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As you may well have guessed by now I play a lot of online Agricola; here's a situation that comes up all the time.

If I'm the second player, and sheep come up as the round one action card, quite often my second action will be to take starting player, take 2 Clay at the beginning of round two, positioning myself to get an early Fireplace and score a sweet 6-8 Food in round four.

Obviously this is a powerful sequences of plays and if left unchecked sets you up quite nicely to expand without food worries in rounds five through seven. Nevertheless, I'm always quite surprised at the alacrity with which most of my opponents like to take the sheep in response to my building a Fireplace, obviously having to release all but one into the wild.

I feel like I'm continually soundly beating the players who "waste a turn" depriving me of sheep; obviously I'm not overjoyed to be losing a few "free" Food, but equally I'm delighted that my opponent has spent a crucial early turn doing virtually nothing except trying to annoy me.

My question is simply, have I miscalculated the value of the sheep-stealing move? If you are playing an opponent who aggressively takes 2 Clay and builds a Fireplace hoping to celebrate the first Harvest with an enormous sheep barbecue, would you spend an action taking sheep from under his nose and why? Can anyone effectively break down the pros and cons of such an action for me?

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I don't see a point in taking them before somebody has a pasture to hold them. Your fireplace doesn't let you take more than one either, so why take the sheep in response to the clay when I can instead wait until you've built fences? –  Monica Cellio Jan 23 '12 at 15:05
2  
@MonicaCellio - he won't build fences. He would lead the sheep right to the fireplace and convert them to 2 food each. –  Pat Ludwig Jan 23 '12 at 15:29

3 Answers 3

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I've been allowed to cook 4 sheep in a 2er before and still lost the game. Badly. I do think in general, your opponents are over-valuing "scattering the woolies" (as one BGGer puts it) if they're just making a knee-jerk response to your First Fireplace. Assuming you keep one, it's theoretically a 2-point move, but only if you don't cook it later and never take Sheep the rest of the game. Otherwise you're spending an action (that you would've done anyway later) just to block. Blocking is necessary in 2ers, but you need to do it in a way that's a net positive in score for you (e.g., if your opponent gets begging card(s) because of it).

I think if you're that worried about your opponent getting 8 food, you're probably already behind. There are enough ways to get food in a 2er that "stealing" some sheep isn't likely to make up the difference.

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It all depends on timing and what that players are able to do. If you can ensure that the other player takes a begging card if you take 'their sheep' then that is at least a 3 point move (with the exception of Mendicant). This is only relevant in a 2 player game where every point you stop your opponent receiving increases your lead by a point. There are however numerous situations where it wouldn't help as the first stage actions are very valuable. You'de probably be better denying them reed for family growth.

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There are certainly situations where it's worth releasing the sheeps, especially in a 2-player game. I would even argue that you can never let your opponent get 8 food that early. If I take the sheep and release all but one, sure it does me no good now, but later it nets me 2 food or 2 points. That forces you to make at least one bad move on for example Day Labourer, and probably have to spend one or two moves in Stage 2 getting food.

In many 3-player games I've seen a huge advantage going to the player who gets the first sheeps, and in that case it's more of a loss for me to spend that move since the third player is the only one that benefits from it.

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Mm, I've kind of relented my position on "sheep-stealing" and now do it quite often. I still think it's foolish to "always" take 4 sheep, but if your opponent's game is likely to take off dramatically if they get it, and if they will have to scrabble a bit for food if they don't, I understand that it can be a lot better than just making a mediocre move of your own. Bear in mind that "getting 8 food" probably took 3 actions: Clay, Major Improvement, Sheep. That last action is a good one to block if you can, but it might not be game over if you don't. –  thesunneversets Jan 6 '13 at 15:26

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