Hey, Robert here!
Some years ago, a board game called Agricola took the board game world by storm. A quiet storm, sure. The kind of storm that happens in places like Iowa, maybe, where farms are. Actually, I think Iowa might be tornado-territory, and those aren’t quiet storms at all. If they’re even storms. This is really getting us nowhere.
Let’s just say that Agricola, a board game about farming, was a pretty big deal for a while back there. And then some people soured on it a little bit, as other games launched that developed, streamlined and experimented with Agricola’s core gameplay. But Agricola is back, re-printed, and this time broken up a little bit to create a new product – “Agricola: Family Edition”.
Yes, this version of Agricola is simplified, with all the variation and customisation of the original Agricola stripped out. Does that mean we’re left with a weaker version of the game? Well, not really. What we’re actually left with is a very clever, very attractive and very pleasant version of Agricola that is genuinely good for all ages. The game is still about farming, and still very focused on feeding your family. Yes, all the stress and worry about going hungry is intact in this version of the game, and it’s still going to be the one thing that might turn people off. Whatever strategy you choose to pursue in this game, making sure that there is food on the table for your family is going to be a pressing concern at all times. At all times. And some people just don’t like that pressure. Some people just want to make their cute sheep have babies!
Okay, quick primer for anyone who has no idea what Agricola is, or what I’m talking about. In Agricola you have a couple of little workers who stay in a farmhouse. You take turns placing one of these workers out onto a cute board that displays various actions. Place a worker in one space and she might plow a field – you take a newly plowed field tile and place it in front of you, attached to your expanding farm. Or another worker might go and collect wood. You grab some wood from the stockpile and keep it in your area. As the game develops, new actions open up, and you expand, expand, expand. You get more animals, use wood and stone to build firepits, use those firepits to cook animals. You redecorate your farmhouse. You build stables. You build windmills and pottery sheds. And the game accelerates towards a finish, with you growing your farm, feeding your people, breeding lots of animals and growing lots of veggies.
I like this version of Agricola very much. It plays well with kids, because there are never too many actions to choose from at any one time. It’s also the easiest version of this type of game to teach, because everything on that brand new central board is very self-explanatory. The scoring is simplified too – there are no brutal penalties for breeding or growing too little stuff, just rewards for making big families of cows and giant bundles of wheat. It’s a version of Agricola that everyone can play, and isn’t daunting for one second.
And yet the pressure to feed is still there. And so it’s still a strangely stressful game. It’s a game where your little people can go hungry because you didn’t catch enough fish, and who really wants to deal with that stress too often? Familiarity with the game will, of course, make feeding your family a little easier – you soon get to know how to get a good engine up and running. But those first few games? new players are going to see their farmers starve, and that might knock them straight out of the running.
Also – I’ve noticed that kids sometimes don’t really get along with the fact that one of the easiest paths to feeding your family (and doing well at the game) is cooking your wee animals. It’s understandable, right? The kids have spent all this time collecting cute little sheep and piggies and now they have to put them in an oven? It creates an interesting dilemma for kids who play the game, and honestly – it really gets them thinking about the moral implications of using animals for food. Bear that in mind before you pick up the game if you think that your kids might struggle with these elements.
But all in all? Agricola: Family Edition is a lovely thing, and it’s the version of Agricola that I’ll be hanging onto. And now I have to give it a score, because the boss says we’re doing that now…