Monday, September 15, 2008

Hungarian Gamers Taught me Agricola

I played with Scott (originally from England), Miki (from Nikolaus), and Akos (pronounced Akoosh) on the second Saturday afternoon at my apt in Budapest. All three were lovely, fun players, and nice socially, a perfect combination of serious play while keeping the atmosphere moving and fun. If this is what the Hungarian gaming scene represents, I want more of it.

Their game group meets biweekly and attracts 20 or so participants.

Scott brought me a quite unexpected gift: a Hungarian board game called Atilla vagy Aetius? which is not on the Geek, is in Hungarian, and has no English translation. I'm waiting for Scott to send me a translation so that I can give it a try.

We played It's Alive, Agricola, and one round of the Mu (and More) games.

It's Alive

I introduced them to my game. I think it went over pretty well, although they didn't ask for a second game.

We did the occasional buying and dumping of cards, but they were all very into auctions. A great number of the cards were auctioned off for their face value, sometimes higher. I eventually picked up on this and did some auctioning of my own. Money kept going around, but I only managed to get a little of it.

Miki ended the game by completing his board, But Scott had a vast reserve of cash (he couldn't count his last two coins), and he won the game by two points. Akus and I were further behind.


This was my first play of the pretender to the BGG throne for most desired game. Luckily they had an English copy; much of the game is language independent, but the cards are intensively language dependent, and they are integral to the game.


The goal is to earn the most points by the end of the 14th round. Each round players place workers on available actions. One new action, and all previous actions, are available each round. Each action can hold one worker, and so can be used only once per round. Each player has two workers, unless they acquire more during the game.

When you place your worker, you get the benefit of the action: one or more resources, tiles, cards or activities. Resources such as wheat or stone allow you to feed your workers or do activities. Tiles, such as plowed fields, allow you to do other activities. Cards give you benefits when you perform actions or take resources, but cost resources to utilize. Activities net you resources, workers, or tiles, but cost resources or tiles to utilize.

After turns 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14 you lose three points for each worker you can't feed (food gets used up). At the end of the game you lose a point for every resource or tile type that you don't have, or unused space on your board. You gain 1-4 points each for each resource and tile type you possess, and for having played certain cards.

Since the limit is 4 points for each type of resource and tile type, there is no sense ending with more of any resource or tile type than is necessary. A minimum of one of each type is recommended, since the first not only eliminates the -1 point but gains you 1 point; any subsequent one gains you only 1 point, at most.

That's the nutshell, and if you see Caylus in the above, there's a good reason for that. The worker placement, and thus the heart of the game is Caylus.

There is one very important additional mechanic: the cards. While a few cards are available to all players like Puerto Rico buildings, most of the 200 or so cards are not. Each player is dealt 14 cards at the beginning of the game, and those are available only to them. These private cards function a bit like alien powers in Cosmic Encounter. They not only give you special abilities (if you play them) that others don't have access to, they also shape the strategies and tactics you will use during the game. Since there are so many cards, and so few used each game, and so many different combinations that may be available to you, each game you play will be somewhat different. Very nice.


I enjoyed the game, as I expected, but the real question is: is it better than Puerto Rico? My short answer is: I don't think so.

I've only played one game, so it's rather too early to tell. My first game took around 3 hours; that is too long for Caylus, a game I liked the first time I played it, but fairly quickly grew to dislike. I'm fairly sure that I won't grow to dislike Agricola quite so fast, and I fairly hope that I will grow to like it even more. It's too soon to tell.

There were a number of things I liked about the game: I liked the personal cards, and I liked the tight choices you had to make. The game appeared to be nicely balanced, with many many possible routes to take. As such, it looked hard to really screw someone by taking what they needed most; that's actually not necessarily a good thing.

There were a number of things I didn't like about the game, but, being that this was my first play, it may be that I'm mistaken about them: Because of the -1 points for every single type of resource and tile, and the general low scores of the game, you simply need to have at least one of nearly everything, and most of your game board covered. That makes a whole lot of decisions in the game moot, since you may spend the last few rounds taking all the things you didn't take at the beginning or middle of the game, which makes for dull play.

The second is that all of those options look pretty similar to me. I spent a number of rounds looking at the available options and saying "2 points if I do this, 2 points if I do that, and 2 points if I do this other thing. Hmmmm..." This might be my inexperience, however.

I'm already thinking of reworking the scoring in the game, but I will prudently hold of until I've played a few more games and read some articles on the Geek.

Our Game

In our game, I came in last, but only by a few points, so I felt ok about that. Final scores were something like 34 to 33 to 31 to 28. I concentrated on stone buildings, cards with points, and gaining new workers as soon as possible (which is just not that easy). I pretty much ignored all farming. Meanwhile, others were farming or fencing a lot of land, which gave them points in those areas. It was close, as you see, so I'm not entirely sure that my strategy wasn't a workable one.


We had little time left, so I learned one of the games from Mu and More, and we played one hand. I did spectacularly poorly again. The game was a fairly simple trick taking game, fun enough but nothing extraordinary at first glance. Lack of partnerships was a big factor.


No comments: