Agra Review

Agra board game review

India to me seems like a fascinating country. Everyone I’ve met from India always seems lovely, friendly and happy to help. The food is awesome (who doesn’t love a good curry?) and the clothes are all bright, colourful and really comfy. Plus, having attended the Sikh wedding of a good mate of mine, they really know how to party.

Speaking of parties, it’s the Emperor’s birthday. Akbar the Great is 30 years old and there’s a bit of a to-do being held in his honour. So everyone who is anyone is showing up with gifts, goods, services, promises and favours to show how much they love their wonderful leader. Either that or Akbar is trying to start the Indian branch of Amazon and needs some stock. In Agra, you play as a local landowner trying to jump on the gravy train and get your feet as high up the royal ladder as you can.

Agra - Gameplay

Agra is a heavy euro in the purest and most literal sense of the word. It’s a sort-of worker placement game and is so big and expansive, it makes Jupiter’s Great Red Spot seem more like a pimple on a teenager’s face. Opening the box for the first time, I was genuinely impressed with the sheer amount of stuff in there; I nearly put my back out when I picked up the box, which, as regular readers will know, is a positive test result for a game. Physical injury is a basic requirement for any decent board game. What you’ll also know being the loyal and faithful subjects that you are, is that I also love heavy euros and buying Agra was only a matter of time. That and it was recommended to me by Paul Grogan and to say our tastes align is like saying that Steve likes a bit of Lovecraft.

I said “sort of worker placement” for a reason; Agra has workers but they’re not used in the traditional sense. Most worker placement games give you a limited supply of workers with which you make your moves each turn until everyone has spent all their workers. Agra tips this idea on its head by giving you an almost unlimited supply (ok, 11) and changing the emphasis of where you can go to be determined by the availability of spots and resources instead of workers. Workers can get bumped and in a two-player game, this can be an issue as there sometimes isn't quite enough interaction between players to bump workers. It's not a deal breaker and it scales well enough, but Agra is definitely better with three or the maximum of four players.

Agra board game  - Player Board

You, the landowner, are able to produce some goods; logs, turmeric, cotton and sand. These are traded upwards for more valuable commodities like timber, curry, bricks and clothes. There’s a staggering array of resources (16 in total) available in the game and you’ll probably need to make all of them at some point, then donate them to either the Emperor or one of the many notables making their way up the river to see Akbar and wish him well. If you don’t have the gear, these esteemed folks won’t give you the time of day and you’ll miss out on their influence.

To describe the gameplay in Agra as “complex” is like saying Quantum Mechanics is “a bit tricky”. I’ve said the game is heavy and that’s not an understatement. On your turn, there are a rather hefty number of possibilities so you really need to plan ahead and understand the possible links. Once you’ve got the gist, it’s actually quite smooth, but as with any worker placement game, learning it all up front is quite overwhelming. There are so many options I can’t actually list them here. Well, I could, but you’d probably stop reading. Turns are broken into three stages, two of which are optional, where you can pray which gives you additional action possibilities, next you can place a worker, then you can deliver a pile of goodies to one of the many factions in the game. Sometimes you can do all three, sometimes only one. Keeping track of it all is part of the fun.

Agra board game review  - Gameplay

Whilst impressive and very pretty, the playing area is vast, perhaps a bit too vast as the physical size of the board and supplementary board (oh yes, there’s two boards) take up an enormous amount of space. Whilst it looks fabulous, it does mean that players will struggle to see one end of the board and are about as separated from the action as Donald Trump is from reality. The supplementary board is also on a tilt, so any slight nudge of the table and all the pieces on said board will come tumbling down faster than any Brexit agreements. The board really could (and probably should) be reduced in size with no detriment to the gameplay. Add on the player boards and you need a lot of space. This is no coffee table game. A boardroom may be more appropriate.

Game flow generally means that you make some basic resources, upgrade them for better ones after someone has built one of the better facilities, flog them to the passers-by and get a benefit for doing so. Climb the influence tracks to get more freebies and much needed cash (for, as any business will tell you, cash is king) which is the way to win. The scoring element is hidden information as everyone has a small bag in which they keep their money, so opponents can’t see how well, or badly, you’re doing.

Agra board game review  - Influence Board

Some of the iconography is a little tricky to see and understand to begin with, but you do get used to it over time (which you’ll have plenty of as Agra is a good 3 hour game) although the paths for upgrade could be a little clearer, especially as there’s a lot of brown in the game. For the chromatically impaired amongst us, this can be a little tough to follow. Thankfully, player colours are very different and easy to tell apart which is the important bit.

Despite my minor gripes with Agra, I really quite like it. It ticks pretty much all of my boxes (flashy, heavy euro, well made, high quality and stupidly complex) and gets the old grey matter going. And at around £50, it’s pretty good value too.

So, grab a bowl of curry, slip into your silk slippers and get your Bhangra on.

This review is based on a full retail copy of the game.
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