The Tao of Gaming

Boardgames and lesser pursuits

More Agricola

I’ve now played a handful of games down here.

  • New players are overwhelmed by their own options and do not look at other players boards/occupations. Understandable in a game with so many moving parts. (Many people level the multiplayer solitaire at Race for the exact same reason, but the worker placement mechanism blunts that).
  • I stand by my criticism of the card game, but accept Chris Farrel’s point that the variability makes it a cost worth bearing. After all, how often have I played Caylus recently? (Although I feel the urge to pull out Magna Carta …)
  • Shuffling all the decks together was fun. I think I’ll do that from now on. The “I” deck’s ‘take that’ seems fairly well done.
  • To a certain extent, Caylus, Puerto Rico and Agricola have a ‘one true path to victory.’ Actually, one path to defeat. If you delay family growth too long, you lose. (It’s seems a necessary but not sufficient condition to winning in a group). This bothers me, slightly. Many games have this. I’m becoming fairly sold on the idea of dropping VPs for family members to 2, instead of 3, although I don’t think that would have changed any outcomes. It would close the gap between new and experienced players. (I did make a point to harp on the “Get another room ASAP” when teaching the game last night).

In short, Agricola is a slightly flawed game that I’m confident I’ll play another dozen times or so and wouldn’t be surprised to see it reach 50 plays (eventually).

I did play a few solo games, but that lost its charm fairly quickly. For me, at least.

Some other strategy thoughts:

  • You can delay family growth a turn or two if there’s a super great action now (particularly if you are positive you’ll hit the growth space next turn).
  • It’s not quite a mantra, but “I’ll take the two reed” is pretty close.
  • Don’t expect a lot of food the round prior to a harvest if nobody has a good food producing occupation. Hit the fishing hole the prior turn.
  • Is it just me, or do the non-E decks make it a tighter game with respect to food? (That wouldn’t be too surprising, but I haven’t done the analysis).
  • I’ve taken David’s comment on bread baking to heart. Buying an oven and converting 2 grain to 8 food, then sucking up the bake bread action (if you have to), isn’t nearly as inefficient as I thought.

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Written by taogaming

September 1, 2008 at 11:27 am

Posted in Agricola

11 Responses

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  1. I’m starting to think that securing a source of food is more important than family growth, especially if everyone else is fighting for food, reed, building and growth early. When you try to grow early, it seems you ineveitably waste actions taking food, and then are scrambling to get an engine going later. If you can work up a food engine, then you can worry about growing when everyone else is worried about food, and you will probably able to get enough wood to build 2 rooms at once.

    I’ve only played a few times, but it doesn’t seem like a bad play to go for plowing, grain and an oven early, and then worry about growing.

    Mark Haberman

    September 1, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  2. I’m starting to think that securing a source of food is more important than family growth, especially if everyone else is fighting for food, reed, building and growth early. When you try to grow early, it seems you ineveitably waste actions taking food, and then are scrambling to get an engine going later. If you can work up a food engine, then you can worry about growing when everyone else is worried about food, and you will probably able to get enough wood to build 2 rooms at once.

    I’ve only played a few times, but it doesn’t seem like a bad play to go for plowing, grain and an oven early, and then worry about growing.

    Mark Haberman

    September 1, 2008 at 12:30 pm

  3. Ooops, I meant :

    fighting for WOOD, reed, building, and growth early

    Mark Haberman

    September 1, 2008 at 12:31 pm

  4. Brian, I’m not sure I see a problem with games where one aspect of play is emphasized (in Puerto Rico, I assume you’re talking about the “money before VPs” approach). If you don’t have this, then every thing you do will help you equally and the skill aspect is greatly diminished. Either that, or the game becomes purely one of efficiency, which is fine, but most of us want more. There are games in which everything you do seems to work (Mesopotamia may have been one of them) and they’re usually criticized for just that aspect. As long as there’s still multiple ways to win (and there certainly are in Agricola), I have no problem with some plays being better than others.

    Even though I like to procreate as soon as possible, I’m not convinced it’s the only way to win. As Mark points out, doing so before you have your food engine in place is counter-productive. I know Mr. Fair is very fond of gaining points from the Major Improvements; I’d be interested in hearing his take on this. The VPs for your kiddies may be indispensible, but getting them late rather than early may not be the Kiss of Death. At any rate, I don’t see this as even a slight flaw. I don’t rate Agricola quite as high as it’s greatest Fan Boi’s (it was only my third favorite game last year, behind Brass and Phoenicia), but that’s principally because I still find the gameplay somewhat frustrating, probably because my strategies aren’t too coherant yet. But I have no problem with the design and still consider it an excellent game.

    Larry Levy

    September 1, 2008 at 1:23 pm

  5. I would agree that not expanding your family is a sure-fire route to not winning. Actions are just so tight, that getting just one more is a huge win. Of course you need to get a food engine going, but you need that because you need the extra people.

    The reason that I consider the fact that you basically have to grow your family in a timely manner a minor flaw is simply because of the number of actions it takes: at least two to get the wood, one to get the reeds, one to build the house, one to finally get the person. That’s 5 actions – and it could easily take an extra one or two – out of your first 12 or so. You can squeeze a little bit of efficiency out of it by accomplishing other things at the same time, but still, roughly a third or more of the effort of the early game is siphoned into one activity which you just have to do.

    I don’t consider it a serious flaw. But it is a big constraint on the early game, limiting the range of play, and it does often tempt new players to believe that there might be a strategy available which puts off or avoids family growth. But I’m virtually certain there is not. You need to get that first extra person fairly early. The second and later ones can be put off, but doing almost anything requires a fair number of actions, and increasing your capacity to perform them by 50% is huge. Although I like Agricola quite a bit, I do wish getting that first person was just a touch cheaper so it wouldn’t dominate the early game to the degree it does. It’s tough to see how you could tweak this without upsetting the rest of the game though.

    Chris Farrell

    September 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm

  6. I would agree that not expanding your family is a sure-fire route to not winning. Actions are just so tight, that getting just one more is a huge win. Of course you need to get a food engine going, but you need that because you need the extra people.

    The reason that I consider the fact that you basically have to grow your family in a timely manner a minor flaw is simply because of the number of actions it takes: at least two to get the wood, one to get the reeds, one to build the house, one to finally get the person. That’s 5 actions – and it could easily take an extra one or two – out of your first 12 or so. You can squeeze a little bit of efficiency out of it by accomplishing other things at the same time, but still, roughly a third or more of the effort of the early game is siphoned into one activity which you just have to do.

    I don’t consider it a serious flaw. But it is a big constraint on the early game, limiting the range of play, and it does often tempt new players to believe that there might be a strategy available which puts off or avoids family growth. But I’m virtually certain there is not. You need to get that first extra person fairly early. The second and later ones can be put off, but doing almost anything requires a fair number of actions, and increasing your capacity to perform them by 50% is huge. Although I like Agricola quite a bit, I do wish getting that first person was just a touch cheaper so it wouldn’t dominate the early game to the degree it does. It’s tough to see how you could tweak this without upsetting the rest of the game though.

    Chris Farrell

    September 1, 2008 at 6:09 pm

  7. Like you say, 5 maybe 6 or 7 actions to gain maybe 10 back? You do get the extra 3 points, but you also need to come up with 8 or 10 more food as well, which probably sucks up 2 actions. So really, you may be only gaining about 1 or 2 actions and 3 points (plus the room, which should give 2 more). Plus during this time, you aren’t concentrating on a food engine, which means you’ll probably have to waste a couple of additional actions on food, meaning you nearly break even on actions.

    If instead, you concentrated on a food engine, and then worried about increasing your family later, when competition isn’t as stiff for wood (heh :)), you might come out ahead. Just a thought. I need to play more before I convince myself of that, but it will be fun trying.

    As with many of these games, it’s not the destination, but the getting there. Sure you know you need to grow your family, but how do you go about doing efficiently with all that competition? That is where the challenge is.

    I get the same feeling from In the Year of the Dragon, you know it’s all about the palaces and privileges, but you still need to figure out how to get more then your opponents using all the other auxiliary personages at your disposal.

    Mark Haberman

    September 1, 2008 at 10:23 pm

  8. I’m here to say that you can win Agricola without family growth. A local gamer (Evan Tannheimer) won with 46 points, ending with two workers in a wooden house. He maxed out all 7 categories (plus 4 stables and no empty spaces), plus 8 points on cards. I have no idea how he did this with only 28 actions (I wasn’t there), but apparently it is possible. I think it’s like the builder strategy in Princes of Florence: it only works if you know the game inside out.

    Doug Orleans

    September 2, 2008 at 11:01 am

  9. I’d be quite happy to hear that family growth is not necessary to win. “Two workers and 46 points” strikes me as amazingly skillful and lucky, but I’ll defer judgement. Having started to play with non-E decks, I do suspect its possible.

    One thing about “Is a family member break even?” No matter if it’s true or not, a family member two turns earlier is two more actions. So if it’s close to break even, then being the first is even more important. And, of course, some of the actions spent building the house are worth 1-3 points (avoiding the -1, then up to 2 points if you later renovate. More if you have any bonus points depending on houses).

    Brian

    September 2, 2008 at 1:32 pm

  10. I’m also starting to wonder if efficient food production is more critical than early family growth. (Obviously you still want family growth if possible). But I’ve been winning some games where I grew later than my opponents, but had more efficient food sources.

    I’ve also been starting to like ovens recently, whereas before they seemed to suck.

    I think that some method of card distribution other than just dealing 7 of each type, is important, because they are highly important to the outcome. I love drafting the cards, it ensures that each person at least generally ends up with about the same number of good cards, so its pretty fair. Its also very fun.

    I’m not fond of the I and Z decks, not because I dont like the interaction, but because the vast majority of cards in those decks are a completely worthless pile of crap. So if you end up with 3 I deck cards in your improvements, its almost like you have only 4 improvements in oyur hand. Unless you get one of the few good ones.

    Alexfrog

    September 4, 2008 at 2:35 am

  11. I don’t really understand why the family members are worth points at all. Having them is just so intrinsically useful that they are their own reward. I suppose making them worth 1 might keep giving birth late in the game a worthwhile proposition, but in my 5-6 games it seems that the members pay for themselves… the fact that they are the biggest point earners makes getting them mandatory (at least at some point).

    Miguel

    September 5, 2008 at 9:03 pm


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