Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

I have never played the big-box version of Agricola, but I saw this little 2-player version on sale at a local game store (shout out to and couldn't resist it.

The first time I tried reading the instructions aloud to a friend, we were in a Whole Foods cafe. It was just us at one table and three businesspeople at another table. One of the men was pontificating so loudly in the open space that his voice echoed everywhere, filling my head with his noise and making it nearly impossible to concentrate on the rulebook I was reading. So before we tried to play, we gave up and pulled out a game we already knew well.

When I got home I gave this one a try again. At first run-through, the directions seem REALLY complicated. But you just have to find the answers to a few basic questions, and then play a round or two. Then it starts to click.

The parts of the game are basically all placeholders so that you can keep track of the animals you've bought and bred, the land you've developed, and the turns you've taken. So you have lots of little pieces in the game: buildings, fences/walls, wood, stone, wheat, workers (represented by disks -- I want meeples!), sheep, pigs, cows and horses.

During setup, each player gets a farm board containing 6 grids and a Cottage. You also each get 9 yellow fences/walls (borders) and your workers (three for the red player, three for blue).

On the game board — used by both players — you lay out the starting markers next to any option with a tiny red arrow. Right now ALL of the options are available to both players, but as you take your "work phase" turns, the options start to disappear.

Let me give you an idea of some of the options: On the top left of the board is a half circle with the player disc shown and "1 Wood". In the beginning of the game you choose a starting player, but if someone chooses this space, they get to pick who goes first in the next rounds until the space is chosen again. And they also get one wood (a brown disc).

The player who chooses the half-circle on the top right of the board gets 2 stone. The player who chooses the grid with "+1 trough (yellow structure)" gets to build a trough. If that same player also has a lot of wood on-hand, additional troughs can be built for every 3 wood paid. See? Easy-peasy. But when someone takes that one grid you needed, you should think about trying to get the "first player" grid (the one on the top left that I mentioned earlier).

The player who chooses the grid on the bottom right of the board gets one horse. If no one chooses that grid, then the horse stays and, during the "refill phase" you would add 1 sheep. Add another sheep the following refill phase if the horse and sheep are still there. If you DO take an animal, you'd better have the space on your farm to keep it (an enclosed pasture, a building that allows for animals, a feeding trough — which will also double the number of animals that are in the area).

You use things like the stones and wood to purchase buildings, items and abilities. For example, there is a grid (second to bottom on left) that lets you build a Stall on your farm as long as you have 3 stone and 1 wheat to "pay" for it.  There are also grids that will allow you to build fences, buy more fences, and build more costly special buildings on your farm (or upgrade buildings). Or even add a strip of 3 grids to either side of your farm (you can add up to 4 of these; though there are only four available and you lose points if you don't utilize every space somehow)

After you've played all three of your workers, taking turns with your opponent, and have carried out each action (which you do immediately upon claiming it) there is the "breeding phase". If you have two of the same type of animal sharing an enclosure, you add one more (maximum) of that animal. If you have no room for it, you don't get to add it (and you can try to make room -- there is no limit to how much you can shuffle your animals around, but once your fences and other structures are placed, you can't move them).

Then it's the "refill phase" go back and reset the game board. So, if the wood is gone from the top left grid, you would place a new wood marker there. The 4th grid in the second row asks you to add a fence each turn — there are 8 fences after each player has his/her 9 fences at setup —  once all of those are placed, it is the last round. If a player claims that spot, he/she gets all the fences sitting there (there is always at least one there since you add one from the collection next to the board during each refill phase) AND a farm expansion, if they haven't all been taken.

...So you're taking turns to claim and carry out three actions apiece (from the 17 available actions) in each of 8 rounds, total. See? Easy :)

The goal? To obtain and keep as many animals as possible. Once the last round has been played, you add up your score. Each animal is worth one point. Then there are bonus points that come into play — those are listed on the side of the game box. For example, if you have 1-3 of any type of animal, that is MINUS 3 points per animal type. If you have up to 10 sheep (the easiest animals to collect) you get 1 bonus point. If you have 15 sheep you get 5 bonus points. And each animal has its own different scoring system. There are also some bonus points for some buildings, for completely used expansions, and if you have the Storage Building, you get bonus points for building materials you have at the end of the game. Like Carcassonne, the points can be small, but can add up.

I enjoy the challenge of this game and have even played solitaire versions, where I control both farms and just play against myself, trying to see if I can get some really high scores while trying to block my other self from doing the same. Haha! Yup, I'm a geek. But because it's only 8 rounds, it's a fast game. I'll have to try the big box sometime with more players and see how that goes.

Whew! I kinda went on there. Well, like I said, this game isn't the simplest. But once you play it through the first time it really does all click and makes sense. But if you have any questions, feel free to email me. LOL! ;)

I guess I would say that if you like games like Carcassonne, Catan, The Builders — games where you're working on your own goals while putting some obstacles in front of your opponent, then you'd like All Creatures Big and Small.

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