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Agricola: first plays

Some friends of ours got Agricola for Christmas and asked us if we wanted to try it. I’ll admit I wasn’t overly excited about the game: I had read that it offered a tense and unforgiving experience where competition for resources was fierce, one’s best-laid plans could be disrupted easily, and players never had enough turns to do all that they wanted. Still, I figured it would be good to give it a shot. We said sure.

Our first outing, however, just reinforced all the negative feelings I had about the game: it was, to say the least, tight. The four of us were playing the family version of the game (without the minor improvements or the occupations), and so choices were really quite limited. I was sitting to the right of the start player the first couple rounds, and I often had to resort to fishing since everything of any value was already taken.

Seasoned players are likely scratching their heads at this point, wondering what in the world we were doing wrong. Well, I’ll tell you: we hadn’t put out the six cards that are supposed to go on the left side of the main board. This meant that, instead of 17 possible choices the first round, we all had just 11. Things got better, of course, as the game progressed, but wood remained scarce all the way to the end.

Despite the tightness, it was still oddly compelling. At one time during the game I had a plan: get wood and build fences on this turn, then collect the five or so sheep that had accumulated on the next. The only problem was that my lovely wife, sitting just to my right, got the wood first. No! Then she built fences and, you guessed it, took the sheep, too. I think it was another three or four turns before I finally got a pasture. :-(

The final scores ranged from 10 to 19, which really wasn’t all that bad, considering. I took consolation from the fact that S and I tied with 15.

Bailey tries her hand at farming....

 

The second time we played, we (a) got the rules right and (b) played the full version of the game. What a difference! Now there were plenty of options, and there always seemed to be lots of worthwhile things to do. Instead of feeling tight and claustrophobic, the game now felt quite open, almost expansive: there were so many choices, it was often hard to know what to do or to try to do next.

I had read, though, that it was a good idea to try to formulate a strategy around your “hold cards,” the 7 occupations and 7 minor improvements you were dealt. Some of them I had no idea what to do with, but I was noticing how clay was piling up on the “two clay” card (one of the six), so I opted for the clay seller early on. I also snagged 6 clay that had accumulated and promptly bought a cooking hearth.

As food didn’t look to be much of an issue for me, since I could get clay fairly easily and convert it first to livestock (using the clay seller) and then to food (using the cooking hearth), I quickly expanded my house and added on to my family. Things were looking good.

In the middle of the game, I had multiple objectives: (1) build fences, (2) plow and sow, and (3) upgrade my house. Anytime someone got in my way on one objective, I switched to another. I managed to build two pastures with two squares each, plow and sow four fields (three grain and one vegetable), and upgrade my house first to clay and then to stone. I was feeling pretty good about all that I had accomplished, and I honestly wasn’t even paying that much attention to how well other people were doing.

Around this time I noticed I also had the braggart card, giving me end-game points for the number of minor and major improvements I had made to my farm. When I had first looked at this card early on I dismissed it as being useless (I had even gone so far as to take it out of my hand and turn it upside-down). Now, however, it was looking pretty good: I already had four or five improvements, so why not go for more? In the end game I focused on this and also on obtaining a diversity of crops and livestock.

When the game ended and the scores were tallied, I had a total of 35 (5 from the braggart). I think the other scores were 31, 29, and 22. While I knew I had been doing pretty well, I was surprised to find that I had won.

Now I have no idea if 35 is a respectable score in a four-player game of Agricola, but I’m guessing it’s small potatoes. Any one of us would undoubtedly get schooled by even an average player, but that’s not really the point – I had lots of fun building my farm, and that’s what really counts.

When I said before that the game was oddly compelling, I wasn’t kidding. I’ve dreamt about it not once, but twice since playing it on Sunday. It has a way of getting under your skin. =^..^=

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