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AGRA

Reviewed by Herb Levy

AGRA (Quined Games, 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up, 120 minutes; $79.95)

 

Birthdays are generally cause for celebration. This is true even in 1572 India as the Emperor Abu’l-Fath Jalal-ud-din Muhammad, popularly known as Akbar the Great, ruler of India’s Mughal dynasty, is marking his 30th birthday. Notables from all over the country are on their way for this joyous occasion and players, as ambitious landowners, see this as a not to be missed chance to rise in stature and wealth! Making the most of this chance is the challenge of this latest Michael Keller design:  Agra

All players begin with their own player board with four tracks (forming a square) which, at their corners, show icons of one of the four basic goods of the game (sandstone, wood, tumeric and cotton).  Cover tiles go on their appropriate spaces on these tracks and their four farmers occupy spaces in the center of each of the tracks. A Meditation marker is placed on the first space of the Meditation track. Each player also receives 10 Workers and 22 Player markers (in their chosen colors) as well as 2 Rupees (and a cloth bag to hold them). Rupees are extremely important for the player with the most Rupees at game’s end will claim victory!

There are two main areas for action in the game: the Main Board and the Imperial Board.

The Main Board is divided into three major sections. On the top is a “Meditation Circle” flanked on each side by “Main Characters” who have the ability to help you achieve your goals: Architect (for building), Sailor (ship related), Trader (exchanging of goods) and Botanist (farm-related). The middle depicts the city of Agra with sites (and buildings) for gathering and processing the game’s basic goods. A Merchant piece is randomly assigned to one of the open areas and a Builder piece randomly assigned to one of the unbuilt buildings.  The bottom is where various Notables can be found along the shores of the Yumuna River.  These Notables are ranked in Levels 2, 3 and 4 and are semi-randomly assorted in roughly equal amounts. The Imperial Board is subdivided into two areas: Guilds (Artisans, Merchants and Scholars) and Emperor Akbar himself!

Each player turn consists of three steps: Meditation, Action and Order. Meditation and Order are both optional so let’s focus on the Action phase. 

During the Action phase, a player will place one of his Workers on either a Building or a Main Character. If placed on a Building, Workers will produce goods equal to what your farmers produce on your own board. (For example, if producing wood and your farmers are flanking your wood icon so that two empty spaces are between them, you will produce TWO wood. This is indicated by placing two of your Player markers on that building, NOT on your player board.) If another player’s marker is on the same space, that marker is returned to the owning player. If that player’s piece was “meditating” (laid down and we’ll discuss “meditation” further along), that player receives nothing. If that worker was standing though, that player gets his worker back AND 1 “Favor” represented by putting one his markers on his Player Board. If the Merchant was on that space you chose, you receive 2 Favor after performing your action and the Merchant, via die roll, moves that number of spaces, leaving 1 Rupee behind in each space traveled where it can be picked up by any player going there. (However, you may NOT have two workers of your own in the same space. You CAN, however, “reactivate” a worker by paying 2 Rupees to the bank.)

Normally, constructing a building costs a certain amount of goods. (Buildings have a construction cost of 2 to 4 and this value in goods must be turned in to build it.) If your Worker is on the space occupied by the Builder, that building is FREE. You can also “process” goods, moving 1 to 3 less “advanced” goods ahead to this newly constructed building. Other players may move ONE of their goods along with you but for each player doing so, you receive one Favor. (The Builder will then randomly move via die roll to another space.) Favor can be a very valuable thing to have. 

Each individual player board has room for Favor actions. These are “secondary” actions and may be done at any time. For example, you can pay 2 Favor to receive 1 of any basic good. Or pay three Favor to process any good. Or spend three Favor (providing you already have four) to move up one space on any Guild track. Later in the game, more secondary actions will become available as well. 

Rather than placing a Worker on an action space, a Worker may be placed on one of the Main Characters to perform the actions there. There are four Main Characters, each with their own abilities. 

Architect – He allows you to move one of your Influence markers up one space OR Build a Building (by paying the required costs, placing one of your Workers on the newly constructed site AND process goods immediately AND choose one of the available bonus tiles that the Architect has available!)

Sailor – He allows you to fulfill ONE Guild order and/or deliver one or more goods to a Notable. (While the first Notable good delivery is free, additional goods to be delivered must be paid for. You spend a good and its value is how many extra goods you may deliver. Overpay? Then you get Rupees in change!) The player who fully completes the requirements of a Notable (or has delivered the most valuable good) immediately receives that Notable, flips it to its “contract” side and may use that special power. (This could mean producing a bonus of resources, extra Rupees for deliveries, bonus Rupees at the end of the game etc.) Other players on that Notable but did not provide the more valuable good receive 1 Favor as compensation. 

Trader – Exchange up to 3 of your goods for any other goods but the goods you receive must be valued at 1 less than what you spent.  The good news is that you can modify the value of one good (plus or minus 1) before or after the exchange.

Botanist – Any two of three possible actions may be done: Increase your Meditation value by spending goods, Remove a Cover tile (to produce more goods later on) and/or Move Farmers (move 2 farmers 1 space each or 1 Farmer two spaces) to help generate more of a specific resource. 

Now what about those optional phases? 

Meditation is something a bit unusual. Standing Workers previously placed at various board locations may be “laid down” where they are. The first laid down Worker generates the number of Mediation Points shown on a player’s Mediation track. Succeeding laid down Workers will generate MPs equal to the previous space on the Meditation Track. Now, you can spend these points in the Meditation Circle. 

There are five spaces on the Meditation Circle. (The game starts with the Deliver a Good action space covered and unavailable.) These spaces allow you to:

Trade a Good – Exchange 1 good for 1 good of equal value. (The cost of this action is the same as the value of the good but in MPs)

Deliver a Good – Pay 3 MPs to bring a good to one Notable

Process a Good – Convert one good into a more valuable good by spending MPs equal to the worth of the more valuable good. 

Remove a Cover Tile – Spend 2 MPs to remove a tile from your Player Board (and keep it next to the board where it will score at game’s end)

Move a Farmer – For 1 MP, shift the position of a Farmer one space.

At the end of the phase, the used space is covered. (The Move a Farmer space, however, is never covered.)

Order, the other optional phase, is all about delivering goods.

Players begin at the bottom of each Guild track and there are three orders for various goods (one for each Guild) that are randomly selected and available. At the end of a turn, a player may fulfill orders which will increase his/her position (stature) with the associated Guild which, in turn, increases the rewards granted for further order completion. (Once an order is fulfilled, the NEXT order in line becomes available.) Meanwhile, the Emperor, suitably situated on a raised “throne”, is seeking to be “served” with a variety of goods. Again, at the end of your turn, you may deliver one of the “unserved” goods to the Emperor which will grant you bonus Rupees at game’s end. The end of the game is triggered when a Level IV Notable contract is fulfilled, someone’s marker reaches the top of any Influence track or ALL orders of a Guild are filled. At that point, the round is finished with one more complete final round done. Then we score. 

Rupees come from a host of directions. Some completed Notable contracts award Rupees now, Influence tracks reward players Rupees based on position and orders fulfilled, anyone whose Meditation marker has reached the final space on his Meditation track gains 5 Rupees, all receive 1 Rupee for each cover tile removed from their Player board and finally, Rupees are awarded based on how many goods a player has served to Emperor Akbar. The player with the highest total of Rupees wins!

The physical presentation of the game is impressive, from the big and wide bookshelf  box, to the expansive board to the three dimensional Emperor throne. As might be expected, the game takes up a lot of table space. The layout of the city of Agra is large with lots of lines to show the processing of resources which can be a little confusing at first. Fortunately, subsequent plays bring the gaming area into sharp focus. There has been concern about knocking into the Emperor and knocking over player markers. In our experience, though, the throne is steady enough so this has not been a problem. 

At its core, Agra is an engine builder. But the main difference, from the many games of this type, is that the engine you are trying to build is powered from THREE different “fuels”: worker placement, Meditation Points and Favor.  This makes for a wide range of opportunities to do what you need to do. This is a direct contrast to games where you can be stymied should an opponent capture a needed space before you get there or “corner the market” on some essential item. The presence of bonus tiles (to be earned and activated) and contracts received from Notables give additional – and variable ways – to achieve your goals as well. As the game unfolds, so many possibilities become apparent and your initial tactics may morph into something else that is viable and even more intriguing. This is all to the good but there is a price to pay. With so many options available and so many potential paths to explore and implement, the game can be daunting, limiting its appeal to those who enjoy heavier games. 

Agra is large both in size and scope. This is a completely engaging game that forces you to continually sift through its myriad options if you want to win. As such, Agra is a compelling game of choices and challenges for the serious player. – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


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