The Games We Play

The Games We Play

A repository of reports on the Wednesday night sessions of the club and anything else related to the club or boardgaming in general, which may be of interest to anyone who may be passing by.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Session Summary – 30 July 2008

This week we had 3 for board games, plus Dave running the role play, reports of which are now posted on his own blog here. That left Gordon, Mike & I.
The game we played was Agricola, which is probably the most discussed game on the geek currently, and now with the English translation available has moved rapidly up the ratings to overtake Power Grid in the number 2 slot and now the English version is also about to hit the states, is confidently expected by many people to take the number 1 spot (note here that I am of the firm opinion that the BGG ratings are a piece of interesting statistical whimsy and no one should be under any delusion that they represent any sort of valid determinant of how good a game is).
Anyway, having got that off my chest, something about the game, the following not being a complete description but just what comes to mind as I type this. You represent a farmer in the late 17th century, after the plague has burnt itself out after several hundred years, and starting with just the farmer and his wife, you have to develop your land, ploughing fields to grow crops and fencing in land for pasture to raise animals. At the same time you can expand and upgrade your house and gain more family members.
The game uses the now familiar worker placement mechanic, which Caylus is usually credited with introducing. Each player in turn places one of their family members on an action space and immediately takes that action, after which that action is not available until the next round. In this case, because the action is immediately taken there is no way to later prevent it, such as provided by the provost in Caylus. There are a number of actions available at the start of the game, with one extra action added each round in a semi-random manner with a particular set of actions becoming available in each stage of the game, but no fixed appearance time within that stage.
Adding variety to the game are the cards, each player starts with 14 cards (7 occupations and 7 minor improvements), which can be played by taking the appropriate actions and meeting any cost in resources. The cards have such effects as giving extra actions, increasing the effect of some actions, giving victory points at the end or some other advantage.
So that is what you do, grow your family, plant your crops and breed your animals, having regard to the fact that you need to feed your family at every harvest, which occurs 6 times during the game, first after 4 rounds and then with increasing frequency until the end of the game. Finally victory points are scored, and the game encourages the following of a Jack of all trades policy, rather than heavy specialisation. Points are scored for each category of farm development, with a maximum of 4 points for each, but -1 if you have failed to do any development in that category, in addition there are points for the number and types of rooms in your house (1 per clay room, 2 per stone room) and 3 per family member, together with points for fenced stables and for certain cards you have bought or played from your hand. There are further deductions of 1 per undeveloped farm space and 3 per begging card, which you receive for every food you are short when feeding the family, so it is vital to pay good attention to that aspect of the game.
For this game, we took our cue from Gordon and we received our cards from a mixture of the 3 decks E, I & K, in theory the decks increase in complexity with alphabetical order, but I have to say that the K cards I had did not look that complex. After the dire warnings about how tight food was I thought I did pretty well with that getting an engine going that left me with food in hand at the end, despite having grown my family to full size, but I fell down in other areas, with no vegetables at the end and fewer animals than I would have liked, I also had 5 undeveloped spaces. Mike was able to develop his house to stone through a card that allowed him to miss the clay step, but had fewer family members and also fell short in other areas; he also had 5 undeveloped spaces. Gordon had played before of course and did well in most areas, he had 4 vegetables for maximum points and did well in cattle, he also had a bonus card which I can't remember the name of which rewarded him for the clay he had at the end. He only had 2 undeveloped spaces and 4 family members.
Our thoughts. Well Gordon clearly likes it and rated it a 9 on the geek, he hope it makes #1 as it "spreads-the-love" a lot more than Puerto Rico???? As for Mike, it looks like this is another recent new game to add to the list he doesn't like, it is too much like work for him (mind you that's exactly what I said about Tikal a long time ago). Me, I said I thought it was interesting (damnation by faint praise?) and would play again, which I think is exactly what I said about Caylus on first play (I now rate that as 3). I went home and put a rating of 6 on Agricola. What I will say is I think that the theme on this one fits the game play better that any other that immediately comes to mind.
Agricola 140 mins
Dave D
Note when Gordon added up the scores he gave himself 34, but according to my check it should have been 36, so that's what I recorded.
Now as a sort of postscript, following Saturday's Britannia game (report to follow), I went over to Dave C's house and played Agricola again (apparently he also had his copy with him on Wednesday), with him, Jenny and Ben. In this case we just used the E deck of cards. I have to say that for whatever reason (maybe it was the cards, maybe more familiarity) I enjoyed that game a lot more than the first time, I went home after and raised the rating to 7.


  1. Worker Placement Mechanic? - I'm not going to start a war (really!) but Tikal, Way Out West, even Guerilla use Action Selection mechanisms and they all pre-date Caylus

  2. I think, the Caylus style worker placement mechanic, covers the situation where once an action has been selected, it is not available for use by the other players. I can't remember how Guerilla plays and have never played Way Out West, but as I recall Tikal has an action point selection, where players can select actions, but not prevent their use by the others. I may be wrong there, it's a long time since I played.

  3. Way out West works like that - once you've selected an action then no-one else can select it that round

  4. This is certainly the game of 2008 for me. I fancy playing right now as I type this! As I was the one that brought Agricola to the table I feel bad and a little confused as to why it did not invoke the same ambiance as the first playing I experienced with Steve P and Daniel. That session rates as one of my all time favourite first plays of any game. Still I am glad it is now growing on you Dave and I hope Mike will find it less like hard work if he can see himself through another couple of games.

    I find Puerto Rico to be a great gamer’s game but it is far from a group bonding experience. I don't like losing at PR and along with the other losers I bitch after the game. I think Agricola is a fun experience win or lose. Thus my spreading the love comment on the geek. Ok it does sound a bit lame.

  5. We played again last night (report to come), players were Steve Hilton, Steve Perkins, Matt and myself. The game seemed to go down well.

    I wonder whether part of the problem last week (at least for me) was the mixing of the decks. Both the games I've played since have stuck to the E deck, and I have seen several comments since suggesting the use of E,I or K, but not a mixture. The argument is that this is more likely to give a bit of synergy between the cards in the players hands.

    I raised my rating to 8, but I think it's likely to stick there for the moment, as it just doesn't quite do it for me in the same way as my 9+ games.