Monday, 19 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Agricola

Photo by boardgamegeek user: Tony "blkstar" Bosca
For the second classic Windsor Gaming Resource Forum review, I've chosen Agricola. Back when this review was originally written, May 13th 2009, Agricola was the number 1 game on Boardgamegeek.com, a position it held for months. To this day it still ranks as number 3. Check below the initial review for my updated thoughts on this game.

Original WGR Review:

So how does the current number 1 game rate?

Summary:
In Agricola each player takes on the role of a farming family. They each start with a plot of land and a basic two room house and need to expand from there. The winner is the player with the best farm after 14 Rounds.

These rounds are broken into 6 stages, at the end of each stage is a Harvest Phase where farmers reap what they have sown, animals give birth and you need to feed your family members.

Each round of the game allows players to take one action for each family member. The available actions are all shown on a central board and players choose them by placing a large chit over them. Once an action has been chosen by one player it cannot be chosen by another. The actions vary wildly and include but are not limited to: taking building materials, going fishing for food, building a new room on your house, improving the materials of your house (from wood to clay to stone), building fences, buying animals (sheep, pigs and cattle), Going First, building improvements and more.

Scoring is done at the end of the game. Generally people get points for having lots of something and loose points for having none. So having No cattle is worth -1 point where as having 6 is worth 4 points. The following are scored - number of fields, number of pastures, number of grain, number of vegetables, number of sheep, number of pigs, number of cattle, number of empty fields (this is a penalty), number of clay rooms, number of stone rooms, number of points from Improvement and bonus points (usually from improvements or occupations).

There are two ways to play, Family Play or regular. Regular play adds Minor Improvements and Occupations to the game. Players each start with a hand of 14 cards that can be played during the game (by choosing the right space on the board). These do a huge variety of things and there are over 400 of them included in the game to ensure that no two games play the same.

The Good:
Reminds me of a mix of Princes of Florence and Caylus and that's a really good thing. The basic mechanics are excellent and very easy to understand in a short amount of time (even if they are hard to explain). The role choosing mechanism is one of my favorite mechanics, and this game does it well. The theme is very accessible and I think this would be a good gateway game because of it. The components are all pretty top notch with nice wooden bits. A nice touch was the inclusion of enough zip lock bags for every single bit in the game. We have played this game 6 times and every time I have used a slightly different strategy (and won or tied 4 of those 6 games) which is great to see, there is obviously no 'one way' to play and win. It's actually surprising that number of different ways you can approach play. This is also a fairly short game. Lasting only an hour or two. This is great for a game with this much depth. The huge amount of cards included in the game mean that you could play this game a near infinite number of times without the same combination coming up. Talk about replay value.

The Bad:
With all the nice wooden pieces for everything else I don't understand the decision to do food as a cardboard die cut chit. Why wasn't food just another cube, maybe green or something else not used? Here is something I do not understand. Each player has a field card, the backs of these are all different. One of them shows an example of a filled out field, that makes sense. The rest have various backs, supposedly for storing the various bits, though if that was the case why wouldn't they all be the same. Some have pens on them for holding resources and some do not. It's just not logical. I like the concept of including an example on the back for explaining the game, but never actually found it practical, plus it just doesn't make sense that it's not consistent.

The Ugly:
Okay we have now played 4 games with the Regular rules and tried all three of the different decks provided in the main game (The E, I and K decks). In each case there seemed to be players with 'good hands' and players with 'bad hands' This means that the cards add a rather high level or randomness to the game that greatly affects a players chances of winning. The Family game is very player vs player and highly strategic, this element seems to be lost with the cards. Now personally I liked the feel the cards added and I liked the random element (trying to still win with a crap hand I found a challenge), most of the players I played with hated them, and would have rather played the Family Game.

Summary:
Overall I have to say this is a really good game. An excellent game actually, one of the best I own. But it's not number 1. I can't see how a game with such a wildly random mechanic as the Occupation Minor Improvement decks can be considered the best in the world. I still recommend picking this one up or getting in a game at a friends (send me a PM) but I still prefer some other games like Power Grid and Puerto Rico more then this.

My thoughts 3 years later:

Well my opinion on this one hasn't changed much at all. I have grown more fond of the card mechanic as time has gone on. Mainly due to the fact that it ads variety to the game and your initial hand of cards gives you some direction as far as which strategy is best to use. I've also found the play time has actually grown on this one. The average game seems to take about two hours. The main reason for this is due to people spending a lot more time thinking. Playing with people who know the game well actually takes longer as they strategize the best move each turn. Lastly, I never did figure out why the card backs are different on each playing board.

I've recently head that the game now ships with 'animeeples' instead of cubes and chits. Now there's a nice touch that makes a great looking game even better.

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