I talked about Agricola in an earlier post. Although I liked the game, it is definitely a complex game with a lot of things going on. There are fields to sow, crops to raise, animals to raise, houses to improve, family members to add, etc., etc., etc! It is definitely a lot. Apparently the designers agreed and they made a simplified 2-player only version. I picked it up after seeing a review on Amazon and I really enjoy it. I like the larger more complicated game as well, but this one is a lot easier to convince other people to play 😉
All Creatures Big and Small removes almost all of the complexity from its parent game. No crops, no fields, no family members, no harvest, no house to worry about. So what’s left? Creatures big and small! This game is all about raising as many animals as you can. They even added an extra animal to the game, so now you have sheep, cows, boars, and horses to acquire and breed. You’ll need to raise all the different types and a good number of them as well; at the end of the game you get a point for each animal you’ve raised and bonus points for each of the four types. You’ll need at least 8 sheep to get a bonus point (7 boars, 6 cows, 5 horses) and you lose points if you don’t raise at least 4 of a given type. There are points to be made for special buildings and completely filling up your land, but the main focus is the animals.
But before you can raise animals you’ll need somewhere to keep them: stables, buildings, and pastures are the various ways to make space for all your livestock. Carefully planning your space out before you acquire the animals is critical…but at the same time you can’t wait too long to start grabbing them because the entire game is only eight rounds. Of course in order to build anything you have to acquire resources such as wood, reed, and stone. So first you need those…phew there’s a lot to do! You get three actions each turn but it never feels like enough. There are always 4 or 5 different spots you want to use, especially on your first turn of the round.
The board itself is only 8″ x 8″, and the box is the same size, making for a nice compact game. Both players have a personal board for buildings and livestock, and each player can expand their board (there are 4 expansions and technically one player can buy them all but in actuality I haven’t seen any player buy more than 2). The main board has 17 spaces on it. Some of them build up resources each turn and some of them allow you to put buildings, fences, or stables into play.
Each game turn consists of restocking the spaces that build up, assigning each player’s three agents to spots on the board, and breeding. If you have at least 2 of a given animal type they will breed, netting you an extra one (but only one extra, no matter how many of that type you have). Because of the breeding it’s advantageous to get some animals as early as possible so they can start multiplying; but then again you have to room for them or you can’t keep them. One nice thing is that while any buildings you put down are there for the duration of the game your animals can be moved and rearranged anytime you want. Trying to figure out you can rearrange everything so you have room for that extra boar can be challenging at times.
Once you’ve played a game and gotten a feel for what’s going on gameplay is pretty quick. With only 2 players, 8 turns, and 3 agents per turn a single game can take less than an hour easily.
Overall I really like this take on the game. They streamlined it just to the perfect point where it’s much quicker to play and easier to set up but still leaves in a good dose of strategy along with some agonizing choices to make as you play. The only real negative is that the game is maybe a little too compact; fitting all those cute little animeeples onto the board can get tricky. They do include some counters that represent 4 each but there aren’t very many so even with those you’re still going to have those animals get nice and cozy. Hey, that just makes the breeding easier for them. 😉
One other minus has to do with the expansions. Not because they’re bad but because they apparently only made 7 copies of each of them and they’re now outrageously expensive on the secondary market. There are two different ones and they both add more buildings to the mix so instead of having the four standard ones from the base set you can draw ones at random and change up each playing of the game. If I can ever get my hands on them I’ll let you know but in the meantime let me know if you want to play!