Thursday, 8 December 2011

Satisfying, but doesn't take too long...

Satisfying, but doesn’t take too long:

Publisher: Lookout Games/Z-Man Games
Designer: Uwe Rosenberg

Agricola meteorically became the buzz board game a couple of years ago, and it’s popularity is still waxing strong.  It is a game about building up a little farm, and making sure you have a diverse range of produce at the same time as paying the costs of your expanding agrarian empire.

Each turn players use their family members to take actions available from the main board, these fall into two broad categories of either collecting resources, or using some combination of resources to add to your farm.  At the end of a round of turns, players must also pay the bills - in game terms this is food - for each of the family members.  

Because there is such a diverse range of resources available, and a wide-ranging array of ways in which to spend them, players can focus on particular strategies, some focusing on these aspects, some on those.  It is pleasing to see the small empire grow and expand, and it is also pleasing to be able to combine one aspect of that empire with another so that it allows you yet more choices, or scores you X more points.

Points are obviously the goal here, players gain or lose them against a wide range of conditions - grain, vegetables, sheep, boar, family members, stables and so forth.  This system rewards diversification over specialisation, but because there are so many paths a player can take to achieve a desired result, the game never really feels like, game after game, you’re just fine-tuning to achieve the perfect point scoring trajectory.

Agricola hit the hobby game world by storm, republished for the English market by Z-Man Games under a pre-order system from the original Lookout Edition, it quickly rose and rose and rose in game rankings and pre-order numbers.  As the dust settled, and the game became more widely available there was still a very strong and vocal fan base for the game, but there have also been criticisms over the years as well - only natural when something becomes very popular.

Some of the criticisms deal with the theme; the theme of farming is dull.  Some about the way the theme is carried out in the game; why, if I plant grain, can’t my neighbour also plant grain.  Some simply don’t like the game.  I’m not going to refute these criticisms, no game if perfect for everybody or right for every occasion (Ca$h and Gun$ in an airport lounge is probably a poor choice of game for example).  But for my wife and I this has become a very solid game that we both enjoy playing immensely.  I love all sorts of games, and feel that the euro-ameri divide popularised in forums is a touch silly - as if I all poems in iambic-pentameter are great but anything in haiku is the product of a diseased mind.

Agricola is not the be-all and end-all of games, for my wife and I though it really is a game that feels satisfying, but doesn’t take too long.  And for many nights, after the son has been put to bed (with much general complaint and many a request for ‘jumping’ time - he just loves to jump at the moment), such a game perfectly fits the bill.

We can think, plan, see our choices grow and change our little farmlets, watch the animals frolic in the fields, eat said animals when the time requires, talk, laugh, make eyes at each other across the table and generally enjoy a nice game, in great company.  It is a pleasant way to while away an evening, and doesn’t leave us with eyes bulging from lack of sleep when the lad rises with or before the sun on the next morning!

5 other games that feel satisfying, but don’t take too long:

  • Elasund: First City of Catan
  • Qwirkle
  • Rivals of Catan
  • Stone Age
  • Yspahan

Since I am thinking of games my wife and I play - the list is skewed towards games that play well with 2, China is one I would have had on the list for sure otherwise!

If you have any other games to add - post them in the comments!  I’d love to read them!


  1. I'm in the 'neh' camp when it comes to Agricola, so shall bite my tongue.

    Satisfying short games, for me, would be Rattus, 7 Wonders, Innovation, Samurai, Chicago Express and Tigris (with the right people)

  2. If I'm being honest, Agricola is a great game that my wife and I love to play together when we have an hour or two to spare. However, it loses some of it's shine for me when playing with more. For my wife and I though - it's absolutely one of our favourites.

    Rattus and 7 Wonders both fall into a very slightly different category for me - something like: 'Not too Heavy, Not too Light' - but that's really splitting hairs.

    7 Wonders was a game I was prepared to dislike, but on playing it I really enjoyed it - a great game! Though I haven't played it with two - I'm not a big fan of dummy players.

    Rattus is another great little game, something I particularly enjoy with the variability offered by the Pied Piper expansion.

    Innovation is a great game, I've only played it once - and I kept falling asleep while playing it (it was late), but I really enjoyed it (from what I can recall at least).

    Samurai is an excellent addition! Very good little game.

    Tigris is a touch heavier for me (you must have a different crowd!). Nonetheless an excellent game, I just haven't played it much!

    I haven't played Chicago Express - so I can't comment! Is it worth looking up?

  3. Chicago Express is a surprisingly quick game. In fact it seems to end way before you want it to.. I highly recommend (best with three or four).

    Tigris we tend to play in 35-45 minutes which is a nice timespan.

    One other game that has crept into my heart recently, in this category, is Oregon.
    I really don't know why I like it so much because there is not an awful lot there. And, yet, it's simple mechanics and decent playing time make it a great little play experience.

  4. Oregon is a neat little game - much more of a brain burner than it might otherwise appear at first glance.

    Hmm - Chicago Express seems interesting. Have you played either of Steam, or First Train to Nuremberg?

  5. I agree with 7 Wonders & Innovation being good here. Stone Age & Yspahan have always been favorites of mine too.

    I think I'd add Race for the Galaxy here too. Recently played Discworld: Ankh-Moorpork and liked that quite a bit.

    Tons of abstract games would work here. I like Qwirkle, but enjoy Ingenious, Blokus, or the GIPF games more.

    Blue Moon City works well for us too. Kingdom Builder is pretty light, but doesn't last too long, and right now is giving me a satisfied feeling, but then I've won the past 2 games :).

    I really like Agricola, but we usually have more than 2, so it takes too long for this category for me.

    Steam is a ton of fun, but can take awhile. Haven't ever played Chicago Express, that's one that I have missed out on for some reason. People keep telling me how good it is.

    We tend to play games with more than 2 (either the whole family, or just with the kids.) so my lists is more skewed towards group games.

  6. Yes Agricola i definitly a very satisfying game in really short playtime (especially when you are familiar with the game) and it plays well with 2 players. It is one of my and my wifes game of choice for the moments when our son takes his day time nap.
    I was suprised when I saw Elasund on your list, not that it is bad one, but not very popular I think. My wife is not very found on this one, but I'm trying to push it once in a while.
    Yspahan is a reeeally fast one. Better with 3-4 but lately I've introduced it to my better half and it made good impresion on her. Hooray! Go Wooden Camels!

    To those that are not on the list I would add Galaxy Trucker (this is a fast one with a sense of accoplishment - not one, but three times during one game! hard to do better then this)

    Age of Empires III is somewhere around the same time as Agricola for 2 players and it is for sure a satisfying experience while you go through 3 ages and conquer the New World.

    Both of the games brings a lot of satisfaction while your child is sleeping and even left some time for cooking... unless "a little angel" wakes with tears after an hour..

  7. Hi Giles- yes, I've played Steam a few times (and Age of Steam, a few times, as well).
    I can't say I care for them much. Too fiddly and too much "lather rinse and repeat", for the length of the game, for my taste.

    Chicago Express is a completely different experience. The end game hurtles towards you like an out of control locomotive.

  8. I've played Galaxy Trucker (I don't own it though) - I can't really recall much of the game - I did like it, but it didn't jump out at me for whatever reason.

    I haven't ever played Age of Empires III as a two-player game, only with 3+ - and I might add I have really enjoyed it! Thanks for that recommendation - I'll have to give it a shot two-player and see how we go!

    Chicago Express - hmm - I'm really going to have to look into this one now!



  9. I've been looking longingly at Anhk Morpork for a while now. I have to admit, when the game was first announced I was a little ambivalent, I didn't think that Martin Wallace was a good match as designer for a game in that setting (I always thought Bruno Faidutti would make a wonderful Discworld game). Now more has been written about it though I have to admit it's back on my 'wants' list. I am a huge fan of the books and the inestimable and erudite Mr. Pratchett.

    I don't mind Race for the Galaxy, but my wife wasn't much of a fan - so it never really sees table time at our house.

    Blue Moon City is a great little game - though I feel it's at its best with 3 or 4 players.

    Kingdom Builder looks interesting - I think a mate of mine is wanting this one - so I'll wait for him to buy it! :D



  10. For two player games, especially when short on time, my wife and I play Lost Cities.

    We also play Carcassonne - won't take too long unless you add a lot of expansions into the mix.

    One of her favorites is Blokus. Different kind of game, but quick.

  11. Lost Cities is a great little card game - we very much enjoy it!

    Carcassonne was an old love of ours as well - and we invested in many expansions. Lately we've been going back to play with just the base game - and we're enjoying it a lot!

    Blokus (the whole series) is fantastic - can be very cut-throat, but it (Blokus) really is a wonderful abstract game (and the others in the series - particularly Blokus 3D are excellent too).

    Thanks for commenting - those are some great games you mention!