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In explaining this game to people over Christmas, several people independently balked at the idea that the whole house must be upgraded at once.

Is there a strong reason to enforce this rule? After a few games, it seems like it'd be pretty harmless to allow renovation one room at a time. (New rooms would always be of the highest type, and cards requiring a clay or stone house would only function after complete conversion.) The scoring already supports this easily, and I think the major consequence would be increased availability of expansion-after-renovation. Because each upgrade costs a reed in addition to the materials for the rooms, and because actions are always the most precious resource, it'd still be much more efficient to upgrade all at once.

So, given that people felt strongly that a piecemeal construction should be allowed, how problematic of a house rule would this be?

As a bonus, what about allowing individual rooms to be constructed of any material at any time? (With this, unless all of your rooms are converted to clay, new clay rooms would also cost some amount of wood, and similarly going straight to stone would cost additional wood and clay.) This idea adds some complication for not much real gameplay gain, but for some reason people found the arbitrary rules of home construction more jarring to the immersive game story than, oh, say, the idea that only one person in a community can sow a field on the same day.

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I think the house rule will be harmless, and also that after playing a few games, no one will take advantage of partial renovation - because it's a terrible idea. It also introduces unnecessary complexity.

  • Balance: The only balance consequence I see is that the Renovation action can be taken much more often than in standard Agricola. In principle, you could use this to deny the action to other players. In practice though, I doubt it would be worth it - there are plenty more valuable things to do than renovate, in most games.

  • Strategy: You simply do not have time to upgrade individual rooms. As you point out, that's expensive in reed, but critically, it's using an action each time. And what for? Renovating a single room to Clay gets you a measly one point. If you also require that subsequent rooms must be built of the more expensive material, and that the house doesn't count as Clay until all rooms are completed, then partial renovation is clearly a terrible idea.

  • Complexity: There is already a mechanism for handling surplus goods - purchasing of Improvements. The idea of Renovation is that it's a major action, that takes careful preparation and timing, and may or may not be a good idea, depending on your resources, whether you can buy a Major Improvement at the same time, and whether you need a better house for your Minors or Occupations. In gameplay terms, partial renovation serves no useful purpose.

The second rule, about building houses from arbitrary building resources, has the potential for greater impact, but again is complex. It makes it easier to build rooms, while removing the resource niche effect that players get by Renovating. For example, one reason to Renovate to clay might be to make use of clay resources, while everyone else fights it out for wood for their rooms. This house rule would remove that tactical possibility, which is a shame. This is important because rooms are required to have children, and your workers drive the economic engine of the game (this is the reason that cards like Wet Nurse are so powerful). So messing with the room mechanic is not a great idea.

Overall, I think this is a solution in search of a problem. Bear in mind that the many, many Occupations and Minor Improvements allow all sorts of interesting game adjustments, including building options and alternatives. For example the Conservator lets you Renovate to stone in a single action. My advice is to tell your players to deal with the rules as they are, get them more experienced, and move them on to the full game as quickly as possible. With 14 different cards to manage each game, they'll have more than enough to worry about without needing to take issue with odd questions of building realism.

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Interesting answer –  danilka1 Jan 1 '13 at 18:23
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The problem is not so much that partial Renovation would be broken in and of itself - ire_and_curses' answer has given a good account why such a move would usually be a bit of a waste of an action - as that it interacts really terribly with other important aspects of the game.

I immediately thought of the (excellent, well-worth-getting-hold-of) Farmers of the Moor expansion. If your players are used to a partial Renovation house rule and then get hold of this, they'll have to get unused to the house rule pretty quick. A Stone House costs 1 Fuel less to heat than a Clay House costs 1 Fuel less to heat than a Wood House. I don't think you want to start working in fractions of Fuel for partially upgraded homes...

Fine, you say, but you think you have no interest in ever getting the expansion. Even so, tampering with the Renovation rule disrupts the intrinsic balance of the core game too. What do you do about the many, many cards that have being in a Clay House or a Stone House as a prerequisite? If a player claims that having 1 Stone Room should entitle them to play the Manservant Occupation, then Houston, we have a problem. You could say that only a fully-renovated home should ever count for the purposes of such cards, but now your house rule is starting to seem pretty complex. Even if you are careful not to let it break cards by making some of them too powerful, you'll then inevitably do the opposite - breaking cards by making them too weak. How good are Occupation/Minor Improvement cards that make it easier to renovate in a game with a house rule that makes it easier for everyone to renovate? Maybe not quite useless, but less good, that's for sure.

Meddling with the ruleset of a finely balanced game such as Agricola is definitely a dangerous course of action. "After Renovation, also Fences" does not become available as an action space in Round 14 purely by accident, it does so to encourage players to plan ahead to get the maximum bang for the buck of a single action at the very end of the game. But you have to plan ahead so carefully to achieve that: you have to hoard wood, stone and reed all the way to the end of the game... and you have to be absolutely certain that other players won't go before you and take the squares you need, leaving you with a ton of useless resources in your supply! Allowing partial renovation makes this space considerably less difficult to decide to use, and I think that's a really, really dangerous thing for the game. There are few games as delicately weighted as Agricola, and almost everything in the core rules is the way it is for a pretty good reason. Tamper with that balance at your peril!

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