Fed up with the current crop of farming games and their incessant cheeriness? Agricola brings you back to reality like stepping in a pile of fresh manure. Playdek's mobile conversion of Uwe Rosenberg's classic strategy board game has the same pleasant exterior as numerous Facebook farm-'em-ups, but its cuddly graphics and music will do little to soothe your aching brain as you struggle to keep your peasants from starvation. Fun? It sure is.
To many Americans, "board game" evokes thoughts of Scrabble, Monopoly, and other family game night staples. But for years, European game designers have been churning out complex, heavily strategic offerings that make Parker Brothers games look like baby toys in comparison. Agricola is of the worker placement subgenre of the Eurogame family. Here, points are achieved by placing game-world "people" onto the board to have them complete actions, like baking bread, plowing a field, or collecting resources. Your goal is to manage your farm over fourteen rounds (about one to two hours play time) so that you have enough food each harvest to feed your entire family. Competitive games end up being a race to add rooms to the house, as adding new family members means more hands to do your dirty work. Right, Mom?
If you've never played a Euro board game before, be prepared for a good deal of initial confusion as you come to grips with the systems in play. But this brilliantly converted digital version means there's never been a better time to jump in, as a series of tutorials introduces the game concepts at a steady pace. The solo campaign encourages you to develop strategies and increase your skills over a series of games with increasingly difficult win conditions. Multiplayer games, either with AI or human partners, require you to be nimble in your plans. The online matchmaking is well-done but the game's short turn lengths and potentially long wait times in between mean that playing against the computer or people in the same room is most satisfying.
Recent years have seen a number of Eurogames converted to the mobile format. And why not? Eliminating the fuss of complex scorekeeping and managing dozens of tiny pieces leaves the player free to enjoy the fun. Some of these games are more accessible than Agricola and therefore better for families (Ticket to Ride, for example, though this version of Agricola does have a simpler family variant) but those who like brain-stretching strategy should snap this up. Let's all bake some bread and celebrate another great addition to the App Store's rapidly expanding game shelf!
NOTE: This game was played and reviewed on the iPad. Game was available in the North American market at the time of publication, but may not be available in other territories. Please see individual app market pages for purchasing info.