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)
Game Flow and Review:
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 gold gameplay, get-you-playing-in-five-minutes rules, top-notch strategic elements, and more versatility than you can shake a Swiss army knife at will put a smile on your face. In fact, Agricola is a rare game that offers a solo option (we’ll have a review of the solo game in a minute) which is always a good thing, especially if you can’t find someone to play with or you want to learn the rules by playing the game by yourself and then teach others the joy that is Agricola.
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 their family member playing piece on the action space, no other player can take that action that round. This is the core mechanic of the game. Agricola offers many options to this game mechanic, but the options that work best build off of worker placement/action drafting.
Your workers can improve your land by gathering supplies, plowing fields, building fences for pastures (area enclosure), adding more rooms to your house and upgrading the house you have. Animals give you options for food, but you have to have fences for your animals. Children give you more actions per turn, but you have to 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. Agricola rewards players at the end of the 14 round game by the variety of things you did to improve your homestead. It pays to diversify.
Speaking of diversity, Agricola has several options for gameplay. Agricola offers three sets of cards: the basic set (marked with an E), the complex set (K), and the interactive set (I). You can pick and choose the sets of cards you want to include in your game which is a great thing. Most of the basic cards (E) work well with the worker placement/action drafting mechanic, affording the player with new options per round. The complex set (K) is more fifty-fifty in terms of how well it plays with the core mechanic. Some of these cards have the player go down a bunny hole, wasting multiple rounds to pull off the card’s requirements, and the player, having forsaken other options they needed leading up to the card, can never crawl out of the hole. The interactive set (I) tends to be worse than the complex set as it tries to offer collectible card game players, who love a dynamic and direct interaction with their opponents, a gaming option. Most of the cards in this set deviate too much from the core game play, but there are still some gems. One card may allow you to take an action that has already been taken that round, but that plays into the worker placement game mechanic. Stick to the core gameplay whenever possible.
Finally, we come to the family game mode and the solo version of Agricola. The family mode omits all cards and makes the game playable by younger gamers (possibly as young as ten-years-old). The solo game plays like most other solo game offerings. You get a hint of the game’s flavor, but some of the spice is lost without human interaction. Lack of a human element also adds to a repetitive play complaint. Still, this is a solid game even with one player.
Verdict: Agricola deserves its place atop, or near the top of, modern board games. There’s a reason worker placement/action drafting games have grown in recent years. That reason is Agricola.