REVIEW – Agricola

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AgricolaName: Agricola
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Type: Strategy, worker placement
Players: 1-5
Best with: 2-4
Length of Playtime: 30 minutes per player

 

Give It to Me Quick: Agricola is a heavy euro strategy game, not for board game beginners. Don’t let the somewhat dry theme hide the endless replay value and great game design. Did you like Harvest Moon or SimFarm back in the day? This is kinda-sorta like that, just now with a family to feed.

This game doesn’t mess around.

 

Gameplay Summary

Explaining all the nuances of Agricola here is impossible. It’s a deep, involved strategy game with a lot (lot, lot, lot) of options and choices. It also comes with a streamlined version of the rules to create a simpler way to play when you are learning the game. During the game, you’ll be expanding your home, building pastures, breeding animals, growing crops, and (most importantly), feeding your family. (After a game or two, you’ll realize why I bolded that.)

With that said, the main game mechanic of Agricola is worker placement; that is, you’ll be using the family members in your house (two to start) to acquire resources and build parts of your farm.

The game will go through 14 rounds, divided into 6 stages. In each round, you’ll be strategically using your family members to do all kinds of things: gather wood, build fences, gain animals, improve your farm, and, at certain points, add to your family. As you acquire more family members, you then have more “help” to do more on a given round.

Which actions will you pick this turn?

Please….don’t take the wood!

The rounds are divided into Stages. At the end of each Stage, a harvest occurs where you reap the benefits of what you accomplished during that Stage. You must also feed your family. Aside from having to live with yourself for letting your family go hungry, not having enough food at the end of a harvest brings large negative points.

At the end of the last Stage, points are scored across fourteen different categories  depending on how developed your farm is in each (for example, Fields, Grain, Vegetables, Sheep, Boar, Stables). The highest scoring farms will have a balanced approach and not focus too much on any one thing.

 

How many players is it best with?

Agricola is a fantastic game for two players. It also scales extremely well with more, as it adds tweaks to gameplay depending on a 3, 4, or 5 player game. Note that adding more players does have a direct relationship to how long the game plays; as detailed on the box, 30 minutes per player is about what we see in our games.  If some people in your group tend to take a long time thinking in other games, prepare to wait in Agricola or otherwise create a time limit for them.

 

Our Positives

For all of the time that is needed to decipher Agricola’s instruction booklet, it is, at its core, a simple concept. Build your farm as quickly and efficiently as you can. Strategize how to grab resources before your opponent does. We like the requirement that the game forces you to keep in mind each impending harvest: your family must be fed. Will you sow grain prior to the harvest, planning to create a stockpile to be converted to bread? Will you grab that pile of wood to build fences to create room in your pasture to raise enough cattle to feed your family of four? Will you spend a turn upgrading your house to hold another family member to give you three turns next round, and then grab the Fireplace to cook your vegetables on hand? Some might say that the amount of options that the game requires you to think about is overwhelming, but we love the multiple strategies that it allows players to take.

800_agricola_sheep

Sheep, cattle, and wild boar ready to be your dinner. Or give you points.

 

The Family game (simpler rules) inclusion is a nice feature. Playing the full featured game with new players and all the cards included would be a surefire way to turn them off to the game forever. The Family version creates a more accessible option to introduce the game.

With that said, the best way to play is certainly the full version with the cards (Minor Improvements, Occupations) included. They introduce a smart level of complexity that bring out different strategies every time. These cards (there are a TON of them) are what give Agricola so much replayability. For example, you might land occupations that allow you to specialize in vegetable hoarding, building huge pastures, baking lots of bread, building rooms on your house, or monopolizing the board with your farm Mafia family.

There are 169 occupation cards and 139 minor improvement cards, all adding their own unique twist.

There are 169 occupation cards and 139 minor improvement cards, all adding their own unique twist.

 

Our Negatives

Agricola has a lot of components. Our first game had piles of discs all over the table and none of it was organized in a way that made sense. Taking everything out of ziploc bags takes a long time. Find a storage solution for cheap to hold the components and easily access them. Otherwise, you’ll be spending too much time restocking the board every turn. During one of our games, someone made the comment that the game is suited more for a videogame, when the AI can handle all the “in-between” stuff that keeps the game moving. I don’t necessarily agree, but I do see his point.

Unboxing: there's a lot of stuff!

Unboxing: there’s a lot of stuff!

The theme can be a little boring, the game intimidating, and gameplay feel like work for some players.  The mechanic of feeding your family each harvest can feel restricting, as you always feel like you’re not able to do everything that you want to in your farm. In order to win, you will have to create a balanced farm; you really can’t focus on just one or two things. For example, being the “Sheep King” or only building a huge house will guarantee that you will lose. Some players won’t like those sort of restrictions.

 

Accessibility:

playbegins_accessibility3

 

 

 

 

35_party for a Party No.
casual Casual This isn’t the first game you’d buy for a collection or to introduce games to casual gamers. It’s too complicated and not quick to play. This is on the far difficult end of the casual spectrum.
35_competitive Competitive There’s isn’t a ton of direct competition, though you do indirectly influence other players by (for example) taking resources before them.
35_strategy Strategic Strategy is the name of the game here. On any given turn you have dozens of choices, all with different outcomes.

 

Final Thoughts on Agricola

Agricola isn’t a game to spring on someone who doesn’t know what they’re getting into. It’s not a quick game that will take less than an hour to play. However, it is extremely well crafted, so you won’t feel like you’re wasting your time learning it. The Family Game version, which simplifies the game by removing cards from the equation, is fun, but the real level of replayability becomes apparent when you see just how many cards come with the game and the huge variety.

It is worth noting that on a given turn, there are so many different choices that sometimes players will need to sit and process all the possible outcomes, especially as the end of the game nears. This can extend turns and sometimes leave other players waiting. You’ll often feel that you don’t have enough turns in the game to accomplish everything that you want to, and the harvest that occurs at the end of every Stage (we call it Reckoning Day), keeps you on target since you need to balance your farm growth with scrounging up enough food for your family each harvest. We like this mechanic, though; it’s fun being creative with all the different ways to accomplish this.

There’s a reason this game is rated so high on Board Game Geek and is considered a modern classic at less than 10 years old. Just make sure you know what you’re getting into.

 

Check out more reviews!

Agricola

9

Replayability

95/10

    Engagement

    90/10

      Game Mechanics

      95/10

        Theme/Fun

        80/10

          Likes

          • - A strategic gamer's dream
          • - Cards add tons of replayability
          • - Game balance is fantastic

          Dislikes

          • - Decision overload at times

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