Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Uwe Rosenberg

Lookout Games, Z-Man Games

No. of players:

International Gamers Awards

Deutscher Spiele Preis

Spiel des Jahres
Special Award Complex Game 2008



G@mebox author Doug Adams writes about the game :

Agricola is a boardgame for one to five players, released at Essen 2007 by Lookout Games. The game has since been released in an English edition by Z-Man Games. The game has become enormously popular, taking out several prestigous game awards during 2008.

Agricola is a game themed on medieval farming. Players are each presented with an identical small plot of land, complete with a two room wooden hut, and thirteen spaces of undeveloped farmland. The players begin with two family member pieces, which they must use to develop their farm in such a way to score more victory points than their opponents.


There are several ways to develop your farm in Agricola. A good start is to begin ploughing fields and sowing crops of grain. Later in the game, vegetables can also be sown - both good sources of food and victory points. Farms can also be developed by building fenced pastures - these house livestock that become available during the game, and again, a good source of victory points and nutrition!

Your wooden two-room house can be extended into something larger, and renovated into a clay or stone house later in the game. Large, renovated houses are a good source of points at the end of the game.


Finally, you can hire local labour, and purchase improvements, to help out on the farm. These are the cards provided in the game; if used wisely they can accelerate your farm's development, and provide bonus victory points for you during the final tally.

Agricola comes packaged in an unassuming, compact "bookcase" style game box. However, when you first pick it up, you can't help but be impressed with the mass of the game. The box is full to the brim, literally stuffed with components. The main sources of the weight are the game boards - nine of these - and over 300 cards that are used during the game.


The rest of the components consist of a few sheets of punch out cardboard pieces - room tiles, ploughed fields, scoring aids, food markers, and so on. There is also a sizeable bag of wooden pieces representing the goods and animals that appear in the game. Be aware, some editions of the game have wooden shaped animals, and other editions have the animals represented by cubes - don't worry, cubes taste the same and stack easier.


The popularity of Agricola has seen the release of additional items to add to the game. Wooden animals, a Z-deck, an X-deck (aliens!), stickers for the family disks, and so on. I'm finishing this review on day two of Essen 2008, and it sounds as if there are wooden vegetables and more extras being released. It's all a bit of a gimmick, but nice to have if you can get them. I fear that if you end up with all the extras, you won't get the lid back on the box.

Agricola has two ways to play it. The family game and the standard game. The only difference is the family game doesn't use most of the cards. It's a good idea for the first game or two to play the family game, as having a hand of cards to process ramps up the complexity, and can be overwhelming for beginners.

Agricola is an action selection game, a style of game that has become very popular. Players take turns to place one of their family disks onto the main game board, selecting and locking that particular action for that turn. The more family members you have, the more actions you get each turn, and the more you can accomplish during the game. It is the competition between the players for these action spaces that make Agricola such a tense and angst filled game.

The game is played over fourteen turns, with a new type of action becoming available each turn. This is a nice feature, and gives the game a sense of growth and tempo. Early on, you're concentrating on getting the house extended, the fields ploughed, and the pastures fenced. During the mid-game, you're growing your family, vegetables, and breeding livestock. During the end game you're finishing off the renovations for the final scoring.


Actions in Agricola fall into three broad categories. One type of action gives you the stuff on that space - wood, grain, stone, sheep, reeds, and so on. Most of these spaces accumulate the resources from turn to turn, making them increasingly attractive. Why take 3 wood this turn when it will be 6 wood next turn? Well, another player is bound to grab it before it becomes 6 wood! Resources are stockpiled in front of you to use in future building projects, while animals go onto the farm or into the cooking pot for food.

Another type of action that can be claimed by a family member is the ploughing and sowing actions. Ploughing prepares a field for growing crops. Sowing actually plants the crops, giving one or two extra back depending upon what you're growing. Sowing and growing crops is important both for the victory points at the end of the game, and as a source of food for your family. Yes, the family must be fed.

Livestock, vegetables and grain can be converted into food. Grain can only be baked, requiring a baking action as well as some improvement (i.e. an oven) to bake the bread in. The rest of the food sources can simply be tossed into a pot at any point during the game and converted into food. Food is never far from your thoughts playing this game.

Players can also take construction actions - extending the house in preparations for new family members, renovating the house into clay or stone. Stables can also be constructed, and fences built to pen livestock. All of these actions require the raw materials to be already owned - wood, clay, stone, etc. Construction actions develop your empty farm spaces, or make your house more lucrative during the final scoring.

Some actions provide food for the players - the pond, day labourer and travelling players. These provide food each turn. The pond even accumulates food until it becomes too tempting to not take it. It can help tide over a food shortage in times of famine.

The action players should begin planning for early in the game is the family growth action. Until very late in the game, this requires the rooms being added to the family house before the new child enters the game. A new family member gives players some much needed child labour on the farm in the form of a third (then fourth and possibly fifth) family disk. This equates to extra actions, which means more work done developing the farm. Family members are much needed victory points at the end of the game, yet... they must be fed.

Feeding your family is something that has to be done during "harvest". Harvest occurs every three or so turns, however, it comes around faster and faster as the game progresses. During harvest, every family member has to be fed. Failure to provide enough food awards the player penalty "Begging" cards that deduct points at the end of the game. Your livestock get to breed during harvest, adding an additional sheep, boar or cattle providing you have at least two of them present on your farm. Any ploughed fields that have been sown also reap one grain or vegetable during harvest.


A game of Agricola ends after fourteen anxious turns of farming. My wife and I play two player games in around 45 minutes, however we tend to play fast. I think 30 minutes per player is a good estimate for how long a game of Agricola will take ... with cards.

To win Agricola, you must score more victory points than your opponents. Points are gained by developing your plot of land, acquiring a bountiful supply of livestock and produce, and by purchasing improvement cards. Points are lost by neglecting certain aspects of your farm - for example, undeveloped spaces at the end of the game are a deducted point each. Also, if you don't have at least one cattle, sheep and boar in your farm at the end of the game, you'll lose a point for each missing type of livestock. This forces players into competition for the meagre resources on offer, and increases the angst and tension of the game play.

Players who play the standard game begin with a hand of fourteen cards. These cards come from the approximately 300 provided in the game - allowing for a lot of variety! The cards the players receive are theirs for the game, and they have the option to play none, one, two ... or all of them during the game. The cards are divided into minor improvements and occupations. Occupations are helpful persons whom you employ to aid you in some way on the farm, while improvements are items that do much the same thing. Action spaces on the board allow you to get these cards into play. Weighing up the time and effort taken to get a card into play against the potential payback that card provides is a crucial decision player’s face.

The game scales well from 1 to 5 players. Solitaire games are played in a series, where you can roll over occupation and improvement cards into your next game, trying to increase your score. The games from 2 to 5 players are all quite different, as extra action spaces become available as the number of players increases. This is a simple solution which works well.

So what is Agricola like? Well, the theming is terrific, along with the presentation. The person who did the art for the game must have gone mad providing art for all the components and the cards. Game play... well, you don't really feel like a farmer - the game is too intense for that. The game is so tightly designed that players feel under genuine pressure to get their farm up and humming, the family fed every harvest, all inside 14 turns. On top of that, you have opponents all trying to do what you're doing, and taking the actions you want to take, right when you were about to claim it.

Agricola is an ambitious game, and the end result is very good. However, it's not a game I particularly enjoy, even if I do admire it. It's big, even two player games take a lot of table space. It takes a while to prepare to play, and to pack it away after the game. The game play is intense, but not that much fun. My wife summed it up by saying it "feels like work". We both enjoy these growth games, but this is so full of anguish that we never actually reach a plateau of enjoying the game before it ends. It's an hour of taut, angst filled game play as you strive to finish your farm. Prioritize your actions, react when your plans are interfered with... there just isn't enough time for fun. When you look at the game from that angle, it's not really like farming at all, just a sprawling grab at a common pool of resources.

An excellent, award winning game. I will happily play it, but I will rarely suggest playing it.

[Gamebox Index]

Google Custom Search

Impressum / Contact Info / Disclaimer


Copyright © 2008 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany