A Brief Overview of what Gameplay in Agricola is Like
In Agricola, you will essentially be competing with other players to build the best farm, as defined by the scoring system in the game. You will collect resources, plant crops, raise animals, invest in tools, and feed your family. You will also expand your house and have children to help with the farm when the time is right.
However, farm work can be difficult... it's not all fun and games! Every few turns, you will have to be sure that you have enough food to feed your family, all the while juggling the other responsibilities of raising a farm and not falling behind your opponents.
Agricola can really make you feel like you're a farmer. Each player is given their own individual board that represents their own farm that no other player can touch, and then there is the central board which serves as the labor field and marketplace where all of the players can interact and most of the games hard choices take place.
How the Gameplay Mechanics in Agricola Work
In Agricola, you are given a number of choices of actions to perform each round. You get to perform one action per family member on your farm (you start the game with just two family members). The catch is that each action may only be used by one player per round, so you are in competition with the other players for the proper actions (For example, if your friend Jill is chopping wood this turn, you, Jack, may not chop wood yourself until next the turn).
Having kids in Agricola is a key decision to be made. It carries the game-changing advantage of having an extra action available to perform each turn, but it gets interesting in that you also have to be sure to have enough food to feed a bigger family before you start to have kids. If you ever run out of food to feed your family, you will have to beg for food, severely hurting your score and you will almost cetainly lose the game.
Not only is the fact that only one player can choose a given action each round interesting, there's also the fact that many of the resources available in the game stockpile and become more valuable each turn that no one performs that action.
That means that if neither Jack, Jill, or Humpty Dumpty choose to chop 3 wood this turn, then NEXT turn there will be 6 wood available! This feature creates a very interesting interaction, because you have to decide between rushing to collect an important resource in small incriments before your opponents can, and letting the resource stockpile and hope you can be the first to get it later, grabbing multiple loads of any given resource with just one action.
To stop the player who gets to choose their action first from monopolizing any one action every turn, the game allows players to "steal" the honor of starting player from other players by sending one of their farm workers to the "Starting Player" action space.
The most complex part of the game comes in the form of the cards (which are absent in the family mode mentioned earlier). Agricola comes with hundreds of cards, and each game a player is dealt 7 occupation cards and 7 minor improvement cards. There is no way to draw additional cards once the game is started.
These cards are optional jobs and skills you can take on, or technology upgrades you can build for your farm. You will not use all of the cards in your hand as they all have some sort of resource cost associated with them, but if you use the cards in your hand wisely it will go a long way towards beating your opponents at the end.
The win condition for Agricola is simple -- outscoure your opponents at the end of the game, when you are "graded" on your farm. The points rewards. however, are sort of arbitrary, so it will be hard to achieve a high score in Agricola unless you first familiarize yourself with what pieces of your farm are rewarded.
Agricola's Most Interesting Feature: The Evolving Game Board
In the beginning of the game, a small number of actions are available to the players, and players must compete over this limited number of choices.
As the game goes on and each round passes, a new action is added to the board, in semi-random order.
Because the gameboard unravels in a different way each time, and the Occupations and Improvement cards in your hands will rarely be the same or even similar as a previous game, Agricola is truly a unique experience every time.
Playing Time, Demographics, Etc.
The "30 minutes per player" advertised on the front of the box may be slightly understated. In reality, my Agricola games have taken closer to 45 minutes per player, when every player knows what they are doing.
For this reason, a 5 player game can seem a bit long and Agricola may indeed be more fun with 1 through 4 players.
The fact that Agricola can be played alone as a solitaire game is worth noting, as that is a unique feature that not many games can boast.
Adults will tend to love Agricola for its charming theme of farm life, and the staggeringly simple depth that is present in the game.
Children often seem to like Agricola because they get to customize their farm and build it their own way, though in my experience young children will struggle to understand how to use the Occupation or Improvement cards. The "family mode" is probably better suited for children.
Recap Time: Positives and Negatives about the Agricola board game:
Elegant design, simple rules, and incredible depth. This is not a game that can be mastered easily.
It is simply a blast to build up your farm. Designer Uwe Rosenburg really captured the farming "feel" in this game.
Agricola is frequently different between plays, and will stay fresh for a long time.
Quality wood and cardboard components that go above and beyond industry standards
Can be played with one, two, three, four, or five players. Diversity in options.
Upkeep must be performed between each and every round, and can feel cumbersome at times
Some players find Agricola lacking in player interaction, becuase players are not in direct competition and cannot truly impact each others decisions in a completely meaningful way. Agricola has sometimes been described as "multiplayer solitaire"
Scoring is quite arbitrary and non-intuitive, making effective strategy in the game a little harder to teach than it should be.
If you need a copy of the Agricola rules, they are here: Agricola Rules
Check below for my final verdict on Agricola
The Verdict on Agricola - Is it Fun?
Agricola is one of the few board games that makes you just sit back in awe and say "wow."
I feel I can say, with no large stretch of words, that this game is truly an elegant piece of work.
However, Agricola is not for everybody. For those who like a lot of direct ineraction in their games, Agricola may not fit the bill.
That said, I am a player who loves interaction in my games, and Agricola is one of my favorite games of all time anyway because the game is simply a brilliant masterpiece.
I am gushing all over this game because it deserves it, and I held back throughout most of this review.
If you are a hardcore board gamer, chances are you already own Agricola or have at least played it and made up your mind about it.
If you typically play simpler games and are ready to introduce a more moderate game into your collection, then Agricola is a great choice.
Love it or hate it, I think everybody must appreciate Agricola's excellence in design.
I rate Agricola: (1-6):
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