 players) of Occupation cards (Ausbildung, for those who want to practice their German) and Minor Improvement (or Kleine Ausschaffung.) Even though there are hundreds of cards, you really only have to worry about your small deck, which makes the game quite manageable. It also makes you excited to see what other possibilities there are for your little workers. In my game, I only used one Occupation (I was a slaughterer, so everytime somebody killed an animal for food, I got some food as well. Other examples from our game – one player was a bread seller, who got food everytime someone made bread, etc.) but several of the minor improvements. These allow you to perform tasks more efficiently, or produce food in larger numbers. (I had a Water Mill that allowed anyone to bring grain, and make food with it, but I got a portion of the food they made.)
The interaction of the various Occupations, Minor Improvements, and the possible roles is the meat of the game. Again, the decision to limit you to the cards in your hand makes all the choices seem manageable, which is important, and makes the game actually quite easy to teach for the first time. You could literally just explain the cards the person has in their hand (there really is very little need to keep them hidden in a non-cutthroat game) and be ready to play. As you might be able to tell, I think this was a really great game design.
So, back to the game. There are 14 rounds (each with spaces for cards on the board) and each round is between 4 and 1 (getting shorter as the game goes on) phases. In each phase, each of your workers gets to perform one action. At the end of the round, there is a harvest. This is where you have to feed all your people (and where having extra people really hurts.) If you do not have enough food for them, you have to beg for food (this being a friendly Euro game, nobody dies..) and take -3 victory points for every point of food missing. This happened to me once, and nearly cost me the game at the end! Also in the harvest, any animals you have pairs of will breed if you have the space.
Since the rounds get shorter and shorter as the game goes on, you really feel rushed and want to do 3 more things than you actually have time for. Since this was our first game, we certainly wasted some moves in the very beginning of the game, but still came out ok. It got very tight towards the end, when there were all sorts of nice tasks available for our workers, but not nearly enough time to do them all.
A word about turn order. One of the tasks you can choose is to be the Start Spieler. I think this is really important (and tried to take it as much as possible.) As Start Spieler, you get to place your first worker before anyone else, giving you the full choice of tasks available. Luckily, neither of my opponents were that interested in wresting Start Spieler from me, and I went first most of the game. Once I had 3 workers, it was totally worth it to me to take back Start Spieler anytime someone used it.
This review is really long, but hasn't even delved into the intricate web of strategies this game presents. It really will be a completely different game each time you play (I bet it's almost impossible for you to get the same 14 cards again in a game.) The plus side and down side are the same, you will feel like it is a new game each time. I can see it being pretty hard to learn what combos are effective (much less being able to implement them) as you could in San Juan or Race for the Galaxy. I like that, but I'm guessing the number crunchers out there might now.
Agricola hits a sweet spot for me. It's a detailed, complicated game that plays quickly (once you get going – I think we played our very first game in 2 hours, counting rules explanation) has deep strategy and interesting choices, and is just fun. It's quickly going to move up my favorite games list, and I will definitely be getting the English version once it is released. Until then, I can download some really nice english paste ons from Boardgame geek, and share this game with my friends. I recommend this game to all gamers.
Last 5 posts by Ezra
- Yogi Berra for Governor - December 7th, 2010
- BGGCon 2010 - Day 0 - December 6th, 2010
- Your Friday Afternoon is Happy to See the Name World B. Free - December 3rd, 2010
- Boardgamegeek Con - Year 2 - November 15th, 2010
- The Games We Played: Alexander Hamilton - AntiFederalist - November 12th, 2010