Agricola

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RRP £50.99

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Agricola, by Lookout Spiele, is one of Uwe Rosenberg’s most popular titles. Not only has it stood the test of time, but Agricola has gone on to define Rosenberg as one of the biggest names in modern strategy board games. In Agricola, 2-4 players compete to build and run the best farm. (It also provides a solo mode.) It’s a medium-weight Euro-style game, with the aim being to sco…
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Agricola, by Lookout Spiele, is one of Uwe Rosenberg’s most popular titles. Not only has it stood the test of time, but Agricola has gone on to define Rosenberg as one of the biggest names in modern strategy board games. In Agricola, 2-4 players compete to build and run the best farm. (It also provides a solo mode.) It’s a medium-weight Euro-style game, with the aim being to score the most victory points over 14 rounds. First-come, first-served worker placement lies at the heart of Agricola. You start with two farmer workers who can visit various locations. At the start of each round, some of these spots gain extra resources, making them more appealing. If no one visits them, these piles of wood, crops, or animals accumulate. They soon become all the more appealing! You might start the round with a certain plan… but how can you turn down that many free sheep? Each player has their own farm player mat. It’s a grid of squares, and you need to try and fill it. Will you plough fields to grow veggies? Will you extend your farmhouse – and with it, your family of farmers? Will you build fences to keep livestock? There’s a million-and-one different strategies in Agricola! There’s quite a few plates to spin, as it were. Your options grow as the game progresses. At the start of each new round, a new worker placement card gets revealed. At regular intervals, you need to provide food to feed your workers. Your animals also breed – but only if you have space to accommodate them. Many categories get scored at the end, and if you ignore them you can score dreaded minus points… You also start the game with a hand of Occupation and Minor Improvement cards. If you can afford them, these assist you in an engine-building fashion, offering an infinite modular experience. Agricola is the kind of fascinating game that never plays the same way twice! Player Count: 1-4 players Time: 30-150 minutes Age: 12+

Awards

Golden Geek

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Simple mechanics leading to a deeply strategic game.
  • Wonderful components.
  • Offers varying complexity.
  • Pacing of rounds increase towards the end of the game.
  • You won't know who wins until the game is actually over.

Might Not Like

  • Low player verses player interaction.
  • Low
  • High potential for analysis paralysis.
  • Time-consuming to set-up.
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Description

Agricola, by Lookout Spiele, is one of Uwe Rosenberg’s most popular titles. Not only has it stood the test of time, but Agricola has gone on to define Rosenberg as one of the biggest names in modern strategy board games. In Agricola, 2-4 players compete to build and run the best farm. (It also provides a solo mode.) It’s a medium-weight Euro-style game, with the aim being to score the most victory points over 14 rounds.

First-come, first-served worker placement lies at the heart of Agricola. You start with two farmer workers who can visit various locations. At the start of each round, some of these spots gain extra resources, making them more appealing. If no one visits them, these piles of wood, crops, or animals accumulate. They soon become all the more appealing! You might start the round with a certain plan… but how can you turn down that many free sheep?Each player has their own farm player mat. It’s a grid of squares, and you need to try and fill it. Will you plough fields to grow veggies? Will you extend your farmhouse – and with it, your family of farmers? Will you build fences to keep livestock? There’s a million-and-one different strategies in Agricola!

There’s quite a few plates to spin, as it were. Your options grow as the game progresses. At the start of each new round, a new worker placement card gets revealed. At regular intervals, you need to provide food to feed your workers. Your animals also breed – but only if you have space to accommodate them. Many categories get scored at the end, and if you ignore them you can score dreaded minus points… You also start the game with a hand of Occupation and Minor Improvement cards. If you can afford them, these assist you in an engine-building fashion, offering an infinite modular experience.

Agricola is the kind of fascinating game that never plays the same way twice!

Player Count: 1-4 players

Time: 30-150 minutes

Age: 12+

If I were to tell you that Agricola is about indirect competitive farming you might not think it sounds particularly good, and with that description of this detailed, strategic, and thoroughly engaging game; who could blame you.

But, the theme is integral to the mechanics of this Euro game, and in the currently available edition, the wooden animeeples never lets you forget that this a game about toiling the land to enrich, improve and most importantly feed your family of farmers – which is what Agricola means, it is Latin for farmer.

See, games are fun and educational no one learns Latin these days!!

Playing Agricola

You’ll start this game with a plot of land, empty except for your small, two-room farmhouse, which can only mange to fit two people; husband and wife (denoted by very gender neutral wooden discs). Between all the players then lies the game boards which, over the course of the next six stages (broken into 14 rounds), will reveal the various actions your household will be able to undertake to provide resources of some kind or another, or complete tasks; like building some fences so you can then keep some sheep.

Now, with only two people in your house, you’ll only be able to take two actions. To take any more you need another farmer on the farm, but to fit another farmer you need a bigger house. And, of course, if you have enough space for three, four or even five farmers on your little plot you’ll have to feed them all, so you’ll have to keep livestock and grow wheat or vegetables but again, all of these are actions, and all of these actions are choices.

It's in this simple economy that Agricola shines: to do more, you first need more people, which will cost you more, but in turn earns you more. This can lead to some pretty serious analysis paralysis (where a player labours over their decision making), now add to this process that each player can only take actions from the shared board, means that any plan can fall-over as soon as an opponent takes that one essential action you wanted; and in Agricola every action is essential.

Playing Agricola Board Game (Credit: Muse23PT BGG)

Agricola presents you with restrictions and limitations with every turn, whilst simultaneously presenting you with more. As Orson Wells once said: “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations,” and that is how to win at Agricola. There are many, many paths to victory but is in the art of mathematics; everything you have or don’t have on you plot, each room, stable, animal, grain of wheat, etc. is worth something, and its absence is worth a point penalty.

This may all may sound pretty heavy, and truth be told this isn’t the easiest, most accessible game ever made, but all the information is available to all players, allowing more experienced players to really coach their opponents through their choices (on your first few play-throughs try the “Family mode; which is an ‘easier’ or ‘lighter’ version of the game). In a subsequent game all the same choices will be available, just in a slightly different order; which, believe it or not drastically changes everything, so by game two you’ll have some serious competition.

Player interaction in this game is very light; there is little you are able to actively do to affect your opponents, except “rob” them of the resources or choices, that may not sound like much but trust me – it feels pretty good foiling someone else’s plan, and it is extremely frustrating when it happens to you.

Final Thoughts on Agricola

At the end of a game you’ll look down at your previously empty plot of land and it will be teeming with life and colour; your two-room, wooden farmhouse, along with your family will have grown, the wheat will be swaying gently in your fields and there will be the soft baa of the sheep in the pastures.

You will have that sense of accomplishment that can only come from building a pretend farm from little pieces of wood.... And you’ll definitely want to do it again!

How to play Agricola - (Or how I learned not to worry about feeding the family)!

The above statement is of course a lie, in Agricola feeding ones family is not only essential but difficult at times, and failure to do so will result in potentially crippling victory point losses.  For those who do not know Agricola, it is a worker placement game about managing a farm, developing and expanding the farm, and keeping the family fed and growing.

This guide is going to cover the basic game, not the simpler family game or any of the variant rules. Agricola is not a hard game to play, the rules are fairly straightforward, but what hides behind it is a really challenging game with some difficult decisions to be made and a continual pressure between conflicting desires.

Set-Up

Set-up is going to vary a little depending on the number of players with additional spaces that can be used by workers for two, three, four and five players, the more players the more possible actions. Other than this set-up is always the same:

  1. Set-up the three main game boards, and place Action Cards on these boards according to the number of players, and Round Cards for each Stage of play randomly and face down in associated Round – there will be four in Stage one, three in Stage two and so on.
  2. Place the major improvement board next to the main boards and place the Major Improvement cards on it.
  3. Sort the Occupation cards according to the number of players, shuffle and deal seven face down to each player.
  4. Shuffle the Minor Improvement cards and deal eight face down to each player.
  5. Place the Begging cards face up near the board.
  6. Give each player their set of coloured wooden tokens comprising of five family member discs, four stables and 15 fences. Give each player a farmyard board on which they place two wood house rooms in the indicated spaces and one worker disc in each of those rooms.
  7. Decide who is going to be first player, give that player the First Player Token and two Food tokens, and give each other player three Food tokens.
  8. Give each player a game summary card.

Some Thoughts on Set-up 

There are only two random aspects in Agricola, the order that Action Cards are turned over each turn and the initial dealing of occupations and minor improvements. Everything else is visible and known.

  • Try to plan to make the most of the occupation and minor improvement cards you have been dealt, especially because these may make you less dependent on grabbing resources or food from the main board.
  • If there is any obvious synergy between any of the occupation and/or minor improvement cards, or between these and the major improvement cards consider working towards these and do bear in mind any costs or prerequisites.
  • Give very serious consideration towards playing any occupations or minor improvements which help in obtaining food – food will always be in short supply.

Gameplay

Gameplay is actually very simple. Play is split into four phases in each round and after a set number of rounds there is the Harvest Phase, and after 14 rounds and a final Harvest the game ends with scoring.

  • Phase One - Round start. Draw a new round card and turn it over.
  • Phase Two - Replenish. Place resources on Actions and Action cards. Do remember that if resources have not been taken they still get replenished in subsequent rounds, and that resources such as "take on grain" do not need to be placed on Actions or Action Cards – these are simply taken from supply.
  • Phase Three - Work phase. Beginning with the starting player, place a single family member on an Action or Action Card, and take the resources or action(s) associated with it. Remember that only one family member can be played on any Action or Action Card.
  • Phase Four - Return home. Once all family members have been placed and actions taken, all family members then return to their home farm.

Repeat this process until the Harvest.

Harvest

After rounds four, seven, nine, 11, 13 and 14, the Harvest takes place. Harvest is split into three phases:

  • Harvest Phase One - Field. Players remove one grain or vegetable token from each sown field in their farm containing these resources. Players may also receive additional food from occupation or minor improvement cards that have played.
  • Harvest Phase Two - Feeding. Each player must feed each of their family members. The cost is two food per family member, with it reduced to one food for any family member who has not as yet taken an action, (having been born on rounds four, seven, six, 11, 13 or 14).  Each unprocessed grain or vegetable can be converted to one food. Fireplaces, cooking hearths as well as some occupations and minor improvements allow players to convert resources to food at a better rate. Some of these can also be used to convert animals to food at any time.  Do remember that normally improvements with the bake bread symbol can only be used with the bake bread action and cannot normally be used to bake bread during the Harvest phase. A player who cannot or does not want to produce the required food must take 1 begging card for each missing food, and players may not give up family members.
  • Harvest Phase Three - Breeding. Any player with at least two animals of any kind in their farm at this point receives exactly one addition animal of that type but only if that additional animal can be accommodated.  This new animal may not immediately be converted into food in order to get around the need to be accommodated.

Thoughts on Gameplay

What you need to bear in mind is that Agricola is a victory point game. There are various ways of collecting victory points and strategy may well depend on what Minor Improvements and Occupations were dealt to any particular player. However there are certain principles to keep in mind:

  • Having five family members will net a whopping great 15 victory points.
  • Having five stone house rooms will net 10 victory points and remember that generally speaking you cannot have more family members than house rooms, so you need those rooms for the above.
  • With grain, vegetables, sheep, boar and cattle the difference between having one and having 0 for each of these is two victory points. This is because having no cattle results in a score of minus one whereas having one cattle scores one point. For this reason it is generally a good idea to try to collect at least one of each of these.
  • Every time you fail to feed your family, for each food missing you must take a begging card and for each of these you are in all probability going to lose three victory points. Try to avoid this.
  • If you don’t have occupations or minor improvements that are immediately beneficial especially to food production don’t worry. Others in the game probably have. This does not matter a great deal because whilst they are using their actions and resources to get those down, you can grab other stuff. There is a great deal to be said for having grabbed all the building resources, wood, clay and/or stone.
  • If you do have occupations and minor improvements that are immediately beneficial to food production get them in play as soon as you can. There is a lot of pressure on the need to feed, having a route to food that is secure is very worthwhile.
  • Being first player in any turn is useful, as is selecting the first player and minor improvement action. Keep resources in stock to ensure that a minor improvement can be paid for.
  • The only random factor after initial set up is the order action cards are exposed. Don’t count on a card coming out early.
  • Remember that you always know how many actions you have before the harvest phase and the need to feed your family so you can plan towards this, but bear in mind if it involves collecting all those sheep in the last turn another player might beat you to them.
  • Putting fences around a stable not only nets victory points but allows that pasture to hold additional animals – remember that only one type of animal may be in one fenced (enclosed) pasture.
  • If you have had the good fortune in any phase you have done all you need to do, there are two potentially useful things to do. One is stockpile resources for the future the other is to take an action an opponent was likely to need. Denial of actions is a perfectly good strategy.
  • Turn order can be really important, and of course turn order can be manipulated. Use this to your advantage.

Agricola and Decision Paralysis

It is very easy to attempt to overthink in Agricola and to agonise over the best strategy. So going back to my original descriptor of “how I learned not to worry about feeding the family,” perhaps this was not so much of a lie. The reality is this; Agricola is only as difficult as you make it, and generally speaking if your mind is working on massively convoluted multi step strategies then the reality is these strategies are in all probability not going to work.

Keep it simple, feed the family, grow the family, grow the house and gather other stuff as you go along. Oh, and if come final scoring you maybe miss out on an extra one or two victory points by not having at some point agonised for 10 minutes over a decision you will in all probability have given you and your fellow players a far more positive experience – so go with the flow, go with the growth, and worry less.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Simple mechanics leading to a deeply strategic game.
  • Wonderful components.
  • Offers varying complexity.
  • Pacing of rounds increase towards the end of the game.
  • You won't know who wins until the game is actually over.

Might not like

  • Low player verses player interaction.
  • Low
  • High potential for analysis paralysis.
  • Time-consuming to set-up.