The Opinionated Gamers

AGRA

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Designer: Mike Keller

 

INTRODUCTION

Agra is a worker placement, pick up deliver game and area control. Your goal is to produce, upgrade, trade, gift, sell and deliver goods in order to be the wealthiest landowner. Sound like there’s a lot going on there? Well, that’s because there is.

OVERVIEW

There is a very large main player board with 3 distinct areas; an upper area that contains action spaces, a middle area that contains production and processing buildings and a lower area that contains the river, where goods are shipped.

 

 

There is also a second board that tracks the three guilds and the emperor.

 

Each player has a home board that tracks their production values and abilities, a pool of workers and a pool of markers that are used for various functions and a bag in which to hide their earnings. There is a chart that shows your production value of each good; everyone starts with the same setup but different actions allow you to adjust your farmers’ positions and remove tiles to increase your production over the course of the game.

 

 

Where to start, because there is so much to describe? I am going to go through a turn. (Please note that, due to the number of actions available, I am going to summarize the actions and may omit some of the finer points and subtleties that are not key to an overview).

On a player’s turn, they start by deciding if they want to take an optional Meditation Action. There is a Meditation Chart at the top of the board that shows several actions. One of those actions, moving a farmer, is always available; moving a farmer allows you to increase the production value of one of your goods, but to the detriment of another type of good. The other actions – process a good, exchange a good, trade a good and remove a cover tile (which increases your good production) are available, but the last action taken by a player is covered up and not available until the next player takes a medication action.  

Why wouldn’t you take a meditation action? Well, they aren’t free. You must pay the cost of the action in Meditation Points (MP). On your player board you have a meditation chart that indicates your workers’ worth while they are meditating. Everyone starts at 1, but you can increase the value up to 3 during the game.  In order to have a worker meditate you take one or more workers you have previously played on an action space and lay them down.  The first worker you lay down will generate MPs for where your marker is on the chart; the second will generate MPs equal to the next space to the left and so on; workers always generate at least 1 MP.  It’s great that your workers are meditating, but now they won’t be able to help you curry favor (more on that later) so you’ve got think about the present and the future here.

Once a player has taken a meditation action, they begin their action phase. To take an action, you place your worker on the appropriate space on the board. If another player has an upright (non-meditating) worker on the space, you return the worker to that player and they get to take one of the markers in their supply and put it in their favor pool; favor allows you to perform special actions on your turn. If the marker is laying down/meditating it is still returned to the other player but they do not receive favor.

The top of the board has 4 action spaces.

 

That influence you earn on the guild track is important; the guild tracks gives you bonuses as you move up as well as victory points at the end of the game. The guilds are also looking for goods; each guild has a chart of orders of 2 goods that they are looking for, with a marker indicating which goods they currently seek. If you already have at least one influence in a particular guild you can make this delivery in full in place of or in addition to a delivery to the notables. If you are in first place on the influence track you get the indicated number of rupees, otherwise you gain the indicated number minus one. You mark the order with one of your markers as complete and move the guild marker to the next available order spot.

 

Where do you get all these goods that you’re producing and delivering? That’s where the center of the board comes in. The buildings on the far left of the board are Production buildings. You place a worker in a production building and generate as many goods as you are currently producing of that type. This is determined by counting the number of open spaces between that good and the farmers on either side of it. You get one good per open space. In the picture below you’d be getting two cotton, because there are two open spaces.

The rest of the buildings are Processing Buildings. Even if they are not yet built you can place your worker on one of these spaces and upgrade up to 3 of your already-produced goods. Other players may choose to follow you and upgrade one of their goods on the same path; each player who does so must move pay you one favor (we’ll get to what favor is soon – I promise!).

If you place your worker on a building where the Merchant marker is, you will receive 2 favor after you take your action there; the Merchant then moves based on a die roll. If you place your worker on a building where the Builder marker is you can build that building at no cost; you do not get a bonus tile but you do get to process goods. The Builder marker then moves based on you die roll.

That’s a lot of actions, but guess what? There’s more! What else can you do?

But wait  – there’s more!

Your turn isn’t over yet. You are now entering the Order Phase. During this phase you may either:

The game ends when one of the game end conditions is met – a level IV notable’s contract is filled, a player reaches the top of one of the influence tracks or one guild order column is full. . At that point you finish the round and then each player gets one more turn. During final scoring you get rupees for completed guild orders, removed cover tiles, goods you delivered to Emperor Akbar and being on the last space of the meditation track. Some notables also give you rupees at game end. The player with the most rupees wins.

MY THOUGHTS ON THE GAME

I want to love this game. I am a fan of both worker placement and pick up and deliver games, so this one piqued my interest. The board is beautiful, the components are well-made and the rules are long but well-written and mostly clear. However, there are enough things that concern me that drop my rating to like.

The good: I enjoy the gameplay. You have lots of choices on your turn and there are numerous interesting decisions to be made. There are so many resources (16!) that you have to find the balance between under and over representation for each.

The mechanism of worker placement and use of your workers is very cool; having to decide between guaranteed meditation points or potential favor is often a tough decision. You can always place a worker, even if someone else is on that spot, but you might be giving them a bonus. Being able to use favor and luxury goods to manipulate your turn and make it more efficient is fun and allows you to take advantage of more of the myriad available options.

There also seem to be several paths to victory, all of which seem to work equally well; all of our games have been relatively close and there never seemed to be a runaway leader, meaning actions towards the end of the game were especially meaningful.  

The bad: You have lots of choices on your turn and almost all of the actions you take have associated additional actions or components that adds to the complexity, sometimes unnecessarily; some of these seem to be there just for the sake of being “gamery”. Playing this game with someone who is prone to analysis paralysis could lead to a very long game; I think the 30 minutes per player would only apply with experienced players.

The board is beautiful, but some of the graphics are hard to see at a distance, and distance is bound to happen due to the size of the board. A few of the resources look too similar to others, and some of the processing arrows are hard to see. In addition, the separate imperial board has a few problems. While the structure itself is relatively sturdy the guild and player markers are precariously placed; one bump or dropped piece and havoc could ensue. Also, the pieces are columns, so they block the guild orders from some angles. It’s pretty, but it’s not the most functional.

In the end, I do like the game and am happy to have purchased it. I think with repeated plays and experienced players the stream of actions will flow much better; we played our third game of this less than 12 hours after the second and everything moved along much better than it did in the first or second. We also moved the imperial board to a separate, slightly lower table and that helped with being able to see (I was still nervous placing and moving pieces on it, though.

THOUGHTS OF OTHER OPINIONATED GAMERS

Dan Blum (1 play): I agree with Tery to a large extent. I liked the game well enough and agree that with experience it will not take too long; in fact our game went at a reasonable pace despite everyone being new to it. However, it definitely is overstuffed with mechanisms which I am not convinced add much to the game, and these are a likely source of AP. We managed to play quickly by mostly ignoring some of them, e.g. the special luxury good actions; if every time you have one of those good you stop to analyze whether you get more benefit from its special action or delivering it, it will slow the game down (and this is just one example).

 

I also agree that the graphics are detrimental to the game. It’s good that all four goods processing paths are exactly the same, because if they were different the game would be just about impossible to play given how hard it is to make out the lines on the board.

 

My rating is “like it” for now but that’s mostly because I want to play it a second time; after that play I could easily see it dropping to “neutral.”

 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

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