Settle the land. Build a farm and a home. Raise animals. Start a family.
If any of these things appeal to you, Agricola will strike your fancy bone. Even if none of the things above sound tempting, Agricola’s solid gameplay, get-you-playing-in-five-minutes rules, and more versatility than you can shake a Swiss army knife at will put a smile on your face.
We’ll get to the review in a bit but we have to feed you some tech speak.
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Publisher: Z-Man Games
Date Released: 2007
Number of Players: 1-5
Age Range: 12 and up (14+ on the box; 10 for a family game)
Setup Time: 5-10 minutes
Play Time: 45-60 minutes (less for a family game)
Worker Placement or Action Drafting
Players start the game with a plot of land, a two room wooden house, two family members (a momma and a papa), and a hand composed of occupation and minor improvement cards. Players take turns improving their homestead with a catalog of actions, available to all the players, and with the cards in their hand. Once a player selects one of the cataloged actions, by placing one of their family member playing piece on the action space, no other player can take that action that round, and there are fourteen rounds.
Your workers can improve your land by gathering supplies, plowing fields, building fences for pastures, adding more rooms to your house and upgrading the house you have. Animals give you options for food, but you must have fences for your animals. Children give you more actions per turn, but you must have room in your house for the newborn and you have to be able to feed all the members of your family come harvest time.
Every action is tied to multiple other actions. This forces players to plan their farms carefully and allows the player who picks before you the option to screw you over by selecting the action you needed that round.
There are now two phases to Uwe Rosenberg’s career: pre and post Agricola. Every game of Rosenberg’s prior to Agricola played nothing like a worker placement game, but every game Rosenberg has designed after Agricola plays off the worker placement mechanism. I’m not sure if it’s for better or for worse.
On first play I enjoyed Agricola. I like the farming theme and judging from the millions of people who traded virtual livestock on Farmville several years back, so do others. I also like the worker placement mechanism a lot, so of course I liked Agricola. But the shine has worn off the game for me.
I feel anxious, struggling to feed my family members every harvest season (the fourth, seventh, ninth, eleventh, thirteenth, and fourteenth rounds), and you can’t specialize in any one thing—you have to have a little bit of everything. So what if I want to be a shepherd and corner the market with cute, wooden sheep. I should be able to specialize in something if I want, but Agricola punishes me for not having boar, cattle, grain, and veggies in addition to sheep. Rosenberg has since corrected some of these issues with Le Havre (specialization) and Caverna (less stressful means of feeding workers), which further tarnishes Agricola.
Examples of Occupation and Improvement Cards
Don’t get me wrong. I still wouldn’t say no to a game of Agricola, but I don’t ask to play the game with any regularity. It still has addictive gameplay and there are so many variants for playing the game that if you enjoy the core mechanics, you’ll find several hours of fun.
If you don’t mind the lack of specialization and the stress of feeding your family, Agricola is still a solid game. But if you want to eliminate one of these detractors, consider Rosenberg’s own Le Havre or Caverna.
Still a strong game, but two Rosenberg games have replaced Agricola as his top worker placement offering.