Board Game Review: All Creatures Big and Small – Fun, but Not Like Agricola | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Board Game Review: All Creatures Big and Small – Fun, but Not Like Agricola

acbs-game

Agricola is not only an amazing game, but truly one of the defining games of the last decade. It has spawned numerous mini-expansions, a full-fledged expansion, and recently a family version. But this is about the two-player experience. Is it an encounter that fuses the tension from the original? Or a floppy mess of reminiscent mechanics?

The Basics. Each player gets their own starting board and a few resources. Among those resources are fence posts that must be used to create pastures. In ACBS, the players compete to raise livestock for points. Livestock can generally only be housed in pastures and, at the end of every phase, will breed if there are two or more of them in one space.

Between the players is a central board with a number of actions. Those actions allow you to take resources or animals. Or they might give you the opportunity to build special buildings. They can even let you build your fences or gather new ones.

Players get three family members each (with no opportunity to gain more) and take turns selecting various spaces. Once selected, they immediately take the benefit of that space. Then, that space is locked down for the round and the players must choose elsewhere. When a space is unchosen, it generally gets additional resources added to it to make it more attractive for the next round.

The game lasts eight rounds. At the conclusion, players add up points based on how many pastures and animals they have, and may lose points for having none of something. Then the player with the most points wins.

acbs-board

Behold the action spaces!

The Feel. Fans of the original will notice several omissions. There is no plowing or growing of any kind. There is no family growth. There is no upgrading of the house. There is no harvest where you must feed your family. And the scoring is markedly different. For instance, you get a point for every animal on your board and, once you pass a certain threshold, you get an additional point for every animal of a given type.

In fact, except for the setting and using the same animal names, this game bears very little resemblance to Agricola. Part of the beauty of the big game is that constant pressure to feed your family while also achieving your goals. It was feeling like there weren’t nearly enough turns to do what needed to be done. And that was amplified by the scoring. The scoring really incentivized you to try to get a least some of everything. If you were missing something, it was not just zero points, but negative points. At the same time, you couldn’t specialize. Every category topped out at four points no matter how many you eventually got.

ACBS largely eliminates that pressure, reduces your incentive to diversify, and makes specialization a highly viable strategy. Sure, you can lose a few points for not having a particular animal type, but it’s easy to simply outbreed that and make up the losses by having more animals elsewhere. As a result, this is not a two-player version of Agricola. It doesn’t take the core game concepts and translate them. It’s very much a different experience.

Improvement cards are replaced by building tiles

Improvement cards are replaced by building tiles

But, so what? So it isn’t Agricola. Big deal. That doesn’t mean the game is necessarily bad or a disappointment. You just have to go into it with the knowledge that this is not the same as its big brother. Do that, and you’re ready to accept the game on its own turns. So, how does it play?

It’s not a bad little game. There are some good decisions and, as a two-player worker placement title, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to interfere with your opponent and snatch what they needed. But it isn’t a truly great game either. It doesn’t have anything significant or unique about it and instead feels like any number of other titles. Making it a little pedestrian.

There are other worker placement titles. Nothing about the board really changes or grows over time. Your choices are relatively set from the beginning. And the game is extremely similar from play to play. Other than competing for the first player marker and getting to some coveted resource first, there is nothing inherent in the design that will alter how you deal with the game.

Even for a two-player game, the competition seems a little muted. There are several spots on the board that can be critical. And being blocked from one can be harsh. But most of them aren’t great to take multiple turns in a row. Taking resources – even fences – turn after turn is really inefficient, even if it does stymie an opponent. The result is that if you get blocked from a critical action, it typically costs you one turn at most. So, the choices that are available feel much less important.

With those criticisms out of the way, though, let’s talk about the good. The fact that ACBS is straightforward can sometimes be a huge advantage over heftier games. It is easier to get to the table and quicker to play. Plus, it is far less intimidating for new or casual gamers.

And, once you get over the fact that it’s not Agricola, the scoring differences aren’t as bad as all that. In fact, being able to specialize in one area can make competition much more vicious. If you become the sheep-baron, controller of all sheep on the board, then I can snatch away several victory points by denying you sheep. Or perhaps other points if I keep you from getting an animal type and you end up with a negative.

ACBS will find enthusiasts among those looking for something enjoyable to play with a non-gamer spouse, those who like to keep game-night relatively light, and farming fans everywhere. ACBS is adequate to those tasks. The problem is that it’s only adequate.

acbs-animals

Animeeples now standard

Components: 4 of 5. The bits in ACBS are high quality. Painted wood, thick punch board, and the kind of thing you expect in modern hobby gaming. There are no cards at all and so nearly everything is represented by wooden pieces.

Strategy/Luck Balance: NA of 5. There is no luck, per se, in this game, other than randomly determining the start player. From there, everything is open information and the effects of your actions are predictable. The only unpredictability is the behavior of your opponent.

Mechanics: 3 of 5. Everything works with ACBS and you’d never call the game broken or flawed. But everything you see in the game has been done before. A lot. And often better. There’s nothing inspiring here, but you’ll get a fun enough time out of it.

Replayability: 2 of 5. This can be improved with expansions, but the base game has some issues here. Because everything is exactly the same from game to game, and because the decisions and outcomes are mostly knowable, you can be tempted to try the same thing from game to game. And, if you do, it’ll get old very quickly.

Spite: NA of 5. As a two player game, there is no “spite” as I usually define it. That said, you’ll often be trying to grab spaces your opponent wants just to deprive them of it.

Your farm starts small, but can grow

Your farm starts small, but can grow

Overall: 2.5 of 5. Making the two-player version, ACBS took out many of the choices and most of the great tension from the original. This won’t give you the same feel as Agricola. What remains is “fun enough” type game. A decent enough experience, but not one that is especially unique or interesting, especially when compared with other two-player games on the market.

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