Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Agricola: Farmers of the Moor

Agricola was a game that surprised me. When I first played it, I didn't think it was all that special. Then when it became the #1 game on BoardGameGeek (recently dropped to #2), I decided to get it and try it more. To my surprise, Michelle and I got addicted to it for a while. We played it many times in the first half year, often on weekday nights, and sometimes even twice in a row.

When the Farmers of the Moor expansion was announced, I was immediately interested. Our plays of Agricola have reduced quite a fair bit since that initial burst. Maybe this expansion will help rekindle the passion.

The Game

The expansion adds a number of elements to the game. First, your farmland is not simple flat land anymore. You have some forests and some marshes. You'd need to clear these before you can use the land for farming. They are not all bad, because forests can provide wood, and marshes peat. Peat is a new resource, which can be used for heating your home. The bigger the house, the more peat (or wood) you need for heating. Fail to fully heat your home, and some family members will fall sick and be unable to work for a round.

There are more things you need to do, but you also get some new free actions cards. These actions cards are different from the normal actions. You do need to have family members available, but you do not "use them up" to take these special actions. You just take the card and put it before you. Also these special actions are not limited to be taken by only one player. Each special action is available to 2 players, but the 2nd player needs to pay food to take the action.

You get horses! You can eat them, but they are most valuable for victory points. 1VP per horse, unlike other farm animals which score at most 4VPs.

There are new major and minor improvements now, which take into account the new elements of the game. There are two more spaces for major improvements, and now each space has 2 cards, the bottom card becoming available when the top card is built. That means you have 24 major improvements as opposed to 10.

Some of the new major improvements on the left, and horses on the right. There are two small cardboard boards for these two stacks of new major improvements.

Two new special action cards, for the two player game. Each card gives a few options. You can only choose one. That cardboard piece at the bottom is the infirmary / hospital thingy. Family members who catch a cold and can't work go there to recover and gain one food during the stay.

The Play

Michelle and I played the Level 2 (of 3) complexity version of the expansion, which excludes Occupation cards, just to make sure we don't get overwhelmed. Having now played the expansion (although just once), I think the additional complexity is fine. It doesn't make things too complex, and we would have done fine if we had chosen to do Level 3 straight-away.

I started getting horses quite early, the idea being to get two early, and then let them breed. It worked well for me. I also gained 3 free horses from the Flatboat minor improvement. I had 10 horses at game end, i.e. 10VPs. I never had to eat a horse. Michelle built one of the new major improvements which allowed her to gain more peat. That helped a lot. Peat is not only used for heating. It can also be used for some of the new special actions.

We were a bit more conservative about expanding our houses and having children, because bigger houses mean more resources required for heating. I had a child first, which helped. Later when the Family Growth Without Room action card appeared, Michelle took it every round (she was start player) and grew her family to 5. I think this action is even more valuable now that there is the additional room heating requirement.

The new special actions are an interesting addition to the game. Quite often I was torn between taking one of them and one of the regular actions. The special actions are free, but you must take them before having committed all your family members to normal actions. Do you take the special action and risk the normal action you want to take being taken by your opponent? Also since you need to keep an available family member in order to be able to take a special action, you need to be careful not to use up your family members, lest you give many free actions to your opponent.

My starting plot of land. There are always 5 forests and 3 marches.

My farm at game end. I had cleared all forests and marshes. I had 10 horses!

My major and minor improvements.

Michelle's farm at game end. She had 5 family members, but they were off to work when I took this photo. She still had 2 forests on her land. Her house, although a nice stone one, was rather small. She managed 5 family members only because of the Family Growth Without Room action.

Michelle had 3 major and no minor improvements. The peat-charcoal kiln is quite useful for ensuring you have enough peat for heating.

The Thoughts

The element of this expansion that I like the most is the new landscapes. They give some variety to the starting setup. Home heating, horses, new actions and major/minor improvements are fine additions. They give you more to think about. This expansion doesn't make the game signicifantly better (Agricola is already a 10 in my book), and fortunately, nor worse. It doesn't change the game dramatically. I think you only need this expansion if you, like me, have played many games of Agricola, and want to play more and want to add some spice. I plan to, from now on, always play with the expansion, unless I am playing with new(er) players.


wankongyew said...

This is an expansion that we're sure to get eventually too. I'm not in a hurry as the original game still has plenty of life for us. The real difficulty is finding enough players. Two player games are good, but three or more player games are better. We recently taught the eldest niece (18 years old) to play Agricola and my wife was caught off guard by how little food was available on the board. There was plenty of wood though, due to the extra 2 Wood action space. It's fantastic how dynamically the game changes due to little things like this.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

Almost all my games were 2P games. I remember in 3P+ games resources were tighter, but even in 2P games I find there is plenty to compete for. So I'm pretty happy even with 2P.

You don't really need this expansion. I'd say you only need to consider it after you've played 15-20 games of the base game. Even then you likely will not have seen all the cards in the base game.

Matt said...

Nice Review. My family and I enjoy Agricola very much. (We've played it a few hundred times.)

We also got the expansion at the beginning of this year. While maybe it is different in 2P games (almost all of my games are 3P), I was surprised to hear you say that the game didn't differ much with the expansion.

When we played without the expansion I was winning roughly 40% of the games I played. When we added the expansion though I couldn't find a way to win until my 12th game. I still have a very hard time winning with the expansion.

We've found that there is much less emphasis on expanding your house and family. And there is a much greater emphasis on getting animals early on in the game. Other than that, I do agree that the expansion doesn't change the game too much and it is easy enough for anyone who has played Agricola before to pick up.

Hiew Chok Sien said...

The difference between Agricola with and without expansion may indeed feel less because I almost exclusively play 2P games. I think 2P games are significantly less tight compared to 3P games. I've only played one game with the expansion, but I can already see the impact on house expansion / upgrading and family growth. Still, in the game that I played, the new elements were just additional interesting twists to manage, and didn't really force us to need to fundamentally adjust our gameplay.

Melanie Wagar said...

I'm debating between getting the original agricola and the expansion pack. I've never played before. Any suggestions?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Hi Melanie, I recommend getting just the base game first. It already has plenty of replay value. If you like the game and play it so much that you feel the need for more variety and complexity, then you can go for the expansion.

Anonymous said...

I can tell from the pictures that you have mixed some decks(I,E,K,Z). Couldn't this affect the balance of someone's deck?

Hiew Chok Sien 邱卓成 said...

Yes, you are right. I do mix all the decks because I like the variety and knowing that any card combination is possible. There are some cards which will be affected by this, e.g. the road cards and the chieftain's daughter. But not many cards are affected and even when affected, the impact is not too big, so I play this way.