Friday, June 21, 2013

Review: Agricola (iPad)

I love having Agricola on the iPad. If you've ever played the board game (especially with expansions) then you'll relate to this; the physical game has so many pieces that it can feel like it takes longer to set up than actually play.

It is of course worth that set up time. This is one of the most popular Eurogame boardgames ever built for a good reason - mechanically it's one of the finest and most strategic sets of rules that you'll ever experience. But having it on the iPad and getting rid of that setup (and pack away) time is even better.

It also helps that this is one of the finest-looking iPad board games to date, too. The production values are seriously high, and the pleasant, charmingly vibrant graphics help break up a game that otherwise is very, very heavy on cards and information. I recommend that new players pay very close attention to the tutorial, play a game or two with just one AI opponent rather than the full 5-player game and read the rulebook for good measure because while the game works very logically, it can be overwhelming at first. Once you've got a handle of the interface you'll realise how elegant and intuitive it is, but for those first come of games it feels like a mess.

After that learning process the game's depth becomes endlessly engaging. The basic idea of the game is to earn points by building up a farm with crops and a growing family, while at the same time making sure everyone is fed. This is achieved through a sequence of turns where each player faces a dozen or so possible actions, but can only pick one at a time.

Actions range from simple fishing to grab a load of food to building fences, plowing fields and acquiring animals. The other catch is that once someone has chosen that action for the turn, no one else can, so naturally there's a jostle for resources as different strategies clash.

Agricola, like most Eurogames, is not directly competitive until the end game when people compare scores. There's some limited ability to sabotage strategies by deliberately taking actions that you know your opponents want to use, but that tends to be counterintuitive as it wastes a turn in which you should be working on your own strategy. The game is, in effect, a joint experience where everyone does their own thing, and so those negative competitive emotions can't start creeping in with overly competitive players.

There's the full suite of  gameplay options - single player, online and local multiplayer, and in fact I can see this iPad version of Agricola replacing the board game at my house, since it again cuts out the hour-long set up and clean up process.

I've yet to encounter any connection issues with the game but when it comes to online play, perhaps this one isn't the ideal board game. The great appeal of non-competitive Eurogames like Agricola is the social side of things - ie sitting around a table sharing beers and having a good laugh. A more competitive game like Catan works better for faceless multiplayer.

That said, throw in the beautiful art style and the perfect implementation of one of the finest board games this side of Catan and Agricola is a game that everyone with an iPad and a sense of fun needs to download.


- Matt S
Editor-in-Chief
Find me on Twitter: @DigitallyDownld
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