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
- Rivals of Catan
- Stone Age
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!