Thursday, January 23, 2014

Agricola Week, Part Two

Last time, I introduced the German-style board game Agricola, which has rapidly become one of my favorite board games of all time. The reason for this, however, might surprise you. It's not because of the strategy and depth of the game, although these elements are certainly strong. It's not even the replayability of the game, although here too Agricola shines with over 300 different cards that can be played over the lifetime of the game. No, for me, what makes this such a remarkable game is the value one gets from just purchasing the base game.

It has become customary among board games of this type to include only the basic game in your initial purchase, and then make a host of expansions or accessories to fill out the experience or to provide new life once you've played it several dozen times. And while apparently such expansions do exist for Agricola, the need for them seems much less. Why?

Agricola comes with two expansions and two variants, all in the basic game.

As I mentioned last time, the minor improvements and occupations are divided into three different decks: E, which is the basic game; I, which is for a more interactive (and thus more competitive) game; and K, which is for a more complex game. While there is some similarity between these three decks, just choosing which of the three decks you wish to play with dramatically alters the way the game plays out. And since each player only gets dealt 14 of these cards each game, it will take several games with a single deck before you even see all of the cards, much less the various beneficial combinations of them.

And then there's the two variants. The first is what they term the Family Game, which is simply played without one of the three decks at all and involves a game board with more friendly and less competitive options. The second is the solo variant, which can be played either a single game or as an ongoing series of games, in which a single occupation from the previous game carries over to the next one in the series and each time requires you to achieve an increasing number of points to continue the series.

I have played a great deal of the Solo Series variant, and I have been very impressed by how this is integrated into the design of the cards. Certain cards with very difficult requirements for a single game, suddenly become much more accessible when your number of occupations grows over time. You can therefore pull off combinations that would be impossible in the regular game, making the solo experience all the more interesting.

I don't know of any other board game where you get that level of value and replayability right out of the original game box. That alone makes this Agricola a gem among board games.

I will wrap up Agricola week with a post on my favorite way to play this great game. See you then.

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