In this game, each player starts off with a board on which there is a two room wooden hut (represented by flat squares of card) and lots of empty spaces. They also start with two family members (counters) each of which gets to take one action per round. The aim of the game, over 14 rounds, is to develop the board and earn points by doing various things:
- gaining additional family members (which increases the number of turns you get in each round)
- covering as much of the board as possible with fields, pastures and additional rooms
- growing grain and vegetables, and breeding various types of animals.
There is a harvest after every few rounds (and these become more frequent as the game proceeds) and one of the main catches is that you have to feed all of your family members every harvest, and there are limited ways in which you can generate food (and heavy penalties if you don't have enough). The other catch is that the various actions that are available can only be taken by one player (i.e. by one of their family members) in each round - e.g. if someone else has used the "plow a field" action already, that action is unavailable until the next round.
The end result is a fantastic game in which you have a limited number of moves, and have to balance all sorts of requirements. Having worked in a pressurised business environment, I think this game requires the same sort of multi-tasking and prioritisation that you do in the workplace (please ignore this sentence if it puts you off!!) It promotes mental agility and requires a high degree of concentration. It will get your brain whirring and make you dream about it after you have played it!
There is a family version which is relatively straightforward - the more complex version (introducing various cards that enable you to make better use of resources, take additional actions etc.) introduces infinite variability and ensures that every game will be unique.
I loved Ticket to Ride and Puerto Rico, and also enjoyed Carcassonne and Settlers of Catan - Agricola is more demanding, and there is less of an element of luck, which makes it more rewarding in the end. An excellent, dangerously addictive board game!
8/4/11 Edited to add: I see it says 2-3 hours to play. Once you're completely familiar with it, a game with 2 or 3 players takes about 45 minutes.
17/3/2013 Edited again: I reckon we've played this game over 500 times now, which makes it FANTASTIC value for money. I still think it's absolutely superb. The infinite variability still holds - we played three games today and they were all quite different. We have identified a couple of killer combinations of occupations/minor improvements (e.g. seasonal worker and market woman), but we certainly don't feel we have plumbed the depths of the game, and there don't seem to be any particular strategies that tend to bring better results. I simply cannot recommend this game highly enough.