Play Tested: Agricola for iOS

By Will Smith

Agricola is consistently one of the top rated games on Board Game Geek. The iOS version of the worker-placement classic delivers a killer version of the board game to iPad and iPhone.

I love Agricola. The complex interactions and constant competition for resources make it one of my favorite worker placement games. Despite a somewhat grim premise (you’re a farmer in the Middle Ages trying to subsistence farm your way to 3 kids and a nice stone house) the game’s mechanics are brilliant. After a long wait, Agricola is finally available for iOS, and I’m pleased to tell you that the team at Playdek has done one of my favorite German-style board games right.

Mechanically, Agricola is broken down into a series of rounds, interspersed with a few harvests. During each turn, a member of your family gets to perform one action—these include collecting resources, plowing a field, or adding a room to your house. Each round ends when every member of both player’s families have completed their actions. Expanding your home, family, and farm requires careful planning and use of these actions, which is where the competitive heart of Agricola comes in. The pool of available actions is shared between players and expands as the game progresses. By swooping in to deny your opponent a much-needed resource, you can completely shift the balance of power in the game. Every few rounds, players must have collected enough food to feed their families and harvest crops and livestock.

When played with a physical board, Agricola is a large, sprawling game. Each player controls a mat, which represent their home and farm, while the communal action pool also takes up a fair amount of space. At the end of each round, you must replenish a large number of resources, which can be tedious and fiddly. On iOS, this translates into a complicated, multi-screen layout. It’s easy enough to pick up if you’re familiar with the board game, but it may be tricky for players new to Agricola to understand why certain things happen at specific times. On the other hand, when I learned the physical version of the game, I had trouble understanding which resources get replenished and which don’t. These things may balance each other out.

The game includes two different tutorial tracks—a mode designed to teach experienced Agricola players the interface for the iOS version and a series of shorter tutorials designed to teach the simpler, Family game to new players. They seemed comprehensive to me, but Agricola is a game that requires a couple of sessions to really grasp. If you end up learning Agricola from the iOS version, I’d be interested to hear what your experience was like.

The single player AI is good for people learning the game, but expert players have complained that it doesn’t present a challenge. I probably have 20 or 30 games of Agricola under my belt, and I found the default AI setting, Journeyman, to be relatively easy to beat, while the Master setting presented a challenge commensurate to my experience level.

At present, the game only includes the Basic deck for the more complex game, although I’d expect to see the Interactive and Complex decks, as well as some of the more esoteric decks, added in the future as DLC.

Agricola for iOS features real-time and asynchronous online play, but doesn’t offer a local option beyond pass-and-play. Playdek isn’t using Apple’s Game Center for online play, instead introducing their own matchmaking service. You’ll need to create a new account, but that only took a few moments for me.

Agricola is a universal binary and costs $7. It’s a bit cramped on the iPhone though, so I’d recommend it primarily to folks who want to play on iPad. This is a fantastic representation of the board game classic and I can’t recommend it highly enough.