Uwe Rosenberg
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InteractionComponents & Design

Our review copy of Farmerama was generously supplied by Ravensburger, thanks a lot!

The Farmer opened the door to the barn very carefully. The four most dangerous farm animals that ever lived were safely tied up inside – so he hoped, at least – but being unable to physically harm him did not render them harmless. “Evening, Farmer”. The voice of Horsibal Lecter was smooth, silky, even under the thick mask. “I heard your daughter wants to take riding lessons. I’d love to give her … riding lessons. And have some Chianti with her afterwards.” “Ahahaha, have Chianti with her, good one Horsibal”, giggled Ramdom Earle manically. The Farmer ignored them and pushed the feed cart inside. He’d heard worse from them.

I better come out right away here: I  have never played the browser game Farmerama until I received the board game in the mail. And even then not much. So I can’t say much about the similarities between the boardgame and the browser game except what everyone suspects anyway: not many. Of course, the theme is the same, but mechanics just don’t translate well between the two media. No surprise there.

[pullshow/]But Farmerama is a surprising game in more than one respect.  To start with, it’s surprising a boardgame to go with a browser game has been made – only Angry Birds had managed that before. The even bigger surprise is in who made the game. You’d expect a small, new publisher that wants to put his name on the metaphorical map, but nothing could be further from the truth. Farmerama is published by Ravensburger, one of the oldest and biggest German game publishers. They don’t need to put their name on the map because they publish the map. Surprise number three is the author: Uwe Rosenberg, a game designer that certainly doesn’t need a big name on the game box to boost his popularity. Not after Bohnanza, Agricola, Ora et Labora and some other games you might have heard of. I can almost hear your brain working from here. I went through the same process. With just some tidbits of information, you’re going from “a board game based on a browser game, it’s going to be horrible” to “maybe this is worth checking out, after all”.

Lets just cut to the chase: Farmerama is worth checking out. Now we can all stop wondering about the if and focus on the what and the why instead. What do you do in Farmerama and why would you want to do it? Obviously, what you do is work on your farm. Every player has their own farm, with some fields to grow crops on and four animeeple that you feed to earn victory points. Your farm is split into seven segments by irrigation channels, all spreading out from the big wheel in the center of your farm board. Each segment has two pens for your livestock and a different number of fields for your crops.

Farming 101: Sowing
Farming 101: Sowing

Each round, players simultaneously and secretly choose one of five possible actions they will execute later in the round. The actions fall into two groups. For sow, harvest and water the other players’ actions are important. When feeding your livestock and visiting the seed shop what the other players do doesn’t matter. Why do other players matter for sowing, harvesting and watering? Because, when more than one player picks the same of these actions, one of them receives a bonus but all of them get a less impressive result from the action itself. The bonus comes in the form of an ornament for your flower garden – I’m taking a wild guess here and say this concept comes directly from the browser game. Ornaments include strawberry-shaped strawberry booths, foam cannons and vampire hamsters with their little coffin. They are actually quite creepy, and that’s not just the vampires … . Those ornaments would be pretty pointless if they were just, you know, ornamental, so each of them also carries a reward with it: most let you take some bonus crops or water, but some are worth victory points. When playing with the advanced rules, they might also let you take a bonus action right away. However, only one player can have the ornament. In the basic game, the player with the least ornaments in his flower garden wins, in case of ties the most visible scarecrows decide and if it’s still a tie the player with the least food in his barn gets it. In the advanced game, the first two conditions are swapped and it’s quite usual to see a farm with crops growing everywhere except around the scarecrows. Scarecrops.

But the ornament was only supposed to be a bonus. It may make Mrs. Farmer happy to have it in her flower garden, but we’re here to run a farm. So lets take those actions now. If you picked sow, harvest or water you now take that action a certain number of times as indicated by the big wheel in the center of the table. For each of these actions the wheel shows two numbers, one that you use if you chose the action alone, another, lower number that you use if more players are doing the same. Since we all have our own farms, it’s not immediately obvious why we can work less when more players perform the same action, but after thinking long and hard about it, we found out why. Ok, we really came up with it at two in the morning after too much coffee: all players share the farm machines, so when you know that someone else wants to use the combine harvester you return it early. So it may not make a lot of sense thematically, but it’s an interesting choice in the game: you want to figure out what the other players will do either way, but then you have to decide whether you go with them for the bonus, or go against them for getting some actual work done.

The Scarecrops
The Scarecrops

After a lot of pre-explanation, taking the actions is very simple and none is more simply than watering: you take the given amount of water tokens from the general supply and put it in your barn (the personal supply). When you sow, you take a crop token  from your barn and place them on a field, then place another one from the general supply on top. Your crops are growing. However, now the wheel on your farmland comes into play: four segments of the wheel show a type of crop, and those can only be sowed in that segment – all your carrots have to go to the carrot segment, dito for hay, oats and corn. That really wouldn’t work out in the long run, we all know that having the same fruit growing in a field over and over depletes the soil of nutrients. To avoid that, you can always pay one water token to advance the wheel by one position, even in the middle of taking your actions. [pullthis]Someone has been taking crop rotation too literally[/pullthis]. The three remaining segments on the wheel are the harvest segments. When you pick the harvest action, you do your work here by emptying a number of fields into your barn.

When visiting the seed shop, you take one token of each type you don’t currently have in your barn – including water, don’t forget the water seeds – and then do one sowing action. At first glance, this seems to be there just so you can’t remove yourself from the game by running out of things to sow. But after you just emptied your barn by sowing the fields or feeding the animals, getting four crops for one action is not so bad at all.

Now he was heading for the real danger of the barn. Passing Vlad Tepig the blood-sucking sow – who was innocent as a lamb compared to the others here – was the heavy metal door to the high security pen of the most dangerous inmate: Moo Baker. He could already hear her. Yelling. Screaming. Kicking the pen walls. Last year she had gored his predecessor while he was feeding her. Straight through the steel door, her horns had gone. The holes where still there as a warning, to him and his eventual successor.

Our Little Psycho Farm
Our Little Psycho Farm

And, finally, the last action you might choose deals with the livestock. The dangerous, psychotic livestock. The farm animals of mass murder. In case it wasn’t obvious, the animals are not really mass murderers. In fact, they are intended to be cute. They are not badly drawn, either, quite the opposite is true for them and the rest of the game. It’s just … their eyes, their horrible, horrible eyes. I actually created an account on Farmerama the browser game just to see if they had the same eyes there. I’m happy to report that none do. Animals there are at almost creepy but still cute in the eye-size spectrum. The animals in the board game are just a hair’s breadth away from psychotic killer on hallucinogenics. I actually made little sunglasses stickers to put on them so they wouldn’t keep looking at me. Where was I? Oh yeah, the animals need feeding. Each animal has its preferred food – either two or three pieces of two different flavours – that you return to the supply to feed that animal. Freshly fed, the animal then goes from the barn to one of the pens in the fields. Again, the wheel shows you where that animal must go. Now, when the feel keeps turning we arrive at the point where you earn points. The last of the three harvest segments on the wheel also sends the animals back to the barn after a long and productive day producing wool or milk, finding truffles or giving riding lessons. Yes, truffles and riding lessons, no animals are harmed in Farmerama. When they return to the stable you advance their marker on your point counter and they are ready to go again.

The game ends when the pile of ornaments runs out and the player with the most points wins. The main point source are the animals, but often the difference lies in the ornaments with points and the remaining crops, which also count.  Now to come back to the why you’d want to play. Farmerama is not an Agricola or Ora et Labora and is unlikely to replace either in popularity. But Farmerama doesn’t try to be either – it’s not a retheming of popular mechanics to fit the browser game, it’s a game in its own right. It is lighter than either of those as well, but that was the declared goal: a goal that works as a family game but is not so light to bore the geek gamers. I’m not actually sure how well it plays as a family game – the rules are easy enough to grasp in a few minutes, but there are some intricacies to scoring high that are not obvious in the first game or two. Your mileage may vary. As a geek gamer, however, I was anything but bored. The way to a high score is not at all obvious – and I’m not sure if I found it yet – and it’s fun to experiment how to go higher. My current advice would be not to try for a steady engine that always has some things in the field, some things  in the barn and some animals to be fed. Instead, try to plant everything, then harvest everything, then feed all the animals. At least for me, that’s working.

Feeding Time
Feeding Time

What Farmerama still has to prove to me is staying power – we’re enjoying it at the moment, but it’s a very low interaction game and I’m worried that it might get boring after you figured out the best way to score.  But since every game does run differently – there is some interaction and some randomness from the ornament rewards – it will likely stay fresh for a while. Now many of you just have to wait for an edition in their language: the Ravensburger edition is multilingual in German, Dutch, French and Italian, we don’t know if, when and from where an English edition might come. But since the only text is in the rulebook, you can import and find a rules translation online without linguistic worries.

P.S.: I’m putting this here for the people coming in through Google trying to find out what the bonus ornament for the advanced game does that you can’t figure out: it allows you to put a third crop token on top of three piles already in your field. You’re welcome.

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One comment

  1. Good grief, those eyes really are terrifying!

    Thanks for the review (three years ago). I was just browsing Rosenberg’s back catalogue and nearly didn’t spare this a second glance but it actually sounds kind of interesting as a lighter alternative to his usual games.

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