Agricola - Initial Impressions

After becoming slowly disenchanted with Settlers of Catan which left me feeling like I could tell who would win often within 1 or 2 moves - if the dice would actually play like it statistically should I felt that I really wanted to get another more serious board game that wasn’t as well known and would best of all be fun. After much searching and asking around I purchased the board game Agricola (BoardGameGeek) after a promising recommendation and the fact that it has taken over as the #1 rated game on BoardGameGeek.

Three members of my family and I set up the Family Game (a simpler variant recommended for starting out) and I’m certainly happy that we did. The game from unboxing (pieces already separated earlier) to finish took a good 4 hours. The 4 hour number is artificially inflated due to reading the rules and figuring out the rules on top of interruptions. Once we had started the game itself only took a bit over the 90 minutes it says to expect. I highly suspect after several more plays it will become considerably faster than that.

The Good

The game plays like a well oiled machine - thought out, exceptionally balanced, and insanely competitive without forcing one into an all out war against someone. Without any dice rolling (the bane of my existence in Risk) the element of chance takes a back seat to good old fashioned strategy and ingenuity.

The game is serious but quite fun - I can’t comment on the “let’s play it again” factor as nearly any brand new game I wish to play it again now that I have learnt the rules and mechanics. [EDIT: After playing several more games since writing the first draft of this - the let’s play it again right away factor is not as high as one would expect. Games can get a bit long but that idea that you can play again the following day is high - or if someone asks to play I’ve yet to have anyone say no. But 2 or 3 games in a row? Not as much]

I look forward to introducing the minor improvements alongside the Occupations of the full game that will result in a much more diversifed game.

The Bad

Your best attack is to go first and take the action that your opponents want the most, and when there are multiple routes to victory and easy to change your strategy it becomes a game where you have to think for yourself and see how you can use the different advantages you have to improve your standing instead of sabotaging others. It’s also quite apparent how important it is to not always go last in the turn order - it makes life much more difficult for sure.

Another “bad” point is the rules. While praised for being concise and very informative and easy to consult they are best compared to a comprehensive reference book instead of a how to or introduction. I explain more later about the insane learning curve.

The colour / aesthetics feel bland - with the muted colours of the majority of the pieces the initial feeling is the only exceptions is the green of the farmyards. After more research there are available upgrades for the vegetables and animals to appear like animals instead of just wooden disks or cubes. The disks and cubes only accentuated the initial overwhelming complexity as pieces are not self obvious.

The Ugly

The initial learning curve if all you have is just the rules is massive. Absolutely positively aggravatingly massive. The game creators have included additional illustrations to make it easier to understand on the back of some of the game boards but if you are unaware that is their point or how they fit together (which isn’t revealed until a page or two into the rules) that simply add to the mass confusion of pieces. The good news is that if you’re patient and just read it all through and be patient while going through those first 7 pages, that items that are brought up that haven’t been discussed will be covered shortly it’s easy to get by.

The silver lining of this is that if you have someone who has played the game before or are able to watch a game in play before playing yourself the learning curve is quite trivial in comparison as the game, once aware of the purpose of the pieces is straight forward and well designed.

The Reality

If you can - find someway to play this game. It’s not the most inexpensive game (retails for ~$75-80 CAD) but the quality of the pieces is excellent and the design top notch. While it won’t be the most favourite game of everyone I can heartily recommend it as no matter what is happening in the game it’s possible to use the advantages you have in hand to do your best if not win.