Agricola can feel pretty daunting because farming should never be difficult, but the Middle Ages never makes anything easy. The rules are already complicated to run through because of how all of its various components work together that most new players will spend time trying to figure out how to navigate its phases so that their family won’t starve. All in all, I’d say that it takes about 3 plays for people to even be able to get a rudimentary understanding of the game flow before they can start thinking about game strategy.
Because of that, I’d recommend getting a few games of Agricola in under your belt before you can use this guide to take you to the next level. Veterans should already know what to do and may want to check out my future article on which occupations and minor improvements are best to play. But for newbies who understand the basic concept of getting crops on to the field and fencing animals, this is a good place to check out if you want to understand how to up your score. So here’s your chance. Read on!
1. Focus on growing your family to the exclusion of everything else:
Everything you do in the first couple of rounds should revolve into prepping for that new family member. That means you grab wood, you grab reed, and then make sure you can jump to first room expansion before anyone else can. Of course, everyone else will be doing the same thing as well (unless you play with new players), so you’ll have to use the starting player space judiciously if you want to succeed.
The reason why this should be your first priority in Agricola is because extra family members make your life so much easier by giving you the ability to take advantage of more actions. That translates to being able to grab more resources, more animals, and ultimately, more ways to fill up your board so you don’t end up with too many negative points from unused spaces.
Now, growing your family can be a nailbiting experience because you’ll wonder if you have enough food to feed them. You shouldn’t have to worry because, worst comes to worst, you squat on Day Laborer to get the free food or you have some cooking implement that helps you turn animals or vegetables into food. Ideally, you’ll also have some occupations or minor improvements to help you out in the feeding phase too.
2. Plan and build a primary food engine early on:
I’d say that by round 2 or 3, you should already have some idea of what your food engine will be along with maybe a contingency plan or two in case someone else gets the jump on you. The first place to make that determination is to look at what occupation cards and minor improvement cards you have. Will any of those provide a food bonus like a landing net or fishing pole? What if you have easy access to stone and reed or clay? Maybe go for the Pottery or Basketmaker’s Workshop. If none of your cards are helpful in that regard, it might be prudent to grab two clay so you can be first to get a Fireplace. That makes sheep a good way to feed your family.
3. Figure out a way to leverage your occupations and minor improvements so that they synergize:
For new players, reading through all of those occupations and minor improvements can be a bugbear. You might not understand what they do at a fundamental level and even if you can parse the text, you might not understand the implications of what the cards do since it ties in with a very specific mechanic. But these cards will shape your strategy because it allows you to perform certain actions more efficiently, giving you a pretty good competitive advantage. Take advantage of them to steamroll your way to victory!
4. Look to see what your opponents need and deny them the spot if it doesn’t hurt you:
One of the key parts of Agricola’s worker placement mechanic means you have the ability to block opponents from accomplishing their goals if you grab the right action that they desperately need. That requires you pay attention to your opponent’s board to see what their capabilities and what action they might take next. Do they have 5 wood and 2 reed? That’s a clear sign they’ll add a new room to their house soon enough. Did they acquire 3 stone and have 1 wood sticking around along with 4 clay and 1 reed? Might be a Renovation along with a Well as part of the Major Improvement grab. If you can telegraph this beforehands, you can take starting player at the right moment to deny them the spot or buy a Well just to spite them and force them to take a less favorable action.
1. Be seduced by your occupations or minor improvements:
The opposite problem of #3’s Do’s, there are some new players who look at their hand of occupations and minor improvements and then get this overwhelming urge to play EVERY CARD they have! Not all occupations and minor improvements are created equal so prioritize the ones that are important and go after those. Getting too greedy with the occupations and minor improvements can sometimes result in you forgetting about the game’s fundamentals: to build the most kickass farm possible!
2. Forget to take starting player, especially near the end of the game:
Look at the last 3 round spaces in the game: Family Growth Without Room, Plow and Sow, Renovate + Fences. The reason why these actions are available during the late game is because these actions are super powerful and can get you a lot of points. Plow and Sow can usually net you at least 3 points at the minimum, more if you have a crap ton of vegetables and grain that you haven’t planted yet. And if you have a plow that lets you take advantage of that square, that’s even more points. Renovate + Fences can help you fill up any loose spaces on the board with a mega-fence and get you a load of points from renovations. Finally, Family Growth Without Room gives you more actions towards the end of the game, which can be good to snap up 2-point actions.
But to get these, you’ll want to take starting player because these spaces aren’t going to stay around for too long. Neglect these and you just might find yourself on the wrong end of the score sheet.
3. Leave your fields and pastures until the very end of the game:
Although it’s tempting to go grab family members, chase after major/minor improvements, and play those wonderful occupation cards, don’t procrastinate on plowing fields or setting up fences. If everyone does this near the end of the game, then those spaces are going to become pretty scarce, pretty quickly. When playing, give yourself ample time to accumulate fences and fields and then grabbing the grain, veggies, and animals necessary to do well, because missing too many categories can add up in endgame scoring.
4. Only focus on growing your family:
Growing family is fun. It’s wonderful to see those little tykes run around and then grow to where they can help you out on the farm. But each additional family member offers diminishing returns, which can be a bit counterintuitive for new players who’ve gotten a taste for family growth strategies. The reason for that is because as more players get more family members, the more crowded the board will become. Spaces available for your 4th family member when everyone has 4 family members will just not be as good and you might not be able to get as much mileage out of that family member than what you’ve hoped for.
Hopefully these tips will help you to build your strategy foundation in Agricola and help you play better. If you have any other suggestions, feel free to leave your own tips in the comments section below so that other players can learn and get better at the game!