Good news, everyone! I’ve been playing Agricola which has been ported to iOS by Playdek. Since I just managed to win my first game against 2 of the easiest AI. I am now ready to call myself a master and share my experiences with you.
Agricola, if you didn’t know and didn’t read any reviews or previews, is a board game by Uwe Rosenberg and published by Z-Man Games. It’s a very popular boardgame and also a fairly difficult one to get your head around.
I love boardgames. I also suck at boardgames. At the outset I play to win but as that becomes increasingly unlikely I just play to throw wrenches into the mechanics and make the other players cry about their ruined strategies. Yep…you probably don’t want to play with me. Which is why ports of boardgames are both a blessing and a curse for me.
It’s a blessing because people will actually play with me and by people I mean AIs and by play I mean clinically go through their program and make soulless decisions. Yay!
It’s a curse because no matter how badly I mess with their strategies they don’t cry. Also, I do not recommend put water on your iPad to replicate tears…
At its core it’s a worker placement game that brings in aspects of deck building and board completion. The core problem you’re solving is how do expand your home so can grow your family so you can have more turns while also feeding your family so you don’t lose points all while you’re trying to fill out your farm, which is your own personal game board.
You start out with two workers and a hand of cards. Each turn you place your workers to collect resources, increase your property, create new workers, play cards, gather food and other things in a public space. You’re competing for these spaces with your opponents and once their taken you can’t try for them again until the next round. The game ends after 14 rounds at which time victory points are scored. You score victory points by having accumulated resources and building your farm, which is your personalized playing board. The fuller it is the more VP you get, the less full and you stand the chance of getting negative points. I don’t want get to deep here. There are a lot of moving parts.
The game is beautiful. The different playing fields have little animations, like butterflies and workers to keep things dynamic. Playdek did a really top notch job with the presentation.
The AI is challenging and comes in 3 difficult levels: Apprentice; Journeyman and Master. It took me about 5 or 6 games before I started being competitive with the apprentice level AI. I’m a-scared to move up to journeyman. If only I could bribe the other AI to help me win. There is also a Solo Series mode which is sort of a progressive single player campaign over 7 games which offers you new goals to meet each game. I’m using the word campaign very liberally. Some state is saved between games but don’t go expecting story or anything.
There are also a variety of online and offline multiplayer options including Pass n Play with Human and AI, asynchronous multiplayer and Game Center support. There might some other bits in there I missed but I haven’t been going online because I’m not a masochist.
A game this complex is bound to have a few issues and Agricola is no exception. The first thing you’ll notice is that the tutorial doesn’t prepare you to play the game. It presents the game as a farming simulator, which it is at a meta level, but it makes the mistake of not teaching you why the actions you’re taking make a difference in your winning or losing. It also seems to take key points, like how long a game lasts, and brushing past in a later tutorial. It seems like it was written for someone with Agricola experience and, as such, I would recommend getting a basic understanding of how the game works via the rulebook or watching a game on youtube before going for the tutorial.
The other problem is that with so much information to present it can get lost behind different screens. Agricola is a game of perfect information. The occupations, improvements, number of animals and all that jazz are laid out in front of you in the boardgame. In the iPad port all of that information is present but it’s presented on different screens. I found it awkward to keep the information of my opponents states in my mind while maneuvering through the screens. I’d love to see some sort of birds eye view where the graphics are abstracted and just the pertinent information is displayed. It would help with making decisions on blocking your opponent or not.
Playdek had their work cut out for them but they came through with an excellent port of the boardgame. I’ve been playing and losing but keep coming back and doing better. This is a very challenging game but it’s rewarding. You learn from your mistakes and hone your game a little more each time. If you’re looking for a great boardgame that will continue to challenge you then I heartily recommend giving Agricola a chance.