…which bright spark decided skirts and open toed sandals would be the best military “get-up” for maintaining military rule of this gods forsaken island? The bloody rain, sleet, gales, fog and constant rain…I shudder to think what their English winter will be like! Oh well…on wards and to tribal uprising quashing I go.
Agricola, Master of….the UNIVERSE…mwahaaaahaaaahaaahaaaha!
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To coin an old gag, these tribal idiots are revolting…they really are. They revolt against our rule. Savages! You’d think they would appreciate the introduction of baths, roads, public toilets (where we all sit in a line and take a communal dump), feasting, architectural appreciation, engineering, debauchery, orgies and feasting…all of the above these peasants can watch the gentile Roman folk enjoy…as they have the honour of slaving for us…such ingratitude. Right I am going to don my centurion costume and bash a few skulls in! That should beat them into subservience!
So What’s All the Fuss About?
This had been on my peripheral for a short while. I had seen the odd photo shot on-line but paid little attention to it until Katie’s game Corner https://twitter.com/katiesgamecrner made mention of it…and I thought …oooooh! that looks interesting! …and felt compelled to take a look. Thanks Katie.
Agricola…nothing to do with farming, by the way, is trying his damnedest to quell the unruly savage tribes of Ancient Britain. Bearded men and women spending their time Waring, drinking, eating mud and…the Gods forbid, reproducing. Order is needed and Roman cunning is required.
Although there are opportunities to carry out combat at a unit to unit scale (I confess to having no knowledge at all about tribal fighting formations and only small understanding of Roman military hierarchy…I do know it is mostly pants the rubbish the movies show us…I am Farticuss, no I am Farticuss….you get the general idea) this is not a war game as such. It is more political, diplomatic subtle ruling…backed up by the might of the entire Roman Empire, if need be!
Immersion or Subversion?
To look at the game making its first impressions, one would think this is not much of a themed game. Yes the board looks nice, the counters are in-line with many period counter war-games and the cover art is rather simplistic. Hey ho. Another vague attempt at introducing a Roman theme over some facile abstract game. Well, if you think that, I can assure you, you are woefully mistaken. This is not some flashy Ameritrash affair. No! This is a subtle, heavy thinking game.
Yes, it is somewhat abstracted but the flow of the game, the decisions that have to be made really draw us, the soloist, thereal player in to the true nature of sorting out English riffraff…and as I am one such example, whoever is trying to take on Agricola’s role, they have their work cut out for themselves, that’s for sure.
The soloist can forget about the look of the game because the mechanics and decision making are what this theme is all about. One can forget reality for an hour or two because spinning those delicately balanced political plates is where it is at.
For such a small game (reference to component count) there is so much going on. Economic balance, keeping peace or cracking skulls. There is building communities, moving garrisons to strategic points, building settlements, warding off revolts…there is just too much to think about to be worried there are not a thousand playing cards with glossy roman skirt wearing legionnaires on them.
…so, for me, this is immersive. Not through glossy veneers but through the decision making game mechanics.
Holistically the game is relatively straight forward. Three legions occupy Britain. Three action points are available per turn to be used as the soloist feels fit. There is a handy chart of potential actions, there cost, their consequences and, as a nice touch, they can all be enhanced if Agricola is on-hand.
After which there is a housekeeping phase which also has a handy chart to walk us through step by step.
And that is it!…What?…what a boring load of old tosh I hear you exclaim in your best Romanesque Latin. In essence that is it but every action adheres to one of Newton’s laws…there is always a reaction to an action…and this is where the game gets very interesting.
Three cups (plus a cup for battle counters) exist in Roman Britain.
Unfriendly and Hostile.
These are filled with the varying tribes of locals, each with varying degrees of resistance to the Roman rule. Every time we take an action as Agricola’s forces, so the tribes kick back. Counters are moved from cup to cup meaning we never know if nice, weak, feeble old men will be facing us or ferocious Waring women…certain actions result in the map being populated…this can result in inter-tribal squabbling, but more often results in a headache for us as tribes raid our settlements.
There is, of course, battles to be had too.
This mechanism is simple but effective and illustrates zooming in on a region to see conflict at close range.
Obviously dependant on our victory or defeat, the tribes will react moving units from friendly towards the hostile cup and reactionary units are pulled from the cup to further inhabit the land.
So, for the solo player the game is not overwhelming in complexity of game-play but balancing your political and armoured might is where a good ruler’s skill lies…and there is a goodly number of ways to die.
Running out of cash is the first…but the most challenging is the game turn record track. Each turn from I to VIII have a minimum Victory point total that must be achieved by the end of a turn. Failure to achieve this total will result in failure to progress and Agricola may as well change into his overalls and start working the land as a farmer.
Wood Chits and Cardboard Bits:
I cant comment effectively here because I opted for the $12 print and play version from War-game Vaults. But the artwork has a Romanesque feel to it. I have seen photos online which look exceptional…the tokens look like those you would expect to see in an older Victory Point Games title but at this point I would not wish to influence any one on how it looks and feels.
Many, many thanks to @katiesgamecorner for allowing me to use her excellent close up shot of the actual boxed components
Meeples and Standees
Game design: Tom Russell
Development: Tom & Mary Russel
Map Art: Ania Ziolkowska
published by Hollandspiele games
It is first, foremost and only a solo game. But is it any cop? Without a shadow of a doubt this is a massive brain buster of a decision, dilemma, tribal thumping game in a deceptively small package. I am unsure of retail costs (and shipping to the UK is always a killer) but I highly recommend this title to pass an enjoyable hour or two…and if you’re on the fence (and are a practical sort) the PnP version wont break the bank
Me, Myself and I:
Reading through the rules, everything felt decently explained and I was able to jump right in to the action. This is perhaps more a first impressions account as both me and I have only played a few games…not enough to teat it to the full and develop wondrous strategies (and myself has yet to play) But so far this has been a surprisingly enjoyable experience
Yay or Nay?
Well…I think it is a resounding yay for the soloist. Obviously personal taste will dictate if this is for you but if you like a challenge, have loads of poles to spin plates on, then this will be right up your Roman road. Agricola Master of …the UNIVERSE politically orchestrates an armoured mighty BSoMT 1d8 roll of (7)
Poxy bloody rain again!…does it never cease here! Why the ‘eckey thump anyone would want to live here is beyond me!..and how many years, nay centuries do we need to wait until wellies and the umbrella are invented. I’m thoroughly brassed off with this malarchy. We should just leave them to fornicate in their own filth…right! Where’s my Wednesday tribal bashing cloche?
Something For The Weekend, Sir?
(The cups by Lukerazor https://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/157443/foldable-draw-cups-agricola-master-)
Hollandspiele Website: https://hollandspiele.com/collections/all
The Mary & Tom podcast
Tom Russell turn 1 playthrough