Board Game Geek rating: 8.0/10.0 (20th).
Uwe Rosenberg’s breakout success as a game designer was Bohnanza, but most game fans would say that his magnum opus is Agricola. When it came out in 2007 (2008 for the English edition), the Spiel de Jahres awards — widely considered the most prestigious honors available for Euro game designers — awarded Agricola a special award for “best complex game.” It was too intricate and multifaceted for SDJ’s standard award categories.
It’s an intimidating game to start, and the gameplay is more complex than any game on here (with the possible exception of Mansions of Madness), but it’s all the more rewarding for it. The premise is simple. You own a farm, with a set amount of land. You can expand your house onto that land, or build fenced-in pens for livestock, or plow the land to plant wheat or vegetables. But each one of those steps takes time and energy. You can acquire livestock — specifically sheep, wild boars, and cattle — and that livestock will breed and multiply, but if you run out of space for the animals, you’ll lose some of them. You can have children and use their labor immediately (perhaps the only significant lapse in realism in the game’s whole design), but you generally have to expand your house so they can fit.
Fans of the Super Nintendo classic Harvest Moon and its sequels (or its spiritual successor Stardew Valley) will find this all very familiar, but it’s startling how well Rosenberg has translated even the smaller agricultural tasks to a tabletop format. It’s the core premise of Euro gaming: games with complex systems one must navigate strategically are more fun than ones that are simple but rife with chance. Agricola takes that premise to its logical extreme, and it works.
For newbies, the iPhone/iPad version provides a gentle tutorial introduction, and the All Creatures Big and Small variant provides a two-player version that’s shorter and easier to get into. If you’ve mastered Agricola and want something even more involved, try Rosenberg’s Le Havre, set in the French port of the same name. I won’t even pretend to understand everything that’s going on in that one.
Buy at Amazon: Agricola ($47.99); Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small ($49.99); Agricola: Farmers of the Moor ($43.12); Agricola: Netherlands Deck ($89.90); Agricola: The Goodies Expansion ($164.99).
Buy on iTunes: Agricola ($1.99).