There is no denying that Agra is a table hog, with its multiple board set-up. Each player has their own board, for tracking several different resource and action types. However, most activity takes place on the main game board, across various different areas (it really is a huge board). And then there is the other board: the one that looks a bit like a pinball machine; the oft maligned board, that sits on an incline.
But it all looks rather sumptuous. The main board, featuring spectacular art from Michael Menzel, is double-sided; one side is playable, with action areas marked out, the other is purely for the art. Yep, Quined Games are so pleased with the artwork for the board, they allowed you to view it unimpeded. So 9.5 out of 10 for aesthetics. It would have been 10, but the player colours are ...odd
Agra is a heavy worker placement game - in both senses. The box is heavy, and the gameplay requires a lot of planning, for best effect. Traditional Euros can typically be broadly summarised as “get resource A. Use resource A to get B. Use resource B to get points”. Agra follows this model, but adds in a few steps.
There are four basic resources, or goods, – two of these are basic building materials, which can be used to construct buildings. Each of the four basic goods can be processed (in one of the aforementioned buildings) to be one of two other types of good. If you’re keeping up, that’s 12 different goods, so far. Of the eight second tier goods, four can be processed to make a third tier good. So there are 16 different goods altogether. Several of these resources have additional functions in the game, such as enabling bonus actions.
Resources can be shipped to complete customer (notables) orders. Each notable card provides an upgrade to an in-game action, for the player who satisfies their order the most. Providing goods for a notable order earns money, and money is victory points, which is kept hidden, so you have no real idea of how well or how badly you are doing relative to other players.
This forces players to focus more on the game, rather than the points – I like this, though some don’t like the uncertainty. The money, or points, earned is a small trickle – a couple of Rupees here, a couple there. I’ve heard a lot of objections to this, but I think it makes the game feel tighter at the end, so no complaints from me.
Each turn in Agra consists of up to three phases, only one of which is mandatory. The first optional phase, the meditation phase, must occur at the start of the turn. The player may lay down workers to earn meditation points, which can be used to change the game state in one of several ways, to optimise their turn. But laying down workers may prove disadvantageous (see later).
The mandatory action phase, is the main phase of the turn, during which a worker is placed. Actions involve producing goods, processing goods, building buildings, fulfilling orders or trading one type of good for another. All action spaces are available, even if blocked by another player. They are just kicked out. But if another player’s worker is still standing (i.e. hasn't been laid down) when they are kicked out, that player earns favour, which can be used for various bonuses, throughout the turn. Yes, as well as the meditation phase, the action phase and the final phase which I have yet to come to, there are bonuses to be earned, some of which may be bonus actions. There is a lot to think about in Agra.
The final phase, the order phase, is an optional chance to fulfil guild orders, or to serve goods to Emperor Akbar - these make use of the Imperial board. I've only really scratched the surface of gameplay here, but it should give you some idea of how much there is to take account of in Agra.
The Imperial Board
I mentioned earlier the rather striking Imperial board, so it is worth saying a few words about this distinctive component.
The Imperial board sits on a shallow incline. There are three sections to the board: Emperor Akbar's bowls, the guild orders and the guild tracks. Each section contains wooden markers which sit vertically on the board, so their bases are angled to match the incline of the board. You can probably imagine the risk of components being sent flying - by the end of the game there could be over 40 markers on the board… a recipe for disaster, especially if you have large hands. The marker placement spots are recessed, but sometimes it doesn't feel like they are deep enough. It almost becomes a dexterity game.
There are three guild influence tracks, with an individual track for each player. So in a four-player game, there are 12 markers on these tracks. Each progresses when a player delivers goods to a notable of that particular guild, and money is earned at the end of the game by the player who has earned the most influence in each guild. Position on the guild tracks indicates how much money is earned when a guild order is completed.
The guild orders are combinations of specific goods which are required by each guild - these orders can optionally be completed during the final phase of a turn. Completing an order earns a player Rupees… a few at a time..and may also earn guild influence. Once an order is fulfilled, a player marker occupies it's spot, so it cannot be fulfilled again.
The emperor's bowls, at the top of the board, is a way of delivering unique goods as an offering to the emperor. There is no immediate benefit, but the whole offering provides a majority control bonus at the end of the game.
What Makes Agra so Heavy?
There are lots of choices to make in Agra, and those decisions need to be planned carefully, because no decision exists in isolation. There are many ways of taking a specific action, and there are many things that can influence the outcome of any given action.
The integration of actions and benefits, coupled with resource management, area control, worker placement, and a whole load of ways that you can influence your game state mean that a lot of time may be spent frozen in time, staring at the board.
Final Thoughts on Agra
It feels like there is a huge amount to consider - optimisation is clearly key in Agra, but understanding how to optimise is something of a Sysiphean task. It is already a complex game to learn how to play, but learning how to play well could be quite daunting for some.
I would gladly recommend it to anyone who enjoys meaty, complex Euros, but approach with some caution. It plays well, but it plays long.