Ridere, ludere, hoc est vivere.

Showing posts with label Agricola. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Agricola. Show all posts

Friday, April 17, 2015

Worker placement inventory

Part of Kathy's killer combination
This afternoon my wife Kathy just wanted to play a worker placement game.  We settled on our old favorite Agricola (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artist Klemens Franz, publisher Z-Man).  We played with the 'K' Deck, which we haven't done in a while.  She had a killer combination of Plowman, Market Woman, and Greenhouse, which together meant she was swimming in grain and vegetables by the end of the game. She also had two big pastures and a lot of animals at the end, plus a large wooden hut.  My big points came from major improvements that included the well and the stone oven, a stone hut, and a lot of grain thanks to Acreage.  But my unused spaces and neglect of animals meant that she won the game, 40 to 31. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Thinking ahead

Our first game of Legacy: Gears
of Time
My beautiful wife Kathy gave me a copy of Legacy: Gears of Time (designer Ben Harkins, publisher Floodgate Games) for Christmas.  She trounced me in our first game, and last night I eked out a one-point victory in our second game.

Friday, September 5, 2014

My candidates for the 2014 Dice Tower Top 100

(c) Queen Games
Used by permission
The Dice Tower is soliciting People's Choice votes for its annual Top 100 Games.  At the risk of exposing my idiosyncratic taste in games, here are the twenty for which I voted:

Friday, June 14, 2013

Farmers and hoplites

Two quick game accounts:

(c) Z-man Games.  Used by permission
Farmers of the Moor
Last evening, Kathy and I played Agricola: Farmers of the Moor (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artist Klemens Franz, publisher Z-Man Games).  We used the "Advanced (F)" deck of minor improvements.  We took completely different approaches to our farms.  Kathy was immediately disgusted with her hand and dismissed the idea of pursuing any of her minor improvements.  In fact, the only major improvement she paid for was a fireplace, which she later upgraded to a cooking hearth.  She was the first to build an extra room and grow her family.  She built fences like crazy and had quite the sheep/boar farm going before long.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Multi-player games for two players

Ryan Metzler recently posted a top-ten video of his favorite multi-player games for two players - that is, games made for two or more players but that are his favorites as two-player games.  His video is both quick and informative, and I bumped up a number of games on my wishlist as a result.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Worker placement gold standard - another Agricola session

It seems that I can never talk about worker-placement games without comparing them to Agricola (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artist Klemens Franz, publisher Z-Man), which I guess was my first introduction to the genre and the one nearest to my gaming heart.  It has become the standard against which I measure all other worker-placement games.  Tonight, Kathy and I decided to drag it to the table again, and this old favorite still satisfies as much as it ever did.

Monday, August 6, 2012

World Boardgaming Championships: Wonders, ships, and farmers

Last Thursday, I arrived at the World Boardgaming Championships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania with a "flexible plan" (which is just one step above no plan at all) of how best to enjoy this annual trek to the highlight event of the Boardgame Players Association.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Discovering Le Havre

I can't remember what prompted me to look into Le Havre (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artists Klemens Franz and Uwe Rosenberg, publisher Lookout Games [website in German]), but I remember getting very interested the more I read about it.  The comment I put in my wish list was, "So highly rated, so well reviewed, by the designer of Agricola, for 1-5 players ... what's not to like?"

So I was especially excited when my beautiful, loving, game-playing wife gave me a copy of Le Havre for my birthday.  We made a point of setting aside the 5:00 cocktail hour last Friday for us to learn and play this Le Havre game that I'd heard so much about and that my wife was interested in as well, if only for the Agricola comparison (inasmuch as she has been known to farm circles around me from time to time).

We have found that the best way for the two of us to discover a new game that neither of us has played is for me to sit with the game and read the rules cover to cover to get to the point of understanding.  Then I explain  to my wife how I think the game works in what I think is a reasonably organized fashion.  We have discovered that I can do this with about a 90% reliability of getting the rules right.  Invariably I will get at least one rule wrong in the first play, sometimes more, but since we treat the first run-through as a "learning game," the stakes are low, and the consequences of screwing up a rule are usually minor.  (Well, that's my story, anyway.)

Sample resources - image posted to
boardgamegeek by Jason  Begy
 http://boardgamegeek.com/image/854059/le-havre   
Now, I will say that as I read the description on the back of the box, I was afraid I was in for a warmed-over Agricola in a different theme.  But when 5:00 arrived, I made a drink for my lovely wife, and then cracked open the box to see what I was in for.  And I found that Le Havre seems to have a very different flavor indeed.    Certainly there is still the general Euro process of taking actions, accumulating resources, using those resources to acquire things to build victory-point-generation-engines.  But the mechanisms seem very different in this game, the methodologies quite original (to me at least).

As it happens, it took me so long to learn the game, and my explanation was so confusing, that we only completed two out of the eight rounds that a two-player shortened-version game is supposed to take (which the rules claim should run about 45 minutes).  So Friday evening we pretty much got as far as figuring out the processes of the turn sequence but really didn't understand the "why" behind the different actions.  (And the rule I got wrong that first time is that I missed the wooden ship that each player gets at the start of the shortened two-player game.)

Fortunately, my lovely wife was not discouraged but inspired to suggest that we try the game again on Sunday.  And we started at 4:00 rather than 5:00, and needed only the most cursory review of rules before we were able to jump into the game with both feet.  We definitely learned a lot more in today's session about how the game seems to work.

Construction and building firms allow
players to build new buildings - image
posted to boardgamegeek by Raiko Puust
http://boardgamegeek.com/image/1256076/le-havre 
 
Without going into detail on the rules themselves, suffice it to say that players may on each turn essentially choose either to take raw materials of one type (as many as happen to be available at that point), or to take advantage of the action of one of the buildings that has been built in the city.  The most common such action early in the game is to use raw materials to build new buildings, which are worth points and which expand the available actions in future turns.  Some buildings yield a guaranteed number of raw materials of a certain type.  Some allow conversion of raw materials to refined materials.  The Wharf allows construction of ships.  The Shipping Line allows the shipment of raw or refined materials on ships for money (which is both currency and victory points).  Other buildings allow a variety of other actions.

There is also a decidedly Agricolesque feeding concern at the end of each round of seven turns, which motivates players to convert fish to smoked fish, grain to bread, and cattle to meat for food.  Grain and cattle can also be "multiplied" (albeit slowly).  In Le Havre, unlike Agricola, the "feeding curve" grows very quickly from one round to the next.  Ships become important, because each ship provides free food every round to offset the feeding requirement.

Shipping Line - image
posted to
boardgamegeek
by "amp (beatrix)"
 
But my wife discovered - faster than I did - the real value in ships:  using them with the Shipping Line to sell refined goods.  In her case, she used the Abattoir to convert cattle to meat and hides, the Tannery to convert the hides to leather, and then the Shipping Line to deliver the leather to market.  I tried to outdo her success by using the Iron Works to acquire iron, the Collier to acquire coal, the Cokery to convert coal to coke, which in turn I used in the Steel Mill to convert iron to steel.  Steel sells for a great deal more than leather (twice as much, in fact), but because I needed extra steps to make it all work, I was too late to make it come together in time before the end of our shortened game.

So my beautiful wife beat me in our first complete game of Le Havre by the convincing score of 147 to 91.  Now we both understand the game better, and I expect we'll bring Le Havre to the cocktail-hour game table many more times.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Agricola close-up

Spanish boardgame geek Roberto Méndez has started a game photography project he calls, "52 Weeks 52 Photos."  This week's photo of Agricola reminded me that I'd taken a few photos of a game Kathy and I had played recently but never posted.
Kathy's very successful wild boar farm in our Agricola game two weeks ago 

So here's today's Agricola close-up, inspired by Roberto Méndez.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Farmers: Farmers on the Moor

One of my acquisitions at WBC (has it been almost two weeks ago now?) was Farmers of the Moor, an expansion to my old favorite farming game, Agricola (designer Uwe Rosenberg, artist Klemens Franz, publisher Z-Man Games).  FotM introduces fuel for heating homes, horses, 14 new major improvements, and two new decks of minor improvements.  A game that was already a fun worker-placement challenge and satisfying farm-building game presents a whole new set of challenges with this well-thought-out expansion.

Farmers of the Moor:  fuel tokens
Agricola already poses the problem of feeding the family at every harvest.  Now FotM adds the requirement of burning a fuel token for every room in the house at every harvest as well.  Fuel comes from cutting peat from the eponymous moors that dot the farm at the beginning of the game, or from trading in wood for fuel.  Clay huts provide some insulation and save on heating fuel; stone huts even more so.  Heating the hut is necessary to keep the family healthy; for every unit of fuel needed at harvest but not available to heat the home, a family member is "bedridden" in the next round.  The only action a bedridden family member can take is to go to the infirmary for the round; at the end of the round, that family member returns home with the rest of the family.

Farmers of the Moor:  Bedridden family members
In our first game, I took advantage of a minor improvement "Thicket," a major improvement "Forester's Lodge," and a horse to build up a big supply of wood.  Unfortunately I lost sight of the need for fuel, and at one point spent all my wood to build a room and build fences for two pastures.  Suddenly I was facing harvest with no fuel, and the entire family was bedridden for the next round.  It was a funny, if bone-headed, mistake, and we all got a good laugh at my family members making their way one by one to the infirmary.  Surprisingly, I won the game, but by the narrowest of margins - my 37 points to my wife's 36 and our friend Theresa's 35.  We were all astounded at how close the game was.

This evening, my wife and I played a two-player session, and we both thought that I was on my way to a strong finish with a stone house, stone oven, and full supply of grain and vegetables.  But my wife made up the difference with animals, the well, and the basketmaker's workshop.  We ended up tied at 46 points.  Again, we were both astounded at how close the scores ended up despite our perception of my lead.  What a fun game.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
And therein lies a clue to the mystery of the success of Agricola.  I am continually astounded at the balance of this game.  There are so many different ways to score points, so many different actions to take, different opportunity trades between one path and another - and yet scores can end up very close, where every point at the end can make a difference.  And FotM seems to have struck that balance even more finely.

What is it about the design of this game that makes it work so well?  Surely some decent quantitative analysis went into the unit cost and point value of the different components, but there's more to it than pure calculation.  The only conclusion I can reach is that it was thoroughly playtested and continually adjusted to refine the game play.  Every effort must have been taken to create a gap, a question, a balance among two or more choices, so that no choice was ever obvious.  Every good move meant sacrificing another good move.  Every opportunity taken meant leaving another opportunity open to the opponent(s).  In this respect, to me, this game is brilliant, and FotM just cranks up the candlepower.

If I can ever figure out how to capture that kind of design genius, I'll have bottled lightning.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Final day at WBC

Yesterday was the last day of the Boardgame Players Association's World Boardgaming Championships 2011.  A record 1642 people attended WBC this year.  I met other designers, developers, and of course many gamers, including quite a few familiar faces from PrezCon.  And of course vendors, who were good enough to thin out my wallet in exchange for a few additions to my game shelf:

(c) Worthington Games
Used by permission
I've had my eye on Tech Bubble (designer Mike Nagel, artist Sean Cooke, publisher Worthington Games) for quite a while now.  We've really enjoyed push-your-luck games like Can't Stop and Incan Gold, so what I read about Tech Bubble makes me think it will fit right in.

Some time ago I did a survey in earnest for two-player games that my wife and I would enjoy, and Jaipur (designer Sebastien Pauchon, artist Alexandre Roche, publisher GameWorks) came up pretty high on the list.  DiceHateMe had a pretty funny review last April, including the following comment that caught my attention:

  • Jaipur - while sometimes frustrating because of the luck of the draw in the Market - is incredibly fun. Why? I honestly have no idea. There are some games that, if dissected, the parts would make most game scholars scratch their heads and utter a collective “huh?” However, put those parts together and a rare synergy occurs. This is the magic of Jaipur. 

I love games like that.  I happened to see it for 20% off at the convention and picked it up.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
And then I got to the Z-man booth.  As my good friend Grant G. said, "I never met a Z-man game I didn't like."  I was really hoping to find Traders of Carthage, but apparently that's been out of print for a while.  But I did find The Speicherstadt (designer Stefan Feld, publisher Z-man Games) an auction trading house game that I've had my eye on for a while but which sold out at PrezCon last February before I could make up my mind to buy it.  Luckily I wasn't so indecisive this year.

I needed even less deliberation to pick up Farmers of the Moor (designer Uwe Rosenberg), also at the Z-man booth.  This extension to one of my favorite games, Agricola, adds horses and peat to the farm.  I expect Farmers will bring a little "aroma" to our Agricola sessions.

I had, unfortunately, blown my budget by the time I got to the Stronghold Games booth, where I encountered Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War (designer Robert Abbott, publisher Stronghold Games).  Oh, baby.  The DiceHateMe review of this cloak-and-dagger deduction game really brought out the evil laugh in me.  But how do you indulge your inner spy when you've got a bag full of games already?  Well, fortunately, Keith F. felt the same Cold War nostalgia I did.  (Oh, wait, he's not nearly as old as I am ... Keith, what grade were you in when the Berlin Wall fell?)  Nevertheless, Keith picked it up, somehow confident that he'd be able to get me to play it with him a few times.

Keith, Brian, and I sat down for two last games of the weekend - Trains Planes and Automobiles and Citadels, two more games that Keith bought on my recommendation.  (What a trusting soul.)  At the last minute, as the vendors were boxing up inventory, Brian ran back and grabbed a copy of Pandemic, because Keith and I knew that he wanted to buy it; he just needed a little encouragement.

So all in all, the three of us managed to stay entertained.  We drank beer, we competed in tournaments, we played games till 2:00 in the morning, we bought bags of games ... and yet none of us went home with a plaque.  Oh, well.  There's always PrezCon.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Final preparations for WBC

I'm making final preparations to leave early tomorrow morning for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to attend the World Boardgaming Championships.  Besides introducing Trains Planes and Automobiles in the Juniors Room, I hope to attend Dr. Lewis Pulsipher's seminar on game design and play a few games.  The top six on my list are


The first four are among my favorite games; the last two are new to me, and I look forward to learning about them.

I welcome comments from others already at WBC or planning to go.  Let me know what you're most looking forward to!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Thoughts on approachability

[I'm still on vacation away from the internet, so today's is a re-post of an excerpt from an article from last October.]

Image courtesy of
Rio Grande Games
This week our friendly neighborhood Game Parlor in Woodbridge is having a 20%-off moving sale on nearly everything that's in stock, so the other day I picked up Race for the Galaxy (designed by Thomas Lehmann, published in the U.S. by Rio Grande).  I'd had this on my list since I'd solicited my friends for two-player game ideas to add to our afternoon game session library.  I'd had a lukewarm experience with it at Congress of Gamers a year or two ago, largely because the people I played with were very experienced players and not altogether patient or thorough in explaining the rules.  But I read so many good things on boardgamegeek about it - especially in light of our fondness for Puerto Rico (designed by Andreas Seyfarth, also Rio Grande), with which a number of reviewers compared it - that I thought it was worth a try.

I was very methodical in going through the rules myself and then reviewing them with Kathy.  I think as we played the first time through, we agreed that we understood the mechanics of the game, and the goals, and even how to devise a strategy.  The thing we found frustrating in our first play-through was the abundance and density of symbols on the cards and their varied significance.  I think we went around two or three times on how the "Contact Specialist" worked.  I'm sure veterans of this game are used to the conventions and know what to look for and how to apply the symbols to the game mechanics, but we were each struggling to understand what we were looking at as we played along.  Both of us are confident, though, that's a game that we can learn and come to appreciate.  I'm looking forward to trying again.

There's a lesson here somewhere for me as a game designer, I think.  It's one thing to have a game that is complete in its rules integrity and components, that is a beautiful construct in both form and function, that aficionados come to appreciate for subtlety, nuance, and replayability.  But what about a game's approachability to the novice?  The analogy I think of is a mansion on a mountaintop.  It can be a marvelous engineering construction, stunning in appearance, awe-inspiring in surroundings, luxurious in furnishings ... but if visitors have to climb a rock face to get there and appreciate it, not many people will try.  So I'm coming to appreciate that even an intriciate, complex game needs to have a welcome mat, an entrance ramp, some way of introducing the novice to the game.

Agricola family board
RftG does this to a certain degree, with pre-selected starting hands for the players.  Settlers of Catan has its beginner's board layout; Agricola has its family game.  I remember Avalon Hill developed a rules construct called "Programmed Instruction," in which rules were divided into sections that built on one another.  The new player could read the first section, then play a scenario that depended only on the  rules in that first section.  A second section would introduce more rules, components, and options and would be followed in turn by more scenarios.  Starship Troopers and Tobruk, among others, had this kind of graduated rules approach. 

I don't know; am I asking too much?  Is it reasonable that a gamer should struggle with a game the first time through, until they say, "oh, that's how that rule works," or "that's what that card does"?  Every first-time player of Agricola goes through this, surely.  It's not that I want to play simple games; I just don't want learning a new game to be a struggle.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Farming family style

Now that the weather is nicer, Kathy and I like to game out in the backyard.  Of course, deck furniture doesn't make for a lot of table space, so our options are limited.  One discovery we made last year is that we can play two-player Agricola family-style (meaning, without occupations or minor improvements) and just squeeze it onto the available surfaces.  And still have room for cocktails.

Family game board section
It's actually been a little while since we've played Agricola, and a long while since we've played it family-style.  I must say that this is a really elegant game when stripped down to its essentials.  There is very little left to chance, and you really have to know what you're doing against an experienced player.  (In the case of Kathy and me, we are nearly equally matched.)

In today's game, Kathy went long on major improvements.  She got a fireplace very early and fed her family a lot of sheep throughout the game.  She picked up the well about Round 8 or so, and very late picked up the stone oven just for the points.  She also renovated to a three-room stone house in the last round.  For my part, I got the grain farming going and picked up the clay oven early, so my family was eating a lot of baked bread for most of the game.  I got a jump on building rooms to the house and grew the family, and hoarded wood to build a lot of fences for animal breeding.  I never picked up a fireplace or cooking hearth, however, so I could never cook animals or vegetables.  I did pick up the basketmaker's workshop when I renovated to a four-room clay hut.

In the end I won by a single point, by virtue of having two leftover reed to gain a bonus point from the basketmaker's workshop.  It was anybody's game all the way through, and we were both happy with the way we played.  This is still one of my very favorite games of all.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A weekend of gaming

On the occasion of our son's birthday, his good friend and his friend's mother Sue Cochran came to stay for the weekend.  The boys played computer and video games in the basement; we played boardgames in the dining room.

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
We started with Cities and Knights of Catan (designer Klaus Teuber, publisher Mayfair), a favorite variant on Settlers of Catan.  Although Catan usually remains close a contest throughout the game, this time my wife Kathy pretty much ran away with it by exploiting a very profitable wheat port.  She left Sue and me in the dust and won handily.

Sue had played Agricola only twice before and wanted to try it again, so we played the family version (without occupations or minor improvements).  Sue outscored both of us on major improvements with the well, the pottery, and a cooking hearth, and Kathy got her farm running strong on grain and vegetable fields, but I was the only one to renovate to a stone house, which proved to be the difference in my very close win.

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
Sue next introduced us to Iron Dragon (designers Darwin P. Bromley and Tom Wham, another Mayfair title), which turned out to be the big game event of the weekend.  I read up on some of the reviews ahead of time, and a few comments were less than enthusiastic.  In the interest of simplifying the game somewhat and perhaps shortening the playing time, I convinced Sue to allow us to play without the event cards, which at least one reviewer described as randomly bad and not in general an improvement to overall gameplay.  She also agreed to make the "Rainbow Bridge" connection between Bluefeld and Octomare a permanent portal, which greatly simplified access between the new and old worlds in the north.  I can see that some fans of the game might think that we deprived the game of some of its challenge and flavor, but I think as an introductory session (in the context of wanting to play other games as well), the adjustments proved reasonable.

One reviewer expressed frustration at having to discard route cards frequently in order to find profitable assignments, but we didn't find that true in our session at all.  Admittedly, there were a number of times early in the game where it was necessary to spend more money building rail lines than would be collected in the final shipment, but I considered those costs to be an investment in infrastructure.  Many of the rail lines built early in the game turned out to be useful for multiple subsequent shipments, as well as the basis for a more extensive network later in the game.  Seldom did any of us discard route cards (if at all) in our session. 

In the end, I got to the point where I had enough surplus cash to extend my network to satisfy the victory condition of being connected to seven of the eight major cities.  After that, it was just necessary to complete several major shipments to reach a cash balance of 250 gold pieces to win the game.  All in all, I would say that it is a fun game, despite being a bit idiosyncratic in its design and execution.
Image courtesy of
Outset Media

We wrapped up with a game of Word Thief (publisher Outset Media), which my wife usually trounces me in.  I had a ridiculously good string of luck and managed to use all seven cards in three consecutive turns - a total of 60 bonus points.  I did win the game, but only by 27 points, which means that I needed two of those awesome turns just to keep my wife from crushing me.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Congress of Gamers recap - Part 2

After our game of Carcassone, I went to the vendor "Our Game Table" and bought a tile bag for Carcassone and box bands to replace broken ones at home. 

Image (c) Mayfair Games.  Used by
permission.  All rights reserved
So, Saturday afternoon at Congress of Gamers found me sitting down to play Settlers of Catan (designed by Klaus Teuber, published by Mayfair Games) with Meredith M. and my good friend Grant G.  Settlers is an old favorite of mine.  Grant obtained Longest Road fairly early on, and he and Meredith seemed pretty evenly matched until she linked two road networks to steal Longest Road from him and jump to a commanding lead.  I was able to catch up to her, and we were tied at nine points when I had in my hand exactly the cards I needed to build my last settlement and win the game.  But fortune would not smile on me, because before I could take my turn, Meredith bought a development card and turned up the University of Catan for her tenth and winning point.  Argh!  Victory snatched from my grasp!

Sunday I brought my son with me to Congress of Gamers to meet his friend (whose mother Sue C. ran the Catchy Quips vendor at the convention) and play RoboRally (designed by Richard Garfield, published by Avalon Hill [Hasbro]).  Our session was a crazy one, with ten players on three connected boards.  The game master, Marc Houde, randomly changed one of the boards every three turns.  At one point, the second objective flag sat on a conveyor belt, a literal moving target.  It became clear that the game could go on forever, so after three hours with only a few of us having touched the first flag, Marc announced that the first player to touch the second flag would be the winner.  One player got to the flag but was carried to oblivion on the conveyor belt before he could declare victory.  Much later, my friend Keith F. was able to capture the second flag and win the game, four hours after we started.  There is a lesson hear about adding random complications to an existing game design.  The result can be an unintended convolution that makes a game unnecessarily long and potentially frustrating and draining.

Because RoboRally ran so long, I missed the Puerto Rico session and instead spent a little time and money at the Harmony House vendor picking up parts for a prototype of an interplanetary mining game idea I've been kicking around in earnest.

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Finally came the game I'd been looking forward to most - Agricola.  Again, Virginia C. was at my table, along with a woman named Helen and the game master Eric Engelmann.  Our table was the only one to use drafting, whereby players keep some cards and pass the rest to other players before the start of the game so that each has the opportunity to assemble combinations of favorable cards and dispose of those least applicable to a strategy.  My big early move was bringing out the wet nurse so that every room I added to my house came with a baby.  I had a few other interesting occupations and improvements but still felt as though I was behind the group until some late moves to plow and sow, as well as to renovate my hut to clay and build fences near the very end.  I just missed second place to Helen by a point, but Virginia took a commanding win with a five-room stone house and 13 points in improvements.  With that, Virginia swept the EuroCaucus category for the entire convention.

After all that competition, I had a fun session of Castle Panic with my son and his friend.  CP is a fun cooperative game, and it was a nice light-hearted finish to a fun convention.  After that, we packed up and headed home, content to have played a solid weekend of games in good company. 

And fun in the company of good friends and new acquaintances, after all, is what playing games is really all about.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Farming with my spouse

Friday evening, home from work.  Time to settle down with a martini out on the deck for a game of Agricola with my wife. 

(c) Z-man Games
Used by permission
Agricola (designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published in the USA by Z-Man games) is one of the few games I bought without ever having played.  The acclaim surrounding this game has been so universal in the community that I figured I just had to have it, just to see what all the fuss was about.  At this point, I need to give proper credit to my friend Doug M., an annual pilgrim to Origins, who picked up a copy there for me at a very reasonable price.  (I have yet to attend Origins, notwithstanding Doug's perpetual campaign to get us there.) 

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.