Mobile is generally known as the home of crap free-to-play scamware, engineered to exploit the flaws in human psychology and trick people into wasting money while giving them next to no actual gameplay as a reward.

However, the iPad is also a wonderful platform for boardgames, and has been graced with a number of truly excellent boardgame ports in the last year.  Agricola is one of them.

Agricola manages a true miracle of alchemy, turning what has to be one of the most boring themes ever (become the most average peasant possible!) into a dense and tricky strategy game.  It plays really, really well as a purely solo game, wherein you try to match a ever rising score total through sheer mastery of the system.  It plays really, really well as a 2 player game, where you have to quickly distinguish your strategy from that of your rival to avoid conflicts over a limited number of resources which you both need.   It plays really, really well with 3, 4, or 5 players as well.  It’s just an incredible design.

The iPad port is, in many ways, distinctly superior to the boardgame.  Agricola is a beast to set up, as there are a TON of different little colored chits you need to lay out.  It requires a ton of fiddly little recordkeeping ever turn, refreshing the building resources and animals, and it requires a fair bit of attention during the Harvest phase, when you have to accurately feed your family, harvest crops, and increase animal counts accordingly.  And finally, scoring is fairly complicated – at least until you’ve memorized all 10 categories in the scoring table.  On the iPad, all of these problems simply disappear.  All that fiddly record-keeping is automated.  All those chits are kept and placed automatically, and all that complicated scoring is effortless.  It’s easy to follow, and it’s just better.

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