Agricola: Revised Edition Review - Let Them Get Their Own Food!!

For a long time Agricola was hailed as one of the kings of Euro games and to be fair it still is, holding on to its high spot on the BGG rankings, which yeah I know isn't exactly the gospel truth of how good a game is these days, but it was a decent Euro none the less and I enjoyed it despite having some issues with it, which I'll get on to later. Then Uwe Rosenberg released a second heavy farming game almost like an indirect sequel in the form of Caverna: The Cave Farmers (and the award for most pointless tag line title goes to . . . seriously publishers, stop it) and I immediately exchanged Agricola for Caverna and didn't look back.

Why? Well three reasons. Caverna gave me the ability to follow my own path to victory. No longer did I have to balance my farm with a piece of everything to do well. Want to completely ignore grain/vegetables and rear your own Animal Farm? Then do so and be rewarded. And on top of that, even though you had to feed your people, it was never so dominating over the game that you forgot that the game was about building a farm in the first place. Lastly the change from the improvement/occupation cards to room tiles. Many argued that that was a bad change, but there was still plenty of variety in those tiles, hell I've still yet to use every one of them. But I welcomed it because as much as the cards provided more variety, they were horribly imbalanced in the base game and it only got worse as expansions got thrown in. So you were forced to draft and all that did was extend the game time by 20 minutes. At least the room tiles were available to everyone from the get-go and I've had victories with a variety of them.

But Agricola is back with a new and improved version in the Revised Edition. Changes in components, graphic design, a player removed and new cards taken from Agricola's history of expansions. Sounds like this deserves a revisit - can Caverna still hold the crown for me or will Agricola rise up to take it back? The Battle of the Farmers commences. . . . . . yeah it's not as cool as Game of Thrones's version but what can you do?



Designer: Uwe Rosenberg
Publisher: Mayfair Games / Lookout Games
Age: 12+
Players: 1-4
Time: 90-120 min
RRP: £49.99


My Daddy Was A Farmer, And His Daddy Before That

From BoardGameGeek:


Updated and streamlined for a new generation of players, Agricola, the award-winning and highly acclaimed game by Uwe Rosenberg, features a revised rulebook and gameplay, along with wood pieces and components for up to four players.
The 17th Century Was Not an Easy Time to be a Farmer. A game for 1-4 players ages 12 and up; play time is 30 minutes per player. Amazing replay value. The Agricola base game is a revised edition of Uwe Rosenberg’s celebrated classic. The game is designed for 1-4 players, features improved all-wood components and a card selection from the base game as well as its expansions, revised and updated for this edition. 
Players begin the game with two family members and can grow their families over the course of the game. This allows them more actions but remember you have to grow more food to feed your family as it grows! Feeding your family is a special kind of challenge and players will plant grain and vegetables while supplementing their food supply with sheep, wild boar and cattle. Guide your family to wealth, health and prosperity and you will win the game.

Modernising The Way We Do Farming

You can tell from the moment you open that box, that the components and graphics have taken a significant upgrade from the original version. You now have actual farmer meeples, a wide selection of decent wooden tokens for every resource and animal (though why they still went for cardboard food counters I'm still baffled by) and decent quality boards all round. It more than justifies its price tag on pieces alone, but this has had a side effect. This revised version only caters for up to 4 players with a 5-6 player expansion being sold separately in the future. Personally this is only an improvement as I'm not paying for pieces I don't need or ever want. I mean seriously, Agricola isn't long enough for you already that you want to play it with 5-6 people? Every time I've been involved that it's dragged on too long and spoilt the game so Mayfair can gladly stick it in a separate box so that I never have to be coaxed into that situation again.

The graphic design has also taken a slight improvement. The rule book is much easier to follow than before with plenty of diagrams, helpful tips and clear structured sections. It's by no means perfect, but I remember the old rulebook and that was a nightmare to sift through all that horrible small fine print. Here I feel that that it's become more accessible to get into and that's always a positive. Even just small things like adding the final scoring details to the centre board itself make a huge difference, now you've got no excuse to not know how well you're doing at any given time.


Is Life This Hard For Real Farmers? 


For those un-initiated with Agricola, allow me to explain some key factors. This is a fairly heavy game, but not one that you can't learn fairly quickly and dive in. You will however be thinking you haven't got a clue in your first couple of games and it does take practice to get to grips with managing everything at your disposal and prioritising your needs. But the theme is strong throughout and despite my issues later, you'll feel like you're building up a farm, growing food and rearing animals. This is an enjoyable theme in general that deserves to be done right and any attempt to make it abstract or dry would have been met with unrelenting disapproval.

It is however very unforgiving. If you make a mistake, it's going to bite you hard and make you regret it instantly. Recovery won't be easy and sometimes not even possible, let's face it if you end up with any of those begging markers, kiss your victory goodbye, it's just too damaging. On the plus side, this keeps you on your toes with your choices all being very meaningful and keeps scoring relatively tight. Not watertight as you generally end up with a clear winner and loser by the end, but you won't necessarily know who that winner is going to be until everything is totalled up. Unless you're one of these people who has slowed the game down by constantly keeping track of everyone's current scores in your head, in which case, get out of my game immediately so we can have fun. . . .

Despite the high strategic level, there is still some luck involved. Drawing the cards at the start of the game is inherently luck driven especially if you just deal them out and don't draft. Most veteran players will say you should always draft, however doing so adds another 20-25 minutes minimum to the game as everyone has to read a ton of cards to understand what they all do before choosing. This isn't like 7 Wonders or even Seasons for that matter where drafting can be done relatively quickly, it's going to take a while so I prefer to just dish them out. Also the extra worker spaces that appear each round are randomized so even though you know roughly when that stone you really need will appear, you don't know exactly when and so it can sting you when the timing isn't as you were hoping, yet someone just had the perfect card turn up at the perfect time.


If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It, Otherwise Fix It!


I've mentioned my three main issues with the original Agricola, so have any of them been resolved here? Well, one of them has for the most part, if not entirely. The new revised set of improvements and occupations are definitely more varied and balanced than in the original base Agricola, if anything I think they even toned down the power of them in general as there were a lot of times where I felt I could survive without them. Some of them are still quite niche in how they will affect your strategy, but that's why you've got 14 cards in your hand to begin with, usually you'll find at least a couple in each category to suit your needs or provide a benefit. So that's sorted, well done. A friend of mine used a variant in one game of the original version where you got to start with one occupation already in play, this made it so much better in my opinion and I would go as far to say you should start with one improvement as well on top - at least then you can have a differing start-up to other players from the beginning. I bet I'm hearing a ton of Agricola lovers cry out "heresy" at that one.

However the "Feed Your People" mechanic is still very dominating over the whole affair, the necessity to acquire a large amount of workers is still there. So as you get more workers, your food demands get higher and higher and you're still forcing yourself out of doing something fun and interesting just to grab that last bit of food. I like the mechanic in other games, don't get me wrong, but it should be a side plot and not the main arc. T'zolkin, Caverna, Le Havre, hell even Nations and Through The Ages don't have feeding mechanics that rise above all else. I can still build my civilization in the way I choose, just with a side thought that I must have some spare food handy. Here you might as well change the title of the game to Agricola: Feed Your People!

Also no changes have been made to the scoring system. You still lose a ton of points if you don't have a piece of everything and get capped too quickly on having too much of something. Since when was it a bad thing for a farm to grow too much corn or not have one piglet in their bedroom? It's a strange choice thematically and all the time you see everyone just spending the last couple of rounds grabbing every last missing piece for their farm regardless if they gave it any consideration at all before hand. Oh I didn't grow any vegetables earlier, but I'll just grab that one pumpkin on that space for no reason except to save myself a couple of points, it's just a big thematic downer for me and I'm sad that it hasn't been amended. I think this new Agricola could have been perfect if they took a leaf out of Caverna's book and allowed for more flexibility, but of course many of the gamers out there will be glad that their original reason for loving Agricola is preserved.


Verdict on Agricola: Revised Edition


Genuinely despite the faults I have with Agricola, I do like the game and will play it. It gets a lot of things right in a quality Euro game. A strong theme (albeit with the odd bizarre design choice), good components and plenty of strategy with a good amount of variety. It's easy to see why it's high up on BoardGameGeek and this new revised edition has improved on the original visually and even done a good job of fixing one of my original problems with the improvement/occupation cards.That being said, there are still two issues I have with this Agricola that still frustrate me as well as other players and it solidifies my belief that Caverna is a better farming game all around.

Firstly being unable to specialise or vary your farm from anyone else's without being heavily penalised is just bad design in my opinion. By the end, everyone's farm will look near enough the same. Because not getting a piece of everything will hurt you so much that you'll lose outright. Secondly I'm all up for a tight game, but the "feed your people" mechanic here is incredibly restrictive. It occupies your every waking thought as you don't have room to have fun building your farm as you constantly have to meet food demands and due to the necessity of having extra workers in order to win the game, the food demand never diminishes as time goes on. I know many gamers who play the ultra-restrictive heavy games will love this to bits, but it's a valid criticism for many.

However despite my beefs, I still acknowledge it's a well designed and interesting game with the worst of the balance issues now fixed. If you like the farming theme and welcome mean, tight, restrictive game play, you can't go wrong with Agricola and I strongly insist you opt for this revised edition and not the old one. If you want a bit more flexibility and more paths to victory, you'll do what I do and get Caverna and be just as satisfied.


If you are interested in this game you can find a copy at your friendly local gaming store - http://www.findyourgamestore.co.uk/



YOU WILL LIKE AGRICOLA: REVISED EDITION IF:


You want a mean, tight, worker placement game - this is very unforgiving and feeding is paramount.


You felt that the card balance was way too skewed in the original and wanted some improvement.


You like the upgraded components and graphic design.



YOU WILL NOT LIKE AGRICOLA: REVISED EDITION IF:


You don't like not being able to specialise your farm - if that's the case, play Caverna.


You're fed up with feeding your people and feel it gets in the way too much.


You don't like the theme of farming - it's strongly represented here.

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