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What are some good general guidelines for strategies when playing Agricola? I know it will depend on the exact games, but are there any typical dos and/do nots?

John

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closed as off-topic by Jonathan Hobbs, Brian S, bengoesboom, bwarner, winterblood Feb 27 at 23:25

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about good general strategy tips for a game. See this meta post. –  Jonathan Hobbs Feb 27 at 11:31
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@Jonathan Too broad, not off-topic. Clearly questions about strategy in a game are not off-topic. –  bwarner Feb 27 at 16:14
    
@bwarner Well, yes, but general strategy tips are. Off topic is where the custom close reasons lie, whether it makes much sense or not. –  Jonathan Hobbs Feb 27 at 21:39
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6 Answers 6

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Pat Ludwig has mentioned some good ideas. In my opinion, the four most important things are:

  • Decide and work towards your food strategy early. You need a solid plan to get food. This is the foundation that gives you the breathing space to do everything else. The first couple of turns feel relaxed, because it's ages before the first harvest. Don't let that fool you! Time constricts sharply in later turns, and what you do here can make or break your later game. Getting something planted by first harvest is usually a good idea.
  • Don't obsess over Occupations. Most of them will theoretically help you. However you probably can't easily play more than 3 without impacting other areas. Come up with a straightforward plan (also considering your Minors), and then prioritise ruthlessly.
  • Have a baby as soon as possible. Extra family members are the key to getting lots done.
  • Be flexible. The best strategy depends heavily on what the other players decide to do. If everyone else is grabbing animals, prioritise farming. If lots of wood is available, consider a building spree. Sometimes the Occupation square is occupied for long enough to render your plan worthless. Move on. Most people have a preferred play style. But the key to winning is to realise that you often won't be able to play the game according to your desires.
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Agricola is about turn management. Everything comes down to making the best use of your turns and every action you make has an opportunity cost. The different numbers of players should also change your strategy. There are some general guidelines that you can use to improve your play.

  • Know exactly how many turns you have until the next harvest, and know how many shots at each space you will get. Both will help you decide the most important move to make.
  • The less players there are in the game, the more denial should be a part of your strategy. Ignore denial until the very last turn in a five player game and deny right from the start in a two player game.
  • Know which resources are most limited and are in most demand.
  • Picking starting player at the right time can be extremely important, but remember that it is a wasted turn. Always have a strong reason to do so. Don't be afraid to change strategies if someone else is denying you that spot.
  • People are important, but only for their extra turns. Always consider the actual value of getting an extra mouth to feed in the late game. Sometimes taking the wood can be more valuable.
  • Don't forget other people's professions. A single profession could change the resource balance and demand.
  • The last three spaces are the most valuable for points. In the mid-game, try to ensure that you will be well positioned to exploit these locations.
  • Sometimes an opportunity will present itself that you might not see if you are dead set on a particular path. Be flexible and always reassess your options. It may actually be worth facing starvation if it will net you 4 or more victory points.
  • The early game is about building a food engine and getting an extra family member as quickly as possible.
  • The mid game is about cleaning up a lot of -1 VPs and expanding your food engine.
  • The late game is about squeezing extra VPs out of the game where ever you can.
  • Don't ignore vegetables. The sooner you sow them the better.
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I try to get as many ppl as possible and at least 1 or each scoring category.

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You don't say whether you're playing with the Farmers of the Moor expansion; if so, the following suggestion may not apply, as having to heat your 4-room wooden house becomes quite an operation, but:

In the standard game, I'd say that growing your family is THE dominant strategy, especially playing against newbies. If you can accumulate 10 wood and 4 reed and build two extra rooms (ideally, in one action) shortly after the first harvest, then grow your family twice in advance of most of the other players, all the extra actions you'll be getting will soon give you an insuperable advantage.

Having said that, the real key to winning Agricola is to slurp up and make best use of undervalued resources; so, if everyone is dead set on building rooms, do something different! Rather than battling strenuously for wood, be the first to 2 clay, build the Fireplace and see your food problems vanish when you pick up a flock of sheep that no one else could do anything with...

One thing that newbies often don't spot is that, while getting food through baking bread or slaughtering animals are both fine, especially when backed up with Occupations and/or Minor Improvements, there is a third way, the way of Major Improvements. The Basketmaker's Workshop in particular is great at providing both food and victory points, in the many games where players undervalue reed because, after they've built a room or two, it doesn't do very much.

Taking of Major Improvements, notice that the Well is often cheaper and better than renovating to Stone; and if you get it early enough provides you with a nice little food bonus too. Don't get fixated on renovation, unless you can get a really good Major Improvement (or in the last round, Fences) on the side.

I concur with other posters who advise not to get hung up on Occupations too much. Unless an Occupation is going to save you two or more subsequent actions in the course of the game, it's questionable whether you should be playing it at all. As such, there are some which are obviously good to play (hello Field Watchman etc), but oh so many that are traps, when you could be doing something properly constructive on your farm. Then again, it can be worth using the Occupation square early on, just to make sure other players don't get their busted cards out too easily! Since your first Occupation costs no food, of course, and Occupations are usually at their best when played early. But if the player to your right is hogging the space, don't worry, just smile and grab the Wood that he's foolishly neglecting to take.

That's enough for the time being I think!

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You need to have a plan for food. You should choose one of these options and work hard towards it:

  • Animals - You want to get the first Fireplace, probably take a bunch of Sheep once they've accumulated up to about 4 and cook most of them. Sets you up well for the later game. You'll want to start breeding soon, so you'll need lots of wood for stables/pastures.
  • Bread - Can be tricky if you don't have a helpful Occupation or Minor Improvement. Some people go as far as to say you should never aim to bake bread unless you have a good Occ/Imp, but I wouldn't agree. Nonetheless, generally it's vital to get the Clay Oven, and there's only one, so you need to get 1 Stone and 3 Clay ASAP. It helps a lot that you get a free bake when you build the Clay Oven - really try to have a grain on hand when you build it. Try to get grain sown as soon as possible, preferably into two or three fields.
  • Vegetables - It's hard to completely feed your family with Vegetables, unless you have the Lettuce Patch, but they can form a good sizeable chunk of a balanced diet. You definitely want a Cooking Hearth to maximise their value. It starts too late if you have to wait for the "Take 1 Vegetable" space, so you need a card like the Hobby Farmer or Grocer to really do this well. Others like the Potato Dibber or Window Box can make this much more effective.
  • Accumulators - Travelling Players and Fishing are not really sustainable sources of food normally, but with a good occupation or two like Dancer or Fisherman, you can get quite a lot of food from these.
  • Other Cards - With cards like Berry Picker, Sycophant or Patron+Bookshelf, you can obtain quite a lot of your food from unconventional sources. You're not likely to be fighting other people for it, which is good, but you will have to get animals and vegetables at some point to get a decent score, so you can't completely neglect those aspects.
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As the available actions change based on the number of players, I'll say up front that this advice is primarily for the 4p game. Also, these are general guidelines. There are exceptions for everything!

  • Don't play too many occupations! No more than 3 before the first harvest. 2 is probably better.
  • Reed/Stone/Food is the best square in the game. Stone is very scarce, reed isn't common.
  • Try to be the first person to build, and to get Family Growth
  • 4p has more food available than 3p and 5p. It is OK to take a few chances with food in 4p
  • Don't fence before the first harvest. Ideally you want to play 2 fence actions in the game
  • Do your best to take advantage of everything your cards allow. Try to get an improvement after Family Growth, Renovation and getting starting player.
  • Good Major improvements to shoot for are the Well and the first Fireplace.
  • When in doubt buy a major, they are good VPs
  • Pay attention to any cards that award bonuses at the end of the game. Make sure you get yours, and try to steal an opponents if possible (Reeve, Church Warden, House Steward)
  • Work towards a food engine that noone else is using
  • Don't overvalue renovating. If you have to spend 3 actions to gather materials and another to renovate, it isn't worth it.
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I play a very similar strategy and do pretty well. I focus on getting Family Growth done as quickly (and often) as possible. Also the end of game bonus points can rack up quickly so I like that point too. –  Al Crowley Nov 10 '10 at 16:57
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