Agricola Forever…Unless it Gets Replaced!!
Agricola has been a fan favourite among Euro gamers and I like to think of myself as a fairly well balanced gamer, so I enjoy Euro’s and Ameritrash alike. Agricola made its way into my collection based on the farming theme, which I thought was interesting and due to the sheer amount of components in the box. I love the idea of seeing a progression in the game, where you can see your endeavours build up in front of you and at the end, you feel a sense of achievement. City building games are good for this and farms in this case are no exception.
Some people were not as taken in by Agricola, due to its tense worker placement and the emphasis on feeding your people, rather than building the farm. The negative point scoring which forced you to balance your farm out, rather than specialise was also a concern. Despite this however, I love Agricola, but now we have Caverna and it has panned out as Agricola 2.0 with more streamlined rules, less tension, but with a wealth of options. Does it have a place alongside Agricola, or does it replace it entirely?
I Got A Brand New… Combine Harvester!!
If you know how to play Agricola then a lot of this game will be instantly familiar to you. There are 12 rounds to the game and depending on the number of players there is a selection of action spaces that players can use and place their dwarf workers on. As each round elapses, further action spaces become available. As with every Euro game, you’re opting for the most victory points and to do so you have to excavate your cavern and furnish it as well as expand your farm outside, to keep animals and grow food to feed your family – oh yes, feeding is back but it’s not as bad as you think.
Each player takes it in turns to place a worker on a space collecting resources, building pastures, chopping forests, furnishing your cavern with rooms and mines, etc. If someone has taken your space, too bad, so sorry you’ll have to adapt and go for something else. As time goes on you will breed more animals, expand your fields and produce more children.
At the end of several rounds in the game you will have to feed your family. You will need to cook animals or harvest your vegetables/grains and have enough to feed every Dwarf you have. Failure to do so results in negative points at the end of the game.
As well as ploughing fields outside and building pastures, you can also furnish your cavern with mines and room tiles. There is a huge selection of rooms available that grant resource benefits, victory point conditions and space for more Dwarf children and knowing which to go for, forms a big part of your overall strategy. All the tiles are available to players from the start though, which is a big change from Agricola’s fixed card draft mechanic.
A new addition to the Caverna game is the expeditions, which is essentially sending your Dwarves off on missions. First you have to arm a Dwarf with a weapon, using ore and a blacksmith action space. Then you use an Expedition action space to send him off. Depending on the strength of his weapon, he can bring back different kinds of resources and food. With every expedition, he levels up his weapon where eventually you’re able to chop forests, excavate caves and even furnish rooms on these missions.
Play continues with more and more options being made available to you as time goes on, with the victor being, you guessed it, the one with the most victory points.
It is Man… Verses Food!!
Now one of the biggest complaints with Agricola was that feeding your family was so tense and tricky at times, that it became your focal point of the whole game. That’s completely changed here. . . . well, depending on your strategy. Going for family procreation like I did once, made feeding a manic affair, but in a fun way. Nearly everything can be converted into food at any time and there’s a handy conversion chart that helps with this. Dogs are apparently not edible though in this game . . . hmm, yeah I’m going to avoid the obvious joke here. It’s no pushover, but no longer are you so focused on feeding, that you can’t enjoy building up your farm.
That’s Not A Farm… THIS Is A Farm
And now the second biggest complaint of Agricola. The scoring points system in the original game required you to have a balanced farm otherwise the negative points for not doing so pretty much crippled your attempts at winning. Personally this was my biggest issue with the game as each player essentially ended up with a very similar farm to everyone else’s, but got there by a different route.
However in Caverna this is balanced by the removal of the “capping” feature from Agricola. You couldn’t specialise in that game, as when you reached a certain point you gained no further credit for going further. Now you can specialise to your hearts content. If you want to do nothing but create the world’s biggest pumpkin patch you can do so. And you gain points for almost everything on the board. Grains, vegetables, dogs, cattle, donkeys, pastures, mines, rubies, gold, family members, it’s like a Stefan Feld style point-fest.
There are still some negative points present, but they don’t completely skew the final scoring in favour of the balanced player. I’ve won by going for a sheep battery farm leaving out all the other animals and this is such an improvement, because now at the end of the game, everyone’s farm is completely different and you feel prouder of your creation.
Components….It could be OCD Overload
When we talk about components, we come to a big positive and a big negative to the game. The boards look great and the furnishing tiles are nicely done with colourful, clear artwork on all of them. The resource tokens are all solid and chunky wooden pieces, larger even then Agricola’s versions. But BOY is there a lot of them. I mean really, there is a lot. If you’re wondering why the game costs around £60-£70 to buy, this is the reason. You have got 7 player boards, a selection of boards to house the tiles with printed tile faces on them, so you know where each one goes. A group of boards for action spaces, depending on player count and then a million wooden resource tokens. Oh yeah and there’s loads of tiles for fields, mines, pastures and caverns. Value for money . . . . . oh yes!
However, a niggle with Agricola was having to replenish the action spaces with resources each turn. This didn’t take too long eventually, as you got used to it, but in Caverna the issue is compounded as 75% of the action spaces involve resources that replenish at various rates. Get yourself some ramekins or tiny boxes and use them to hold the tokens – it will speed the game up considerably.
Verdict … And The Big Question!?
Despite the niggles that have been mentioned, this is a fantastic game. There is so much you can do and so many paths to victory that every game is different and you really get a sense of progression. With too many players it can bog down so I recommend no more than 5 players and you really need to invest in some storage solutions for the tokens for mid-game.
The rules in Caverna are easier to follow and more streamlined than in Agricola, but there’s still no shortage of options to take into account during the game. There are many similarities between the two games, but also some key differences. Agricola is more tense and tight and has a greater emphasis on feeding and balance. Caverna has more options for each player but is a looser game and feeding is now a side issue, rather than the main focal point.
I like both games for different reasons, but I’m going to put my hand up and say. . . . . Caverna is better than Agricola. The production is excellent, it’s more streamlined and there are so many options available to players of which all are available from the start. If I was offered a game of Agricola, I would happily still play it though, but Caverna would always get the casting vote given a choice of the two.
Will I now be getting rid of Agricola? That’s an even harder question. I enjoy the game but for many people the lack of stress in Caverna is a big factor and it is for me as well. Some say Agricola is more interactive because of the Interactive & Complex card decks, but personally that’s highly dependent on what you draw and most of them simply involve passing the cards to other players after use, so it’s no big loss.
For now I think it has a place, but I fear it’s going to gather dust on the shelf as a collector’s item. It’s not a bad game, I love Agricola and I’m not a devout subscriber of the “Cult of the New”, but Caverna addresses some key issues and it’s easier to bring to the table for new players.
Some may argue that Caverna is simply a rip-off, but I feel it’s Agricola 2.0 where the negative aspects have mostly been cleaned up. Eldritch Horror has done the exact same thing really, improving upon, and in a sense creating Arkham Horror 2.0 and let’s not forget Descent 2.0 as well. Dont forget if you are interested in all board games, you can find them at GamesQuest website here.
The following two tabs change content below.
I'm known as The Broken Meeple, a blog, podcast and YouTube channel devoted to board and card games. I live in Portsmouth, UK, working as a Chartered Tax Advisor and I enjoy playing games of many genres and varieties with as many people as possible.