Saturday, April 2, 2022

Cardboard Corner: Review of Agricola: Family Edition

I am not a fan of Agricola. I don’t hate it, but there are other engine-building-type games I’d rather play. Seemingly an unending parade of barriers, I feel as though the designer tried to fit reality into a game instead of fitting a game into reality. Rather than having the freedom to build the fastest engine from the start, players spend their time butting their heads against the limitations of their current situation until the next round opens up a little more possibility, then a little more—like ships in the Panama Canal moving from lock to lock with the open sea in view. That being said, Agricola is a phenomenally popular game, and given that the theme is very wholesome, I decided to invest in the Family Version for, ahem, the family.

Agricola: Family Edition is a streamlined version of Agricola. Evident in the fact the box is half the size, the number of options is reduced—not to a minimum, but roughly half of the original. Rules are similarly streamlined, but not to the same effect as options in-game. The beating heart of the Family Version remains worker placement: using meeples to take actions within the limitations of the round in an attempt to grow your farm and family. Players spend their time: building a homestead, having children, raising crops, feeding and harvesting animals, all in an attempt to earn the most victory points. Efficiency and optimization of the player’s farm engine is still key to winning, only that the number of paths to that condition are limited compared to the original.

My complaints regarding the base game remain. But given this is the Family Version, I would like to focus on the value for children. And I would say quite good. Many kids like the idea of farms, and raising sheep and cows, and the Family Version delivers that experience. In the process, they are taught about the value of managing resources and planning for the future—all admirable qualities of getting older. At no point has my son made any of the complaints I have. In fact, it can be said that the limiting nature of the rules actually put guide-rails on the game for him, helping him stay on track and not be overcome by choices.

If you are a person who owns Argricola the base game and are wondering if the Family Version offers something in addition, the answer is a little, but essentially no. You could download the rules for the Family Version and use the components of the base game to have 95-99% the same experience. As such, I would see the Family Version as more of a potential gateway game. Play it, like it, and you’re probably ready for mother Agricola.

In the end, Agricola: Family Version is a good introduction to the Agricola world, but more importantly it is a simple but effective way of teaching children about managing resources and planning for the future through the fun of building a farm. The wooden sheep, pig, and cow meeples are as cute as can be. At times there are more rules than game, but considering this is the streamlined version, it’s not as large a burden. For the right family, this game will definitely be a hit.

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