Civilization is on the rise in the late seventeenth century, and progress must be fed by the farms of Europe.
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In Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola (that’s “ah-GREEK-oh-lah” to you, chowderhead—can’t you read Latin??), the challenge is to develop and manage a successful farm, and to do so more effectively than the other players. You begin with a plot of land, a small hut, and the first two members of a fledgling family. Your farmers go to work: they grow crops, build fences, raise animals, and improve the house. The family grows, and while many hands make light work, they also make more mouths to feed. There are many ways to achieve prosperity, but there are only fourteen rounds of play in which to outpace your competition.
The game can be played by 1-5 players, takes about 30 minutes per player, and is recommended for ages 12 and up.
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I’ve owned this game for a couple of years now, but my cursory inspections of the rule book and game pieces led me to believe that making sense of Agricola was going to take more energy than I’m generally able to muster. So let’s not skirt the issue: this is a complicated game. There are a lot of different card decks, a lot of different boards, a lot of different colored wooden coins and cubes, and a lot of different activities you could have your farmers engage in during your turn.
Having had a good friend finally teach me the ropes, though, I feel like the logistical details are pretty naturally connected to the game’s premise, and aren’t so difficult to follow once you’ve played a game or two, not unlike the game Pandemic. As my friend explained, you could potentially do a lot of calculating throughout the game, trying to maximize your victory points … or you can just focus on building a self-reliant, diversified farm. You can be pretty capable engaging with the game at either level.
One of the game’s strongest points is it’s flexibility. You can begin by playing a comparatively simple version of the game (comparatively simple, mind), and even when using the “standard” rules, you can choose to play with card decks of differing difficulty. There’s even a solitaire version of the game, where you’re just building your own farm without other players to compete or compare yourself against. All this without having to buy any of the major or minor expansion sets out there.
Agricola may not be as family-friendly as Settlers of Catan, for example, but it still works well as a family game, so long as you have someone who can teach you how to play. I’d certainly be willing to have a go at it with you.
My Grade: A-