- Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
- Players: 1-5
- Time: 30 Min/Player
Board games are as diverse as the people who play them, and for every brightly-colored box filled with the excitement of chucking dice, slinging cards and drowning in theme there exists an equally unassuming venture of resources management, calculated strategy and mechanical systems. Agricola is one of those games. Admittedly, this is my favorite game of all time (until I get my hands on Caverna). However, I too was fooled at first by the pastoral setting depicted on the box. In reality, the trees-worth of little wooden animals, fences and barns are just waiting to make this one of the most stressful gaming experiences of your life.
Agricola (Latin for ‘Misery Farm‘) is a game set in Europe somewhere around the turn of the last millennium where you and your friends play subsistence farmers destined to work the land forever in some sort of indentured servitude. If that doesn’t sound like your cup of Earl Grey… hold on, I promise it gets better. The game works like this. Agricola is classified as a Euro Game meaning there will be little to no direct conflict, the mechanics will be a complex web of resource management, and the winner of the game will more likely than not be the one who most efficiently utilized the mechanics. In this case, each player will start with a family of two, a small wooden house and enough food necessary to get the farm up and running.
In front of you will rest your empty farm: delightfully segmented and ready to receive all manner of animal, fence and crop. In the center of the table is the action board containing exciting things like ‘Build Fences’ and ‘Bake Bread’. This is where each player will take it in turn to place a farmer (worker) onto an action they wish to perform. This is called worker placement. Along with a small handful of other games, Agricola wrote the book on this particular mechanic. The only caveat to this style of play is that once an action is taken it cannot be used again until the start of the next turn, and this is what makes the game so fantastically frustrating. For example, let’s say you have been stockpiling wood to build some fences, but every time a new round starts… the ‘Build Fences’ action space is taken before you can say post hole digger. You then have to find a new use for your hoard-like supply of lumber or claim an early position in the worker placement order. On top of a hundred other thoughts that go through your head, you have to keep it in the back of your mind that at the end of the game you need to have not only completely filled your farm with stuff but have also gathered one of every single resource the game has to offer. And if that weren’t enough, you have to make sure your family doesn’t starve, leaving you begging on the village streets. Just to give you a taste, here is what an internal monolog of decision may sound like when it rolls around to your turn:
“Do I grab some sheep now? It doesn’t look like anyone will take them… and I really need sheep. Wait! That is a John Deere-sized pile of clay just sitting there… but I already have clay. Maybe I should grow my family. No, I won’t be able to feed them. I should bake some bread. Yes, that is for sure what I’ll do. Hold on… I don’t have any wheat. What the heck am I doing?!”
The game is like a relentless wave of decisions barely letting you catch your breath before moving onto the next, and if that weren’t bad enough… you will continually second-guess every single one. But let’s do take a breather here for a minute so I can remind you of how delightfully satisfying this game is. If you don’t play many Euro games, by the end of this one it may feel like Agricola has grabbed your brain by either end and wrung it out like a wet towel. Yes your brain will hurt, but it will hurt in all the right places. The fact of the matter is that each choice you make will directly impact those that follow, and at the end of the game, when you are left staring down at your farm, you will be filled with an immense satisfaction for the thing you just built. Yes, your farm may be a travesty to those that call the agrarian lifestyle a profession… but it’s your travesty. The beauty of this game, and by extension your farm, is that it will never play the same way twice. Maybe you will focus on gathering animals and become the king of all that bleats, oinks and moos. Or maybe you will sow seed until your fields and storehouses are filled to bursting. The choices are yours, and if you are like me, you will want to sink your teeth into each and every tasty little kernel of strategy this modern classic has to offer.
Pros: Stratifying, Fun Components, Strategic, Great Re-Playability, Fantastic Design
Cons: May Be Too Heavy for Some, Game Play Can Be Slow