Go to your local gaming store and pick up the box labelled Agricola. I can wait. Are you back? That didn’t take long. Did you feel how heavy that game was? JESUS. Agricola weighs a metric ton, and is a pretty decent game. It comes from the family of worker placement games that is very popular in Europe and it has won every possible board game award. According to the internets, it is the game that ended Puerto Rico’s dominance of the top spot on BoardGameGeek’s top rated games, so there’s that. They’re a very similar kind of game, so if you buy one, you probably don’t need to buy the other. Agricola is also playable by two players (and very well playable at that), so I think you’re probably better off buying Agricola, as it will see your tabletop more often than Puerto Rico will. It’s too bad, because I do enjoy buying Haciendas.
Agricola is a game of farming and animal husbandry. It is probably the best game on the topic of farming that exists. It is also one of the most tensest games out there. At the end of every round you have to feed your family, and if you don’t, you have to go begging. During every turn, you will feel as though you are doing the wrong thing and that your opponent is playing better than you. As your opponent is the first in the village to birth a new child, you will hate their guts, and be very jealous of the prospect that that baby is going to grow up to be a good plowhand. Watch as your friends build fences, while you have to keep your lonely cow in the house. Your friends’ vegetables can go fly a kite, for all you care.
In Agricola, players take turns each taking an action as available on the board. Once one player has taken an action, another player cannot take that action for the rest of the round. So if there was a big pile of wood, and your friend got there before you did, no wood for you! You also get a hand full of occupations and minor improvements and you get deck after deck of these things, so there’s a LOT of replayability available. I’ve had the game for years and I don’t think I’m anywhere close to seeing all the cards that are in the game. That’s the basic game play. You’ll take your turns gathering resources, planting crops, harvesting corn and improving your farmhouse. At the end of certain rounds, a harvest occurs, and you have to feed your family. Eventually, the game ends at the end of round 14, and you score the whole thing. You usually have a sense of who is going to win, because there isn’t any hidden information.
The game of Agricola lies in the decision making process whereby you have to not only figure out what you need to do on any given turn, but also figure out what your opponent needs to do, and try to screw them over. You also need to have a backup plan in case someone gets the drop on what you wanted to do. Since only one player can take each action per turn, you need to be very aware of the possibilities and try to come up with a never ending series of backup plans because your plans WILL fail, and you don’t want to go begging at the end of the round. The game is actually very easy, but will take a little while to explain because of all the interactions between the various resources, livestock and building upgrades.
I really like the two player Agricola game. It plays the exact same way as the four player game, and feels a lot tighter, and more of a duel than the four player game. Another reason why I like it with less players is that the more players playing the game, the slower the game plays. If someone takes the action that you needed, you need to decide which of the other actions to take, and this can lead to decision paralysis, which obviously can lead to an elongated game. There isn’t too much in the way of interaction between the players, so for your more social friends, Agricola can feel a bit too insular. It’s a game that gets much better the more you play it, but the problem is that you won’t find yourself reaching for it very often. It doesn’t encourage discussion amongst the players the way that some of the other games I’ve reviewed does. With four players it will take about two hours, and by the end of the game you won’t want to give it another go. If your group likes it, I think that’s great, but my group is never particularly keen on a playthrough- which is too bad, because I think there’s a LOT of depth here, even though it’s a bit dry.
The two player game plays in about 45 minutes, which is about long enough for a two player game and it never feels very crowded. There’s no randomness, so no one will get screwed over by chance (except for the minor improvement cards and occupation cards, but those are usually not game breaking at all). There are much cheaper two player games out there, but this is something that you and a friend could spend a lot of time chewing on. The box is heavy- but that’s just because there’s so much in it! You get a lot of game for your dollar.
This is one of those European style games that is actually pretty good on theme. Nothing seems out of place rulewise, and it’s just complicated enough to keep players coming back for more. It is a game that will take some learning, but it is a rewarding experience. Just know that there’s not much interaction, and some players will find it frustrating to make decisions. If you have a group that likes interaction and hates downtime, Agricola is not for you.