Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Partial Adventures of John the Meat-Seller

Yesterday I finally got around to trying solitaire Agricola with the standard game. As described in earlier posts I'd trained on the family game and now I understand what you have to do to succeed. The thought of other players interfering with my plans still annoys me, so I'll be playing solitaire for a while yet :-).

Of course my very first hand of occupations and minor improvements seemed like a basket of treasures compared to the family game! However with no Storehouse space to get food from, and the different Day Labourer, I knew I'd have to change my plans. Furthermore I just wanted to play for the fun of it rather than plan everything like I needed to do to score well in the family game.

I knew the chief (+1 VP per stone house) would be a good idea, as he'd take some of the pressure off me aiming at the points target. I knew the stone carrier (+1 stone when you take stone) could come in handy towards the end of the game, and the hedge keeper (+3 fences free when you build fences) would have some use, but as I only build fences maybe twice in a game it wouldn't be huge. However the meat-seller (convert meat to food in any oven) would be of use during the game - he's essentially a fireplace - so I aimed to get him first.

I had to modify my standard plan of 3 grains and 3 plows to fit in the early occupation, but I figured if I was going to be relying on meat to feed myself I could afford to fall behind in the grain production. The meat-seller plan worked reasonably well, and an awful lot of sheep died to feed my family. The spindle (bonus food if you have sheep at harvest time) and the baker's oven (bake bread for 2 grain gives you 5 food each) also came into play, and I didn't want for food during the game. However at scoring time I was a bit short in all of the animal categories, and scored 56 points.

That was basically OK because it gave me three food to take into the next game. With at least two starting food you don't need to eat grain or day labour to feed your family in the first harvest, and that's an extra action you get, and possibly an extra grain field you can have in production. So in order to assure future stability of my food supply I took the meat-seller as a permanent occupation.

Game 2 was much more difficult, as there were no occupations or minor improvements to help me get food. There was a clay deliveryman (bonus clay rounds 6 to 14) and a clay roof (use clay instead of reeds when you extend) and a mason (bonus room when you get 4 stone rooms) so I tried to form a strategy around those. With all of the clay I built myself 5 clay rooms, then upgraded them to get a 6th stone room for free. Looking back, I think that was a mistake - I didn't need 6 rooms, and it cost me a point for the field I missed out on. My score for game 2 was 57. I decided that the clay deliveryman might be nice to have at the beginning of the game, so I made him a permanent occupation.

As I started Game 3 (with only 1 spare food) I realised I was de-facto developing a strategy for the campaign meta-game. My choice of the meat-seller and the clay deliverman had pretty much guaranteed I would get a clay oven and my family would become meat eaters rather than bread eaters. And one occupation from this game would be added to my permanent collection, so I needed to take the future games into consideration. I didn't like many of the occupations I received in this game, except for the carpenter (build a room for 3 of the base resource plus 2 reeds), so he was the only one I added. I sort of like the potato dibber as well, until I realised at the end that it hadn't gained me any points.

Anyway, I figured out the strategy for this game. With a strong supply of clay I could build 1 wood and 2 clay rooms, and get the clay oven as well. In fact I build the extra rooms so quickly I ended up getting my 5th family member before Family Growth Without Room appeared, and I had lots of spare actions. I hadn't thought very hard about what I would do in this situation, but I ended up building a pottery which earned my 5 VPs at the end. With all of my people working for me I scored 4 points in 4 categories, and got a well as well. My score was 63 compared to a target of 59.

That game left me thinking there was more I could do. I had a really good combo with the clay deliveryman and the carpenter, so for the next game I'd like to get someone like the Chief who can give me VPs, or someone to get food more easily. As I had a couple of bus trips intervene between Games 3 and 4, I worked on a plan. It was pretty sweet.

No plan survives contact with the enemy. This one didn't even survive the deal of the occupation cards. I received the master brewer (convert 1 grain to 3 food when feeding the family) and decided I wanted him for the future and might as well get him in phase 1. My plan was PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / FISHING / SOW (remember I had 2 food from the previous game), but I needed to put an occupation in there. I figured out I could do PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / PLOW / GRAIN / OCCUPATION / SOW, and then convert a grain to food to feed the family and eat another grain. (BTW, my interpretation of the rules is that the first occupation per game is free - that's what it says in the book - but I could have made it either way.) That left 4 food on the Fishing space, which I would be able to use later. Using my speed-building strategy I had plenty of actions and was able to build a dovecote (5 food), animal pen (about 10 food I think) and the well (5 food), and I had so much food available I didn't need to eat sheep at all. When I finally took the sheep and pigs that had built up I needed to eat some of them because they didn't fit in my pastures. I maxed out 7 categories (not cattle) and received 14 points for improvements, for a total of 70. The target was 62, so I'm fairly pleased about that.

For the next game I won't need to fish in the first phase, and I'll only need to use one grain at the first harvest. There'll be spare time to get an occupation in Round 4! I'm hoping it will be Chief or something that gives me VPs, as that should set me up to complete the campaign fairly easily, and I can focus on stupidly large scores rather than on food.

To be continued...

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