Five Tribes: Migration the media can get behind

Pairs well with: Any old cocktail so long as it has an umbrella in it. You’ll be needing that shade.
Brutus rating: 2/10 for picking the meeple the other person wanted GODDAMNYOU

Aren’t you guys lucky – this week we have a super exciting time-lapse of our game of Five Tribes thanks to our lovely friend Pete! Enjoy and keep on reading.

Have you ever wanted to own your own camel herd? A golden palace? How about controlling all-powerful djinn for your mischievous bidding?

It may sound like it’s taken straight out of a Disney film, but trust us, Five Tribes has all of the hallmarks of a great fantasy board game.

Five Tribes first grabbed our attention back in Essen Spiel, 2015. Brightly coloured and beautifully charismatic it was no surprise that Days of Wonder were pushing it to as many people as possible. Fortunately for Days of Wonder, the Misery Farmers were in fact drawn to the camels.

‘Holy shit it has camels. Like, a lot of camels. At least four camels. Guys, stop, we’re playing this. We need to see if it can compare to Camel Cup…’

The game is set in the mythical land of N’quala, where the design and artwork of the game leave little to the imagination. The aim of  is to use the five different tribes – the varying coloured meeple who are randomly allocated across the board – to control the kingdom. In short you’ll need to collect the most money (which double up as victory points), where you may dictate, sat atop your pile of cash.

Confusingly, that means that Five Tribes is NOT for five people. Five meeple, not five people. Cast away that spare friend and get them to be in charge of snacks.


Now, let’s get back to those tribes. A round kicks off with some jostling about turn order which relies on a bidding mechanic. After this, each player selects one square of randomly coloured meeple, each of which have a different profession, and therefore have a different action associated with them. Blues are builders, they gather you money based on the surrounding tiles. Reds are assassins, they allow you to kill lone and undefended meeple. Whites are elders, they summon djinn who may grant you extra actions. Etc, etc.


Wait! So the five different tribes are each a different colour? And any meeple of the same colour has the same profession?

Yep. N’quala is definitely not a place of very cleverly distributed jobs. No idea what you do if you want to build something and you’re not the builder tribe, for example. Pff. And what, when your hair starts to go grey do you go and leave your family to join the elders tribe? I mean I know a few badass old people but as a rule they must suck pretty hard at most things, like manual labour.

DSC_0782.JPGHowever it normally works, they’re all gathered together and mixed up at the moment. Probably for the best.

The key to this game is looking very, very intently at which squares to begin and end your turn with. Choose which action you want to achieve carefully before moving anything.

‘Right, that’s my turn… hmm… no… I’ve done this wrong, can I try again? Does anyone remember which order of different colour meeple I put where? Did I pick up 4 or 5 to begin with? Oh God, which tile did I start with, they all look so similar…’

^^Literally, fuck you. Don’t be that asshole.

To be fair, it’s a little unintuitive before you get used to it. You pick up all of the meeples from one tile and then spread them around one at a time on each tile as you move in any non-diagonal direction you like. You have to end on a tile with at least one meeple of the colour you’re about to put on it, and then you pick both of those up to keep or put away. That’s probably how the game has been described by our friends both as “reverse-worker-placement” and “the tidying-away game”.

The number of meeple you pick up on your last tile dictates just how much of that action you can do. For example, picking up three reds allows you to kill a piece up to three squares away. Not entirely sure how that one works, perhaps their morale allows them to travel faster if they’re egging each other on.


As well as taking actions through meeple, each board square has a symbol on the bottom left hand corner that provides you with an additional action, should you choose to use it. This allows some great combo-moves (obviously depending on your foresight and ability to count small wooden folk).

DSC_0777.JPGAnd so, each player picks up and redistributes meeple throughout the game, using their skills to generate victory points. Briony is particularly good at a strategy relying on market traders: it’s always satisfying to generate enough points in a single track to beat everyone else and their diversity tactics. She annoyingly does this with the science track in 7 Wonders and is rarely, if ever, beaten.

What about the camels, I hear you cry! You’ve been shouting it at us from the moment we stopped mentioning them. Well! If you pick up the very last meeple of ANY colour in a square, thus leaving empty, you are allowed to park a camel of your colour on it (which is worth a certain amount of victory points at the end of the game)*.

Yup. You know when we said that you’re not the tribes? Turns out you’re the camels. The better you make use of the human tribes to your own advantage and the better spots, goods, djinns, and many other things you end up for yourself, the closer it’ll bring you to victory.

Particular tiles have a palace or palm tree symbol also. This means that if any action occurs on this tile a palace/palm will be added. Whoever controls the tile with their camel** at the end of the game scores 3 points for each palm tree, 5 points for each palace.


Scoring at the end is a complicated affair, since there are a lot of different and interesting criteria to judge who the best bunch of camels are. But the game comes with an adorable picture sheet to help you tally up with. It’s all good.

As all truly great, repayable board games Five Tribes can be played with many strategies. A full game takes around 45 minutes to play, which means that you can try new ideas, refine old ones, and base your tactics off of the other players. It has that element to it where you’re desperate to try a new tactic before you’ve even finished the game you’re playing. You can even play it many times in one night if you like camels that much***.

The real winner, as ever, is board games. And camels. Camels and board games.

*’What do you mean that’s all the camels do in this game? Where is the excitement, the drama?’

‘I don’t know, maybe they’re the retired camels from Camel Cup?’

‘Hmm. Fair enough. That’ll do camel, that’ll do.’

**Strategic camel placing is a great strategy for this game. It is now commonly referred to as the ‘parking your camel’s butts’ method.

***Definitely not us, nope. No. No camels here…

Takara Island – More like Take-all-ya-treasure Island

Pairs well with: a nice pint of cider, preferably un-spilled.
Traitor rating: 2/10 no real way to ruin each others’ day unless you get particularly creative, like muscling in on someone’s treasure or taking the sword they need.


You would think that by now your Misery Farming friends would be running low on games purchased at Essen. You’d be wrong! We save up all year for that madness. Having said that, this week’s game was not bought by us at Essen but rather was given as a gift.

Specialist tiles – or – some of the trades that Bob is Jack of.

Bob, as you might not know, is a bit of an academic Jack of All Trades,* though she prefers the term ‘renaissance woman’. Bit of coding? Yeah it’s lurking in there somewhere. Film studies? Yep. Performance art reinterpretation of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring? Yeah sure why not. Among these many awe-inspiring skills is some spectacularly mediocre German, which gets drafted into service every year for Essen Spiel (with progressively less impressive fluency as time goes on). In 2015 it was pushed to the limit by an all-you-can-eat sushi restaurant that was unable to deliver any you can eat sushi. After waiting for food for two hours the whole table watched in awe as Bob drew herself up to her full height of 5’4 and did something that went against every British instinct: she made a complaint.

The stern Japanese proprietress was unimpressed, and only after a long, long exchange of bad German on both sides interspersed with stony silences was Bob able to procure a mighty 20% discount.


Nonetheless her bravery inspired her comrades and on the last evening they surprised her with a copy of Takara Island as a reward, which she had been eyeing all weekend thanks to its beautiful illustrations (another masterpiece from Naiiade), but had never quite gotten around to buying. It was actually quite sneaky: they staged a conversation so spectacularly boring that Bob zoned out and didn’t notice people slipping off to the Ferti Games stand. It was about the comparative size in millimetres of Warhammer model settings. No normal human can withstand that.

Bob’s given it a few plays since then but she finally gathered up Briony and Lizzy for a play-through in late January at Southampton’s favourite inner-city gastropub the Rockstone. Their ridiculously alluring veganuary specials might have had something to do with it. After munching down burrito bowls and veggie burgers with blue cheese sauce* we set up the board and got down to some rules-explaining.

P1030042… Which of course was interrupted when someone knocked over a glass of cider, prompting a chorus of ‘noooooooo’s and scrabbling to save the cardboard bits. This summoned the very lovely barmaid who said that we sounded like a chorus of angels. Aw shucks. Loveliest thing anyone has ever said to us.

Excitement over, we could get started.

‘First things first,’ declared Bob, ‘this is a game about treasure hunting. No complications, no mixed motivations or influence or hidden goals or nothing. Just delicious treasure. You’ve packed up all your shit because you’ve heard there’s loot under the sea and you want to hunt it!’

Briony, looking closely at her character board, commented that it didn’t look like she’d packed anything, really. Except a bear.

Briony… well prepared for adventure? 

Bears are very good at treasure hunting, Briony. Duh.

It really is a supremely straightforward worker-placement game elevated by adorable graphics and the gentle thrill of minor combat and diving for treasure.  You begin the game with two workers and no money. There are various actions available to you, from gathering small amounts of money to converting your money into treasure (only treasure is worth points at the end of the game). These actions are represented by drawings of buildings on one side of the board.

P1030051On the other side of the board is the sea, on which are placed six stacks of nine tiles. You must ‘dig’ through these tiles in the search for the fabled Stones of Legend, clearing rockfalls and battling monsters along the way. As you go deeper into the stacks the monsters get tougher but the rewards become greater. Sure you might find a creepy sea-bat-dragon, but you might also find a very valuable glowing-eyed Tiki icon. If you come across a monster while digging it will beat you up and send you to the hospital, causing one of your workers to be out of action for the next turn. Luckily you can also ‘survey’ as an action, which means looking at the top three cards in a stack to figure out if that mess is worth your time.

Some of what you find will be worth money instead of treasure points. Money is still useful as it allows you to rent the sword (the only way to fight monsters), as well as hire more workers. A one-off payment of 5 gold will buy you another permanent worker. All three of which look suspiciously similar.

Weird triplets

“Are they nice triplets?” asked Lizzy, eyeing the stack of extra workers.

“Yes Lizzy they’re nice triplets.”

“I don’t know, they clearly have mixed loyalties. How come they will only work for different teams?”

“OK, they’re not nice triplets, just regular triplets.”

“Oh. Shame.”

You can also hire experts who will perform special actions for one turn only. For example the mistress of foresight can look at three cards anywhere in a stack. Briony likes her in particular because of her fabulous hat. It is a giant eye.

Giant eye of foresight

The miner can dig through several tiles at a time rather than the usual one.  You can always tell the miner because Bob forgets which one is him every single time she plays. Luckily Briony was on hand with keen observations.

“Hey Bob are you sure this one is the miner?”

“Uh… sure. Yes.”

“Because this one has a pickaxe and a little light on his head.”

“So he does.”

“So do you think he could be the miner?”

Giant sword of… fighting


“On account of how he looks more like a miner?”

“You guys think you’re really fucking clever don’t you.”

Scoring is done at the end of the game, and is a bit odd. The game ends when both Stones of Legend have been found or too many stacks have been completely cleared without finding the stones. If that happens then everyone loses. If both stones are found, but by different players, points are scored according to overall treasure accumulation. If both stones are found by the same player they win forever and everyone else loses no matter how much cool other junk they’ve found.

Briony’s “I’ve already surveyed these haven’t I?” face

The tiles come in three stages of difficulty, and the tiles for each stage are randomised. If you follow the rules properly then this randomisation is more or less perfect while still ensuring that both Stones of Legend do not occur in each stack. While this makes the whole thing more balanced, there ain’t nobody got time for that. The ol’ ‘shuffle and get on with it’ method is a lot more straightforward, and the possibility of both stones appearing in the same stack gives the whole game a higher risk/reward ratio.

It’s a fun, light-hearted game. It would be good for introducing new friends to Euro-style or worker-placement games, as it’s actually quite superficial. Strategy is minimal, though there are ways to optimise your play (Bob favours a ‘dig blindly while still in the easy early stages, then hire the mistress of foresight for fancy surveying when you’ve got some cash’ playstyle, while Briony prefers to fight monsters (with mixed results)). It would get new players used to the mechanics of ‘proper’ games, without the harrowing punishments usually doled out by said games.***

Maybe also pretty handy for kids, or parents, or those friends who just can’t pick up the rules that quickly and aren’t that deeply into board games as much as they’re into just having a pleasant evening (weirdos).

There are definitely a lot of worker placement games around. But although it doesn’t stand out greatly, it has some pretty beautiful graphics and is still good to play.

The real winner this week was board games. And treasure. And cider.

It’s a tie.


* And Master of none one! Geddit!? Cuz she has a Masters…? Hahaha?

** They were out of fancy ramen with mock duck gyoza. So sad.

*** If playing Agricola doesn’t make your soul hurt so much that you feel the need to name a board game blog after the pain it causes, you’re not playing it right.


Misery Farm on the Road: Essen Spiel 2015 Day 2 First Reports

Essen Spiel still pairs well with German beer. Who knew. We’ll keep you updated tomorrow.

A summary of Briony's first day.
A summary of Briony’s first day.

Following on from yesterday’s report this post will bring you some coverage of the games played on day two. Each of the Misery Farmer’s have been frankly all over the place today, and a wide range of games have been played, enjoyed and pondered. Briony however has had an excellent day full of fried potato spiral’s and mega-complex games that she is just itching to talk about.

The first game Briony played was actually Liguria on recommendation from Lizzy and others the day before. It turns out painstakingly painting your home city’s Cathedral by travelling from port to port, although seems boring, is actually great. She promptly bought the game and would like to assure all readers that it definitely more fun than it sounds.

Stay off my island, guy.
Stay off my island, guy.

Day 2, Game 1: Sheriff of Nottingham

In traditional Essen fashioned they played this game because.. well because it was the only table available in the nearby vicinity. Fortunately for the team the game turned out to be a rather fun game about deception and calling your fellow players out.

This is definitely what a medieval crack den would look like.
This is definitely what a medieval crack den would look like.

Each person plays a character based in medieval England, overseen by the gruesome Sheriff of Nottingham. A player is dealt a hand of cards which may be green legal goods (apples, chicken, bread, boring things), or red illegal cards (which are not as illegal as they seem. Apparently medieval England really disliked pepper and silk). Each turn a player will select a number of good to put in their ‘swag bag’ which they intend to travel with. The player must declare what is in the bag to the Sheriff, with the intent of getting as many cards through his checks as possible.

The sheriff decides based on your declaration whether he believes you or not, and may challenge to look in your bag. If you lied you can bribe him, but he may decide to take or ignore it. The aim of the game is to lie. Lie all the time, and then tell the truth to backfire on the Sheriff. If the sheriff is wrong about your lie, he must pay you in compensation, if you get away with it you rack up the monies.

The moral of the story is that Sina is terrible at identifying lies, and lost on the most spectacular hands (5 whole apples!).

Worst. Sheriff. Ever.
Worst. Sheriff. Ever.

Day 2, game 2: Andromeda

‘It’s sci-fi themed and it has a free table. We are going here.’

DSC_0358Andromeda, predictably, was strongly generically alien themed. This much was obvious from 50 meters away due to the life-sized plastic alien model, but fortunately for the game it played better than the stall get-up indicated. Each player owns a race of aliens and must explore an ancient abandoned spaceship found floating in the galaxy. The ship has several compartments which must be explored.

Who knew massive dice dependency could be a good thing.
Who knew massive dice dependency could be a good thing.

The main mechanic is rolling a handful of dice with different tasks represented. Interestingly, re-rolls weren’t allowed, and the first player ‘made up’ selections of dice to offer the other players in turn. They could choose to accept them, or to pass them on. If the hand of dice was significantly bad and every player passed, the first player who made it automatically has to accept it. This made making particular hands an intriguing mechanic.

Day 2, game 3: Potion Explosion

So far, this game has been the busiest to approach. All of Essen want’s to play this, and their stock has more or less run out at the end of day two. Luckily two members of the Misery Farm cohort and partners have already bought this, and as Briony is currently writing this a game is being played in the background.

DSC_0419Potion explosion is basically a physical version of bejewelled, played with marbles. Each player has a potion with multiple colour requirements, and they have to select marbles of those colours from the centre magical trough. Once you fill the potion with the correct marbles you can use it’s effects i.e. take two specific marbles, steal another players stock etc. If, when you pull a colour out it causes two colours of the same colour to roll together (know as the ‘explosion’ part), you get to take those marbles too. The idea is to select a marble that gets you the most in your hand to create more potions.

Its fun, fast paced, and colour based. A perfect game to play between epic saga games or simply if you like marbles. Either or, really. The person with the most completed potion’s worth the most points wins.

If only all magic was this easy.
If only all magic was this easy.

Day 2, game 4: Burano

So many things.
So many things.

This is single handedly one of the most complex board games ever conceived. Team Briony and co. only played 1/4 of the game due to the waiting list being fully booked, and it still partly made their brains melt. The combination of mechanics and strategies are extensive, and are coupled with new mechanics that they had not encountered before such as the resource pyramid (where only certain resources are available at certain times).

The game is based on the island of Burano, in Venice. There is a city in the centre island that has coloured houses (in reality these are the most satisfying coloured cubes ever seen). You each play a family who must fish, make lace (as was the tradition at the time.. mainly for the ladies.. stupid history..), and build more houses on the island. Once enough houses are built players may build roofs to connect houses, making spaces above them to become available.

That’s right kids, it’s a 3D build em up worker placement game. It’s as rare and magical as unicorn to find a fully functioning, beautifully designed one of these, which most importantly actually works.


Despite the complexity the game is awesome. It’s definitely for the experienced gamer, and there is more or less no way to have a good first season due to the how much the player needs to know to kick things off. In fact it’s complex enough not to go into much detail about it, but fear not, Briony is probably going to sell all of her worldly goods to acquire this game and then write about it in the future.


Euphoria: War is peace, Freedom is slavery, Worker oppression is victory

Brutus Rating: 3/10 daggers in the back
Pairs well with: A high dose of soma and a full complement of your water rations, you lucky worker, you! 


Euphoria represents the misery farmers’ first expedition into the exciting world of Kickstarting board games, and it’s pretty clear why this board game was so successful at getting funded. Dystopian theme? Say no more, we’re sold. Fetch the people-zapper and the keys to The Courthouse of Hasty Judgment, it’s time to oppress some workers. Or ‘liberate’ them or something (we need to work on our spin, guys).

Before we dive in head-first to a review, allow us five minutes of just drooling over these gold bricks:

Oh yeah. Check out this fancy business.
Oh yeah. Check out this fancy business.

Having the beautiful Kickstarter edition of the game has definitely proved to be a good idea. It gets us these super-neat, extra-nice resources, amongst other things. The gold bricks are really shiny, and satisfyingly weighty! For a while when our friends came over we would literally just drag them over to the board game cupboard to show them how nice the pieces were. Our fellow board-gaming friends, that is, obviously not our normal friends. Board games? What? Us? Nah! Let’s all uh, grab a beer and watch a sport, woo!

In a move which makes you think “why didn’t I think of this first and make my millions this way?”, the game designers also sell these and a bunch of other neat-looking resources separately to spruce up some of your board game collection. They know their audience, and it’s people who are fascinated by weighty gold bricks. (Us!)

Hubba hubba
Hubba hubba

Right! Enough showing-off about the really nice game pieces. Wait …

(That's not actually where they go, we just kind of stacked them there while we were fiddling)
(That’s not actually where they go, we just kind of stacked them there while we were fiddling)

…ok, now that’s enough guys.

Lizzy:  Hey guys, do I look more dystopian with a mask?
Lizzy: Hey guys, do I look more dystopian with a mask?

Whatever level of the game you buy, Euphoria has some really alluring qualities. Mostly, of course, there’s the theme, which is both inspired and well-executed. Also let’s face it, when you’re trying to convince your novice game buddies that board games really are super-cool and that they should totally play with you then you’re more likely to have some luck with “this really cool dystopian-themed worker placement game, in which you oppress your workers and can’t let them get too smart or they’ll realise what you’re doing them and escape” than “this worker placement game in which you … run a farm! Yeah no really guys, farming board games are great fun, I have like six… hey, where are you going? Guys?”

Apples or goldfish?
Apples or goldfish?

I mean, it’s not that a lot of people aren’t going to love that kind of thing, it’s just that those aren’t really the people who you need to put effort in to lure into the board gaming world. Those are the kinds of friends who are already excited to queue for the latest Uwe Rosenberg game with you or the ones who keep trying to trick you into playing 1853 again. (EIGHT HOURS! EIGHT. SODDING. HOURS. We love an eight hour game in principle but waiting twenty minutes between turns is… aaaaah!)

Workers are a-workin'
Workers are a-workin’

So yeah, Euphoria’s theme will make it stand out from some of your other games.  The afore-mentioned feature of worker intelligence being bad for you is a particularly good expression of it. Your workers are dice, and the number on the dice will have some limited effect on how you can use that worker. The general idea is that a six is pretty canny but a one is quite a few apples short of a wasteland farm. Your overall worker intelligence is tracked elsewhere on the board by numbers 1-6, and if you’re retrieving all your workers and roll their total (plus that number) to be higher than 16? Uh oh! Your workers have been colluding! THAT SMART ONE IS ESCAPING! THEY’VE LEARNED TO THINK FOR THEMSELVES! GET THE ZAPPER!

6D-37-137In real (game) terms this means you get one less worker and one unhappy Lizzy, who has only just saved up enough lightning bolts to zap that worker into activation in the first place! Who let all these workers at the books? Don’t they know that freedom lies in slavery?

Another way in which the game beautifully manifests its theme is the randomized set of buildings that you’ll be able to construct. It’s amazing how much more fun you can have building ‘The Center for Reduced Literacy’ or ‘The Free Press of Harsh Reality’ rather than just ‘another flipping corn farm’. The same goes for your recruits (different from your workers), with names such as Curtis the Propagandist, Julia the Thought Inspector and Jefferson the Shock Artist.


The two PhD students studying ethics at the table question the 'ethical dilemma' description of the ethical dilemma cards.
The two PhD students studying ethics at the table question the ‘ethical dilemma’ description of the ethical dilemma cards.

Victory in the game is earned by getting rid of all ten of your star tokens and spreading your delicious influence all across the metaphorical dystopian toast. (Dys…toastpia? Or is that spreading it a bit thin?) This can be done a number of ways including building these exciting buildings, playing your ‘ethical dilemma’ cards a certain way (“ ‘Help a friend escape or turn in a friend?’ I don’t think this game understands what an ethical dilemma is”) and just generally spurting your workers and resources at the sections of the board which have a nice handy star on them.

The different range of options for your workers can be a little overwhelming at first, particularly for newer players, and it can take a while to get the hang of what it is you’re supposed to be doing. There are four areas of the dystopia and most of them are fairly symmetrical but with different resources (except the bloody Icarites, they do whatever the shit they like. LET’S MINE A CLOUD FOR HAPPINESS!)


Basically you want to vacuum up some regular resources and then pump them up into being relics or bigger, shinier resources, both of which you can then end up splashing on some delicious victory star-spurting. It’s not a game with a lot of different paths to victory, so it doesn’t have that same rush of different possibilities opening up in front of you like other games can, but it’s still good.

It’s also mildly difficult at times to keep track of all of the things you’re supposed to be keeping track of:

“Oh, balls! Wasn’t I supposed to be paying some penalty every time I roll a one now because I didn’t contribute to building that diss-assemble a teddy bear factory?”
“Err, how long have I had four cards in my hand? My workers’ morale is far too low for this… you saw nothing, guys.”

Although we’re not necessarily saying that this is a criticism of the game rather than just a criticism of our own competence.

“Why do my workers hate me?”

One more neat and unusual point of the game is the aforementioned worker retrieval method, which differs from most other worker-placements. There’s no set ‘end of a round’ where everyone scoops back their dice at the same time. Instead, you can choose to lower your worker’s morale (morale, unlike intelligence, is something you actually want your workers to have) or pay a penalty to increase it, and then retrieve as many of your dice as you like on your turn. It makes the turns more fluid than a trip to the Subterran Aquifer.

6D-37-147The game earns a ‘brutus rating’ of 3/10, because there’s not too much in the way of screwing over of the other players, which can be refreshing, particularly if you’re playing with us. Having said that, there’s still a little space to gang up on someone *cough Lizzy cough* by all building a shiny building without her, meaning she has to suffer some penalties for a while until she fixes it.

In today’s adventure Dr Photographer won the game. About time too, probably. Lizzy was stunted pretty early on by some damn smart workers, and the other participants just couldn’t wrangle enough shiny things.

The real winner is oppression. DOWN WITH THE PEOPLE! Ahem.

Dr Photographer getting a bit carried away with the dystopian theme there
Dr Photographer getting a bit carried away with the dystopian theme there

Credit to our fellow oppressor Dr Photographer for the photos!

Agricola: The Original Misery Farm

By Briony

Dicks in ears rating: 3/10
Pairs well with: An English cider

I play board games pretty frequently, but I’ve so far managed to avoid Agricola. I haven’t actively avoided it, but at the same time I haven’t actively sought it out either as I’ve heard some pretty polarised reviews. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that board gamers have strong opinions. For those of you who don’t know, Agricola is a worker placement board game. 6D-31- 172The description on boardgamegeek states ‘you’re a farmer in a wooden shack with your spouse and little else. On a turn, you get to take only two actions, one for you and one for the spouse, from all the possibilities you’ll find on a farm: collecting clay, wood, or stone; building fences; and so on.’

So tonight is the night, and I have my first beer. This post will be a running commentary of my thoughts, feelings and reflections whilst playing it for the first time. Side note – don’t read this if you’re interested in an actual synopsis of the rules of the game.

6D-31- 171
Bob: Unsure
  • Setting the things up. As usual this involved making pretty piles of meeples that will almost immediately be destroyed. The game has 6 stages, with a harvest at the end of each.
  • Stage 1 – There are an awful lot of pieces, and 6D-31- 183unfortunately they all seem to be pretty important to any overall strategy. Beginning with a set amount of jobs was a good way to ease into the mechanics, in much the same way as Caylus. I got the immediate suspicion that being relaxed into the game would screw you over simply for feeling relaxed at some point, especially as one new job is added per round.
  • As I’m playing with three people who are all veterans, I’ve decided it’s a good idea to get a gauge on their individual strategies. So far Pat’s is mainly starving his family. Pete’s is actively farming his family instead of animals, with an initial single vegetable from his one field. Simon’s was to build one giant pasture and then knock over his entire board by accident.6D-31- 187
  • The first harvest has come! When these occur you need to have two food for every one member of your family (starting with two) or risk a lot of minus points. In addition, some other fiddly stuff happens with resources that I won’t go into. Fortunately, my family survived thanks to some measly and hastily ploughed corn. I immediately invested in some more fields for grain, and some clay for a badass oven that converted 1 grain to 5 food. Pat’s family is still starving. Pete is building more houses, which might end up being a sky-rise complex at the rate he’s enhancing them. Simon is farming sheep.

    6D-31- 193
    Setting things on fire.
  • Stage 2 – I’d so far avoided the many cards I was given. Probably not wise. They required too much reading at the beginning to bother with until I needed them. I took a chance and played one that seemed the most beneficial, seen as everyone seemed to be stocking up on wood, because it gave me the ability to build fences without any wood. I put a little sheep in there, he looks pretty happy.
  •  I got another sheep. It’s been a good day. Added bonus of extra sheep next harvest, and I’ve got a lot of food for the family. Now to expand some pastures and get in on some other livestock. I’m aware hard times are coming that I’m probably not equipped to deal with, having never played the game before, but so far it’s pleasant and I remain optimistic. I’m wondering whether I should have used my cards more in conjunction with the game, I’ve
    resolved to play another next round.
  • The harvest has come again. Panicked conversations occur:
    ‘Right. Fuck. I’d forgotten I didn’t have any food. Can my family eat wood?’

    What did you just say to me you little bitch?
    What did you just say to me you little bitch?

    ‘It’s ok we can eat the house cow. Kids, go kill the house cow.’

  • ‘I could get some food… but I could also get some fences.’
    ‘But you don’t have any food…’
    ‘Yeah you’re right, fences it is.’
  •  Stage 3 – My sheep are at capacity, so it’s time to build a pasture for wild boar (since I just played an occupation card of ‘Boar master: master of boars’. This is my own made up title, I preferred it to the original). Expanding more occurred to me earlier in the game, but being in the situation where I knew absolutely nothing, wasn’t able to form a sensible strategy using previous knowledge, or know whether doing a little bit of each strategy would work. So I decided to be slow and sensible, and simply do one thing at a time to a decent level while selecting only a handful of things to develop. Consequently my family are still basically living in a swamp with a couple of stones thrown in. But hey, now I have a lot of pasture and grain.
  • Harvest. For fuck’s sake, I have too many sheep and not enough everything else. The free pen is too small for any more sheep, even with a barn, so I have acquired a house sheep. I’m fairly certain it’s going to smell. Luckily I’m pretty comfortable with having to plan out actions in advance even if I now have a sheep all up in my shit. I’m not losing faith though; planning for misery in advance is something board games teach well, Caylus, Puerto Rico and Year of the Dragon are three of my favourite merciless epics. The other players are continuing to reap misery.
  • Stage 4 – We’re all now doing something which we’ve convinced ourselves is a strategy. It’s mainly poor decisions, hope and miscalculations. But nonetheless we’re going strong. Pete and I have more pastures, Simon has more livestock. Pat has realised he doesn’t have any food again, so the remaining sheep will have to be sacrificed.
  • Harvest. I say harvest in the loosest sense of the word: in the sense where actively burning your livestock in a resource pile constitutes a meagre amount of food and there is no joy for your family. Fortunately my oven and grain strategy is working excellently for food. My family is living off of bread, and bread alone. It’s a shame about the whole collecting victory points thing. I’ve decided to go for that next stage.

    6D-31- 191
    Yeah, that sounds about right.
  • Stage 5 – Victory points are hard. The effect of having few points for what seems like an awful lot of effort you’re investing in your farm is disconcerting. I can’t help but feel it was designed to do exactly that. Not only are we now silently adding up our current points in preparation for the final stage, we’re also cursing at our inanimate objects because we ourselves didn’t have the foresight to improve them. Pat has now gone heavily into farming, mainly as a result of being annoyed at the everything in his empty farm. Pete remains the group troll, taking all the resources we want but having no livestock to invest in. Simon has merged all of the livestock into one giant dystopian pen (an ability granted by one of his cards), in which the animals have developed some sort of rudimentary government.
  • Stage 6 – Honestly stage 6 is letting me down. With only one round to scrape together as many points as possible, my fellow players have neglected to tell me vital scoring rules that are definitely going to fuck me over at the end. I really wish someone had told me I’d get minus points if I didn’t have any of one resource type. I have neglected farming vegetables the whole time, because I had shit tonnes of grain. I also wish I’d known that space efficiency on your board/farm doesn’t get you anywhere, unlike in other worker placement games such as Puerto Rico or Terra Mystica. I’d intentionally used the least amount of board for the things I was doing – but it turns out leaving blank squares will give me minus points.
  • End of the game – Obviously as my first run through I hadn’t been able to win as most of my time was spent trying to get to grip with the rules and to understand the game a little better. Being able to plan your next moves ahead with the ability to adapt to other players ruining your strategy is a great skill to have, and certainly probably stopped my family from dying.

    Briony: The hair of defeat.
    Briony: The hair of defeat.

I actually quite enjoy the task of resource collecting to be able to play cards or perform tasks in games, and I think Agricola did that very well. The jobs built up well throughout, and the resources restocking supported that. I really like the very simple mechanic of having two livestock in one pasture, and them reproducing as part of the harvest. Not only is it interesting to factor in to any strategies, it makes you feel like your farm is actually functioning. You’re being the farmer, channelling that farmer knowledge, successfully doing agriculture (or not, as we’ve proved). I feel like the point scoring is pretty harsh, especially with negative scoring. I also felt a bit stranded as there was no real way to do damage limitation. The resolution to that is simply to play the game better next time. I felt that having a pen with a barn and fences and 8 wild boar deserved more than 4 points, especially in comparison to earning 2 points for the house you begin the game with.

“The only time I enjoyed this game we were playing it wrong. This is misery farming.” – Pat, 2014.

One thing I wasn’t totally convinced about was the effectiveness of the cards. Sure, it’s handy to be able to play something good you’ve got and tailor your strategy to maybe a few key abilities. However, I think it may have been better to have a mechanic to pick up a card at random, and to only introduce them at certain stages of the game. In fact much like the purple ‘victory’ cards in the last age of 7 Wonders. (Of course that can backfire horribly, forcing players into strategies completely at odds with their original aims a la Twilight Imperium -Bob)

Overall I enjoyed the game, and I’m convinced that a second round playing will seal that opinion. Having my friends in just as much misery and sticky predicaments as myself was perversely amusing, and the game definitely didn’t allow one or two players to be riding free of worry. You’re all in this farming malarkey together.

Briony: Wah.
Briony: Agriculture expert.