Agricola: Master of Britain
Game Designer: Tom Russell
Art: Ania B. Ziolkowska & Gonzalo Santacruz
Development Team: Tom & Mary Russell
Year Published: 2016
Agricola: Master of Britain is a solitaire game about the conquest of the isle by Agricola and his legions. In addition to conquest, the game focuses on the governing or at least attempting to govern and placate the tribes of Britain.
The game features a simple design with easy to learn rules but gives the player some depth with the strategic options on the way to victory. With only ten pages of rules, there is very little in the way of complexity to be had in this game. The most complex thing about the game is learning the turn sequence and even that becomes very intuitive after several turns. Strategy, on the other hand, is something that has to be refined through playing the game.
The production quality of the game is unique. So, let me clarify that comment. Hollandspiele does not print their own games. Printing is contracted out to a small publishing company that is many steps above print and play quality, but not in the same league as say GMT Games or Multiman Publishing. This does not mean the quality is poor, just different and buyers should be aware of this. All of the components are nicely printed and the counters are thick and durable. After several plays, there are no signs of wear to any of the components. All printed products are clear and easy to read. The only negative comment I have about the physical components is that upon opening the box there was a strong odor coming from the counters. This could be a result of the lamination process or the die cutting process. They look like they count have been laser cut. To be fair the odor dissipates quickly.
The rulebook is well written and the layout is good. The rules are laid out in a logical order and when I needed to refer back to the rules, things were pretty easy to find. Editing of the rulebook is pretty solid, but I did note one small grammatical error on page 5 and two oddly used words on page 4. None of which affects game play in any way, but as someone that does copy editing on occasion they stood out at me.
Mechanically, Agricola is both similar and yet distinctively different in the world of solitaire war games. As you can imagine there are bound to be some similarities with other solitaire games. Let’s put those similarities aside; by doing so the game really shines on how it stands apart from other games.
The player has several, five to exact, actions they can choose from for each of their available legion actions on any given turn. The actions are equal parts combat or governance oriented or there is always the Passing option. Each action has a set sequence of events that is completed in order to resolve that action. It is all rather straight forward and very easy to execute. The hard part is deciding which actions to take and in what order to execute them.
I was really most impressed with Tom’s use of the three cup system to simulate the ever changing attitude the tribes have towards their Roman conquerors. Every legion action taken by the player will result in a shift of random counters from the Friendly, Unfriendly or Hostile cup(s) to another cup(s) at the end of each action. The more tribes that are moved into the Hostile cup represent that many more tribes that could revolt and attack the legion forces. Tribes from the Hostile cup are randomly drawn and possibly placed on the map as the final step of each action. With more tribes in the cup, there are more opportunities for stronger tribes to be placed or tribal wars (Internecine War) to break out in regions you don’t want them too. I have to admit the Internecine Wars that broke out for me helped reduce some of the tribe counters on the map.
The combat resolution system is very intuitive once you learn it. It is neither hard nor overly unique, but it is elegant in execution! It really gives you the feel of having your legions square off with hordes of tribesmen, brutal combat, and reforming of the lines to continue to the good fight. It also provides you with a heightened tension that adds to the feel of the game; in a positive way of course.
Small format (travels well!)
Low counter density
Unique mechanics that are exciting
Challenging to play (5 ways to lose, 1 way to win!)
Replayability is high due to random placement of tribe counters
Well written rules without all the fluff
Rulebook is physically wider than the game box
The odor from the counters
Would have like to have seen named tribal leaders for each group of tribes
Needs a separate reference card with the Legion action sequences
I have played Agricola several times now and each time I have lost by not acquiring enough victory points to continue on to the next turn. Does this mean it’s a bad game? Not at all! It just means I suck at my strategy and that I need to play it more to master it! Each game I played was different from the last and I look forward to many more plays; replayability with Agricola is high.
The unique rules and turn structure kept me engaged and struggling (in a good way) over what actions to take and in what order to take them to maximize my position. If you’re a timid or a player who suffers from analysis paralysis, you will lose just like me! Be aggressive, but not too aggressive. Spend your money, but spend it wisely. See what I mean?
This is a game that will continue to see table time for the foreseeable future as it has the right blend of theme, playability, replayability, brutality and complexity for me as I have a busy work, writing and convention schedule. I need engaging solitaire games to occupy my time when playing a face-to-face game is not an option.
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