|(c) Z-man Games|
Used by permission
Although overwhelmed the first time we played with our friends Theresa and Brion, I have since come to appreciate Agricola (Latin for "farmer") as a work of genius. It plays equally well for two, three, four, or five players, which in its own right is rather astounding. So few multi-player games stand up well when played with just two players. (It serves also as a solitaire game, which I haven't tried.) Even more surprising is that the game's simpler version - the "family game," which is played without most of the cards - is in my mind every bit as fun and challenging as the normal, full deck version, though for different reasons.
Outside on the deck, we prefer the "family game," so that we take up a little less space on the table and don't have to manage hands of cards along with everything else. There is remarkably little luck in the family game; the only random element is the order in which certain actions become available in each stage of the game. One might reasonably expect that a worker-placement game with very little randomness would fall into a fixed pattern, but we continually surprise each other with tactical shifts and nuanced approaches to building our farms and trying to out-maneuver each other for critical resources.
To me, the end-game really demonstrates the thought and rigor of development that must have gone into the refinement of Agricola. It seems as though there are always several different, nearly equivalent paths toward maximizing the final score; there is seldom one single, obvious course of action to run out the end of the game. I am almost always faced with a decision among three or four options, all valid, none self-evidently the "best" option, each with its own risk. Some real analysis went into the elements of this game to be able to preserve that "exquisite choice" conundrum right down to the last stage.
As I mentioned in my previous post, it's important that our "cocktail hour" game be fun, challenging, and a good match between us. Fortunately, we both enjoy playing Agricola, and we've each had our share of close victories and crushing defeats - er, that is, I mean to say, she wins some, I win some, but we always have fun together in the process.