Starting last night at 11pm Eastern Standard Time, i’ve been a tad bit addicted to playing the much anticipated Playdek release of Agricola for iOS. Getting very little work done today because of this, and very little sleep last night, also because of this, I have decided to continue this extremely unproductive slightly groggy spell and write a review. So bare with any run on sentences & incoherent ramblings, I promise to do at least a half-baked cooking hearth job of it! Keep reading, it gets better.
Agricola is in my top 5 no particular order board games of all time, so if anyone is going to be critical, it’s going to be us Agricola die hard enthusiasts. And I’d like to say, albeit slightly jealous I did not get picked to be a beta tester, the developers, artists, and team of testers did a stand up job on pretty much everything.
Game play is pretty flawless so far. I’ve played quite a few games and I haven’t encountered any glitches, like at all. I’ve lost a few victory points due to user error but that’s expected while getting used to the interface of any game, it takes a game or two.
Board games are still in their infancy, but iOS board games are even younger. I still can’t believe that they have only been around for just a few years. In these few years there have only been one or two iOS boards games that I felt really hit the mark. In the sense of very few glitches and superbly thought out features, interface, graphics, special touches, and AI – my favorite being Carcassonne.
I really think Agricola iOS has hit this mark too. And with the even higher complication compared to Carcassonne, I’m even more impressed by it. So lets start by listing off some of the bells and whistles :
- When you first open the app, under settings you’ll find all sorts of goodies. Game speeds, a card gallery of all the cards (less expansions, but coming soon), a rule book and a slew of tutorials including a tutorial for people who already know how to play and just want to learn the interface
- Once ready to play you have options to play online or offline. Online includes asynchronous or real-time online play for 2-5 players. You need an account but my list of accounts is so long, this really doesn’t bother me much anymore. Offline play includes a solo play, solo series, pass-n-play, and Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master AI opponents.
- Once you pick which game you are going to play, you have the option of 4 game play options which include family game, and basic games of random draw, 10-3 (get 10 discard 3) and Draft.
- Some other nice tidbits is that is has a universal game application, so once you buy it you can play it on all your devices, as well as multiple profile capabilities. So if you share an iPad with your spouse for instance, they can create a profile. Which is pretty neat, because I kick my husbands arse at Agricola and surely don’t want him messing up my stats :-P (love you hun…) In addition to different profiles, you can also customize your family token art which is pretty cute.
- Game Center achievements which include various things like “Mansion” for example where you have to finish a 2 player game and end with a 5 room stone house. So for those of you that really enjoy attaining achievements, they have 11 of ‘em for ya.
- Rankings, overviews, and multi-lingual
I’m sure I missed some stuff, but that is a pretty comprehensive list regardless. After lots of plays, and besides the mentioned above, here’s what really stands out to me.
Board game vs iOS : In the actual board game you have lots of moving parts, tons of bits, and you manage everything yourself. This includes stocking the game board each round and making all your own calculations. The iOS game is more of an experience. When you begin playing instead of seeing a game board, you see this little village of people working. Instead of a fishing space, there’s a little dude sitting by a lake fishing with a sign by him with the symbol for food, and a little speech bubble telling you how many fish he’s caught. Instead of a card with Build rooms and stables, you’ll see a little man chopping wood with 2 signs telling you what he can provide for you – rooms for your house or stables for your farm. When you get to the higher stages, the village becomes more populated; animals start getting added to the land, and stone workers began hauling stones, it’s really quite animated. It really looks nothing like the board game at all other than using similar symbols for the different resources and the same style artwork. A really interesting feature though is if you aren’t into all this cuteness (which means there is something seriously wrong with you), you can with the touch of a button cover up all the spaces and turn it into more of board game layout. You can also toggle between these while learning the different spaces (see below).
How it plays on small devices : I’ve only played on my iPad mini, but they’ve made quite a few really nice features to make playing on even small devices manageable. The main feature being tons of toggle features. You can toggle between your board and your farm, different players resources, different players farms, your occupations and minor improvements, the major improvements and of course, the scoring screens. All of which are beautifully laid out and easily accessible.
Graphics : In addition to the the animated game board, your farm space is pretty awesome too. They really went above and beyond to make it feel fun and customizable. Your house comes with the traditional rooms but brought to life with wagging tale pets, candle lit rooms and of course the upgrading board game tables. The game is 2-D but has a 3-D feel. When you pick up your animals they wiggle their little legs, and you can drop them anywhere you want in your house and on applicable farm spaces. When you sow your fields, your wheat and pumpkin patches sprout up and come to life. To the left of your farm are all your occupations and improvements nicely laid out for you to reference when needed.
Special Touches : Another really nice feature is they’ve highlighted all the occupation, minor and major improvement cards with a bright green glow when they are available for use. This is also visible when purchasing improvements and you have the appropriate resources. It’s just a really nice that makes referencing very easy on the small devices.
Although much of the game does the micro managing for you, there is still the right balance of interaction. For instance when it’s time to build or upgrade something, if you have multiple resource options or routes to do so, due to cards you’ve played, then the game calculates the options for you, but then you choose which option. Or if you want to bake bread, you actually have to drag each wheat onto your cooking hearth or oven, this tripped me up a bit at first, but makes total sense after your first play through.
The last special touch i’m going to mention is the scoring. I really really like the scoring features. There is the traditional scoring card, but it’s smart. Meaning, it highlights where your farm currently falls in each category, so if you have 2 sheep, it highlights the 1-3 sheep column. And also shows your current points for stables, family members and so on right on the the quick reference score card. BUT THEN, there is also an entire scoring section you can bring up during the game that shows a quick and dirty overview of all the players stats, it’s really cool and super useful for quick reference during the game, especially once you learn the icons.
Final Thoughts : The whole game is just phenomenal. And with all the game logic that had to be calculated, i’m really surprised how well it plays. The smarter AI’s can be a tad bit slow at times, but i’m talking less than 5 or 6 seconds at most and this is only on occasion. Which really isn’t a complaint when real people can take forever! :)
The best part is I can finally play Agricola curled up on my couch, I just can’t believe it and i’m just so happy it meets all my expectations and beyond.