Agricola was one of the first board games I fell in love with. Now, this love was difficult to explore, because it turns out none of my friends were really interested in a game known as “the human starvation simulator.”
Okay, so it can be kind of brutal. Agricola is a resource management and worker placement game based around subsistence farming. You control a family of two living in a small house. You plant crops, develop the land, raise animals, and grow your family. At the end of each season you have to provide enough food to feed your family or you need to beg to eat, which results in a deduction of points. Also, you have to tell your children you decided to have them instead of feed them, which is just an awkward conversation.
If all of that sounds overwhelming, and you’re joining my friends in not wanting to play this game, don’t worry. The creators of Agricola released another version of the game: Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, now available on Steam.
This new game chose a focus: raising animals. This version is also a two-player variant. Your goal is to not only have all of the available creatures, but to have more of them than your opponent. That sounds much less daunting, right? This game is wonderful for introducing newer players, including children, to the world of Agricola as well as worker placement and resource management games in general. The digital version in particular is a fantastic teaching tool.
Each round you have three workers to place at various spots on the “board.” Players alternate taking turns, with one of the spots available allowing you to claim the first move. There are three resources in the game: wood, stone, and reed. These materials are necessary to build fences and various farm buildings and upgrades. You’ll want to pay special attention to these options because they are vital to housing as many animals as possible.
There are four animals available: sheep, cows, horses, and pigs. You will need multiple of each animal to avoid losing points at the end of the game. Your starting house can hold one animal. Each fenced in square can hold two animals. Only animals of the same type can share a space. Two animals of the same type will result in a third animal during the final phase of a round. Various constructions can be built to allow for more animals to live in a space. A feeding trough, for example, can be used to double the limit on animals. A stable can be built on an empty space to house three animals, and does not require fences.
There are various options for the types of buildings that can be built, and some of these will change game to game. It’s a good idea to survey the board at the start of every game to see what your options will be further down the line. While playing the game, any options you cannot choose will be greyed out and not allow a worker to be placed there. You can click on any action space at any time to get a description of what that action does.
Now, while this does provide a bit of training wheels, the real benefit comes in being able to play against an AI. This way, new players can learn the game and test out strategies without ever needing to face an experienced player. This game mode also allows you to play locally with another player, side by side. Perfect for teaching a friend, a child, or even your pet.
The other two game modes, Ranked and Casual, are online. In Casual Play, you’ll be able to connect with friends on Steam to play games against each other. Ranked Play puts you in a queue to play against other players. This mode also keeps track of your game data, so if you have a competitive streak this is the style of play for you. Climb the ladder and become the best farmer in Agricola!
This game translates fairly well to a digital platform. The only drawback I’ve noticed is I do find it difficult to keep track of when I can place fences without spending extra resources, which has resulted in a few misplays. Unfortunately, there is no undo or back button, even against AI, so you live and you learn. The games play fairly quickly, assuming your opponent is paying attention! Games can also swing rapidly as well laid plans come to fruition in later rounds. It is almost required to constantly think a few turns ahead.
If you’re looking for a relaxing but challenging digital gaming experience, check out Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small from Asmodee Digital.