Game Genre: Worker Placement, Tableau Building
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Publisher: Lookout Games
Number of Players: 1-5
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Life is hard. But as Agricola makes it abundantly clear on the box cover, playing the game is Middle Ages hard. You’re trying your best to scrape by, possibly needing to hold 3 or more different jobs to even begin to make ends meet and not starve to death on the sparse food supplies. All the while, you’re going about, doing your best to maintain your farm and a respectable family life. If you’re really good, you can even grind out a kickass farm! But that’s only if you’re really good.
Agricola can be confusingly stressful
Because of that, Agricola won’t be for everyone. The game throws you into a pressure-cooker environment where the outcomes range from starving, to living a meager existence, to having a farm that’s fully functional and actually looks presentable. But some people don’t like that pressure of having to provide for their family. They want a relaxing game where they can lay tiles and claim territory. The bleak prospect of starving family members doesn’t sit well with them. And I get that.
For others, Agricola has a lot of moving parts to keep in mind and all of these moving parts will make it an intimidating first experience for a board game neophyte. One does not simply plant crops, no! One must plow a field, get some seeds, and then plant the seeds onto the field. And only during the harvest do you get those crops back into your supply warehouse. One also doesn’t just simply raise animals. You must build pastures or stables for the animals to live in (unless you decide to keep it as a pet inside the house) and only when you have enough of the same type of animal will the animals start breeding on their own.
Even food conversion can be a pain. Grain can’t be turned into food unless you have a cooking implement and take the Bake Bread action and vegetables and animals can’t rely on ovens for cooking and some Major Improvements can turn resources into food and…
You get the idea. There’s a lot going on and that forces you to prioritize on what you do. The plethora of options can feel like you’re drinking from a firehose. And that’s while you’re trying not to starve!
Agricola’s mechanics and variety can lead to a satisfying experience
So Agricola presents a hard life, packed into a hard ruleset that will probably give you a lot of stress at the table. What’s to like? As it turns out, quite a bit.
Because once everything clicks, the game becomes a cohesive system that allows you to see progress! And this kind of progress is exciting! You set up pastures or fields and several turns later, you see the fruits of your labor blossom into a food engine that allows your family to be well fed. And when you become self-sufficient with food, the game opens up. Your family members can then pursue other pleasures like making a run at being a Manufacturer. Or a Chief! Or play in their new Half-Timbered House made out of stone! The possibilities become endless.
That leads into one of my favorite parts of Agricola: the Occupation and Minor Improvement cards. At the beginning of the game, each player gets dealt a hand of 7 of each card type. What these cards allow you to do is play the game more efficiently. Some cards make planting crops easier. Others make it easy for you to upgrade your house. Others still help you with growing your family.
But what all of these do is help shape your strategy so that every play session becomes unique in your approach to the game. In one game, you might not have to worry about growing your family until much later. Other games might help you skip having to feed for the first few harvests, making a resource grab a much more feasible course of action. The ability to play Agricola at a strong, solid tempo is so enjoyable when everything meshes together beautifully.
Needless to say, Agricola attracts a certain type of gamer. The type that loves analyzing the game’s system for sources of action optimization. The type that can look at their hand of cards, set up their priorities, and read into what the other players are doing so as to hinder their progress. The type that feels a sense of satisfaction when their engine is humming along smoothly. The type that, at the end of the game, can hold their board up with a knowing nod and proclaim proudly that, “this sure is one badass farm!”
Verdict: 10/10 – Masterpiece: There’s an immense sense of satisfaction and pride that comes with being able to optimize your actions to make a farm look complete and presentable. It’s not a game for everyone; there’s a lot of moving pieces and the theme might not fit everyone’s tastes, but for me, it’s an evergreen game that I’ll never get tired of.
- Beautifully-designed game with mechanics that are interwoven into the need to feed.
- Occupation and minor improvement cards add variety to gameplay; no game is the same.
- Very analytical optimization puzzle that’s engaging and stays true to its theme.
- Feeding mechanic can cause a lot of stress as you struggle to make sure your family is well fed.
- Lots of rules and moving pieces make this game difficult to teach.
- Players might drown in all of the options the Occupations or Minor Improvements provide.
- “A board game about farming? Are you kidding me???”