Friday, June 21, 2013

Agricola [Playdek + Look Out Games] - $6.99

If you’re a fan of board or card games, there’s really nothing like playing them on the touch screen. Having everything organized perfectly, wonderful interface, no mess to set up or clean up and, sometimes, even some enhancements to the original games. There are a couple of fantastic development teams creating some wonderful card game experiences on the iOS, but one of our favorites here at The App Shack is Playdek. Their previous titles; Nightfall, Summoner Wars, Fluxx and others are games that will never leave our iDevices. Most recently, working with Look Out Games, they’ve expanded on the card game formula to bring us an interesting and addictive new game; Agricola. 

The background for the gameplay is this: Europe is trying to recover from hard times and you’re placed in the middle of a farming community with your wife. You’ve got to try and build up your land to make a productive farm by growing and harvesting crops, breeding livestock and helping your family to grow. You’re given 14 stages to build up your house, crops, livestock and family as much as you can, earning points for each. While the game sounds pretty simple, there is quite a bit of depth in the gameplay. Starting off with the incredibly well done tutorial is highly recommended. 

First off, the number of actions you’re given in each round is dependant on how many family members you have, so it’s always a good idea to try and grow your family right off the bat. To do this, you’ll need to collect the materials required to build another room onto your farmhouse. To acquiring wood, you’ll need to assign one family member to pick up wood from in town. You’ll also need reed to build your room, so using another family member to pick that up from town, you’ll have enough resources to build a room by the end of your second turn. To finally build the room, you’ll need to use a family member to select the ‘Build Room’ option in town. From here, you can get that room build and ready for another family member. However, you should keep in mind that the more family members you have, the more food you’ll need to feed them, but the resources in town also stack upon one another, so say you don’t select an extra food option for a couple of rounds, you’ll be able to select it and receive 2, 3, or more rounds worth of extra food to help you out. 

Also, more food can be cooked/produced by upgrading your fireplaces and stoves, as well as other features in your house. The same goes for other aspects of your home, which you’ll get into while going through the tutorial and just experimenting while playing the game. While it all might sound a bit confusing, the tutorial being split up into different sections makes it very easy to go back and revisit some of the more complicated mechanics in the game, and once you play a couple games you’ll have a pretty decent handle on what’s going on. 

The user interface for Agricola is very easy to use and is surprisingly accurate, even on the smaller iPhone/iPod screens. While it can be kind of hard to see exactly what you’re hovering over in town when trying to place a family member on a resource, you can always use the question mark in the top left corner to show you what each resource is, making the selection process a whole lot easier. Graphically, Agricola is pretty basic, though with a card/resource game like this being able to clearly see what you’re doing and what different stats and cards do is of utmost importance, and Playdek has nailed it here. Graphics are crisp, clean and clear and text is very easy to read. 

As for gameplay modes, you can either play a single player game or play on one device with up to 5 players. You are able to change each of the other 4 players to either an actual person or the game’s AI. Alongside this, you’re also able to play online, through Playdek’s servers, choosing either a Quick Match, where you can select the gameplay settings you’d like and be notified when another player joins, Create Game, where you can invite a friend to play or join up in one of the already created games on the server. This expanded amount of gameplay options gives players quite a bit to explore and will hopefully keep the online gameplay active for some time. 

With Agricola priced at $6.99, it might be a bit steep for the casual iOS gamer, but those who know the depth of mechanics and great support that comes along with any Playdek title or know how much an online component can add to a card/resource game like Agricola, know that the price is beyond justified. GameCenter is also supported with 11 achievements helping to push the gameplay along and give players more than just points to aim for. And while some gamers might not see it, we here at The App Shack can’t help but love this game so much that the chances of it winding up on our end of the year GOTY list are fairly high. We really can not recommend this one enough. 


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