Losing at Board Games: Agricola vs. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

Agricola vs. Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small


Recently there has been a lot of debate in the Google+ board games community on which game is better for two players: Agricola, or Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (which I will refer to in this article as ACBAS). I own both of these games, and they are favorites of the Political Mastermind.

Losing at Board Games this week will contrast these two games, for two player purposes only.

I emphasize that this comparison is based on how these games play as two player games, because if you want a game that plays with more than two, Agricola is your only choice.

What is Agricola? (skip this section if you are already familiar with Agricola)

Agricola and ACBAS are worker-placement games that simulate 17th century farming.  Both of them take place over a fixed number of rounds; there is a finite number of turns that you will have to grow your farm.

Agricola has a broad scope – focusing on family and housing growth, animal husbandry, and raising crops.  ACBAS has a narrower scope and focuses only on animal husbandry.

Agricola is a game with lots of bits which takes up a fair amount of real estate on the gaming table. ACBAS has less bits and takes up a relatively small amount of space on the table.



ACBAS: A simpler version of Agricola?

 If you play ACBAS right out of the box, it feels a lot like a narrower-scope version of Agricola. The rules are slightly different, but in a general sense it feels a lot like Agricola, just smaller and only focused on one aspect of farming.

There are a few initial benefits: the game is much smaller, and has similar mechanics to Agricola but doesn’t have as many choices. This is a good game for trying out the mechanics of Agricola without diving into the complexity of the full game. It takes less time to play, with seasoned veterans clocking play time at around the 30 minute mark, and new players clocking play time around 45 minutes.

There is one thing that changes ACBAS and makes it feel like a different game than Agricola-lite: The More Buildings Big and Small expansion. This expansion adds a lot of different buildings, which are randomly selected for each game. This dramatically increases the replayability of the game, as each game may have dramatically different building options which can significantly shift the player’s overall strategy.

This expansion is essential for ACBAS, and retails for $9.99. I recommend ACBAS as a two-player game, but the expansion is what really makes this a compelling two-player experience.

Major improvement!
Major Improvement! (One of the cards used in Agricola)

Agricola: Why even bother with a smaller version?

 The first question that people that are already playing Agricola ask is whether it is worth their gaming dollars to buy ACBAS. Before I answer that question, I want to discuss what Agricola brings to the table.

First, it is playable from 1-5 players.

Second, it has a large scope and is played using one of three decks of cards that comes with the original game. These cards add an astounding degree of replayability, as they represent minor improvements, major improvements, and occupations. This game takes up a significant amount of space on the gaming table, and there is a cornucopia of choices for strategy as you grow your farm.

Third, as a two-player game Agricola works quite well. Seasoned veteran can play a two-player game 45-60 minutes. (ACBAS takes 30-45 minutes)

There are two main reasons to bother with a smaller version if you already play the larger version frequently: Space on the table, and length of game time.

As I’ve already mentioned, this takes up less space, which means less set-up time. In addition, the Political Mastermind and I rarely have a game that takes over 30 minutes. This game is quick, and furious.

Lots of Bits
Agricola -Lots of Bits


Who is ACBAS for?

 In my mind there are two groups of people who are looking at ACBAS.

1) People who haven’t played Agricola, but are looking for a strong two-player game.

This group of people should definitely buy ACBAS (with the MBBAS expansion). It is a great way to dive into the Agricola universe and have a solid two-player game that will stand on its own if you decide to buy Agricola later. (it won’t make your initial purchase of ACBAS redundant.)

2) People who have played Agricola.

If you are trying to determine whether you should buy ACBAS as a seasoned Agricola player, there are a few questions to ask. Are you looking for quicker set-up time, and do you want a game that takes less space on the table? If the answer to both of these is yes, I would suggest ACBAS, but you may want to play a game first before deciding if it is worth your gaming dollars.

Do I lose at them?

 Yes. The political mastermind beats me over 50% of the time. This is frequently because I’m not calculating in my head how many points she has, and so at game end I’m shocked by how many points she’s been able to acquire.

Hopefully this column has helped compare and contrast Agricola with ACBAS. We enjoy both games as two-player games, and which game we turn to is largely based on how much time we have to play.

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