Monday, 13 January 2014

Cold Comfort Farms

To be fair to Andrew, he didn't actually want to play games tonight. I plied him with the promise of crisps and beer. In a ghoulish case of life imitating art, or more specifically life imitating our recently-created script, I had to pay a friend to play games (in crisps and beer).

However Andrew's initial pallor brightened when I arrived with Agricola in the car. I also had Railways of the World and Sutter's Mill, but as soon as I mentioned Uwe Rosenberg's classic, Andrew's eyes lit up. "We have to get you back on board with that game" he said.

this Farmer is royalty-free

I thought Andrew had played recently, but no: that's been mostly Adam and Gonz. So neither of us remembered all the rules, and it soon became apparent we didn't have a clue what we were doing. Of course Agricola is accessible from the get-go in terms of options, but when it came to strategy, well; we were both wandering around our farms, staring disconsolately at piles of wheat, ploughing fields that lay fallow and fencing pastures that lay empty, and in the unlikely event a sheep made it to lambing season you could bet your last bit of fence it'd be into the pot on the next round. Andrew charitably let me take one begging card when I should have taken two for the first harvest, as I didn't realise your family needed two food each, not one.

The score-pad showed when we'd last played a two-player - probably about two years ago - Andrew had beaten me 38 to 36 points. This time I beat him by 18 to 9. Although Andrew had built a large stone house he had quite a few empty spaces on his farm, whereas mine at least had some cattle milling about on them, surprisingly giving birth.

It was a shocking performance really, but in fairness we've both been out of this agricultural loop for some time... and although I enjoyed it, it didn't convince me I wanted to rush back to a lengthy 3 or 4-player experience. It's a lovely game, but I'd rather play Railways to be honest. I'm not sure why that is.

Much less imposing on this (lightweight) gamer's eye was Biblios, which we rounded off with. Halfway through Andrew was confident, and I less so. But as he used up his gold devaluing my objective dice, I junked lots of colour to pick up the gold in the auction phase and grab the available remaining colour cards:

Sam 9
Andrew 4

I departed a little after 9pm, glad to have refreshed my memory on Agricola, but also reminded of the stress of the game. It's like Year of the Dragon set in the Cotswolds.


  1. Hmm, your score on Biblios matched mine on Agricola. That can't be good.

    I'll be honest, I started regretting my choice of game fairly early on. If I'd chosen RotW ("RotW", by the way, is now offered by my mobile phone as a choice on predictive text, so often have I used it in texts) I would at least travelled instead of being stuck on a farm, ploughing a few fields and then changing my mind about crops and building a stone house instead before finally thinking I should have a few animals. Just for show, more than anything.

  2. Every time I play it I'm like "Oh it's only round 5, plenty of time left.....oh shit its round 13 where did all the time go..............".

    Art mirroring life I guess.

  3. Did you play with the cards, or just family Agricola? The latter is about all I can manage.

    I share your admiration/ambivalence Sam - it's a very gamey game compared to Railways. Despite the lovely bits, the worker placement mechanic is very unthematic (in all games really), whereas Railways is utterly literal (in a good way).

  4. "Didn't want to play games"? I'm struggling to process this concept :)

  5. I know Martin, I did it all for Andrew's sake really. He didn't know what was best for him.

    I must admit I woke up with NGR (new game re-evaluation) about Agricola, that feeling that you'd like to play the game you played the night before again, despite having told yourself you didn't like it. Agricola is not new, of course, but it felt a bit like it.

  6. Joe we played with minor improvements and, uh, what are they called? Roles? Characters? People, anyway. I thought Andrew had nailed the game when he magically transformed a wooden farm straight into a stone one by virtue of his peoplethingycard, but as it turned out he should have been out in the fields working.

  7. Occupations. The full Monty, then . . . nice!

  8. There's also an interactive deck that I don't think I've ever used. I think you hit each others knuckles with it.

  9. I promise you it gets better with familiarity (You know this). Unlike Netrunner, which melts your head and never really feels like a game even after several plays.

    I went back and tried Small World (Albeit on the iPad) after vowing never to play it again and enjoyed it. It helps when the device is doing all the calculating for you, and playing the rules correctly which I hadn't before....

  10. In fairness Chris I've played Agricola quite a few times, but quite a long time ago, and it just fell away as we explored new territories. My indifference is not the game itself, which I really respect, but the fact that with more than two people it's very long, and to a degree (for me anyway, though I admit I'm not good at it) it's firefighting; trying to expand whilst your annoying family keeps demanding food.

    Objectively I think it's brilliant. And I love the fact that (cards aside) you can teach someone by setting it up and playing it. It just feels like a big commitment, and, as I have pointed out numerous times, I find it far less depressing coming 4th after playing Railways for 2 hours than I do coming 4th after 2 hours of Agricola.

    But as I said above, I can't pin down exactly why that is...

  11. I'd go along with that firefighting analogy. You can feel strait jacketed for most of it whereas with RoTW if you want to make a line straight across the map, then thats what you'll do, and there's little anybody can do about it! It has a more sandbox feel to it maybe.

  12. Maybe Railways keeps hope alive for longer too...

  13. I feel similarly about Agricola, Sam. I played it loads when it first came out but one day I just stopped, and I've never found myself longing to go back to it since. I love the little 2p version though!