Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Agricola solo

Agricola has solo rules, and I decided to give it a try. You can play a solo campaign, consisting of 8 games. In each game there is a target score and you must meet this target. For every 2 points by which you exceed the target, you get 1 free food for the next game. Also for each game you can "freeze" one of your Occupations played in that game, to become a free and permanent Occupation from the next game onwards. One big difference is adults eat 3 food instead of 2 when harvests come. Also the 3 wood space only gets 2 wood every round. Other than that the rules are mostly the same as the 2-player game.

I completed one campaign. I didn't quite like it. I don't think I'll play another solo game again. Without competition, it becomes a game of micro-planning - you plan a few turns ahead when to take what goods, or when to take which actions. The 3-food requirement is tough at the earlier stages of the game, but once you build up your food engine, the game becomes too easy (or someone please point out if I played wrong). You can max out almost everything - 5 family members, stone house with 5 rooms, 5 fields, 4 vegetables, 8 grain, 8 sheep, etc etc. It becomes an exercise in squeezing out every single point you can from the game system. Reviewers of Agricola say that it is good because you can't have everything, that the game ends before you can do all that you want to do. Having played a solo campaign, I feel this deeply. When you can do almost everything, and have to do bean-counting to squeeze out that one more Minor Improvement worth 1 point, it isn't very fun or tense anymore.

The variety in the Minor Improvements and Occupations helps to make it tolerable. Having some free Occupations at the start of the game is fun and helps a lot. I had Wet Nurse from Game 2 onwards, which helped tremendously in this campaign.

I find that solo versions of games tend to be a poorer substitute for the real thing. Call me dirty-minded, but I can't help thinking about the analogy of another fun exercise that's better with a partner than by yourself (and let's not start talking about 3-player games...). Race for the Galaxy has a quite different solo game. I do play it now and then, but I definitely prefer playing against real opponents to playing against the robot. I find the Agricola solo game much less interesting than the multiplayer game. Pandemic is a pretty good solo game, maybe because it's cooperative. There is much tension in where diseases will pop up and what cards you'll draw. In Agricola's solo game, the only unknown is the order in which the round cards turn up. I rarely bother to analyse or plan around that.

I took a lot of photos of my Agricola solo campaign. I had thought it would be interesting to analyse, but after finishing the games I just couldn't be bothered. Since I have spent so much effort taking the photos, I don't want it to go to waste. Maybe someone else will find this interesting. So here they are. The photos of my 8 games will generally be in this order:

  1. Occupation and Minor Improvement cards that I was dealt, and starting Occupations from previous games.
  2. Cards that I have played by game end.
  3. My farm.
  4. The order in which the round cards appeared.

Game 1

62pts vs target of 50pts. Occupation kept: Hedge Keeper, because wood is scarce in the solo game. With Hedge Keeper, when you build at least one fence, you get to build 3 more for free. I find it hard to build all four stables in the solo game.

Game 2

61pts vs target of 55pts. Occupation kept: Wet Nurse - when you have spare rooms in your home, you can have kids by paying 1 food, without needing to take the family growth action. I find this a very strong card. I also notice that building the Well Major Improvement is important to maximise your score. It's 4pts.

Game 3

66pts vs target of 59pts. The Sack Cart and Plowman combination was interesting. They allowed me to get one grain and plow one field in rounds 5, 8 and 11 very cheaply. One big difference in the solo campaign is Minor Improvements listing the number of Occupations you have as a requirement. Since you already start with free Occupations, these requirements become easier and easier to fulfill. Occupation kept: Plowman.

Game 4

67pts vs target of 62pts. Occpation kept: Lord of the Manor - 1pt per category where you score the full 4pts. Pretty powerful card, because in solo games you tend to score the full 4pts for most categories. My farm layout is becoming quite stardardised - 5 spaces for a 5-room stone house, 5 fields, and 5 spaces for pastures. One problem with this layout is I can't easily max out on all 3 types of animals (8 sheep, 7 wild boars, 6 cattle).

Game 5

78pts vs target of 64pts. Big jump in scoring because I had the Mansion Minor Improvement. This is a tough one to build, but I guess not so tough in a solo game. The Animal Pen was a no-brainer. It was a windfall. You also see the Well appearing again. Occupation kept: Fieldsman - if you sow 1 field you get 2 extra grain/vege, if you sow 2 fields you get 1 extra grain/vege in each field.

Game 6

76pts vs target of 65pts. The Planter Box and Fieldsman combination allowed me to have two stacks of 6 grain each sowed. I sowed them in Stage I, and they were fully harvested only at game end (Stage VI). Occupation kept: Chief's Daughter - 1pt if you have a clay hut, 3pt if you have a stone house.

Game 7

80pts vs target of 66pts. Occupation kept: Carpenter - when you build a new room, you only need 2 reed + 3 (instead of 5) of the appropriate material. This is very very handy, and I was very lucky to draw this one, considering that in this game I only got to draw one new Occupation card at the start of the game (because I already had 6 free Occupations). I had the Ranch Minor Improvement - you can play it after you have filled up all your farmyard spaces, and you receive 1pt and 2 food per round not yet started. I filled up the spaces in round 8, and played Ranch in round 9.

Game 8

81pts vs target of 67pts. 6 Major Improvements built. In the last few games I didn't even fully utilise the Plowman's ability to plow 1 field for 1 food in rounds 5, 8 and 11. Before Round 11 I had already plowed all 5 fields that I had planned to plow.

1 comment:

Cecrow said...

I haven't tried the solo game with the expectation of it being exactly like you've described. I suppose it might help improve my game against other players (for instance you've 'discovered' the Well), but I'm not competitive enough in this game to go to the trouble. Once I start consistently beat my wife at a game, she loses interest in it. For now we're on fairly equal terms - best to keep it that way! ;)