When you live in Iowa for the majority of your life, you tend to have an appreciation for anything relating to farming. There are jokes that the only entertainment options in Iowa are cow tipping or tractor pulls. There is some truth to that… there really isn’t much to do here.
So we play games a lot. Not just because it’s something to do, but because we enjoy it and it provides opportunities for us to bond with friends and families. When we find one that involves farming, it just seems… like Iowa. One of the most tried and true farm-themed games on the market is Agricola from Mayfair Games. Players work to build up their homes, families and farms in a 17th century setting.
Agricola (which is Latin for farmer) accommodates up to 4 players, each focusing on their own individual game boards. At the same time, there is a shared community board filled with cards and supplies that allow the players to make various improvements to their piece of the world.
Actions are taken over the course of six stages that are divided into 14 rounds. Each round is broken down into a sequence of four phases. It sounds (and looks) complicated, but if you break it down into the various sections and options, it isn’t quite so overwhelming. So let’s do that.
The goal of each player is to improve their home, gain livestock and cultivate fields. At the end of the game, players are penalized for unused and inefficient portions of their property. For the most part you can do whatever you want with your property as long as you cover all the basics.
Just like in real life, farmers need farmhands to take care of their crops, their fields and their animals. As someone who grew up with farmer friends, I can attest to the fact that children of farmers have chores from birth. Care to guess how you get new farmhands in Agricola?. That’s right… family. Of course, a larger family means more mouths to feed and the need for a larger home. All these actions intermingle throughout the course of the game. More farmhands means players can take more actions but it also means they need to add more rooms onto their home and plan accordingly to feed them. It’s a balancing act. Simple enough, right?
Farmers also can raise livestock including sheep, wild board and cattle. It’s important to diversify the creatures, but each requires their own field. When you’re driving along the road, you don’t see the pigs and the cows in the same field. You don’t in Agricola either. What keeps them in their place? Fences. If you want livestock, you need to prepare your field with fences or stables which are created using goods acquired from the supply pool. These are all actions that can be taken by the farmer and his people. When you own at least two of any type of animal, you can breed them to use later as food or for end game scoring.
We need food, too! Farmers can grow grain and vegetables that can be used to seed other fields or as food for the family. Of course, you can’t just toss seeds on the ground and hope they grow. It requires that fields be plowed and prepared, THEN the seeds can be sowed and harvested.
There are many, many actions to choose from on a turn. These include occupations and traveling, upgrading buildings and making improvements or renovations. It may sound like I’m oversimplifying the game, but I want to stress how simple the concept is if you don’t let all the cards and pieces overwhelm you.
We have played several Mayfair Games over the years and continue to enjoy hearing about new releases. You can pick up a copy of Agricola on Amazon or direct from their website. You can also expand your game to accommodate 5-6 players or grab the Agricola Family Edition. See what other games they are cultivating by checking out their updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Have you ever been to a real farm?