Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (iOS)
Note: I received a free review code for this game. But my review is not indebted to the company, nor is it influenced by it in any way.
This game is on iOS for $4.99
As soon as I saw a review code for this iPad game come across our electronic desk, I jumped at the chance to review it. Agricola All Creatures Big and Small is an iOS version of a successful board game designed by Uwe Rosenberg. The game is reminiscent of many of my favorite games, namely Settlers of Catan. The electronic version seems to be identical to the board game version, so I’ll just give a general overview that applies to both.
The main thrust of the game is that you are a farmer trying to breed sheep, cows, pigs, and horses for your farm. You start with a 3×2 farm and can expand later in the game. You win the game if you have the most victory points, mostly meaning the most animals, at the end of eight rounds. Simple right? Well…
You can’t just throw animals anywhere on your farm. You need structures and fences and other things in order to keep animals there. For example, a stall can hold three animals, and a stall with a trough can hold three. So here is how the turns work:
First, you refill the board. Each square has certain symbols that tell you what to put on it. For example, one square generates a horse every turn and a sheep every other turn. If someone doesn’t “buy” that square (by trading in resources), then the resources pile up, making it more valuable next turn. The you take turns taking an action. You have three workers you can place on the board. The actions range from buying a building, expanding your farm, buying animals, and so on. After that phase is over, your animals breed. Any two animals reproduce as long as you have space to house the offspring.
That’s pretty much it! Simple to learn, but difficult to master. But let’s get into the subjective stuff.
What I Like
Here we go: first off, the game looks intimidating as hell if you haven’t played. But the tutorial is quick, simple, and tells you everything you need to know. Learning the rules—especially if you’re moving from board game to electronic game—can be a brutal process. But this game and interface makes it easy.
The next thing I like is very related to the thing I like best about this game: it is deceptively simply. You can learn it in ten minutes and spend months mastering. That is the core of any good board and iOS game. Each time I played through I used a different strategy, and it seems that there is no end to how you can play. That said, you do lose a little of the mystique when you’re playing the computer. However, as far as computer players go, it’s pretty unpredictable.
I also just plain like the premise of the game. I dig farm games, and I really like resource management and accumulation games. The breeding mechanic is fun, and I hope to play expansions in the future that allow for even more effects like that. I think the animations are cute, if not a little difficult to decipher on my outdated iPad. It is a well rounded game as a whole, and it translates well to the electronic form.
What I Don’t Like
This may seem like a silly critique, but it’s something that board game designers need to think about as they transition to an electronic platform. The electronic version of the game is just too damn short. When you’re playing the board game version, the play is slow. You have adorable little pieces to pick up and move, you need to do the math on breeding animals, and so on. The iOS version makes all of that instantaneous, significantly shortening the length of a game.
It may also have to do with how I feel about resource management and development games. In Agricola, it feels like as soon as I start building something, the game is over. There are some games that thrive on this dynamic, but I would prefer there to be a little more payoff to my time spent breeding animals. In the many playthroughs I’ve done on the electronic version, I have only started digging my farm and connecting to it in the eighth round. It’s a farm, it should be slow to build and give you some payoff.
Here is what everyone wants to know: is it worth five bucks? I’d say yes, because you can play games pretty quickly, and there is a very high replayability value. Isn’t that the perfect storm for an iOS game? I think so.