This was our first meeting after the fire at the Jockey, so was the first meeting in someone’s home and therefore had a slightly different feel.
While we waited for people to arrive, we had a mess about with Hive. This is a little two player game that some have compared to Chess. This similarity comes from the fact that the pieces are Black and White and different pieces have different characteristics in the way they move. Although much of the thinking is similar, the theme is insects and there is no board. We had hardly started when everyone else arrived, so we left the teaching game for another occasion and decided to start something bigger.
In honour of the Jockey, we considered playing Flash Point: Fire Rescue, however, we thought this could be considered bad taste so we decided to stick with our original plan to play our “Feature Game”, Agricola. This is a game we played a few weeks ago, about farming in the middle ages. Each player starts with a two room wooden hut and farmer and his wife. In each round, players take it in turns to send the members of their family out to work. The problem is that each action can only be taken once, by one player in each round. In addition, there are only fourteen rounds and at intervals there are Harvests when all members of the family must be fed or the family has to go begging. Last time we played the “basic game”, but as everyone had played it before (though some had only experience of the “basic game”), this time we decided to add a layer of complexity by playing with the “E-Deck” of “Minor Improvement” and “Occupation” cards.
We had a bit of a debate about whether we should just deal out the cards or whether we should “draft”. Drafting is where everyone chooses to keep a card from their hand and passes the rest of their cards to the player on their left; they then choose a second card from the hand they receive from the player to their right, before passing the rest on, and so on until all the cards have been shared out. This has several purposes. Firstly it means everyone knows what cards are in play, which allows for a deeper level of strategy where players can deliberately play to obstruct other people’s game. Secondly, in theory, it means that nobody ends up with a really good hand while someone else ends up with all the rubbish cards. Finally, it also means that players can choose cards that work well together, however, this can result in a bit of an “all or nothing” game depending on whether the plan works or not. We decided against drafting as two players had never played with the cards and felt that they wouldn’t know what a good card or a good combination of cards was. Although this was undoubtedly the right decision in the circumstances, unlike many games, the cards are not carefully balanced and there are definitely some cards that are better than others, so it would certainly be something to try another time.
After carefully tiling the boards to make them fit on the table, we dealt out the cards and Red won the start player lottery. Everyone made a dash for occupations before the players began to develop their different strategies. Red had a occupation cards that made upgrading his wooden hovel into a stone palace cheaper, so decided to prioritise that, while Green decided to expand his family and went in for agriculture and fishing. Meanwhile, Blue enclosed a massive pasture and Turquoise engaged in vegetable farming. Each strategy appeared to have its good points and bad points, for example, Blue covered a lot of the space available, however, she spent the early part of the game flirting with starvation; in contrast, Green had plenty of food available, but struggled to make use of all the land.
In the last few rounds, everyone made the obligatory dash for points. Red finally managed to upgrade his five bedroom mansion to stone, but at the expense of everything else except one solitary field; Blue added a stable to her pasture and invested in the next generation; Turquoise built three large pastures and crammed three children into his three bedroom brick house, and Green optimised his final harvests and enclosed a pasture for a couple of cows. Turquoise ran out an easy winner with over forty points having managed to participate in a little bit of everything except sheep. Blue and Green came in joint second with twenty-nine points apiece.
Learning Outcome: Living in a stone mansion does not make you a good farmer.