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Agricola Expansion and Loyang

Good gaming session today, the new titles hit the table, classics were played, the Band was Rocked.

Farmers in the Moors — I knew nothing about this apart from “Expansion” and “You clear your land and need to provide heat.” While those are both true, FitM nicely twists the action mechanic. You can, instead of placing a worker, take one of the action cards. These usually give a reasonable (not great benefit), but they don’t use up an action. As the rules were explained, you also can’t do this if you have no workers left. Each card can be used twice (by different people), but the second person must pay two food (in addition to any costs on the card). These actions are used to clear forest/moors from your land, which free up space. These felt like a  good addition

  • You can sometimes get an extra action, which is necessary to balance the extra requirements (for heating and space clearing).
  • Taking those actions means skipping a great action, or risking it not being there. In the ‘basic’ Agricola I felt that most of my worker placements were pretty obvious (even in the first few games). Now there’s a “chicken” element involved. Take a great action, or take a card (free action), and hope a good action is still left next turn. The number of tough decisions seemed much higher.
  • Clearing land frees up space, but you can also try to work around a few uncleared spaces, since they prevent the “unused land” VP. Also, each player gets a different starting arrangement. A nice touch.

Assuming I don’t find out I’ve got a rule wrong, I could see playing 15+ games of the expansion, and picking up a copy.

I’m not sure how I feel about Loyang. Conflicted at best. I want to play a few more times, but I don’t necessarily want to play them soon. Too much AP. The options are easy, but you can spend 5 minutes performing calculations in your head (“If I trade this, buy that, deliver that, I make $17. If I trade, swap, buy, deliver, I make $18. I need $19. Do I spend $2 to draw two cards, and hope that they can get me a $3? Uh, OK. I got X and Y. Do I play X first? No, Y? Yes, that gets it.” Goodbye five minutes. Now, two players can do this at once, in the four player game, but man. Also, for a heavy calculation game, the helper cards let you really stick it to your opponents. I did very well, but early on I kept getting dealt one great card before the draft, and since you can only keep one card out of your hand, I’d just dump my chaff until another good card was out there, then take it.

Loyang felt like a solvable, tedious, short term optimization. For that, I can play Dungeon Lords and get a few chuckles, and then have the worker placement round for blind-bidding hosage. Or play Moors, and groan when the action/card you wanted gets snatched right before your turn. Loyang, like a job, feels like a chore. It can be satisfying to do it well, but that’s not a reason to spend free time on it. I’ll give it another go, if the game speeds up by 45 minutes or so that would brighten my feelings on it.

Written by taogaming

December 13, 2009 at 1:11 am

Recent games

Played a few games of Agricola, including a five player game.

I’m pretty much sold on Agricola. The five player game hit all my negative points … five players, crappy hand versus good hands. I still enjoyed it.

A few more games of Phoenicia, and I’m still high on it.

A few face-to-face Dominion. I’m getting tempted to pick up Dominion and Intrigue, under the assumption that the new cards won’t be on BSW.

Playing lots of bridge (as you may have guessed) and I’m fuming at my inconsistency. Today I placed an opponent on a 5141 distribution and defended accordingly.

Written by taogaming

May 12, 2009 at 4:55 pm

Posted in Agricola, Session Reports

Tagged with ,

Le Havre, Agricola and the One True Way

I’ve now played Le Havre half a dozen times. (Which means that everyone who said I should get it was right).

So, expanding on my initial thoughts

I’m not positive there’s a dominant path to victory in Le Havre, but I wouldn’t need much convincing. Perhaps it would be better to say that there’s a dominant failure path — worrying about food for your people (and/or loans). Avoiding loans cost actions; and actions are worth much more. An extra endgame action is usually worth 20 florin, and holding a loan for the entire game costs less (1 florin extra payback, 15 florin interest, a few florin from loans caused by followon interest). If you only needed one loan, it would be close, but you’ll need to take several actions in the first half of the game (until you get enough ships to cover the bulk of your food costs). Your 2nd (and subsequent) loans only cost 1 florin each (if we tack the cost of interest and ‘loans to cover interest’ onto the first loan), and 1 Florin is worth a lot less than an action.

Debating an action’s value is interesting. Arguably, action values rise during the game. An early food action isn’t worth much, but an early action that gets non-consumed goods compounds into better endgame action that’s worth 20. Perhaps it only contributed to a fraction of that, but how to value it?

This is one issue with the marketplace … it provides coal that will usually be worth 1 Florin (when you convert it to Coke) and then provides enough energy to power 3 ships or can be shipped for 5 Florin … and it provides other goods. Any reasonable use of the marketplace should be valued at 6 florins for the coal alone. If you also grab your first grain (or second cattle) you can assign a few harvests of value to that.

Thematically, this doesn’t bother me. But I’d have liked it to be a bit closer. Agricola suffers from the opposite issue — each begging card is a huge penalty (3 VP when a winning score is 40-50, so call it 1/15th of a winning score). Presumably for invoking that penalty you got a great action and didn’t just mess up), but that action would have to be amazing. Whereas in Le Havre carrying 5-10 loans and paying them back if it frees up a few actions then you come out ahead. [All of this neglects the benefit of loans of providing cash flow to pay entry fees, which is often worth a few actions by themself!]

Now, the rest of each game is interesting, but wouldn’t the balance have been better off if the decision were a bit closer in each case? For Agricola, make each begging card worth -2 VP each (or even -1). For Le Havre, charge interest on each odd Loan (or say that if you take out a loan to pay interest you get no change!) Now the number of “obviously better” paths is muddled.

In each case you have a different game. Would it be better? I think so.

What got me started on this line of thought is that I went to the Courthouse building to get two loans dismissed free and clear. (A 10 Florin benefit). Normally I don’t like this action; those 10 Florin can’t compound. But here I deliberately trying to slow the game down, so I decided to flip between that and other buildings. [My opponents buildings avoided any delay I caused was wasted, so I abandoned the idea].

Le Havre and Agricola are solid games; I’m just tantalized by the costs Rosenberg assigned to starvation. Defendable on theme (Agricola moreso), but out of balance with actinos saved. It seems like a deliberate design decision, but goes against the idea of making tough choices.

I expect to get more plays out of Le Havre, so I’m not complaining.

[If I were tinkering with Le Havre, I’d also consider making the Marketplace not be building #1, but perhaps #4-6. Low enough that it comes out early, but that in some games it may be blocked for a while…Actually, I’d considered making some buildings cost X, where X just means “don’t reorder.” They sit in the place they get dealt in the column; and you reorder the numbered buildings].

Written by taogaming

February 1, 2009 at 10:54 am

Posted in Agricola, Ramblings

Tagged with

Tribune Initial Thoughts & misc notes

Continuing my worker placement kick, I’ve now played Tribune twice. In one way, Tribune is the sort of thing for people who like that sort of thing – You have worker placement, a few blind bid auctions (but only loser pays). It will disappoint those who seek massive variety. Since I am the last person here who has played, I see no need to discuss mechanics.

It’s … sparse. Not minimal, like an abstract, but hardly laden with chrome (like Agricola). It holds together well; I like the adjustable victory conditions. I’ll never get to 20 games as quickly as Agricola, but Tribune stands on solid ground. Better than that, Tribune does not sacrifice fun for elegance. Overall, I like it. (And I did like the shocked looks when I didn’t bring Agricola to the game session).

What stands out is the parallel nature of Tribune (parallel instead of serial). Lots of games have multiple paths to victory, but they have paths. You get your money, buy stuff, then convert to a victory point engine. Grow your family, specialize, cover your negatives as best you can. A then B then C. Often, victory comes down to speed.

But here, you’ve got what I hear called the “Long Pole” in military circles, or “Critical path”. Better to get all your victory conditions on turn 5 than to hit all but one on turn 3 and one on turn six. So, A and B and C. Parallel.

Once you’ve got so many laurels (or legions, or the favor of the gods, etc) then extra ones are nice. Even more so than Agricola’s scoring chart, the players disperse into doing lots of things at once, and working on timing issues. Inevitably, there is some serialization because you only have so many actions per turn, but the strategy is in timing so that your last objective is fulfilled ASAP.

I’ve probably played other parallel games before, but this is the first time its jumped out at me. Perhaps this is more a factor of the “Carpe Diem” objectives, where you fulfill many ‘easy’ conditions. Games requiring fewer ‘difficult’ objectives or a mandatory condition may have more of an efficiency-engine feel.

I like that the conditions vary in granularity. Each objective is binary (either you meet it or you don’t) but the steps along the way. You need 8 laurels, which you get one at a time. You need 3 legions, which are also one at a time, but only 1-3 are given out per turn (instead of 5-10 laurels). 30 Denarii can come in fits and gasps, but the 3-card auction space can swing 10 denarii from one player to another. And the Tribune requires a relatively easy 1st step (the scroll) and a difficult second step (a pair of matching factions). The favor of the gods is the converse, a fairly difficult first step, but relatively easy second one.

My main concern is the leaders. Given that you can takeover a set by simply having more cards, the ‘zero’ value doesn’t seem like a big deal, and there are only 7 leaders out of 100 cards, which means getting one on the opening deal (or having one show up in the ‘1’ cost slot when you are first player) is a nice bonus.

Still, I don’t regret my first purchase in four months (I think).

In other news … I played some magnetic placement game (whose name escapes me) which was just like the RattleSnake, only substituting quiet contemplation for raucous fun.

My concern about Agricola’s cards reared its head again my last two plays … in one game a strong gamer, new to Agricola, slapped down the patron and 6 other occupations and ran away with the game. In the second my first turn acrobat was trumped by a second turn dancer. (Both cards head for the travelling players space). That one was still close, but those cards were a huge influence. I’d rather play a fun game than an elegant “pure” game, but I’d like both. I’m still not anywhere near the point where I shall lay down my sheeple and play Agricola no more forever. But I was annoyed. Revisiting the numbers, I’d say that maybe 30% of my games were strongly influenced by the card deals to the point that it seriously affected the game, but the number of runaway wins that I think were basically impossible to stop was maybe two or three. Tough to differentiate the two since many of my games have had different levels of expertise.

I need to come up with an Ark OptiMix variant to shave 20 minutes off the game. I like the new variety, but the original game’s length was better. I think I’ll just randomly discard ten cards at the start of the game and shuffle the rain cards in the bottom 75% of the deck (instead of bottom half). (Alternately, I could scrounge a second deck and shuffle 6 or more rain cards into the bottom half of the deck). I’m tempted to make “Shy” not such a debilitating setback, but that may have just been our one game (I think 5 shy animals got placed, and for a good chunk of the game they couldn’t go anywhere).

Not having a real video-game system, I’ll just have to assume I would never have been tempted to try the Iron Bladder setlist in RockBand II. Unlike some people I know. Ye gods.

Oh, and the comments on the initial worker placement post are still active, a little.

Written by taogaming

September 23, 2008 at 9:42 pm

Posted in Agricola, Ramblings, Reviews

Tagged with ,

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.

Written by taogaming

September 1, 2008 at 11:27 am

Posted in Agricola

Agricola Strategy Musings

Another efficiency game to dominate my thoughts for a few weeks or months? Don’t mind if I do!

Random thoughts in no particular order. (Note to David — Feel free to comment or just laugh maniacally, but stay away from my car).

  • As noted before, the early game focuses on family expansion. Get your house ready ASAP (especially in a 5 player game, when you know at least one family growth space will be ready on turn 5). If multiple people are ready, you’ll have to fight for start player as well.
  • The other early game race is often to a fireplace/hearth. Particularly if sheep are the first card, getting one early can often mean a single action for 6-8 food, and flexibility throughout the game. (Also in a 5 player game where an extra livestock card is set. It doesn’t accumulate from turn to turn, but it’s always worth 3 food with a fireplace).
  • Much like Race, a few cards that combine well tops many random cards.
  • You don’t need five occupations down to win. They are (often) cool, but a time sink. I’ve won with as few as two.
  • I Often have a fair number of improvements down, but that’s because many of the best spaces in the game (Family Growth, Renovate, and Start Player) let you drop an improvement. Since you are already spending the action, dropping the card (even for a resource or two) often pays off.
  • If you have an unblockable play, take the other play first. Common sense, but I see players rush for their great first play without realizing nobody else can (rarely, can but won’t or shouldn’t) take it.
  • I’ve now seen several people try to dominate clay, then renovate and build a huge clay house. Maybe you can do this purely (without expanding on wood), but I’ve never seen it done. Get to 3 rooms with wood — the cards have to be perfect to do it the other way.
  • If you have a travelling improvement (one that passes to the left), consider holding it for an extra turn or two. Other players may splurge to get it spent, then be done. On the other hand, if you are always going to have a problem obtaining whatever the card gives, you may want everyone to know it exists and hope that it gets back to you.
  • Assuming you have enough plowed land, you can go from 3 grain to 9 and 2 vegetables to 4 in one turn. Harvests gain livestock, sowing gains agriculture. It’s tough to jump up in livestock, unless some have accumulated.

More later …

Written by taogaming

August 13, 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in Agricola

Agricola Reconsidered (a bit)

Now that I’ve got and played Agricola a few times, some reconsidered thoughts.

  • The animeeples provide enough customization to suit me. Actually, I guess I could do the stickers, too, since that’s pretty easy.
  • Amazingly, the aspect of David’s customization that tempts me is ripping up the box and pasting it onto a carrying case. All I’ve done is put the cards in four (CCG) card carriers (and sleeved the cards used in every game) and the box barely closes.
  • It’s still too early to say if my main bone of contention (the cards decide it) is there. I suspect the grotesque combinations I saw were flukes … still, I find the game enjoyable. I do think that the “Early family growth” is the main path to victory, but exploring the gamespace is amusement enough.
  • I have noticed how much the occupations/improvements change each game. If people get the “food” stuff out early, then their won’t be scrambles for the day laborer (etc), since alternate means exist, and everyone will be flush and racing for more family members. If they don’t, then people will be pausing after their first child, wary of over-extending. Just like the road order in Caylus, a subtle effect.
  • Needless to say, I’m still enjoying the game, but I was surprised how interesting (and different) the solo games were. The focus is completely different, in that you only have to consider pressure in actions, not in time, so you are happy to let accumulators build up (“8 sheep? I think I shall.”) But the food pressure (3 per family member) does make it more difficult.
  • If I do make houserules (apart from just tossing out a few cards), I’m most likely to change the VP per family member; 2 VPs perhaps.
  • The rules do mention drafting the occupations/improvements and that certainly seems interesting once people have the game down. Still think it would be too long, though.
  • How have people handicapped themselves? I played with no starting food (but as the start player, mainly because everyone wanted me to go first). That seemed reasonable, as it cost me an early action or two to catch up.

Written by taogaming

August 11, 2008 at 9:14 pm

Posted in Agricola