Category Archives: New Product Review

The Game’s Afoot, Watson! Mr. Jack Pocket Reviewed

Mr. Jack Pocket Contents

Mr. Jack Pocket Contents

When you read a detective story, have you already figured out whodunnit by page 49? Are you one step ahead of the Scotland Yard CID inspectors, the Swedish police, or the Parisian Préfecture whenever you watch Masterpiece Mystery! on PBS? In that case, you should give consideration to Mr. Jack Pocket from Swiss games publisher Hurrican.

Mr. Jack Pocket is, as its name suggests, a pocket edition of the original Mr. Jack. There are substantial differences between the two games in their mechanics, but I won’t get into a side-by-side comparison here. Suffice to say that the pocket game is just that: a version cleverly made miniature, designed for two players, and which can be played in about 15 minutes.

In Mr. Jack Pocket, two players face off: one is Mr. Jack, and the other represents the combined forces of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson, and their dog Toby. It’s difficult for me to really get behind the idea of a pug as a super-sleuth police dog, but what do I know? The object of the game is asymmetrical: Mr. Jack wishes to escape from the detective forces, while they wish to pin him down and identify him.

Only Three Suspects Left!

Only Three Suspects Left!

The game board is composed of nine double-sided cardboard tiles, each of which shows a configuration of empty streets on one side, and the same configuration plus a character on the other. The nine tiles are randomly placed, character side up, in a three-by-three pattern. The round counters representing Holmes, Watson, and Toby are placed beside the top-left, top-right, and middle-bottom tile, respectively. The player representing Jack draws an Alibi card, notes which of the nine characters’ identities he will be assuming as his disguise, and places it face-down before him.  

Mr. Jack Pocket is a line-of-sight game, so the detectives are trying to “see” suspects by creating a line-of-sight, while Mr. Jack is trying to evade their gaze. If the detectives can see a suspect (because no walls block their view), Mr. Jack must tell them whether he can be seen.  If he can be seen, then any tiles with suspect side up that are not in the line of sight of one of the detectives are turned to their empty side.

If Mr. Jack tells the investigators that he cannot be seen, however, any area tiles with the suspect side up that are in the line of sight of any detective are turned over to their empty side.

One of the four Action tokens, showing both sides

One of the four Action tokens, showing both sides

It is the four double-sided Action tokens that drive the game. These are tossed randomly at the start of each game to determine which actions will be available during the turns.  On odd-numbered turns, the Investigator starts, choosing one of the tokens and performing its action; Mr. Jack then chooses two of the remaining three actions and carries them out. The Investigator then performs the remaining action.  On even-numbered turns, the four tokens are first turned over, and then Mr. Jack chooses his first action, followed by the Investigator choosing two actions, with Mr. Jack playing the final remaining action.

The game ends when:  either only one suspect remains on the board (since it must be Mr. Jack!), so the investigators have been victorious; or when Mr. Jack has managed to achieve at least six hourglasses, indicating that too much time has passed for the investigators to be successful (and so Mr. Jack escapes once more!)

This is a surprisingly deep and interesting little strategic puzzle with lots of replayability.  Its small footprint makes Mr. Jack Pocket a terrific game to tuck into a carry-on bag for travel.  My rating: a solid 8.5 out of 10.

Mr. Jack Pocket

Designers: Bruno Cathala, Ludovic Maublanc

Publisher: Hurrican Editions SA

Players: 2

Ages: 14+

Duration of play: approximately 15 minutes

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“This Hunt is Doomed!”: Playing Nanuk from Steve Jackson Games

Nanuk, from Steve Jackson Games

Nanuk, from Steve Jackson Games

A couple of Fridays ago, at the store’s weekly games night, we played Nanuk from Steve Jackson Games.  I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of Nanuk before that, having completely overlooked it in the SJ Games catalogue. Nanuk was designed by Brett Myers and Mark Goadrich, and illustrated by Alex Fernandez. (Goadrich is an associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Hendrix College in Arkansas, while Myers is a game designer from Madison, Wisconsin.)

The word Inukshuk means "to act in the capacity of a human."

The word Inukshuk means “to act in the capacity of a human.”

Nanuk is a push-your-luck game with an intriguing twist.  Players are Inuit hunters, and the object of the game is to have a successful hunt.  Each player is dealt a hand of cards depicting seals, deer, birds, fish, and inukshuks.  Players “boast” about the spoils of their upcoming hunt, with each player forced either to up the ante by betting that he will bag more game than the preceding player, or by increasing the duration of the hunt.  The bidding stops when a player calls the bluff by saying that the hunt is doomed to fail.  The player who calls doom becomes the Doom Leader, and the player whose bid was highest at the moment that doom was called becomes the Hunt Leader. At this point, players use a token to simultaneously reveal whether they will be part of the hunt or whether they prefer to remain on the sidelines (believing it to be doomed);  if they believe that the hunt will fail, they must contribute one card (face-down) which is kept before them until the hunt is resolved.

Nanuk Cards

Nanuk Cards (without deer)

The members of the Hunt then contribute cards, face down, to a pool that will represent the animals collected.  The Hunt Leader mixes the cards up, then reveals them one by one. Cards that match the target animal of the Hunt count towards the required total, whatever it is. Non-matching animals have no effect on the total.  Inukshuk cards are used to protect the hunt against Nanuk the Polar Bear.

After the cards are tallied, then one card is taken from the draw pile for each day of the hunt. Any card that bears a small polar bear symbol in the corner represents Nanuk, and if such a card is drawn during this phase the hunt will fail unless the pool of contributed cards contains an Inukshuk.  So, if a hunt requires six deer in five days in order to be successful, the players who join the hunt will first pool their chosen cards, to be revealed by the Hunt Leader. Five cards are then drawn, one for each day of the hunt, whether or not the six deer requirement has already been met in the pooled cards.

Counters used in Nanuk

Counters used in Nanuk

If the Hunt is a success (i.e. Nanuk either did not turn up or there were sufficient Inukshuks in the pool to deal with him), then the members of the Hunt share the spoils, including the face-down cards anted by those players who did not take part.  Cards are shared out with each hunter in turn choosing a card from the pool, until each has received an equal number of cards. Any extras are discarded. The shared-out cards are placed face-up before each player, grouped by kind.  Likewise, if a Hunt fails, the Doomsayers will share out the pooled cards, the drawn cards, and the anted cards in the same way.

Scoring for the game is strategic. Players are trying to collect pairs and sets, with each pair being worth one point and each set of four different animals being worth three. Inukshuks are wild cards.

I really liked this game. It has an interesting combination of bluffing and betting, with the added dimension of being able to join a hunt with the express intention of sabotaging the effort (and thus undermining the game play of the Hunt Leader).  This is a clever game that will stand up to many gaming sessions.  Many thanks to Jared Budd and Jack Schwarz, our local Men in Black from Steve Jackson Games, who brought this game along and taught it (and I’m pretty sure that one of them won each of the games we played, too!)

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Love Letter: Deliver De Letter, De Sooner De Better

Here at Scalliwag Toys, we have a weekly Games Night, during which customers can come in and play the featured game, choose from one of our open or demo games, or bring in something from home that they’d like to play.  Next Friday night, given that it will be Valentine’s Day, we’ll be playing a couple of games that, in some fashion, have love as one of their themes.

The Princess

The Princess

One of the games scheduled for 14 February’s Games Night is Love Letter, from publisher Alderac Entertainment Group.  Love Letter is a brilliant little card game for 2 to 4, in which players compete to deliver their love letter into the hands of the Princess, while keeping those of the other players away.

This whole idea sounded very strange to me at first — was this a story-telling game like Once Upon a Time? Were we going to role-play (a game mechanic I’m not overly fond of), each trying to be a more persuasive suitor than the other?

Thankfully, no. Love Letter is a game of bluffing and deduction, played over a series of rounds (how many rounds is kind of up to you). The game mechanic is simplicity itself: draw a card, play a card, do what it says. The highest card or the last card remaining at the end of the round gains a victory point. Simple, no?

The Guard

The Guard

Well, yes. And no. The deck consists of only 16 cards, one of which is discarded face down after the shuffle (so that even proficient card counters can never be quite sure who holds what). The point value, name, distribution, and effect of each card is as follows:

8 – Princess (1): Lose if discarded

7 – Countess (1): Discard if caught with King or Prince

6 – King (1): Trade hands with an opponent

5 – Prince (2): One player discards his or her hand and draws again

4 – Handmaid (2): Protection until one’s next turn

3 – Baron (2): Compare hands with another player; lower hand is out of the round

2 – Priest (2): Look at an opponent’s hand

1 – Guard (5): Guess an opponent’s hand. A successful guess means the opponent is out of the round.

It seems clear to me that Love Letter is a game whose appeal lies largely in the bluffing and deduction required to play. Luck plays a large part — there are so few cards, and each round lasts at most until the draw pile is exhausted — but it’s in what some reviewers have termed its “above-the-table” mechanic that Love Letter shines. As in the Dixit family of games, knowing your opponents can be an invaluable aid to successful bluffing!

Each round takes only a very few minutes to play. AEG suggests that a 2-player game is won when a player accumulates 7 tokens; a 3-player, after 5 tokens; and a 4-player after 4 tokens are won by one player.

Highly recommended. Great little filler game with a surprising amount of crafty fun.

Love Letter, 2-4 players, ages 10+.  CAD$12.99. In stock now.

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Catan: Explorers and Pirates, Part Two

You can see the first part of our Catan: Explorers & Pirates review here.

The Prologue

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We began play-testing Explorers & Pirates on Sunday afternoon. We were already a little tired by then (we are babysitting a Lab puppy, who wakes up between 4 and 5 a.m., so by early afternoon we are well into our day), and when I pulled off the shrink wrap and opened up the box it was a little overwhelming to see just how much stuff was inside. Especially since you need to have your copy of Settlers of Catan in order to play Explorers & Pirates  … what you are doing is taking your base Settlers game and grafting this expansion right on top of it. So, the upshot is “Don’t be in a hurry to play”.  It took me about 20 minutes just to pop the cardboard pieces out, and to sort them according to the requirements for the five scenarios. Mayfair helpfully provides additional, empty, ziplock plastic bags so that you can separate and store the bits and pieces for the different scenarios.

There are lots of new wooden pieces to play with, too:  each players gets actual settlers, sailors, ships, harbours, fish, spice, and circular markers with which to keep track of pirate lairs vanquished, fish caught, and spices hauled home.  This treasure trove of new pieces is on top of the components you need from your base game: roads, settlements, various hexes, number tiles, and dice. Oh, and the ocean frame pieces.

9651600943_9c6e9d6c66Land Ho!

In the first scenario, Land Ho!, the game uses 15 land hex tiles from the base game, plus 16 land hex tiles from Explorers & Pirates, plus assorted ocean frame pieces (some from the base game, some from the expansion) to hold the whole thing together.  The land hex tiles from the expansion are marked with either a sun or moon on the obverse (eight of each), and are placed face-down, randomized, into their areas at the start of the scenario.  The instructions are reasonably clear (including diagrams), to help you set up the first game.  The frame tiles from the expansion are clearly marked (A1, A2, B1, B2, and so on) to make assembly as easy as possible.

We did find that the frame tiles from our Settlers game (the tiles are used upside-down, by the way, so that the various trading harbours are hidden and not used) were much thinner cardboard than the frame tiles from the expansion, and that they would not stay together well. This is not by any means a deal breaker, but it was irritating.

Land Ho! serves merely to introduce the idea of exploration via ships, and settlement-building on the distant islands via settlers on board those ships. Each settler costs the same as a settlement; you are essentially building a settlement and transporting it via ship. When a ship, which (ordinarily) has 4 movement per player turn, touches a face-down hex, it is considered to have “discovered” it. The hex is flipped face-up; if it is a land tile, the discovering player gets one appropriate resource, then a number token is taken from the face-down pile and applied to the hex. If the player’s ship contains a settler, he has the option of creating a settlement on the newly-discovered land.  He’s not obliged to settle the first hex he finds, however: it might be strategically better to discover adjacent hexes, since settlements cannot be built at the intersections of discovered and unknown hexes. Similarly, roads may be built on the new islands, allowing settlements in the interior, but only between two discovered hexes (all hexes are reachable by sea).

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Pirate Lairs!

In the second scenario, Pirate Lairs!, the game board is enlarged once more, this time by the addition of gold-field hexes.  These are shuffled into the unknown hex groups, and are then dealt out into the frame face-down. Now, when players explore, they have a 3 in 11 chance of discovering a gold hex — but when they do, it becomes a Pirate Lair.  The Pirate Lair is indicated by the disc shown above, placed on the revealed  gold-field hex. Players may try to conquer the Lair, by ferrying crew members to it; when 3 crew stand upon the Lair, it is overcome, and the disc is flipped to indicate the dice roll to be used henceforth. Victory Points are awarded for defeating Pirates (there’s a mechanic for determining who has been the Hero, if more than one player has taken part, as in the photo above).

Pirate Lairs! also introduces the Pirate Ship, which operates sort of like the Robber in the base game. Each player has one Pirate Ship, which is played when a 7 is rolled, and must be placed on the sea hexes of the game (i.e. not on the frame pieces or immediately adjacent to the starting island). The player who places his ship on a hex after rolling a 7 may steal 1 random resource card from an opponent who has a ship on a sea route of this hex. Furthermore, if players wish to move  one of their ships onto, along, or off a hex occupied by a Pirate Ship, they must pay tribute of 1 gold piece per ship.

9651597153_97c4b9081eThe Pirate Ship may also be chased away by an opponent’s ship, in a sea-battle carried out by means of dice rolls. Initially, you must roll a 6 in order to successfully rout the Pirate, and you then replace it with your own (in the Spices for Catan scenario, the two of the Spice Islands can confer superior pirate-fighting abilities to players who land sailors upon them). Avast, me hearties! The Pirate Ship, like the Robber, keeps the game from becoming a straight chase game, where the points leader becomes essentially unstoppable.

Shouldn’t It Be Called Fish Ho?

Scenarios 3 and 4, Fish for Catan and Spices for Catan, introduce the concepts of, well, fishing and spice exploration respectively. Finding a fish shoal hex, catching a fish haul, and successfully delivering it to the Council of Catan (a new hex placed into the board) earns a player Victory Points. In Spices for Catan, players seek Spice hexes, where they may trade crew members for spice to be delivered to the Council of Catan. Each spice bag successfully delivered moves the player’s marker forward one space on the mission card, and counts as a certain number of Victory Points. Each spice hex also confers a special ability to a player who leaves a sailor upon it: extra ship movement, pirate-fighting ability (see above), or super bargaining powers that allow a player to acquire a resource from the bank for a single gold piece instead of three.

ep7-scenario_5-explorers-and-pirates_optThe final scenario is, in fact, all the scenarios played at once. Players explore, fight gold-hex pirates, deploy their own Pirate Ships, seek fish and spices, and race towards the goal of 17 Victory Points.  The board is very large, with all pieces in play. Hexes are dealt out randomly on the starting island as well as on the unexplored islands, as are the number discs.

We’ll be playing this one this afternoon, and I fully expect that a game — even with only 2 players — will take a couple of hours.  The two-player variants of the scenarios play quite well, by the way. Four neutral pieces (harbours and settlements) are deployed on the starting island to make things more crowded and difficult.

Update:

So far, we’re up to Fish for Catan, and Richard has whupped me 3 games to 0. This is embarrassing. I may demand a Spice for Catan rematch later today — but honestly, these defeats have stolen my mojo. I can only hope for the best.

mojo-austin-powers

Update #2:

I managed to squeak out a victory in the full game. The game took a little over two hours to complete.  The two-player version was quite satisfying, although we look forward to playing again with four. I think that the strategy might have to be quite different with a more crowded board.

Catan: Explorers & Pirates

  • Our assessment: 9/10

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New Product Review: Legends of Andor

legends-of-andor

Winner of the 2013 Kennerspiel des Jahres (translates roughly as “Expert Game of the Year”), Legends of Andor is a cooperative game that pits players against hordes of invaders seeking to conquer and lay waste to the heroes’ kingdom. Five linked scenarios, as well as a final scenario created by each separate group of players, comprise the game play.  As each objective is met, the story advances — anyone who has every played Dungeons & Dragons will recognize the game mechanic (although here there is no DM nudging the story along).

Players’ actions can have an effect not only upon the outcome of the story, but also its direction.  Each game can play out differently, depending upon random events, player actions, and decisions. This is no slash-em-up, brute-force kind of game:  careful thought as well as luck are needed to work out a winning strategy.

Game playing time is suggested to be about 75 minutes, but the discussion involved may stretch a game out longer.  Recommended for ages 10 and up, but hard-core gaming families may find that children as young as 8 will enjoy the game. Due to the extensive use of textual materials, the game is very language dependent (published in English).

About

  • Published 2012
  • 2-4 players
  • Recommended ages 10+
  • 75 minute playing time

In stock now.

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New Product Review: Catan Explorers and Pirates

MFG3069

Part 1: The Official View

The reviews are in, and they are good.  Catan: Explorers & Pirates is the expansion that has breathed new life into the venerable Settlers of Catan.

Catan: Explorers & Pirates is an interesting departure for Mayfair Games and Catan inventor and designer Klaus Teuber.  Over the years, the Catan universe has grown to include various thematic expansions (Seafarers, Cities & Knights, and Traders & Barbarians among them), expansions that allow 5 or 6 players to join the fun, mini expansions such as Oil Springs and Frenemies, and spin-offs such as the Catan Histories. Explorers & Pirates brings a new game play mechanic to the base game, however — that of exploration and discovery.

Explorers & Pirates uses a 5-scenario model to introduce itself to players.  The first scenario, called Land Ho!, has players leaving the known world (the visible island hexes) to explore and discover two new islands.  Unlike the relatively simple game mechanic of  Seafarers of Catan, where sea routes were just ocean-going roads, in Explorers & Pirates players must use their ships to carry settlers to the new world.

In the second scenario, Pirate Lairs!, players must fend off (or defeat) marauding pirates. Capturing a pirate hideout will gain you gold and Victory Points.

The third scenario is Fish for Catan! Food shortages on land force players out to sea, where they must compete with pirates and each other for roaming shoals of fish. Again, returning to shore with a hold full of fish will earn a player Victory Points.

Spices for Catan! is the fourth scenario.  As in Fish for Catan!, players are seeking spice to bring back to the main island in a quest for Victory Points. Players who reach the Spice Islands can learn much from the Islanders, however — including how to fight off pirates, or improve their sailing techniques (handy stuff to know, right?)

The culminating scenario is Explorers & Pirates, in which all the elements are combined: exploration, pirates, fish, and spice.

All in all, this is a very strong addition to the Catan line-up.  I don’t think that it can be played in conjunction with Cities & Knights or with Seafarers (the game would be super long in the first case, and the ocean movement mechanic is completely different in the second, rendering Seafarers kind of obsolete). Still, I think you could use both the land and sea tiles from Seafarers to increase the size of the game board even more, as long as you didn’t care about using the border tiles. (We haven’t tested this yet, so don’t take my word on this.)

As it stands, Explorers & Pirates roughly doubles the length of a game, from the 45 minutes or so for an average run-through on the Catan base game, to at least 90 minutes for this expansion. I’d say it’s worth it, though, especially considering the fact that the Explorers & Pirates scenarios are designed for 2 to 4 players — one of the perennial complaints heard about the original game is that it requires at least 3 players.  The fact that this expansion makes the original game even richer and more interesting, while simultaneously allowing two players to battle it out with no compromise in quality of game play, makes this one a winner for me.

We’ll be play-testing Explorers & Pirates over the long weekend.  Look for part 2 of this review on Wednesday 4 September.

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Agricola: So. Much. Fun.

Agricola:  Latin noun (masculine, first declension). Farmer, gardener, countryman, peasant.

Agricola

Agricola, from Z-Man Games

Agricola is a turn-based, resource management game in which players vie to see who can best develop his or her medieval farm.  In Agricola, players start out with a two-room wooden shack (represented by two tiles on their farm board), a two-member household (represented by two wooden disks), and two or three food disks.  By the end of the game, players hope to have acquired animals, built bigger and better houses, and increased the size of their family, all of which contribute to victory points.

“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” ― Samuel Johnson, The Life of Samuel Johnson LL.D. Vol 3

Like 7 Wonders (reviewed here), Agricola allows only a fixed number of turns (called “rounds” in the game), so that the feeling of looming deadlines is always in the back of one’s mind.  The fun lies in the tremendous amount of latitude that players have in choosing how best to accomplish their goals, laid up against the fact that they have only 14 turns in which to do so.  The game allows players to deploy each of their family members to exactly one task per round, so it seems logical that increasing the size of one’s family (more workers!) would be a good thing.

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A Four-Room Wooden House

But before you can introduce a new member to the household, you’ve got to build a new room onto the old homestead … and that takes resources (5 of whatever building material your house is currently made of — wood, in the above example — plus 2 reed disks for the thatch roof.  And that’s for each room you want to add.)  So maybe we should concentrate on getting supplies of wood and reeds … so that we can produce those extra pairs of hands in the fields.

Two-player Agricola

The End of the Game

But wait! The game’s clever mechanic stipulates that, every so many turns, there must be a Harvest.  These occur after rounds 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14 (the final round).  As you can see, the Harvests occur more frequently as the game goes on and, as you might expect, Harvests are opportunities to take in food that you have grown during the preceding rounds.  Fields that you might have ploughed and sown (each of which requires one farmer-turn) yield one wheat or vegetable each, while pairs of animals you’ve acquired each “produce” a lamb, piglet, or calf.  So far, so good.  (Sidebar: earlier versions of Agricola represented sheep, boars, and cattle by white, black, and brown wooden cubes. This new edition contains the “animeeples” from Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small — and very cute they are, too!)

Food!

Food Enough for My Four Peeps

The Harvest also requires, however, that you feed your family (this is the only time that they eat, apparently).  You must surrender two food disks for each adult family member at each Harvest, or face the shame of acquiring a Begging card, worth -3 Victory points apiece, for each ration that you are short.  Remember those new Family members you built the extra rooms for?  Now they are eating you out of house and home!

Begging card Agricola

Oh, The Shame of It!

The Begging cards are part of the other aspect of this very clever game.  In addition to the straightforward resource acquisition part of the play, Agricola also provides Major Improvement, Minor Improvement, and Occupation cards.  The set of 10 Major Improvement cards is static, placed in exactly the same way at the start of each game, and each card is available to be purchased at a particular cost by players.  Each Major Improvement — rather like the ports in Settlers of Catan — allows its owner to “trade” commodities at an advantageous rate:  the Fireplace, for example, make Vegetables worth more than one Food, and can also turn animals into Food (very handy when you have all those mouths to feed at Harvest).  There are also Cooking Hearths and Ovens available in the Major Improvements, which allow Grain disks (grown in the fields and Harvested in previous turns) to be turned into multiple Food disks.  Many of these Improvements also grant Victory Points at the game’s end.

Box Contents

There’s a Lot of Stuff in Here: Agricola Box Contents

A hand of seven Minor Improvements and seven Occupations cards is dealt to each player at the beginning of the game.  There are three complete sets of Minor Improvements and Occupations cards: the so-called Easy set; the Interactive set; and the Complex set (the different sets are marked with an E, an I, and a K — “complex” translates to “Komplex” in German, the original language in which the game was published).  There are a total of 139 Minor Improvement cards and 169 Occupation cards spread over the Easy, Interactive, and Complex levels, so it’s easy to see that no two games need ever be the same.  Given my mathematical ineptness, just for fun I used an online permutation calculator to answer just how many different hands of 7 Occupation cards could be achieved for one player, if all the cards were shuffled together.  Ready?  3,471,650,060,598,720 different hands of 7 cards, that’s how many.  Yikes.  (I don’t even know how to say that number.)  Running the same calculation for the Minor Improvement cards yielded 859,891,329,773,280 different hands of 7 cards.  I don’t think that I’ll be bored for a while!

Given the potential complexity of the game, Agricola very wisely gives players the option to use the simpler Family Game ruleset.  This dispenses with the Minor Improvement and Occupation cards and uses the modified Family game board and Action cards.  This speeds up the game and makes it suitable for players as young as 10.  Our first two games took about an hour per player (two hours total per game), but I believe that our next game will be much closer to the rulebook’s estimate of one half-hour per player.

Scoring the Farm

It’s Not Much, But I Call It Home.

At the end of Round 14, after the final Harvest, the players score their farms.  The game provides a scorepad, a helpful scoring “cheat-sheet” card for each player, and a larger guide to scoring on the reverse side of the Major Improvements board (you don’t need it anymore at that point anyway).  Achievements are scored positively according to the summary: fields, fenced pastures, grains and vegetables, animals, stables, the better sort of houses, family members, and Major and Minor Improvements and Occupations cards played during the game give various numbers of Victory Points.  The cards remaining in the player’s hand don’t do anything.  Each unimproved field (unfenced and unploughed) costs the player one minus point, as does having no Grain and/or no Vegetables.  Each Begging card (the horror!) adds 3 minus points (or subtracts 3 points from the player’s total.  You know what I mean.)

Agricola can by played by 1 to 5 players.  I do think that the recommended age range is probably pretty accurate: if your family includes children aged 10 and up who like European-type board games and can sit for an hour or so, then Agricola is definitely worth a try.  As an adult gamer, I had no issues with the length of time required for a session; and, as I said, I’m sure that the rate of play will increase as we become more familiar with the game.  Agricola is rated very highly on boardgamegeek.com; it currently ranks #3 in both board game and strategy game categories — no mean feat — and is rated at an average 8.23 out of 10, based upon over 28,000 ratings.  In 2008, the game won the special Spiel des Jahres prize for Complex Game of the Year, as well as a slew of other prestigious awards such as 2008 Golden Geek Best Gamer’s Board Game, 2008 Golden Geek Board Game of the Year, 2008 Tric Trac d’Or, 2008 JUG Game of the Year, and many more.

Agricola was designed by the very talented Uwe Rosenberg, who is also known as the creator of Bohnanza.

I should mention that there are several expansions available for Agricola. The Belgian Deck, Gamers’ Deck, and NL Deck all provide new Minor Improvements and Occupations cards.  The Farmers of the Moor expansion is more elaborate:  Not only do you have to feed your family, now you have to heat your home. The Farmers of the Moor includes wooden horses, 150 new cards, forest/moor tiles, fuel tokens, and a new scoring pad.  Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small is a 2-player simplified stand-alone version that concentrates on animal breeding, thus providing a speedier game play at about 30 to 40 minutes per game.  We carry the base game and all expansions.

Agricola is one of those games that can be played over and over again, never getting stale.  Highly recommended.  In stock now.

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