Agricola makes a smooth transition into the app world with a strong port.
# of Players
1 - 5
Agricola is the classic worker placement game by one of the biggest names in board game design, Uwe Rosenberg, whose games make up 10% of the top 50 on Board Game Geek. In many ways Agricola is the quintessential heavy Euro. It’s hard to tell whether the stereotypes or Agricola came first, but it checks many of the boxes: worker placement, open-ended, unforgiving scoring, farming, generic cubes of various colors, point salad, etc… Agricola is a worker placement game that plays 1-5 players in about 30-45 minutes depending on player count. The game plays out over 14 rounds which take place over six stages, at the end of the last round/stage, points are tallied, and deducted, and the player with the most wins.
There is a lot going on in Agricola, I won’t begin to explain all of the various options. On a turn, the player chooses which actions their workers will take for that turn. These range from collecting materials, livestock, and food to building rooms, improvements, fields, fences, or stables to expand/improve their home. Players can also play special occupation and minor improvement cards which are dealt up front and provide unique abilities to the player who uses them. The ultimate goal is to build your little farm engine up enough to make it easy to produce in the later rounds which will result in big points at the end of the game.
At the end of each of the six stages you must feed all members of your family, this is a major source of tension in the game. If you cannot feed them, you receive a “begging” card which deducts three points from you at the end of the game. To avoid this, you can plow and sow your fields and breed livestock to feed yourselves, or gather food throughout the stage. There are a few key major improvements which allow you to more efficiently convert your supplies to food.
Being a worker placement, it is no surprise that the primary challenge in the game is that you simply can’t do everything you want. This is taken to a whole new level versus lighter worker placement games. If you are playing solo you have a decent shot to carry out a plan, but playing against others you will frequently see your plans ruined by somebody taking the action(s) you were targeting. It is either infuriating or the genius behind this game, depending on how you view it. As an added bonus, the game slowly reveals actions over time so you can’t immediately do all of the possible actions. Many actions are drawn randomly within their stage so even experienced players who know what is coming don’t know for certain exactly when it is coming. Certain actions also build up supplies over time if they go unused, so they become more enticing if gone unused.
Agricola truly is the stereotypical (or the reason for the stereotypes) heavy Euro. It is a brain burner from beginning to end. Part of the appeal of the game is that no single elements of the game are difficult to explain, but presented with the vast array of choices,no clear path to victory, and unforgiving scoring, the game is truly daunting. There are many opportunities for negative scoring in this game and the challenge of ending up with a high point total will likely seem unreachable to new players. The game demands repeated plays to learn the intricacies, but it also rewards them with a deep, challenging game.
The Agricola app is a near perfect representation of the physical game, with online play added. There aren’t any bells or whistles to be found here, so the enjoyment of this app is exclusively tied to how you feel about the underlying game.
Learning how to play
Land agent occupation card
Barrier to Entry
The tutorial in Agricola is one of the most detailed we have seen and that is definitely necessary. It plays out over five introductory tutorials which each present specific pieces of the rules. The Basic Game tutorial then goes over how a game works interacting with opponents. Finally, the Advanced Player's tutorial is meant for those who are familiar with the game rules but need to learn the app interface and controls.
A rulebook is also available via settings menu. The rulebook provides the details you would expect for gameplay rules and also adds an explanation of online play. One complaint under this section is that there are things in the menu/settings that simply aren't ever explained anywhere. For example, you can choose to select a “Draft” option when creating a game. As far as I can tell, nowhere in this app does it explain what this means. This option allows players to choose their own occupations and minor improvements at the start of the game by a turn-by-turn draft from all of the available cards. This is a common variant that experienced Agricola players use and would immediately understand, but if you are new to the game it is an annoyance that there is no explanation.
Overall, I'm fairly certain new players will be wildly confused the first time they start a real game, even with the strong tutorial. I don’t think that is avoidable with a game like this, but they certainly put forth a strong effort to get the basics across. New players will know how to do most everything, but won’t know why they should choose one action over another.
Look and Feel
The app stays very true to the source material in terms of graphics. The cartoony drawings are carried over and you can even see the exact same cards if you click on actions a couple of times. The game does a lot visually to help out new players. The action spaces default to just show a small sign representing what the action is, but a simple tap of the “?” button in the corner swaps those signs with a text description. Double click those and you get the full card from the physical game. There is almost nothing in the game you can’t click on to get more information.
The controls of the app are good. I have a little trouble getting my fences in the right spot sometimes, but that is a minor complaint. Selection actions, drag-and-drop, and everything else works how you would want it to.
Agricola features online play for 2-5 players. Games have timeouts selected which can be as small as thirty minutes to provide essentially a real-time game, or as long as 45 days for an asynchronous experience. Online games can be a Family game (no occupations or minor improvements) or choose any or all of the decks purchased as expansions. If it isn’t a family game, you can select how the cards are distributed at the start of the game. All players start online play with a rating of 1500 which serves as the online ranking system as that number goes up or down with wins and losses.
Agricola also features a local pass-and-play mode which also allows you to add AI opponents.
Online Agricola is a straightforward experience and there’s nothing wrong with that. The player base remains active despite the age of the app, you will be able to find games if you are considering jumping in.
Single player mode is played either in a standard game versus AI or in Solo Series. The standard game allows you to choose how many AI players, which expansion deck(s) to use, and how the occupations and minor improvements are chosen: random, 10-3, or draft. Draft was discussed earlier and random is simply a random dealing of seven each. 10-3 means you are dealt ten of each of the two types and get to discard down to seven. The AI bots are broken into three difficulty levels: Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master. The AI opponents are strong. While learning, Appreciate will provide a fun challenge and Journeyman/Master remain tough as your familiarity with the game grows.
The Solo Series is a variation on the game which is included in the physical game rulebook. It sets up a series of solo games where each game you much improve on the score from the last to continue playing, and some aspects of your previous game carry over to the next. The goal of the Solo Series is to keep playing the Solo Series for a long as possible. The rules have some small variations which change things up a little bit, but for the most part the Solo Series is a way to test out your Agricola engine building optimization skills. The initial goal of 50 points might seem impossible at first, but keep playing and it will move from “impossible” to simply “really difficult.” That there is no AI involved means Solo Series will remain a source of solo fun for as long as you want, you can always try to extend your longest series.
Choosing an action
Setting up an AI Game
Online Game Lobby
Agricola features three decks available as in-app purchases: K (Komplex), I (Interactive), and G (Gamer). A small gripe is that nowhere in the In-App Store are these expansions explained. The K deck is, as expected, more complex than the base deck (referred to as the E deck). The I deck has cards which encourage more interactivity among players. The G deck doesn’t have a specific targeted purpose, but was rather developed to fill in the gaps left after the E, K, and I decks had been released. Most players will recommend using the G deck mixed in with the others rather than as a standalone, and the app does allow this.
Absent from the app is the largest expansion for Agricola, Farmers of the Moor. This expansion provides many notable additions to the base game and is a bit of a disappointment that it isn’t available in the app. There have also been a number of other decks released which aren’t available, included some bizarre additions such as the X deck which adds alien encounters to the game. None of these additional decks are available as in-app purchases, which isn’t a big deal, we just wanted to make sure to point out that there exists an alien-based expansion for this game.
The Wrap Up
Agricola is a faithful port of the physical game. The game is beloved for its depth and open-endedness, and loathed (okay, secretly loved) for its unforgiving nature. The app presents the game in a faithful manner but doesn’t expand on it in any way. As such, the enjoyment one will get out of this game is 100% tied to how much they enjoy the underlying game. If you enjoy Agricola, the app provides a provides a smooth experience to allow you to play it as frequently as you would like. If you find the game unbearable, the app isn’t going to change your opinion.