Full disclosure: A preview copy of Agropolis was provided by Button Shy. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
Oh, hell yes. Honestly, I could start the review and stop it with just those three words, but I feel like if you’re reading these reviews and have read others in the past you’re … here for words? Weirdos, but I love y’all anyways. So let’s break down the basics. Button Shy. Back again. Sequel to Sprawlopolis, one of my Top 15 favorite games. Again, tells you most of what you need to know, but there’s something a bit different about this one, so maybe I’ll tell you more about that at the end. Anyways, let’s get into Agropolis and see how it plays.
You’ve tired of city life and longed for a farm out in the countryside, moving there to stake your claim. Unfortunately, your reputation precedes you, and even humble farmers have great need of your zoning prowess. It reminds you of your life in the city, but it’s not quite the same. Parks are now Pens, Commercial Districts have become Cornfields. And suddenly you have to feed livestock? Will you be able to build a robust farmland, or will you end up getting put out to pasture?
Essentially none, which is the way I like it. Shuffle up the Path Cards:
Flip three over to reveal their Score Card side:
Place one additional Path Card face-up in the center. Deal all players except the start player one card, and deal the start player 3 cards. You’re good to start!
A game of Agropolis is very similar to Sprawlopolis, its predecessor. Your goal is to build a farmland that satisfies enough scoring criteria to beat the Target Score. More on that later. Simply put, though, you’re going to play a card every turn until you’re out of cards, and then score. Let’s go through how that works.
On your turn, you should have three cards in hand. You’ll choose one to play without showing it to your co-players (they can offer opinions, but if they see the card that you are considering playing, you must play it). When you are ready to play it, add it to the play area. It may be played adjacent to any card or on top of any card, but it may not completely cover another card and it may only be rotated 180 degrees (or not at all). Additionally, the card you play may not be tucked under any other cards.
After you play your card, pass your remaining cards to the player to your left and draw a new card from the deck. That way, each player always has three cards when it’s their turn.
Once all the cards have been played, the game is over! You’ll gain some standard points:
- -1 point per unique Road in your farm. Bummer.
- 1 point per block in your largest contiguous group of blocks of each type. That’s Vineyards, Orchards, Cornfields, and Pens. You’ll score each.
Compare that to the sum of the numbers on your three Score Cards and … wait, what? Huh, if you look at your Score Cards, there’s something new from Sprawlopolis; certain Score Cards have a “Feed the Livestock” note below their number. If you see that, your Target Score increases by 1 for each livestock of that type you have across all three of your Score Cards. You can ignore it if you want the game to be a bit easier, but make sure you don’t forget about it!
If you beat the Target Score, you win! If not, better luck next time.
Player Count Differences
There aren’t a ton, though I generally like playing Sprawlopolis solo (and due to Pandemic Reasons only really had a chance to play Agropolis solo). The major thing to note is that you get just significantly fewer turns, personally, at four players, but you have a lot more brains working on the problem, so, that may be good, that may be less good. It’s really down to how you enjoy cooperative games. Personally, this plays similarly enough to Sprawlopolis that I would enjoy it about the same, player-count wise. I think that given that this feels a bit more difficult it might help to have the extra person, but I’m still loving it solo.
- Don’t forget that livestock penalty. This can really trip you up if you’re not paying attention. Which, to be fair, I’m usually not, so this tripped me up pretty badly. Needless to say, I lost the first game. Just make sure you prepare for that by factoring the penalty into your Target Score preemptively so you don’t lose a game you thought that you won. That would sure be a bummer…
- Note that the pens have different animals in them, and that the Score Cards are often referring to specific animal pens. Another thing that I missed early on! Just keep an eye out. There are three types of pens: chicken pens, cow pens, and pig pens. Certain Score Cards want certain livestock and not others.
- Don’t overdo it on roads. You lose one point per road, and that can quickly rack up. I had a -15 in one game, which, rough. It’s far better to try and make one big road, depending on your Score Card.
- Similarly, don’t neglect your big standard scoring bonus: contiguous groups of each block type. That can be a lot of points, if you let it be. Probably won’t win you the game if you ignore all the Score Cards, but they can definitely give you a bonus 10 points or so which might be the tipping point you need, especially if you went ham on roads.
- Not all of your Score Cards will let you really exceed their Target Score contribution. Know which ones are going to be your big breadwinners. Certain ones, for instance, will only give you one of three possible point values, so they may not be worth overinvesting in past a certain point. You need to keep track of which ones will let you be most flexible.
- Covering cards is usually critical. It lets you block off bad block placements and it lets you more easily group blocks of the same color. You’ll have to do both pretty well if you want to win in Agropolis.
- Again, be patient if you’re playing solo. I think this is a bit easier to do than in Sprawlopolis, given the additional complexity (in my opinion). You’re keeping track of a bit more, so you can’t exactly just barrel through the game. But even if you can, you shouldn’t! Slow and steady wins the games.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s more difficult than Sprawlopolis! I was getting straight ruined for the first few games before I got some favorable Score Cards and my life together. I think the livestock penalty adds a slight uptick in difficulty, yes, but I think the Score Cards also are a bit more distinctly complex (especially the Orchard-centric ones).
- It’s also got a fairly nice and distinct set of scoring goals. This is not Sprawlopolis: Farms Edition. This is Its Own Thing, and I think that’s a very good thing. For one, it’s more content for Sprawlopolis Fiends like me, but it also lets people have a good inroad to the -opolis series from either direction.
- Still very portable. It’s Button Shy; I’m obliged to list that for basically everything they produce. It’s a schtick, but it’s a good schtick. I’m not complaining.
- Easy to teach. I think Sprawlopolis had this going for it as well, but there’s not a whole lot to this one, component-wise, so the complexity of learning it is fairly low. Mastering it? Well, as I mentioned earlier, that’s more challenging.
- I like the color scheme. I’m not really sure why, but it just meshes well with me.
- I also appreciate that this one has a good number of puns on the Score Cards. There are several good ones! I’m always a big fan of puns, so, great.
- The thing I’ve always liked about Sprawlopolis (and Agropolis) is the variety of games you can have with such a simple system. My farms tend to look very different, game-to-game, given the constraints imposed by the Score Cards. I think that’s an excellent thing, and it displays the designers’ skill in capturing what works well about the -opolis series: its modularity.
- I appreciate that the 18th Score Card is Agropolis. It’s both a nice callback to Sprawlopolis and its own interesting challenge, especially paired with some of the other scoring cards. It can be pretty tough to do well!
- The Combo Pack is a really good touch. Combo Pack? You’ll find out in the campaign. Maybe I’ll write something up special for it.
- The livestock penalty could use a bit more discoverability. I missed it the first time I played because I didn’t even think to check for it! I think that’s just the risk with players who have previously played Sprawlopolis, that they’ll take similar aesthetic choices for granted (I thought the livestock on the bottom of the Score Cards was just A Cute Thing). Making it a bit more explicit can go a long way toward preventing players missing it, I think.
- Similarly, something to make the pens more distinct would help, too. I also didn’t realize there were different animals in each pen. On a second look, it’s obvious (I think), but it would help if the pens were styled somewhat differently so that they’re still on brown blocks, but they have a very clear stylistic difference.
- It’s not that big of a con, but the major thing working against this for me is that the increased complexity / difficulty of the game makes it a bit less snappy of a solo game than Sprawlopolis. It’s kind of humorous because it just means that if I’m sitting down and don’t know how long I have, I’ll probably grab Sprawlopolis instead of Agropolis because I think there are a few additional points of complexity in this one. The worst part is, I like that complexity! It adds depth to the game and distinguishes it from Sprawlopolis! It just also makes the game take a smidge longer, so, here we are.
Overall: 8.75 / 10
But hey Eric, you say, reading this, your review of Sprawlopolis only clocked in at an 8.5; what gives? Well, first off, that was 400+ reviews ago and I’m still playing Sprawlopolis. My opinion of the game has definitely increased over the years. Also, the game changed a bit between the preview I had and the full version. Some things around Score Cards; I have both, so I can verify that. I’d probably give Sprawlopolis a 9.25+ if you asked me again today. I should go back and re-review it at some point. But I’m digressing!
Overall, I think Agropolis is awesome. It does so many things that I like: first off, it’s more Sprawlopolis content, which, always good. It’s also distinct, which I think is hard to do for a lot of games (even moreso if you use the same mechanic). Sequel games are in general kind of a rough time; sometimes they’re better (I prefer Hokkaido to Honshu), sometimes they just … don’t measure up. Hitting a nice note of consistency is good, and I think Agropolis does that. I mean, I’ve already played it 10 times for a review, and y’all know how tough reviewing has been for me, lately. It’s essentially a nice parallel to Sprawlopolis, one of my favorite games. It’s still got great art, it’s got cute farmy-puns, and it’s got an all-new color scheme to help me tell it apart! That’s all good, and this was one of my most-anticipated titles this year, so I’m excited that it turned out to be such a big title for me! If you’re as big of a Sprawlopolis fan as I am or you’re looking for a quick farm-building game you can take with you on the go, I’d definitely recommend checking Agropolis out! And, on the even further plus side, they didn’t do anything weird with it!