Agricola Review: Beloved Board Game Makes A Mostly Successful Port
As a tabletop gamer, I have been pleasantly surprised with the number of “German style” board games that have made the jump to iOS — Carcassonne, The Settlers of Catan, Small World, Ticker to Ride, etc. The latest of this high genre to come to your iPhone and iPad is Agricola, a farming game that’s considered one of the best of the German style genre.
In Agricola you are the head farmer of a small plot of land in medieval Europe. Your task is to develop your land, feed your family, and grow your resources. You must do this faster than the other players, though, because this isn’t an open-ended sim; it’s a turn-based competition. Do poorly and you will watch your family starve; do well and you will win the game.
If you’ve never played Agricola on the tabletop, be warned: there’s a steep learning curve to this game. You may spend quite some time in the tutorials, learning how to do everything from sowing seeds to building fences, and still not know exactly what’s going on. You may be tempted to quit; but after a couple of failures, the game will reveal itself to you in all its well-designed complexity.
And Agricola IS a well-designed game. Like so many German-style games, it’s not a simple roll-the-dice-and-draw-a-card game, but instead a game with turns that themselves cycle through different seasons, meaning that each turn presents unique challenges and opportunities. You’ve got to balance farming crops with building infrastructures, make sure your farmhands are collecting the right resources, and eventually hauling in enough food to feed everyone when the winter comes.
The iOS version of the game is very well presented. The graphics are nicely designed and textured, the colors are appropriately muted, and the audio is incidental but not annoying. The interface is almost all based on taps and drags; in fact, I’d argue that there’s too much dragging going on in some instances where one should simply be able to tap, say, a worker and then tap the task you want to assign him to. You’ll eventually get the hang of it though.
The iOS version comes with three major play options: solo offline, multiplayer offline (a.k.a. Pass the iPad), and multiplayer online. The multiplayer options are the most genuine to the board game experience, of course, but the solo mode is a nice addition for those of us who don’t have three friends handy to play and aren’t yet good enough to challenge seasoned players online.
I take some issue with the design of Agricola as a Universal app. Honestly, the game’s graphics are too nuanced, and the font too small, to really work on the iPhone’s screen. Squinting was common during my games on the iPhone, and even then I couldn’t always distinguish between one card or another, or read the tiny numbers in some places. This is truly a game designed to be played on the larger real estate of the iPad.
If you’re a fan of German-style board games, either on the tabletop or on your iOS device, you’ll definitely want to consider picking up Agricola. It’s a fine addition to the virtual board game shelf (especially if you own an iPad).
Our score: 4 out of 5