Sunday, November 23, 2008

Webcamming the BGG.con: Intercontinental Agricola

Chris Brooks, Jim Ginn, and I sat down to play Agricola using two games, two computers, and 8,000 miles of network connections.

Agricola is the number one game on Board Game Geek, displacing Puerto Rico a few months ago. Is it that good? It's very, very good, but perhaps not quite as good as Puerto Rico. It surpassed Puerto Rico on Board Game Geek partly due to the "cult of the new" effect: a more recent item scores somewhat higher than a less recent item. More people are now on Board Game Geek and submitting rankings, there has been less time for backlash to the game and for known problems to crop up, and there is more hype in the online world than there used to be.

I played in my dining room in Jerusalem. Chris and Jim set up in a side room at BGG.con in a Westin hotel near Dallas Fort Worth airport. The connection was a little squawky, the video a little fuzzy. My dog took inopportune moments to bark at the top of her voice. And it took a second or so for the information to travel the 8,000 miles of wired and wireless connections.

But in the end it worked really well. I could see them and a bit of their layout, and they could see my handsome face. We could hear each other well. We played at a good pace. The game was a great game, we all had around the same experience level, and we all scored fairly closely in the end.

I lay out my board and kept the family tokens for Chris and Jim near the boards to mark actions as they played them, as well as the cards that they played. I didn't keep track of their boards, relying on general memory and my fuzzy view of their setup. I knew about when they were filling up their board, and I knew roughly when they had room for more family members. They lay out a complete board for me, and we synchronized once in a while to ensure we both had the same layouts. A few times we needed to correct.

They dealt out my cards, reading me the numbers and holding my card up to the screen so I could find it in my own deck (we only played the "I" deck). They didn't know the deck well enough to gain any advantage from glancing quickly at my cards to read the numbers. Whenever they played their cards, they read out the name and number of the card and I found the copy in my deck; they did the same for my cards.

Chris Twittered before the game, and I Twittered before and during the game. As a result of Chris's tweets, we got a few visitors before and during the game, including Aldie and a host of people, and Derk, and Mischa. Aldie and someone else took pictures of our setup, including Chris's Macbook with my picture in the video window.

Jim played a lot of cards with very high synergy, something I've never managed to achieve. Most of them weren't worth any victory points. But they gave him bonuses for plowing and sowing, and he had the stone oven, so he had no food worries throughout the game. One of his cards also gave both Chris and me several wheat during the game, so we also had little in the way of food worries, too. I solved the rest of my food worries by fencing in four sheep, buying a fireplace, and fishing once for 7 food. Chris had a few more worries, as he never got to a fireplace, although he did get a well and fish once for 6 food.

I swiped a lot of the early wood, which allowed me to expand my house first and add family members first. The others soon followed, however. I was one round ahead in my family members, which helped. Somehow, I finally managed to get to a clay house. The stone house was easy, as one of the few cards that I played let me take extra stone when I took stone. I also took two other major improvements, purely for the victory points.

Three-player turns out to be somewhat less tense than four- or two-player. I didn't feel hindered very often during the game. Once or twice Chris or Jim took something I wanted, but only once or twice. I had a slew of stuff ready to go on the last round of the game, expecting to get most, but not all, of it done, but I got all of it done. This was because Chris's first three moves on the last round were all on the basic board, taking one reed, one occupation, and one minor improvement. That left the major actions free for me and Jim.

In the end, Jim scored maximum for food items, some animals, plowed fields, and no empty spaces, but only a few points for bonus cards. He won with 44 points. I had one empty spot, filling in four of my last spaces with a plowed field and a three space pasture. I had one or two of all the animals, a few veggies, one grain, all my people, four stone rooms, and seven points in bonus cards for a total of 43 points. So close, but I'm used to losing by one point. I didn't see Chris's point breakdown, but his having to scramble for food in a few of the rounds hurt, and he ended with 37 points.

Thanks again to Chris for taking the time and effort to help me be a part of BGG.con . Still too bad I can't pick up my BGG.con door prize, though.
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