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Agricola: a game of sequences

A few days ago we had our first hot day of the spring / summer: 99 degrees. S and I walked home from work, turned on the air conditioner, and discovered about an hour later that it was blowing warm air. Bummer.

My first thought was that I had forgotten to take the cover off the outdoor unit, which is bad but easily remedied. I took the cover off and discovered that the compressor / fan wasn’t even running. Double bummer.

So I went inside and checked the thermostat, found that it was okay, and then went down to check that the fuse hadn’t tripped. It hadn’t.

I went outside and checked the fuses out there, which were fine. Then I came in to read the manual. It said something about a high pressure control switch and showed how to reset it. I went out, found the switch, and discovered that the little red button I was supposed to push had either rotted away or been eaten by squirrels. Triple bummer.

I got my keys out of my pocket so I could stick one in there and see if I couldn’t trip some recessed switch, but no luck. The little return spring for the button came out in rusty pieces.

I figured it was time to do a bit of research. I came in, fired up the laptop, and googled for information on troubleshooting that brand and model of compressor. One guy said to check to make sure power was getting to the unit, and another guy mentioned having bypassed his control switch temporarily. No instructions on how to do either one, naturally, but still useful. I had a few more things I could try.

I pulled the cover off the unit and traced the wires. There was a high power circuit (supposed to be 240v) and so I went and got my meter out of the basement to check it. I turned the meter on, but it was dead. I pulled the cover off and the battery terminals had been corroded. Quadruple bummer.

So I went downstairs and got a wire brush for cleaning the terminals. It took me a little while, but soon enough I had them shining once again. Now I just needed new batteries. I’m guessing you can see where this is heading….

I went upstairs to my box o’ batteries, and sure enough, nothing that size (9v). I remembered decommissioning an answering machine recently that took 9v batteries, so I trod up the stairs to the attic, got it out of the closet, pulled the battery out, and gave it a go. It was dead. Quintuple bummer.

At this point I was about to chuck the meter down the stairs and take an axe to the compressor unit, but I took a few deep breaths and centered myself.

And in that moment, a though occurred to me: Agricola‘s really a lot like life. In Agricola, you can’t just have a baby, you have to add on to your house first. But you can’t add on to your house until you have both the wood for the walls and the thatch for the roof, so first you have to go into the forest to cut down some trees and go down to the river to harvest some reeds.

It’s not quite that simple, though, as you can’t cut wood if anyone else is already in the forest; you can’t harvest reed if anyone else is already down by the river. And here, mercifully, is where the game diverges a bit from real life: I can still buy batteries even if someone else has already bought them that day; I can still use my meter to check for 240v even when someone else has already chosen that action; I can still chop wood and harvest reeds and build an extra room and have a baby even when someone else has already done them. And thank God for that.

Anyway, I pulled a battery out of one of our smoke detectors, stuck it into my meter, and checked for 240v. The unit was getting power. I bypassed the high pressure control switch, asked S to turn the unit on while I stood there (just in case it started shooting sparks and / or spewing forth black smoke), and voilà! We had an air conditioner again. Of course I still need to replace the control unit at some point, but now at least it blows cool air. Success!

While I’m on the subject of Agricola being a lot like life, it occurs to me that there’s at least one more way in which the two are similar: you never get to do all the things you want to do. Being in my early forties, and seeing the specter of death on the horizon, this fact has recently impressed itself upon me.

I’m not saying Agricola caused my mid-life crisis, I’m just saying that it serves as a reminder: every choice, every action, every moment matters. Or, as Thoreau put it, “you can’t kill time without injuring eternity.”

Who knew a board game could be so deep?

  1. May 14, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    The more I read about Agricola, the more I am convinced I wont like it. This life-like sequence you talk about seems really tedious. It may be deep, but is it fun?

    Nice article by the way.

  2. May 15, 2011 at 9:37 am

    I felt the same way you did before a friend bought it and I was able to give it a try. I didn’t think I’d like it because there’s a lot of logistical planning and you can never accomplish as much as you’d like. Plus, the world of the cards just seemed so vast, how could you ever keep track of them all?

    But somehow the game has gotten under my skin. It’s not my favorite game, but I do find it oddly compelling. I played it twice last night, winning the first and losing the second, and I enjoyed both games a lot. It’s not for everyone, though. Some of my friends hate it and won’t play it.

    What I do is focus on my farm and try to expand it in ways that are satisfying to me. I don’t usually play “to win,” though I do try to maximize points in my last turn. And I don’t often play to screw my opponents over unless it also benefits me in some way.

    As far as the cards go, you don’t have to keep track of the vast universe, you just have to keep track of the ones you were dealt. What we do is deal 10 occupations and 10 minor improvements, and then we keep 7 of each. So you have to look at 20 cards and choose 14 of them for your hand. That way, you can choose cards that work well together. (Of course, you don’t have to play with the cards at all, but I think the game would get boring pretty quickly without them.)

    The one thing that concerns me most, I guess, is just that it begins, after 10 or so games, to start feeling like you’ve done it all before. I know the cards add replayability, but still the game feels pretty much the same no matter what cards you’re dealt and what strategies you choose to pursue. I guess time will tell — I’m certainly not bored of it yet, but I don’t dream about it anymore, either. I’m somewhere in the middle.

    I guess if the game feels iffy to you, I’d find a way to try it before buying it. It had been on my radar for some time, but I could never justify the cost. Now that a friend owns it, I have no desire to buy it — but if he didn’t have a copy, would I buy a copy for myself? Probably not. I can think of other games I’d rather buy for the money. YMMV.

    –Dave :-)

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