I spent this evening at CyberKev's house playing the print'n'play version of Agricola. This version is a combination of Melissa's translation and (someone I forget)'s paste-up art, all printed on cyberkev's printer. In case you think that's illegal or immoral or something, cyberkev and I both have preordered it - Zev is getting money out of us anyway! So, onto the game.
Agricola combines the good bits of Puerto Rico, Caylus and Roads and Boats, which is pretty clever because I didn't even realise Caylus HAD any good bits. The good bits of Caylus were that you could put a token on a building to do stuff. In Agricola that bit is translated to "you have a person who goes and does some work". The bad bits of Caylus were building ownership, bailiff / provost backstabbery bullshit and stupid theme about building a cathedral or castle or something that only served to interfere with the rest of your plans. Agricola has none of that crap.
I found the selection of actions to be much more like Puerto Rico (and hence San Juan) where you're just hoping that the other player won't take the action (role) you want to take. Even better, if the scum does take it, there's often a second-best alternative. In our 5 player game the number of available actions seemed to be just enough so that even if you got an action you didn't really want you didn't feel like you were completely doomed, you just had to change plan. That way I remained engaged with the game instead of wishing I was somewhere else.
The similarity with Roads and Boats is in the extremely simple yet effective economic system. In Agricola it's simple - two animals produce a baby, a field produces a fixed amount of produce like a Roads and Boats mine, more family members can do more work. The costs of things were such that I managed to usually buy the things I wanted without wasting turns saving up. The balance of the economic system was pretty sweet in the way that Puerto Rico and Power Grid's fuel system have done before.
We played the family game. As I was first player I started with some wood but was left at the mercy of the other players to show me a strategy to implement with it. I started sheep farming, built some pens and stables, got some more sheep, branched out into boars, had a baby. I felt like I hadn't achieved much but then I built a huge pen which took up most of my land. As the game closed down I tried to maximise points and put in a vege patch and a wheat field. I ended on 29 points due to having no unused fields, and the two winners only had 31. I felt like that was a creditable performance. Furthermore, the game only took 3 hours in a group where even Klunker seems to take an hour.
I'm so excited about this game that when my copy arrives I'll probably play with myself for days... My prediction is that Agricola will reach at least #2 on BGG.