Agricola (2007)

Overview: In this game, each player starts with a family and some farm land. Throughout the game, have kids that help you, harvest crops, obtain livestock, convert crops and livestock to food to survive, and make improvements to your home. Score points by building up various aspects of your family, farm, and household.


Today was my first time playing Agricola. We decided the turn order would start with the most experienced player and end with the least experienced player. At the start I thought this was good, because I'd be able to see what was happening. We also dived right into the regular rule set instead of playing the family version.

The cards I drew weren't particularly useful, and I didn't want to spend turns just trying to get food while it seemed everybody else had already established means of gaining resources. Hence about halfway into the game, I decided that I would just try to get a lot of negative points, primarily through beggar cards.* I was being a poor sport. The following is a breakdown of my score (albeit uninteresting): 17 Beggar Cards = -51, Minor Improvement Points = 5, Tutor = 5, Wooden Hut Builder = 2, Fields = 1, Pasture = 1, Grain = -1, Vegetables = -1, Sheep (19) = 4, Wild Boar = -1, Cattle = -1, Unused Space = -2, Fenced Stable = 1, Family Members (3) = 9.

On a related note, upon losing interest halfway through, I also took longer turns because no action was a reasonable choice for me. After the game, we were discussing adding time limits. The following is a modification of our conclusion:
If you want to play a two-hour game for five people then each person gets 24 minutes. On average, you get 3 actions a round, and there's 14 rounds, for 42 actions. Even with 48 actions, the guideline on how long you should take per turn is 30 seconds. However, there could be a five-minute strategy creation period at the beginning of the game.

However, I think fundamentally we tried to jump straight into the main game when we should have started with the family version. I imagine the game would have been shorter and/or more enjoyable. There could have been a heavier focus on just understanding the game mechanics, and I would have been more encouraged to play the game. In fact, I imagine we could have started with the family version, then play the full version, and have spent the same time as just trying to go straight into the full version (we started playing around 4 PM, and we ended at 8:38 PM; the rules were explained in about an hour, but I also re-read the rules as we played).

Main Takeaway:
If I were to introduce the game to anybody, I'd play with the family rules first.** Then in the next game I'd go to regular rules. I'd also make turn order by the number of times someone has played, starting with least to most.***

This game, like Settlers, isn't really my cup of tea. I like Caylus better than both of them, and I like Puerto Rico better than Caylus. With that being said, I applaud the game's theme and game mechanics. I probably would have enjoyed the game more if it were shorter, or if I felt my choices weren't so limited.

*At one point Josh joking said (something like) "Let's start another game right now." Steve replied (something like) "Yeah Josh, let me just get my other copy of Agricola out."
**In a similar vein, I would have played with the preset start worlds for Race for the Galaxy had we first played with five or less players. However, there was no preset game rules established for when a sixth player is added (via the second expansion).
***Josh mentioned afterward how going first is critical during the first few rounds, and it didn't particularly help that I went last. I agree, and by the time I picked up certain resources, it was too late.

[20091229 3:45 AM][20211222 Edit]
20091229 Comment:
There was no clarification on the capacity powers of a stable, but it wasn't a big deal...*

*20110115: There can be multiple stables in a pasture (but only one per farmyard space) and the multipliers stack (see "A Short List on Game Mistakes" section below for the exact wording in the rulebook). Thus a pasture with three spaces (a base of 6 animals) and two stables (each in their own space) can hold 24 animals (6 x 2 x 2). Though a capacity of 8 animals is more than enough, and that can easily be achieved by a pasture with two spaces and one stable. [20211227 Edit]

We started play at about 8:38 PM, and ended the game with scoring at around 11:13 PM. Thus we approximately played for 2 hours 35 minutes. Steve notes that this is pretty good for introducing a new player.

As mentioned in my previous entry, I wanted a shorter game and I got it (in part because there were only four instead of five players). With that being said, I think the game would be more fun if it were even shorter.

-1 01 -1 04 Fields
01 02 03 02 Pastures
-1 -1 01 04 Grain
-1 01 -1 02 Vegetables
01 01 04 -1 Sheep
01 01 02 01 Wild boar
03 01 01 04 Cattle
-7 -6 -1 -2 Unused spaces
01 00 01 01 Fenced stables
00 00 03 04 Clay hut rooms
12 10 00 00 Stone house rooms
09 15 09 12 Family members
01 10 07 03 Points for cards
00 00 08 00 Bonus points
19 35 37 34 Total

[20211222 Edit]
I thought it was a good idea to play a game that lasted up until the first harvest prior to playing the game for reals. This pre-game lasted from about 10 to 10:30 PM. While it wasn't all encompassing, since a new player doesn't completely realize what elements are critical to the final score until after the first game, it seemed helpful. It seemed to validate my the general hypothesis from my first entry (20091228): it is better to sacrifice 30 minutes with a pre-game than to add an hour to a main game, which won't be as fun for those who don't understand what's going on.

My Board (20100105)

On a different note, Daniel and Stephanie created farms that were slightly skewed under the game's current scoring. If Michael was here, he would have mentioned that the game praises the balanced player over the specialized player.

On winning:
I lucked out as Phuong played the card that benefited me last time: most occupations gets a bonus 3 points. Otherwise I would have only tied with Steve. With that being said, I made at least two mistakes during the game. The first and bigger mistake was in regards to an option of making a major improvement upon renovating. I forgot this, and so I made a minor improvement which I didn't really need. That resulted in a wasted turn during the next round to make a major improvement which I needed. The second and smaller mistake was in regards to the last one or two rounds. I used those rounds were carefully calculated in terms of animals, but I realized it might have been better to have built one stable in the pasture (for a point) and then later plowed and sowed for another field and an extra vegetable (for another two points). As a result, I would have gained three points at the cost of one point (having one less cattle). I would keep three cattle in the stable, all the sheep in the fenced pasture, and a boar in the house. Had I not had two turns taken away from Steve's occupation (on rounds 10 and 12 all players except for Steve don't get to use their kids) I would have been able to get 3 more wood, and build 3 fences, to separate my three by three into a three by two and three by one. I'd have the three by one close off the tile with the stable.

On pace of the game:
I made fairly quick moves most of the time, sometimes before Stephanie was even done collecting goods or placing her improvements and/or occupations. However, sometimes I would think a strategy through, especially during the first three or four actions when I'm still analyzing my cards.

Leaving room for expansion: I had decided early that I was only going to have three stone rooms, because of the cards I had. However, at the end of the game there was unexpectedly a lot of clay. This could have used one of my unplayed cards. It made me realize that my choice of stable position was bad. It would have been better if I had placed my first stable next to the house. So that if I should play a three by three pasture, it wouldn't be next to the house, which in turn would leave it possible to expand the house.

Possible general strategy for the early game:
Subject to modification depending on your improvements and/or occupations. Round 1: plow, grain. Round 2 or 3 or 4: sow, wood, reed, build room and stable. Round 4: starting player. End of round 4, harvest one grain. Round 5: growth. Round 6: plow, sow, clay, fireplace. Round 7: wood, fence, two sheep, two boar, two cattle.

Theory crafting fences and pastures (with twelve or thirteen fences):
With twelve fences, one can make a two-by-two "window" (figure 1). However, that would leave eleven whole spaces to be filled (by the house, etc.). As such, a three-by-two split in half is likely more practical (figure 2). Of course, one can use just use twelve fences to build a large three-by-three (figure 3).
   - -  Fig.  /   - - -  Fig.  /   - - -  Fig.
  | | |  1    /  |     |  2    /  |     |  3
   - -        /   - - -        /  
  | | |       /  |     |       /  |     |
   - -        /   - - -        /  
              /                /  |     |
              /                /   - - -
Theory crafting fences and pastures (with fifteen fences):
[Content removed. The removed content involved a misinterpretation of rules. Furthermore, a newer analysis has been presented below under the entry for 20110114]

Original score sheet for 20100105.

02 -1 01 03 01 Fields
03 01 01 01 01 Pastures
01 01 01 04 -1 Grain
02 02 01 -1 -1 Vegetables
02 03 -1 02 -1 Sheep
03 01 01 01 -1 Wild boar
-1 03 03 01 -1 Cattle
-1 00 00 -3 -8 Unused spaces
00 00 01 01 00 Fenced stables
03 00 00 00 00 Clay hut rooms
00 06 00 08 06 Stone house rooms
09 12 12 12 09 Family members
01 04 05 05 05 Points for cards
00 06 07 01 05 Bonus points
24 38 32 35 14 Total

[20100105][20211222 Edit]
Officially I got 3 bonus points, but soon after I made my move, I wanted to change the resource I took from the space I chose. While it doesn't change who wins, I would have tied with second (I think the unofficial change was accepted by players who were paying attention). Regardless, Steve wins.

While I managed to get a non-negative score for every scoring section with only two family members, I'm fairly certain that among competent players, one absolutely must have at least three family members (and perhaps the more common requirement will be four family members). The first extra family member is a 50% increase in actions. Further adding a second extra family member is then a 33% increase in actions. While the food requirements go up, the actions should pay for themselves in the long run.

01 01 -1 01 04 Fields
03 02 02 -1 -1 Pastures
-1 04 -1 01 04 Grain
02 02 -1 -1 04 Vegetables
01 01 01 01 01 Sheep
02 04 -1 01 -1 Wild boar
-1 04 02 -1 02 Cattle
-4 00 -2 -5 -2 Unused spaces
00 02 01 00 00 Fenced stables
00 00 04 00 00 Clay hut rooms
10 00 00 08 06 Stone house rooms
15 06 12 09 12 Family members
01 02 04 02 07 Points for cards
03 04 00 00 07 Bonus points
32 32 18 15 43 Total

[20100117][20211226 Edit]
A Short List of Common Mistakes:
For a more comprehensive summary, see this thread on BoardGameGeek regarding common mistakes made while playing Agricola.

Mistake regarding stables:
We misunderstood the rules regarding stables. The rulebook says the following:
Stables – A player can only have one stable on any farmyard space, but can have two or more stables in a pasture - each stable doubles the capacity again. A fenced stable doubles the capacity of the entire pasture (not just the farmyard space it is on). An unfenced stable can be fenced later. When scoring, a farmyard square with just a stable is considered occupied, which allows a player to avoid the -1 penalty for an empty space (an unfenced stable is not worth any positive points, however). Also during scoring, one pasture is a single fenced in area, regardless of the number of farmyard squares in the pasture.

Fences rule:
This is an important rule which we didn't violate, but weren't aware of and probably would have violated eventually:
Fences may only be built if they will create a fully enclosed pasture, with fences on all sides. The edge of the farmyard board, stables, fields and rooms do not count as fences.

Adjacency rule (also applies to pastures):
I can't remember if this came up, but the following seems like an easy rule to miss:
Like rooms and fields, all of a player's pastures must be orthogonally adjacent. If a player has already built pastures, any new pastures must border the existing ones.

Caveat to Fences and Adjacency:
A player may be inclined to put a field or a room inside a pasture, but the following rule(s) would prevent that, and other odd behavior:
Fields and rooms may not be completely surrounded with a fence. You may subdivide an existing pasture by adding a fence or fences. Enclosed farmyard spaces are considered to be used (See Scoring).

[20100123][20211227 Edit]
20100211 Comment:
Thus far, I like to use my 15 wood pieces to form a 3x3 pasture broken into a 1x3 and a 2x3 pasture. However, I think I'll try switching to just a a 2x3 pasture broken into three 2x1 pastures. This setup is easier to build (i.e., faster to set up) and occupies three less spaces. I have since expanded on this analysis below (under 20110114 Pasture Analysis).

[20110114 Edit][20211227 Edit]
Today my friends and I played the game with a couple of changes: Through the Seasons expansion, used the I-deck, and implemented drafting.

Through the Seasons:
The Through the Seasons expansion was a fun little addition to the game. After the first play through with this, you sort of understand how you should plan for things in advance, more or less taking the seasons into account.

This deck is fun, though it requires paying attention. I think next time I'd opt for the basic deck.
It's much harder for me to draft having played the game less.

My End Game Mistake:
I should have plowed a field, takes away a minus and gives one, that's +2.

My Board (20100529)

01 01 03 04 Fields
03 01 04 04 Pastures
01 -1 04 03 Grain
01 04 03 04 Vegetables
02 -1 02 02 Sheep
03 03 02 01 Wild boar
04 -1 03 01 Cattle
-4 -4 00 -2 Unused spaces
02 00 01 00 Fenced stables
02 00 00 04 Clay hut rooms
00 00 10 00 Stone house rooms
09 15 15 12 Family members
01 07 05 12 Points for cards
00 03 04 09 Bonus points
25 27 56 54 Total

[20100531][20160821 Edit]

While I often record and create strategies for the games I play within this blog, I seldom remember to read them prior to each new game. Yesterday, however, I opened my copy of Agricola, which had been unused for at least a semester, and perused my old blog posts. After reading them, I formed the following goals for this game: (1) make babies and (2) make a fireplace.

Unfortunately, I forgot to remove the 3+ and 4+ occupation cards. As a result, Ryan found some in his hand after we started the game. We decided we would just exchange them. Several turns later, I learned that I also had some 3+ and 4+ occupation cards in my hand! While they were crucial to my strategy and my reason for getting sheep, I went ahead and traded them in for 1+ occupation cards.

My Board (20110114)

Note that I previously thought that only one stable can be in a pasture. The rules actually allow for multiple stables in a pasture, but there can only be at most one stable per farmyard space. However, as I mentioned in a previous post, it is rare to need more than a capacity of eight in a farmyard, which can simply be accomplished by one stable on a pasture with two farmyard spaces. A more in-depth analysis follows.

Ryan observed that wood is good early game and stone is good late game. And that six wood is a lot in this game. So one shouldn't underestimate the opportunity of acquiring six wood. To that I would say three reed is also a lot. Four would be pushing it.

[20110115][20160821 Edit][20211226 Edit]
Ryan's Board (20110114)

20110114 Pasture Analysis:
Some comments were made in regard to pasture analysis on 20100117, but this analysis should be slightly better.

In order to get up and running, one could start with a two-by-one early game with a stable for sheep (figure 1). At some point later, one can build a two-by-two adjacent to the two-by-one (figure 2). This would use twelve fences and occupy six spaces. Depending on the game, one has the option of using the last three fences to branch out with a one-by-one, or splitting the current two-by-two pasture into two one-by-two pastures. Thus we have capacity for 20 animals with the first option (2 stables, 7 spaces, 15 fences; figure 3a) or 20 animals with the second options (2 stables, 6 spaces, and 14 fences; figure 3b).

A lower capacity setup for 16 animals can be achieved with 2 stables and 13 fences while occupying 6 spaces (figure 3c) which has the advantage of being easier to build. Build two one-by-ones each with a stable and later build the the two-by-two.

In any case, the most flexible component appears to be a two-by-one pasture with a stable.

        Fig.  /  8- -  Fig.  /  8- -  Fig.  /  4- -  Fig.  /  8- -   Fig.
         1    /  |   |  2    /  |   |  3a   /  |   |  3b   /  |   |   3c
              /              /              /  8- -        /   
              /  |   |       /  |   |       /  |S  |       /  |   |
  8- -        /  8- -        /  8- -4-      /  8- -        /  4-4-
  |S  |       /  |S  |       /  |S  |S|     /  |S  |       /  |S|S|
   - -        /   - -        /   - - -      /   - -        /   - -
[20110115][20160821 Edit][20211226 Edit]

It's interesting to be a new player one day, and then the next day see how much knowledge you've gained just from one game. For example, with Agricola, a player can't possibly imagine what resources are valuable from the rules alone. Even if it's described, the player would have no reason to believe the description. Part of the complexity is the player dynamic and the cards available.

In any case, the next time I introduce the game to new players, I'll advise that they focus on using their first game as a learning opportunity, and that they'll know what to prioritize after their first game.

On a somewhat different note, I've considered implementing an adaptive time limit which is based on the number of wins and games played. The time limits would be scaled so that the average player gets up to 30 minutes. Thus perhaps in a two-player game between someone who has won a lot and a new player, the players would be allotted 20 and 40 minutes, respectively. I haven't played enough to know if this is reasonable, but it's just an example. I feel like this can make it more fun for both the experienced player and the beginning player. The experienced player gets a challenge out of working in a restricted time frame and the beginner feels more relaxed and gets more out of his/her first couple games.

[20211227 Edit]
20211227 Comment:
I was watching a four-player match between four players where each player was alloted fifteen and a half minutes (all clocks are paused at the start of a new round when resources are replenished and a new action card is revealed).
Played 20091228 1600-2038PST 4hr38min Michael (48) Steve (28) Josh (36) Kevin (23) Me (0). Michael first. Michael won.
Played 20100101 2038-2313PST 2hr35min Steve (34) Michael (35) Phuong (19) Me (37). Phuong first. I won.
Played 20100105 2300-2515PST 2hr15min Phuong (32) Steve (35) Daniel (14) Stephanie (24) Me (38). Stephanie first. I won.
Played 20100117 Stephanie (18) Daniel (15) Steve (43) Josh (32) Me (31/32). ? first. Steve won.
Played 20100529 Steve Br(56) Josh Gr(54) Stephanie Ye(27) Me Bl(25). Stephanie first. Steve won. [Through the Seasons][I-deck][Drafting]
Played 20110114 2027-2322EST 2hr55min Ryan (40) Me (50). Me first. I won. [E-deck]
Played 20110115 Mark Ryan JaiUng Me. Ryan first. Ryan and I tied. [E-deck]

Relevant Links:
Agricola (
Agricola Rule Book (Z-Man Games Website)

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