Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Game Review)

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small box

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small

Although Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola is a great game, I wasn’t at all interested in trying Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small. Two-player versions of games don’t seem very exciting when the original is already perfectly fine with two players. As for the idea that All Creatures is simpler, Agricola already comes with “Family” if that’s needed. I was wrong, though: It turns out that instead of calling All Creatures “simpler”, it would be more accurate to describe it as “streamlined”. In only twenty minutes, it captures the essence of a two-hour game.

All Creatures is still a worker placement game about building your 17th Century farm, but it strips out most of the thematic elements that seem vital to the original. You don’t expand your house or add family members, there are no fields and crops, and it doesn’t even have the “Harvest” phases that provide the main tension in the original. Now, you get some points for filling up space and adding new buildings (each with a cost and special power), but most of the points come from the number of animals you can obtain. Your enclosures and buildings can only hold so many creatures each, and two or more  of the same type will breed a new animal after every round of the game.

A player board at game's end

A player board at game’s end

In principle, the game feels a little friendlier: The punishing deadlines of the Harvest are gone, along with most of the sources of negative points in Agricola. But now you are constantly one or two steps away from running out of space to hold all your animals, and if you don’t want those points to just wander away, you need to constantly rush to add on to your domain. At three moves per round and only eight rounds, it’s significantly shorter than Agricola’s fifteen rounds (and up to five moves each by the end). However, it drops you right into the point where time is slipping by, and every type of animal that doesn’t reproduce at the end of each round feels like a missed opportunity. In other words, the seven rounds of Agricola that are dropped from All Creatures are those initial ones that start the game out so slowly.

Agricola: More Buildings Big and Small box

Agricola: More Buildings Big and Small

All Creatures’ great flaw is its repetition, though. Players have no hidden cards or agendas, and every game is set up the same. Much like the original’s Family game, you deal with the same situation every time. On its own, it would feel pretty limited after a few plays. Fortunately, there’s an expansion called More Buildings Big and Small that adds several new building tiles, each one with a different ability. Only a few random ones are to be used every game, so each game becomes unique. It’s far from perfect: These buildings play a much smaller role than the cards did in Agricola, and when the price of this is added on to All Creatures’, they cost almost as much as that original game. It’s fun, and feels very meaty for a filler, but it still seems like it should be priced a little closer to the filler side of things.

Those caveats aside, though, the Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small family is a great idea. Agricola is just a little too long and polarizing to make it to the table very often. A fast, two-player alternative that actually fills that same niche is much easier to get to.

Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small: C+

Base Game with Agricola: More Buildings Big and Small: B

(Images above from Board Game Geek. Follow the links for the original and photographer credit.)

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