It is through these cards that different combinations can be played where many different strategies can lead to a victory.Many would argue that worker placement is the quintessential mechanic of Eurogames. 5 of the top 20 games currently on boardgamegeek.com are worker placement games. Agricola is the quintessential worker placement game. It is a mechanic-driven game with a positive story arc within the game.
Agricola is a game about farming and it feels like the player is building a farm. Each player starts with 2 workers. Each worker represents an action. There are many potential actions but limited time. Each round, a worker gets to take one action, and once an action is selected no other worker can choose that action in that given round. The players need to grow crops, raise animals, improve their house, and grow their family. In order to perform these tasks, resources need to be gathered. At the same time, the people on the farm need to eat. They must be fed with food at each harvest, which come up more frequently as the game progresses. The game goes for 14 rounds. After that Victory Points are awarded based upon the farm that each player has built, with emphasis on diversity.
This is a game about managing resources. In the “family version” of the game, the winning strategy is often to do with what the other players are not doing. Since there is a limited amount of resources on the board to take at any one time, to compete directly with an opponent doing exactly the same thing is usually a fool’s errand. The wood resource will usually have the most contention as wood is needed in order to build fences to hold animals and in order to build additional rooms onto a wooden hut. If the game were just the “family version” it would be a good game, though it would get kind of old.
What makes every game of Agricola different are the “Occupation” and “Minor Improvement” cards that are dealt secretly to each player at the beginning of the full game. These cards can be played onto the table and provide additional benefits to the player.
In a game of Agricola, the players each work diligently on building up their farm, competing to have the most impressive farm at the end. Each player starts with a little 2 person hut with 2 workers. By the end, each can have a very impressive farm with animals, crops, family members and a bigger and/or nice house. There is no way to take away what an opponent has built. While there is no direct interaction, there is a lot of tension in many decisions as the limited amount of time a player has needs to be optimized. A good Agricola player will watch what his/her opponents are doing and adjust the order of actions accordingly. This is critical because when one worker is on a space, no other worker can occupy that space during that round.
Agricola uses wooden and cardboard pieces, but it is quite common for Agricola players to “pimp out” their game with custom pieces. We bought model train set sheep, boar, and cattle to replace what comes with the game. It is a great touch, so much so that we still get rave reviews nearly every time it hits the table. The game comes with over 100 occupation and minor improvement cards, in which a player only uses 7 each per game. This makes the re-playability of the game huge. Still, we love the game so much that we have bought over 300 more cards through expansions.
If you are looking for a solid strategy game with a lot of tension but little direct interaction, Agricola could be the perfect game for you. It is a game that every gamer should try, as it does not get better in terms of worker placement. Some would argue that Le Havre by Uwe Rosenburg is a better game. Le Havre is a great game, but I believe Agricola is Rosenburg’s best game —at least it is one of my favorite games. I urge everyone to try it at least once, though I recommend playing the “family version” first, not to be overwhelmed.