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Uwe Rosenberg
Mayfair Games

 1-4 Players. Aged 8+  £35.00+

Have you played AGRICOLA ? 
If your answer is yes and you both enjoyed it and found it fairly easy to play and explain to others then AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition is not for you - unless you are a collector of all things Agricola.
In essence AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition is basically a cut-down version of the original AGRICOLA game with a few resources omitted and the options and rules simplified. 

Do you find strategy games confusing but you still like to play them? If your answer is yes, then AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition could well be for you. 
This review is aimed at players who have never played any version of AGRICOLA or who found the original just that little bit deeper than they are comfortable with. 
It's a game about farming, sort of, unless of course you know of a farm somewhere where 3 lumps of clay and a reed will buy you a room capable of being inhabited by a human and a pet as large as a horse. 
So really it's a game that has a farming theme rather than being a factual simulation of running a farm. In gaming parlance it is a resource management activity.

AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition has a full box of goodies made from either durable card or shaped and polished wood. There is also a 12 page rules booklet that is personally introduced by  the game's designer Uwe Rosenberg. A series of mini Uwes can be found clarifying each rule paragraph, ensuring that you can learn and play as you go after setting the game up and beginning to read through the rules booklet.

The players are Farmers attempting to expand their farms whilst keeping it viable financially, after all the eventual winner will be the player with the most valuable farm overall. Whilst farming crops and looking after animals the farmers also have to ensure that no-one under their employ goes hungry; sadly this means you may have to eat some of the animals you are looking after - that's sad but it's also life on a farm.

Players begin with one of the four Starting Houses - rectangular tiles split into two rooms. These houses are built of wood and therefore have no value at the end of play which is after 14 rounds. To make your house of any value you need to convert it into Clay which you can do via specific Action Spaces which are clearly shown on the board and detailed by illustration and text in the rules booklet, in fact every step of the game is described and detailed similarly in the rules booklet - great job on the graphic design 'atelier 198'. The design of the spaces on the board, with their descriptive pictograms, makes this a doddle to teach to anyone who wants to learn how to play.

The wooden pieces are what gaming folk call "meeples". This used to be what wooden miniature people were called (mini (M) people (eeples) but now most wooden game pieces that depict anything living are bundled together under this name; hence in AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition we have a bag of meeples that consist of Farmers, Sheep, Pigs (apparently, at least that's what the booklet calls them, German farmers breed boars) and Cattle. Other wooden pieces are for Grain (Wheat), Wood, Clay and Reeds, plus there are 10 Stables (wooden house shapes) which add value to your farmland.  So basically if you can read you can play, it's that easy; strategies will come to you either as you play or as you read through the rules if you have that type of analytical mind.

As I have already stated the rules are so well written that there shouldn't be any confusion so there is no point in me just repeating and running through them here. There is a main game board to which you add the player-number-specific extension (there are two of these, double-sided and marked accordingly). You will need a fair sized playing area as everyone will be building their own farm in front of themselves, the main/centre board is used for moving the Turn marker from Turn One through to Turn 14 opening new opportunities and options every step of the way - noted by the number in the space matching the number in the Action box. For examples when the game reaches Turn 5 players have the opportunity to add a new farmer to their farm. On Turn 6 Pigs/Boars become available for the first time. Once each Turn is reached the Action becomes available from then on. Action spaces on the board can only be taken by one player each Turn, deciding when and which of these Actions to take is when strategies first start to take shape. Players start the game having two Actions but they can have as many Actions as they have farmers - there are 5 Meeple farmers for each player but as each of these must have their own room in your house and your beginning house only has two rooms you naturally only begin with two farmers (hence only two Actions per player). Remember that you cannot get a Third farmer until Turn 5 so if you are looking to employ more farmers you need first to expand your farmhouse - it makes perfect sense if you think about it. Farmers are worth a very valuable 3 VPs each at the end of the game so there is a potential 15 VPs per player available in Meeple People alone.

To expand your farm you need to build new rooms or add fields. Your house must always be made of the same material, wood or clay, so when you add new rooms they have to be of the same material. It is possible to build up using all wood but it is quite expensive to do so, but if you insist you can later, if you want your rooms to score, convert/renovate the whole building (all rooms) over to clay with just one Action. Your first field can be pastureland for animals or plowed land for growing crops. It doesn't matter which but it must be attached flush to one of your rooms, i.e. you cannot join it at the centre of a tile making a "T" but you can make an "L" or a "Z" (sort of) with its placement.

The pressure is on players to gain and manage resources to purchase building tiles that can, once owned, create more resources and improvements. Many of these tiles allow you to exchange resources for food and/or Victory Points; it is a good idea to try to build two or three of these, however it is possible to "shoot yourself in the foot" by collecting buildings that require a resource you may have trouble gaining. Grain can be farmed and harvested but you need to ensure you can place a farmer on the space that gives grain. Then you have to remember not to eat it (as one food) before you sow it but also note that once you sow it you cannot just eat it when you need food, you have to harvest it; you need fire, fireplaces, hearths or ovens to gain some improvements/make food. Each Person Meeple requires 2 food per Turn otherwise you are required to take Begging Markers (negative tiles) that remove VPs at the end of the game.

Pastures (for animals) show the cost of buying the tile (how much Wood you need to spend) and the number of animals you can have in the field; adding a Stables doubles the number of animals per field, though all animals must be of the same breed. You may keeo only one animal, of any type, as a pet in your house and you may freely move animals from field to field (to house if necessary). Two or more animals (of the same breed) in a field can produce offspring but you get one free animal per Turn per field no matter how many pairs of animals in each field, but never going past the limit of animals the field can hold.

New players may be used to games where you can do the same action as the previous player whereas in AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition only one player can perform each available Action and players may not put their farmers on the same space as another farmer, their opponents or their own. In the games we have played Grain has always been the most important resource and either the hardest or second hardest resource to obtain, Reed being the other one.

AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition is a few steps above what I would call "entry level" for Euro-gaming style. I have said it is easy to learn and to play, and it is, but it has been many years that I have been playing games of this genre and so it is hard for me to put myself in the position of a true novice gamer. If you can follow direction, that is Uwe's notes and rules, and you have a gamer's mindset, then you shouldn't have any more trouble with this game than you would learning something like UNO. I would describe the complexity of this game by saying if you think of Ludo as being Ground Zero, Cluedo is one step up from Ludo and Totopoly being the next step after Cluedo then you can consider AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition as the next step in line.

The game flows quite quickly and play is fun but occasionally frustrating, however there is one thing that I am not that happy about in the game and that is the Turn Order doesn't move round clockwise each Turn. Instead you have to spend an Action placing a farmer on the First Turn space and I think of this as wasting a valuable Action even though you also gain one food. If you are playing last the other players already have had the better choices of Actions before you, so by spending an Action to take first place you are putting yourself farther behind. This is my opinion from personal experience, deliberately going last a couple of games on the trot, and not being able to catch up. I know that some people prefer this idea, but like the Robber in the Catan games it's a double-whammy to the player already lagging behind and I find it pretty frustrating and to be perfectly honest, quite unnecessary.

AGRICOLA FAMILY Edition is like a chocolate Black Forest Gateau made specifically to feed your eyes, though instead of whetting your taste buds it triggers the gaming sensors in your brain.  

© Chris Baylis 2011-2015