tl;dr — It's time to get excited about farming! Farming. And when I finally got to plowin' with my doughty farm-wife the earth gave up its dead because they only moved the headstones. 50+ face-to-face plays.
I can totally see why people love this: It's charming and mildly haunting, and there are actually opportunities to dump a turd in the downstream player's punchbowl. "Yeah, I didn't need that food. I went fishing just to watch your kids starve."
Ultimately, though, this gets stuck in the dreaded 3.5 star ghetto—good enough, but missing that special something. And that something is a theme that isn't farming.
After 17 plays: I'm bumping this up to 4 stars. My wife loves it, and I find her enthusiasm for the game infectious. With two relatively experienced players—and wine—the game flies by; the struggle and decision-making is a pleasant diversion, and the tiny model farm you wind up with at the end is nifty.
FINAL ANALYSIS: All things being equal, the cards make or break the game. Either you get a fistful of synergy that showers you with freebies or you sit and watch someone else play that game. I suppose this could be mitigated with some kind of card draft or other time-consuming setup step, but really, the game isn't that deep or robust to support such shenanigans. This sensitivity to the vagaries of luck keeps the game firmly wedged in the "whipped dessert" category—very tasty, but ultimately nothing more than sugar and air.
After 27 plays: Revising down to 3.5 stars. Familiarity is bleeding this one out, especially after a brutal string of games with poor card draws. Also, the tension in the 5p game is unpleasant, or, more correctly, is out of whack with the payoff for suffering it. There are only so many times you can circle the drain of reductive choice where it's pastry, pie, cookie, crumb, bowl of poop before losing your mind and fantasizing about rolling some dice and kicking in the door of the guy who wasted the sow space for baking and using the axe you invented on his family.
"You got Ceramics? I got Clogs, bitches! CLOOOGS!!!"
So far the 2p game is my favorite—it's over quickly enough that a bad hand is tolerable. Two or 3p is definitely the sweet spot for this.
After 38 plays: Revising down to 3 stars. Not timeless, not a classic, and it's about farming. Farming!
After 50 plays: Bumping it back up to 3.5 stars. My wife really, really loves it, and that softens my hard heart. Besides, our last game was really weird—I didn't try my usual min-maxing by following the script that always nets 40+ points—I went after a wheat baron's seven-room stone mansion with constant barbeques. Meanwhile, my wife deviated from her script as well, with the game ending up 24-21 in my favor. I like weird.
Disclosure: I have a soft-spot for games with Economic mechanics
I was so worried this much-hyped game was going to disappoint but it did not. I totally love it and everyone I've played with so far feels the same. I used to be a pretty heavy CCG player and gave it up in 2005, so this game feels like runnin' home to Mama.
It's difficult to pin-point exactly what I like most about this game but there are just so many moments that are fun:
-Grabbing a truck-load of sheep and throwing them in the cooking hearth while keeping one as a pet is just hilarious.
-The rushed feeling of the next upcoming harvest is a very adrenaline-pushing moment. I have felt the panic of not having enough food several times (unfortunately, still winning the game while having 2 begging cards has made this less scary but it's still there).
-I love how this game gets faster and faster near the end. I LOVE THAT. Some games like Power Grid actually lose steam in the end game but this does not at all. It becomes frantic.
It's also the first game that I feel tempted to upgrade pieces into fancier-looking animals and stuff since I really get into the game when I play as do my friends and family. I'm introducing the game this weekend to my sister and brother-in-law and I can't wait.
I love this game because of it's simplicity. That may sound funny on Agricola, but I really meant it. It's one of the non-gateway game that I can teach in five to ten minutes. The game hides most of its action in the beginning, and later reveals it one by one. With new players, I just ask them: what do you want to do now?
I love the pacing, which picks up tremendously within a game. I think the most fun part is acquiring new abilities to be more efficient. And, building stuff is always fun to me.
The two downsides, being forced to generalize and doing the same thing over and over, do not bother me as much as other people. It's a really pleasant game once you understand that getting food for your family is non-negotiable for most of the time.