Agricola is a board game for 1 to 5 players. It is currently the leading board game at Board Game Geek, which is pretty impressive given the critical crowd there. The premise of the game is that you are a farmer in Renaissance Europe. It is your goal to grow your meager farm into an opulent thing of beauty. If you play with more than one player, this is the goal of your opponents as well. I'll attempt to explain roughly how the game works, and then briefly state my opinion on it.
Basic game mechanics
Basically, you are trying to grow a company. To make it grow, you need resources such as wood, clay, reed or stone, animals such as sheep, pigs and cows, vegetables and grain. You'll also need food.
You start the game with two people, the farmer and his wife. Each turn, each of the players can place one of their people on a game board on which actions are displayed. You could, for instance, pick up 1 grain. Or, you could learn a profession, that gives you bonuses or extra options. If you have the resources, you could build a well. The number of options is larger when a larger number of players is present, and also becomes larger during the game.
There are a couple of overarching goals during the game:
- You need to make your house larger. If you have more rooms, you can have more family members.
- You need to grow your family. You can (normally) only do this when you have expanded your house. Each family member can take an action, so the more family members, the more actions, and the faster your farm grows.
- You need to make sure you have food. The more family members, the more food you have. There are two principal ways of getting food: baking bread and eating meat. For the former, you ideally need to build an oven, whereas for the latter, you need a fireplace or a cooking hearth. These again require resources.
To add spice, only one player can take an action field during one round. So, if player one gets the 3 wood you wanted to take, that's tough luck for player two. You can spend an action to, among others, make yourself the first player. Furthermore, to make matters more interesting, most of the resources grow if you don't take them. So, if no one takes the 1 clay, it will be 2 clay the next turn. Even though clay may not be too useful right now, at a certain stage, the huge pile of loamy goodness becomes too much to resist.
The interesting thing is that this theme of scarcity is the main way in which players interact. As such, you mostly play your own game, build your own farm. This is great, because even if you don't win, you may still have a sense of accomplishment from having a nice farm.
Occupations and minor improvements
The basic version of the game is a nearly perfect information game: the only thing unknown is what tiles will become available in the next few turns. This makes the game almost "solvable" like a game of chess: for each move, there exists an optimal countermove, removing all variability. This is trait games that have no luck component share.
However, there is a tiny bit of randomness added to Agricola to add just that bit of variation to make every game very, very different. You see, each players is given 7 occupations and 7 minor improvements. These are unique and randonly chosen. They need to be played, and this requires and action and/or resources. Every occupation or improvement gives its own advantage. What makes this even more interesting is that they can form a combo. For instance, consider the card "Master Brewer". He allows you to convert one grain to three food (normally, the conversion rate is 1:1) The card " Corn scoop" gives you one grain whenever you take the "take one grain" action. As such, you can take more grain to "feed" the Brewer. Many card combinations like this are possible, and some can win a game.
Still, on a whole, the game is pretty well balanced. This is especially true because of the way resources accumulate: if everyone is fighting over the last animal, the smart player will create a bread-based empire and win the game.
Winning the game
The game is won by having the nicest farm. There is a score system for this. This is interesting, as there are improvements that do not give an advantage
, only points
, whereas others are very useful but don't give points. As such, a careful balance between growth and scoring is needed.
It is possible to play Agricola as a solitaire game. The rules are made harder - you need much more food to feed your hungry family - but you have no competition. It becomes a nice and complex puzzle
this way. It is also great to learn the game.
In my opinion, Agricola is a near perfect game. It's not easy, but not excessively difficult. The theme is fun - a farm with animals - and the game design is very nice. You actually get small wooden animals
. It's also not devoid of humor
. It is nice to play, because you can essentially play your own game, in a race
with the other players. In many other games, your opponent can totally destroy you, like Monopoly or Catan. Here, the worst that can happen is that your farm is a bit less nice. There is enough randomness to break repetition, but not so much it becomes a frustrating, luck-based dice-throwing fest. Also, in the process, you might learn a thing or two about economics
Agricola is a game in which you are a farmer
attempting to build a farm
. As such, it is an economic
game. The goal is to have as nice a farm as possible. The game is well balanced, but has a small element of chance to make sure it is not repetitive.