It is pronounced "uh-GRIK-oh-lah."
January 29, 2009 11:18 AM   Subscribe

Vegetable farming! Boar breeding! All the maniac thrills of 17th century agriculture -- on your tabletop! Since its introduction two years ago, Agricola has grown from being a German hit to a runaway success worldwide -- at least among the niche market of serious board game fans.

Generally recognized as the absolute apex of 17th-century farming simulation board games, it is -- in its base form -- a relatively simple game where two homesteaders attempt to build a thriving farm while increasing the size of both their homes and their families. But deep gameplay and an engaging theme have led to a passionate fanbase. It has inspired people to trick it out, buying "animeeples" and "vegimeeples" from-third-party suppliers (and even contraband animeeples) to upgrade their standard wooden-cubes-and-discs Agricola sets. Gamers have spent hundreds of hours analyzing board game farming strategies. Debates rage over whether the Wet Nurse is better than the Taste Tester, or if the Stone Oven eclipses the Hearth in cost-per-use terms. This has even resulted in cards being removed from the deck in tournament play.

And now, the nail-biting drama of 17th-century agrarian life is no longer confined to the kitchen table or to sharing shelf space with Blood Bowl and Settlers of Catan! An Agricola fan has bought several copies of the game and ported it online, so those who cannot slake their thirst for farming through the medium of cardboard chits and wooden sheep can now do it virtually as well.
posted by Shepherd (34 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I love board game geekery! I'm ashamed to say that I haven't learned Agricola yet. I have played 7 of the top 10 on Board Game Geek, and I'm currently playing multiple Brass games online, so I think my geek cred is still fairly solid.

It is a little odd how much focus this game has gotten. I'm sure it's a great game, but it's currently getting two or three times the focus of any other game. I don't think it's two or three times better than any other game out there. I guess it's just the herd effect. If you pimp your Settlers of Catan at this point, nobody is going to notice.
posted by diogenes at 11:32 AM on January 29, 2009

the absolute apex of 17th-century farming simulation board games

...Exactly how many 17-th century farming simulation board games are there?
posted by backseatpilot at 11:34 AM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm not a follow-the-herd gamer at all -- I only own a smattering of the "top" games, and try to be very selective in my choices -- and I think Agricola is fantastic. As good, or better, than Settlers and Carcasonne in terms of being fun, family-friendly, and deep enough to stand repeated play among semi-serious players.

I resisted picking it up for months, but finally caved so I could have a game that my family could play over the holidays, and everyone from my 30-something sibling to my 60-something parents and uncle really enjoyed it. The "family version" of the game is a fine game in its own right; the addition of the cards for the more complex version definitely add a lot of sophistication.
posted by Shepherd at 11:36 AM on January 29, 2009

Speaking as the kind of person who would hand-carve and paint hardwood ports for my 3D Deluxe Edition of Settlers of Catan, this is a fantastic post.
posted by gurple at 11:38 AM on January 29, 2009

It is pronounced "uh-GRIK-oh-lah."

*dons lederhosen, blows on pipe*

I always think I'm going to love board games. I even tried Settlers of Catan with some coworkers. By hour 3, I'm generally wondering when it will end. But with my constant state of self-delusion, I will likely eventually try this game too, so thanks. Thanks a lot.
posted by DU at 11:40 AM on January 29, 2009

I got this game for Christmas (amongst several other games: Lost Cities, Zooloretto, Caylus) and have regrettably only played it two or three times. I enjoyed it, but had a hard time with the instructions and I feel like I don't really understand it. I thought I understood it, then I read a thread on Board Game Geek detailing common mistakes and - check, check, check - I was making them all. I wish I had a seasoned player to play with a time or two.
posted by arcticwoman at 11:41 AM on January 29, 2009

Gurple just set the bar pretty high for geek cred ;)
posted by diogenes at 11:49 AM on January 29, 2009

Agricola is a ton of fun. It takes a couple of games to really get the sense of how to play. About half-way through your first game, you realize what you *should* have been doing in earlier turns.

The game is all about conservation of actions. You get to perform two actions per turn (one for the farmer and one for his wife), like gathering wood or bricks, building additions to your house, or learning a new occupation. You can have kids to get more actions (if you've got room in your house), but you have to make sure you have enough food coming in to feed the kids.

What makes the game really replayable is that there is a huge 300 card set of occupation cards and minor improvement cards. Each player gets seven of each. We were still encountering new cards after more than a dozen games.

The game plays best with 3 or 4 players, IMO.
posted by JDHarper at 11:57 AM on January 29, 2009

You can have kids to get more action

So it's not much like real life then?

posted by DU at 12:03 PM on January 29, 2009

...Exactly how many 17-th century farming simulation board games are there?

Oh, I'm sure SPI did at least one such title, back in the day.
posted by illiad at 12:06 PM on January 29, 2009

i've never played agricola, but i'm currently reading the rules and have started a game by following Shepherd's final link, if any mefites want to join me.
posted by 256 at 12:15 PM on January 29, 2009

As someone who spends a fair amount of time every week in the local gaming store, I can't say that I'm at all surprised by any of this.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:28 PM on January 29, 2009

I have wood for sheep.
posted by SPrintF at 12:32 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I got myself Settlers of Catan around Christmas last year. I have yet to be sucessful in convincing my friends to play it with me.

Possible solutions:
A) Convince harder
B) Find better friends

posted by Dr-Baa at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2009

Almost eponysterical, Dr-Baa.

Settlers is the sort of game where you have to convince them to try it once. And the key-- I know it sounds geeky, but it's true -- is to make sure you know it inside and out first. Nothing kills a new game faster than three or four people all getting frustrated and confused at the same time. Reading the manual and playing a few rounds solo just to understand the mechanics will be really important.

It's a classic for a good reason. You can play up the bluffing/poker elements if your friends are poker types, or the card-counting/engineering elements if they're numbers/science people; talking smack and shafting people with the Thief is where all the life in a Settlers game comes from.
posted by Shepherd at 12:55 PM on January 29, 2009 [3 favorites]

I have played Agricola several times and find that the amount of fun versus the amount of fiddly set-up and tear-down is not worth it, for me. And one game takes ages to play; I'd rather get in 3-4 hands of Race for the Galaxy or something. It's as bad as Monopoly for dragging on and on way past the end of my endurance.

I'f I'm gonna play a long German game, I'd far rather it be Power Grid.
posted by egypturnash at 1:00 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ooo, I have a feeling there's a purchase in my future. It's been a while since we really played, but at one point my husband and I and another couple had all made little flags for our Settlers of Catan nations and held massive Catan wars to settle all our grudges. We bought our current expandable Ikea coffee table just so it could hold massive multi-set Catan maps.

And now I want to play Catan.
posted by threeturtles at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love this game with all my heart and soul.

Some pictures of the game.

Also, this iPhone friendly scorecard really helps with scorekeeping.

One of the best things about Agricola is that it's just as fun with 2 people as it is with 4 (and can even be played solitaire). It's pretty challening to design a game that isn't strictly 3+ players (Catan, I'm looking at you).
posted by negatendo at 1:38 PM on January 29, 2009

Whoops. Link fail. The iPhone friendly scorecard.
posted by negatendo at 1:58 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really think Agricola has been overhyped. There's nothing wrong with it; it's a perfectly okay worker-placement game. There are others out there that also do what it does, and in my opinion, they do it better (such as Stone Age). That this game hit #1 on boardgamegeek practially hours after it was released shows how entrenched the "Cult of the New" is there. Remember, this is a site for boardgame fans who think it's notable if you play a game five times in a year.
posted by Legomancer at 1:58 PM on January 29, 2009

negatendo: Cool! I made that scorecard! Glad to see other folks find it useful.
posted by JDHarper at 2:38 PM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember, this is a site for boardgame fans who think it's notable if you play a game five times in a year.

Aside from perennial classics like Chess, Go, or Scrabble, how many times per year do you play any one game? I mean, these days I'm lucky if I can gather enough friends to play any game more than once a month, but when I was in high school and college, with more time and exposure to games, sitting down to play a 4-hour epic board game like Arkham Horror or Twilight Imperium was still an event.

Also, most games top out at $60, with plenty still in the $30-40 range. For a playgroup of 4-5 people, that's about the cost of a night at the movies, not even including going out for a meal or drinks before/after. Watching a movie 5 times is notable, so why shouldn't playing a game 5 times be notable?

Me, I just wish I had more time to play board games.
posted by explosion at 2:43 PM on January 29, 2009

Our group played it once, but keep passing it over in favour of Stone Age, which has very similar mechanics but a more engaging theme, shorter play time, and the advantage of being thoroughly understood by all players (some are very reticent to learn anything new).

It's a running joke on Board Game Geek that Agricola fans are slavish and single-minded. They joke about it often in the war games threads.

I find it almost impossible not to sing the name as if I were in a Ricola commercial...
posted by Pomo at 3:16 PM on January 29, 2009

I think there's two crossing tendencies reflected at Board Game Geek: one is people seeing scores as this is the greatest game of all time, period, without question and this is the most popular game at the moment.

I think assuming that a high rank at Board Game Geek makes something the greatest game of all time sets you up for disappointment; Agricola will pass in time in favour of something else. I remember when BattleLore was the greatest game of all time, and now it's seen as a fun two-player actioner, like Tide of Iron etc.

Stone Age looks fantastic, actually -- I'm sure there's a routine churn of games that means that the newest, shiniest thing is preferred for older, more stoic games that are similarly themed. I really enjoy Prophecy, for instance, but know it's basically a stripped-down and retooled version of Talisman.

I'm (obviously) a huge Agricola fan, and don't find it too fiddly but can understand that there are a lot of bits, and a lot of cards, for people who like games that set up fast and that they have relative mastery over. These things don't make it a bad game, though... just a game with a lot of bits and a lot of cards.
posted by Shepherd at 3:24 PM on January 29, 2009

Agricola does a lot of things right, no doubt. The family game is one of the best worker placement games I've ever played, and it does so with almost zero luck (sharing good company with Puerto Rico in that regard). It also plays well with any number. I like 2-4 best, but also plays great solo and is fine with five, if a bit longer.

It also carries a theme remarkably well for an abstract. I've had the good fortune to play a five player game with David's tricked out version linked in the post. There is no doubt that it is fun to have every piece and dobber you are moving around be attached to solid concept like cow, pig or bundle of reeds.

In the long run I think it will hold up as a classic along with games like Settlers of Catan, Tigris & Euphrates (parenthetically game 42 on the 'geek and thus possibility the meaning of life) , Power Grid, Age of Steam, Race for the Galaxy. It won't always be the latest and greatest, but I'm sure I'll still pull my copy out from time to time for years to come.

That said, this isn't a game I'd use to introduce folks to the hobby. Settlers of Catan, or Ingenious, or Stone Age (ok, but a bit repetitive after a dozen plays) is much more appropriate to that.
posted by meinvt at 4:42 PM on January 29, 2009 [2 favorites]

I keep trying to like these types of board games—for one things, my friends will actually play them with me—but I always find myself bored and disappointed because they don't offer me the "thinkspace" of Go.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:00 PM on January 29, 2009

For one thing. I swear I'm getting dumber.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:01 PM on January 29, 2009

So I just encountered Stone Age, and thought it was great -- I was particularly pleased with the dice-rolling resource system, which just makes sense and is so much better than, say, Catan's (which I have played to death). But I haven't played Agricola yet. So it's interesting to hear the back and forth about which is better, because I am thinking of getting Stone Age soon, but if Agricola is better...
posted by Casuistry at 5:15 PM on January 29, 2009

I played Agricola for the first time this weekend while on vacation in Florida. In one room sat me and three friends, one who had been tricked by another player into taking his spot. In the very next room were approximately ten to fifteen people (including the old player) getting rip-roaring drunk and enthusiastically playing Rock Band 2.

Playing that game to the finish was like being stuck in purgatory.
posted by Anonymous at 5:32 PM on January 29, 2009

If you would rather get rip-roaring drunk and play Rock Band 2, I don't think there's any board game in the world that would have worked.
posted by diogenes at 5:09 AM on January 30, 2009

If you would rather get rip-roaring drunk and play Rock Band 2, I don't think there's any board game in the world that would have worked.

But there is a card game.
posted by Shepherd at 5:44 AM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

I prefer PowerGrid and Puerto Rico. We used to have a club that only played obscure German Board Games. Those were the days.
posted by schyler523 at 6:45 AM on January 30, 2009

And people keep exceeding themselves in the creation of custom components for the game...
posted by Shepherd at 11:52 AM on February 19, 2009

« Older Best two out of three! Thousand.   |   Xstream(ing) videos . . . Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments