The (Board) Gamer’s Guide to Supply Management Part VIII: Agricola

It’s 1671, the plague that has raged for the last 323 years has finally been overcome, and you and your spouse are a simple farming couple living in a two-room hut somewhere in (very) rural Austria. Your goal is to improve your quality of life by improving your home, expanding your fields, and multiplying your animals (to sell in the nearby markets).

In Agricola, you do this over a 14-round game where each of your family members can take exactly one action (that has not yet been taken) in a round. In this round you can acquire resources such as wood and clay, harvest your crops, acquire livestock, or expand your family. Each of these actions will need to be taken, but must be timed appropriately You cannot expand your family before you can house (and feed) another mouth (or one or more family members will have to beg), but you cannot plant and harvest more crops without more family members. As a result, some actions will almost need to be paired and you will have to plan action sequences in order to not only survive the game, but win. The winner is the player who builds the best overall farmyard (which is judged on a variety of factors which include fields, pastures, stables, crops, animals, homestead, and improvements).

In this post we will discuss the basic “family game” play, which leaves out some of the more advanced components, as you will need to master the basic game before moving on to the more advanced one. (Just like you have to master the basics of multi-round sourcing sourcing negotiations before trying to do real-time optimization-powered auctions after a multi-round RFX to qualify the final bidders.) The difference is that occupation and minor improvement cards are left out and only the major improvement cards are used.

You start the game with 2 units of food if you are the starting player, and 3 otherwise. You can get more food from the harvest that comes at the end of rounds 4, 7, 9, 11, 13, and 14. (Just like in the real world, crops take time and you can’t harvest immediately after planting.) Food is produced from raw grain and vegetables, and grain and vegetables can be converted to food one-to-one at any time. (If you have a hearth, you can convert vegetables at better than a 1 to 1 ratio.)

Each round without a harvest has four phases:

  1. Begin: Flip over a new round card that makes a new action available.
  2. Replenish: Acquire new goods and food from any previous actions that have a recurring result.
  3. Work: In sequence, each player puts a family member to work by assigning an available action to them, which they will take. The action may yield an immediate or future result.
  4. Go Home: At the end of the round, the family members have finished their assigned tasks and go home.

If the round has a harvest, there are three more phases:

  1. Field: players remove one food unit from each sown field and places it
    into their personal supply
  2. Family Feeding: each player must feed each family member who was born in this round 1 food and each other family member 2 food; a player who does not have the food has to beg and borrow food, but that comes at a cost of 3 points (think 3 food units) in the future
  3. Breeding: any player with at least 2 animals of the same type may breed 2 animals to receive exactly one additional (baby) animal of the same type, provided there is space in that person’s farmyard for the animal

The following actions are always available:

  • Extend Your Hut or Stables : you can extend your wooden hut, ore renovate your wooden hut into a clay hut or your clay hut into a stone house if you have enough reed and wood, clay, or stone to do so. Alternatively, you can build stables to keep (more) animals
  • Extend Your Family: if you have more rooms in your hut than you have family members, and less than five family members, then you can add one offspring to your family (to put to work in later rounds)
  • Tend Your Fields or Bake Some Bread: you can plow an unplowed field, sow one or more plowed fields with grain or vegetables, or (if you have a fireplace, hearth, stone, or clay oven) convert grain to food
  • Raise Your Animals: in order to raise animals, a player must fence pastures or build stables (in a pasture),

Additional actions that may become available during the game (in the form of major improvement cards) include:

  • The Well: produces extra food (as your fields are better irrigated you produce more crop that becomes food)
  • Fireplace: allows you to convert grain, vegetables, and animals to food
  • Cooking Hearth: allows you to convert grain, vegetables, and animals to food
  • Basket Weaver: allows reeds to be converted to food
  • Stone Oven: bake bread from grain
  • Cabinet Maker: makes cabinets from wood that are traded for food
  • Pottery: makes pottery from clay that are traded for food

It’s just like managing an industrial farm at the back-end of agricultural supply chains. The amount of crop you can produce depends on how many fields you have, how many people you have working those fields, and how capable you are at optimizing the output, but the amount of fields you have available and the amount of people to tend those fields depends on how many of those fields need to be used for, or grow food for, the animals you are raising to supply meat to your customers who want grain, vegetables, and meat to stock their shelves and freezers. A field can only be used for one thing at a time, a person can only do one farm task at a time, and those farmhands need to be paid and fed. You have to balance supply with demand with profit and need. If you train your people, they can be more productive, but it costs time and money to do so (and maybe they’ll quit and go work for your competitor). And if you go into debt, the interest accumulates quickly because you’re essentially borrowing from legalized loan-sharks due to your low profit margins and limited clout.

And winning isn’t just profit, it’s sustainability and depends on a number of complex factors that influence your performance over time.

Are you the best agriculture supply chain manager? Play Agricola, challenge (up to four of) your teammates, and find out!