Having played the heck out of Lords of Waterdeep, I thought it might be fun to try another worker-placement type game and settled more or less randomly on Agricola. In it 2 – 5 players (there’s also a solo version) start out as a lowly farming couple in the 1300’s with a 2 room wooden hut and have 14 rounds to improve their lot in life by various methods: farming, raising livestock, adding more family members, improving their house, etc. it has a lot of different options and a ton of things to think about each turn. I got a chance to try it out over the Thanksgiving weekend and it was a pretty fun time.
Each player has their own game board that starts with a two room wooden hut on it and 15 total spaces to use. Each player starts out with 2 family members, so the opening board will look like this (you can click on any pic for a larger version):
There is also a main board that everyone places their family members/agents on (I’m going to use Waterdeep terms sometimes for people who know how to play that game). There are a number of action spaces on the board (or buildings in LoW) that each family member can be assigned to. Additionally, each round a new random card is turned up that adds another action space. At the beginning of the game the board will look like this:
Each space can only be used once per round. Unlike Waterdeep there’s no way to screw with workers once they’re placed (no Bribe Agents card, etc.) Some spaces (the ones with red arrows) build up resources each round, such as the ever-popular 3 Wood space that gets 3 Wood every turn. Since there is a new action card every round the options keep growing and changing as the game progresses. I haven’t played enough to figure out all the best strategies; you can try to concentrate on one or two things, be a jack of all trades, work on improving your home, try to add more family members as soon as possible, and more.
Adding new family members seems like a good idea because once you add a new family member you can use them from that point on, giving you more actions each round. No brainer, right? Buuuuut…of course there are a few things to consider. First you have to have room in your house; you start out with 2 rooms and 2 family members, if you want to go to 3 you need a 3rd room. Another consideration is that every few rounds there is a “harvest” where you must feed 2 food to each of your family members. More members, more food you have to worry about growing and collecting. It’s a major pain in the plowshare to gather food and have to always worry about it, so more family members just makes it worse. In theory you can have up to 5 family members but that would be very tough to do.
When you have more than 2 players you start the game off with additional spaces/buildings to use right from the get-go. This makes the game a lot more manageable, and makes the 4 player game much better than the 2 player game in my opinion (those are the only combos I’ve tried so far). Here’s how the board looks at the start of a 3 player game with the extra buildings:
I haven’t played the game nearly enough to figure out all the best strategies, but all four of us that played agreed that livestock seems to be the best way to go. You can build pastures and/or stables (needed to house the livestock) fairly easily, and the livestock can be converted into precious food when needed. Pastures are built with fences, and each pasture can only hold one of the three types of animals (sheep, wild boar, cattle).
Growing grains and vegetables on the other hand, can be quite a hassle. You have to plow each plot of land individually, then they have to be sown (you can sow more than one at a time fortunately). And before you sow for the first time you have to acquire a grain or vegetable. Once you’ve got it set up it can yield some nice returns, but it’s a slow process. Usually it’s much easier to throw down a few fences and start raising sheep. Then again, at the end of the game you’re penalized if you don’t have any grains or any vegetables, so it’s nice to at least get 1 or 2 of each.
Expanding or improving your house is another option. You can add on more rooms, or later in the game you can upgrade from wood to clay and from clay to stone. Upgrading is nice because at the end of the game wooden homes get you no points, while clay gets you a small bonus and stone a larger one. And adding more rooms allows for more family members to be added, along with increasing the size of any upgrade bonuses (since the bonus points are per room).
At the end of the game each player received points based on a large number of categories: how many sheep/cattle/boars you have, how many family members, how many vegetables/grains, how many plowed fields, etc. You can lose a point for having 0 of something, so the difference between having say 0 cattle (-1 point) and 1 cattle (1 point) is a two point swing. So it’s nice to try to get a little something of everything. We found that the winner typically had around 25 – 30 points at the end, both in the 2 and 4 player games.
Oh yeah, and I haven’t even mentioned the cards >_< There are Occupation and Minor Improvement cards that add another huge layer of complexity and strategy to the game. The rules “strongly recommend” you play a simplified version of the game that doesn’t use those the first time you play, and I totally agree.
Overall I like the game. Maybe not as much as Lords of Waterdeep, but that’s a pretty high standard to live up to! I would love to play it some more, so let me know if you’re up for a game!