Agricola Revised Edition – How it compares to the original
I recently had the opportunity to demo, teach and play the new (and improved) release of Agricola, now published in the U.S. by Mayfair Games. We held an Agricola Release event at our store. To help prepare for the event and brush up on the rules, we pulled out our old copy of Agricola and played the weekend before. It was with that play fresh in my mind that I met and played Agricola Revised Edition. So here are my thoughts on how they compare. First, for those that don’t know the game, an introduction to Agricola.
Introduction to Agricola
Agricola – pronounced ah-GRIK-oh-la, not A-gri-CO-la like an agricultural soft drink – is latin for farmer. And farming is what the game is all about. You start with a two-room house and a plot of land. You and your spouse – and your offspring when you have them – work the farm plowing fields, planting grain and vegetables, building stables and fences, acquiring and raising livestock (sheep, boar, cattle), and extending and upgrading your house for your ever-growing family. Your goal: to build the most lucrative farm in 14 rounds of play.
Each round you get one action per family member. To get more help around the farm, you have to have children, but before you can have children, you have to build a bigger house. To build a bigger house you have to acquire resources. The same pattern applies to everything you do in Agricola. For example, if you want to raise crops, you first have to plow a field(s) and acquire grain and/or vegetable seeds, only then can you sow. Want to try your hand at animal husbandry? Well, you can always keep one animal in your house as a pet. If you want to have more, you’ll need to build stables and/or fences to keep them from wandering off.
Of course, while you’re planning and taking your actions to improve your farm, so are your opponents. Because each action on the board can only be taken once each round by just one player, you constantly have to adjust your priorities and tactics accordingly. More actions become available as the game progresses. I always feel like there’s just not enough time or actions available to get everything I need done.
Problems with Original Agricola
While I have a fondness for Agricola because it was the first worker placement game I ever played – it and Space Alert provided my entree into the giant new world of designer games – I’ve also been heard to call Agricola “migraine in a box”. I have literally gotten a migraine playing Agricola. It’s just one of the reasons we haven’t played it that much in recent years. Other reasons Agricola hasn’t made it to the table much in our household, include:
- It runs too long. Our games always seem to take two and a half to three hours with three or four players.
- It can be frustrating with everyone vying for the same necessary actions – like acquiring the precious wood you need for so many things – especially in the early game, making it difficult to bring your plans to fruition or even get a strategy going to begin with.
- The luck of the draw. You could get a good combination of cards, or as my usual luck would have it, a sucky combination – or somewhere in between. Great cards give you a big advantage, get sucky cards and you have to work really, really hard to have a good game – with little chance of winning if another player got a great hand.
The bits. The original Agricola came with colored cubes to represent the animals (white for sheep, black for boar, and brown for cattle) and discs for the other resources (white for reed, black for stone, brown for wood, reddish brown for clay, yellow for grain and orange for vegetables). I was always getting them confused. As soon as we could, we replaced the cubes with animeeples which helped some. Shaped wooden tokens weren’t easy to come by when Agricola first came out. I finally resorted to painting symbols on the discs to differentiate the resources and make the game more playable.
- No one should have to work so hard to have fun.
Good Things About Original Agricola
What I like about original Agricola:
- The worker placement and strategy. As I mentioned earlier, Agricola was my first introduction to this type of game. Many great games have come out since then that I think have improved on the concept: Stone Age, Tzolk’in and Caverna (also by Rosenberg), to name a few. The first two games have gotten lots more play at my house than Argicola.
- The artwork and theme.
- The wooden bits. Even if they were just cubes and discs that needed some work to be identifiable as sheep, reed, etc., there’s something about playing with wood that’s so much nicer than playing with plastic.
Does the Revised Edition Improve Agricola?
So, have any of these things improved in the new Revised Edition of Agricola? In my opinion, Yes.
First off and most obvious are the bits. Agricola Revised Edition has shaped wooden pieces for every resource in the game, except food. Food is still represented by cardboard tokens. The farmers are represented by farmer meeples instead of large discs. Too bad there are no lady farmer meeples. The stables are the same. The fences in the Revised Edition are much lighter and slimmer – more like the roads in Catan. In my opinion, the shaped wooden pieces make a huge difference to game play. I don’t have to ask, “Is this reed or sheep?” anymore. It’s clear from the shape what type of resource it is. I also don’t have to spend time and/or money upgrading the bits to make the game user friendly. It’s user friendly right out of the box.
The card selection is also a great improvement. Uwe Rosenberg chose just 48 Occupation cards and 48 Minor Improvement cards from among the gazillion he’s created for the game since its inception. The original version of Agricola included 169 Occupation cards and 139 Minor Improvement cards. The newly pared down set of cards seems to contain the cream of the crop from both the base set and its many expansions. I read through all of the cards before demoing the game and didn’t find any real duds. When I dealt hands out for demo, they were all decent. There were no sucky hands. Sometimes more isn’t better.
In one game we played, we tried the card drafting variant. The result was some pretty powerful combinations in everyone’s hands. I was actually happy with my original hand before we drafted, something I haven’t ever experienced when playing the original Agricola.
Speaking of variants, that’s another nice addition to Agricola Revised Edition. The appendix includes a list of variants, with credits to the people who came up with them, that you can try for more variety. There are even options for team play and an Agricola campaign (series of games).
Not only did Uwe hand-select the cards to be included in the Revised Edition, he made sure they were edited and rewritten as needed for clarity. I’m not certain whether he did the rewriting or if it was a collaborative affair – I suspect the latter. I don’t recall having trouble with the wording of the original cards, so that’s not a big deal for me.
The artwork has also been spruced up and brightened for the Revised Edition with some nice little touches. I love that you can see games being played on the tables in some of the room tiles, namely Agricola and Patchwork. All of the player boards are the same now. They’re a little brighter with some nice detail. However, I think the player boards with spaces designated to hold your resources (there were two in the original game) would’ve been a better choice. They were both utilitarian and a nice play aid for new players.
The game board now features puzzle-piece extensions. The extension you use depends on the number of players. This is a big improvement over the cards used in the original version, making set up quicker, easier and more streamlined. In addition, there are a few extra action space boards. Two are for a card-less play variant. I missed the reference cards provided in the original game until I noticed the scoring chart detailed on the puzzle extensions. It’s a little too compact and hard to read for me, but it’s there. The turn order is also detailed on the board; that used to be on the player reference cards, too. The Harvest procedure is sadly missing, though. I’ll probably make copies of our original player reference cards to put in our copy of the Revised Edition.
In some ways the board is both better and worse. They’ve actually renamed the action spaces. In some places they just provide a picture instead of words. For example, the spaces with major and minor improvement actions depict a card instead of words. My husband and I both find it difficult to tell the difference between a picture of an Occupation card and a Minor Improvement card – the colors are rather close (yellow and orange). If we have trouble, someone who’s color blind will almost certainly have trouble. Different icons would’ve been helpful here. At least the Occupation spaces have words. (Note to self: words = Occupation, no words = Improvement.)
The board is cut-out under the last few rounds columns. I keep feeling like something is missing, that some piece should fit there. It makes sense why they did it, though. In later rounds, Harvest happens more frequently. Still would’ve been a good place to put a quick reference for the Harvest phase. I regret tossing the punch-board that was attached to the game board. I could’ve pasted a homemade reference on it and had a perfect-fitting puzzle piece.
Speaking of boards, the boards and tokens are as sturdy as ever. Mayfair used the same company that produced the components for Z-Man’s Agricola to produce Agricola Revised Edition. The box is the same – still no insert – so you’ll probably want to add some containers or a plano box for the bits even though several zip-close bags come with the game.
It seems to me that Mayfair is giving Agricola the Catan treatment. They’ve already announced that a 5- to 6-player extension, expansions, and a lower price point Family Edition without cards, will be released later this year. Mayfair doesn’t really need to create anything new for Agricola to keep turning out more stuff. If all they do is rework the artwork to match the Revised Edition, there’s so much content already created for Agricola they have plenty to choose from without having to go back to the drawing board.
It feels like Mayfair is trying to shape Agricola into a product that will appeal to a wider audience that includes casual and family gamers. I would’ve rated Agricola as a gamer’s game before. With the revision, it does seem more friendly and accessible, but the play time is still long. The box says 90 minutes. Our three-player game took 2+ hours. I was teaching it to a new player, but it still seemed long. While the Revised Edition does fix some of the problems I had with the original version (luck of the draw and generic bits), it doesn’t fix the constant vying for essential resources and actions or the long playtime.
Do you need Agricola Revised Edition if you already own Agricola? No. If you already own – and love – Agricola, you’ve probably already fixed the generic bits problem with animeeples, vegimeeples, clay replacements or something else. If you haven’t, the generic bits probably weren’t a problem for you. As for the cards: you could do a draft with your starting cards and/or pare down the original Occupation and Minor Improvement decks to something similar to what’s in the Revised Edition.
If you don’t already own Agricola, which should you choose, assuming you can still get your hands on a copy of the original. I’d go with the Revised Edition, particularly if you’re new to the game. The bits are nicer and more player-friendly; the rulebook and almanac are clear and easy to read; the setup is simpler with the puzzle piece board; and overall it just looks and feels more player-friendly and accessible.
Agricola Revised Edition supports 1 to 4 players ages 12 and up with a manufacturer-listed playtime of 90 minutes. MSRP is $60.
Copyright © 2016 by Tina G. McDuffie. All rights reserved.
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