It goes without saying that “Change” was the unofficial motto of the 2016 WBC. The convention left its home of the past decade in Lancaster to Seven Springs Mountain Resort cozily nestled in the Allegheny Mountains SE of Pittsburgh, PA. Countless Facebook forums are filled with reviews and praise for the move, which was widely considered a success. The convention also expanded to a full nine-day length without pre-cons, providing a less congested schedule. Agricola moved forward in the schedule so that all three qualifying heats fell on the opening day of the convention with the semifinals held the following morning. As Agricola heats require three hours each, this allowed many to participate in tournaments that they found difficult to manage previously with a tighter schedule. The schedule change was also considered a resounding success by many as attendance climbed over 20%. In a year wherein overall convention attendance was down 22%, Agricola experienced a surge of players looking for competitive gaming on the opening Saturday, where it was almost the only game in town.
One drawback to the fast and furious back-to-back-to *dinner break*-to back heat format is that it made advancement to the semifinals extremely challenging, as most players entered all three heats. In previous years, the cut for semifinals was typically made near the “win and a second place” line, to advance 16 players. This year, two players with a win and TWO second place finishes did not qualify including 2010 champ Cary Morris. The two players in the field with the longest current streak of consecutive semifinal appearances, Eric Wrobel and Rob Murray, were also forced into “must win” situations in the third heat, as both players had finished second in each of their first two heats. Both are seasoned farmers who play well under pressure and were able to win in the third heat to reach the semifinals for the fifth straight year. There were four triple winners after three heats: 4-time finalist Mike Kaltman, former Caesars Alex Bove and Randy Buehler, and defending champion and leading Agricola laurelist Sceadeau D’Tela.
17 players advanced into three 4-player and one 5-player game. The four semifinal winners would then advance to a 4-player Final. The buzz heading into the semifinals was the presence of 9-year-old Sam Wolff. Agricola may be the “sharkiest” of the WBC complex Euros, so the youngster's achievement was quite impressive! The four triple winners were separated in the semifinals. Sceadeau used “The Secret” a la Cary Morris and was able to draw the card for the 5-player table. Sceadeau is considered to be particularly skillful in the 5-player format.
Table 1 (in initial turn order): Mike Mularski • Eric Wrobel • Moon Sultana • Sceadeau D’Tela • David Platnick
Eric was in the right seat at the right time to play a free Field Watchman after Mike opened play with Reed, Stone, Wood. He was also the owner of some fine Clay Supports a little later; when a player of Eric’s skill is able to have a setup that strong, it is very difficult to keep pace. Sceadeau was the recipient of some bad luck as Moon played Canoe to make his Net Fisherman very sad ... a move that was discussed at length after the game and was revealed as being executed to directly counter Sceadeau’s occupation. Sceadeau was unable to steal even one food from Fishing three times! As one might expect with that line of play, Sceadeau and Moon were 4th and 5th at the end and never contended. David played a Quarry / Clay Pit game, but couldn’t find a way to transform those strong cards into many points and ended with a massive amount of unused stone and clay on his board. In the end, Mike had an impressive board and was able to stay close to Eric and finish just two points behind to earn overall sixth place laurels. Unfortunately for Sceadeau, he was thus unable to keep pace with Mike Kaltman’s distinguished achievement of four consecutive Final appearances. The ending scores were: Eric 42, Mike 40, David 37, Sceadeau 35, Moon 31.
Table 2: Rob Murray • Robb Effinger • Geoffrey Pounder • Alex Bove
Starting in seat 1, Rob opened the game with Reed, Stone, Food in order to have the stone ready to drop his Axe at the opportunistic time. This game was very strange in that there were no strong occupations in the draft, or at least not occupations that players wanted to fight to play early. Robb actually took three wood in the 2 seat to allow Geoffrey and Alex to open the game with occupations – whether they wanted to or not. Rob capitalized on some early game momentum with the first (double) room build in Round 4 powered by a free Church Warden for four wood (seemingly an easy three points with Axe in play and Sleeping Corner in hand). Family Growth flipped in Round 6 and Rob was first to grow. Coupled with the first Fireplace and a key sheep grab, it was too much for the others to counteract. The scores at game end were: Rob 53, Alex 44, Robb 42, Geoff 32.
Table 3: Dave Brown • Patrick McGavisk • Sam Wolff • Randy Buehler
This game drew a lot of comment in the post-game discussions. There was beauty in seeing MTG Hall-of-Famer and former Caesar Randy Buehler, who is widely considered to be the strongest EuroGamer attending WBC, sitting next to 9-year-old Sam Wolff at the semifinal of such a skill-based game. This is the kind of scene that really makes you appreciate the uniqueness of WBC and the charm of boardgaming. But everything isn’t always sunshine and roses. This game saw a lot of counter-play. Dave was the Starting Player and opened with RSF and then played SP + Landing Net, only to have Patrick take one reed as the opening round’s sixth action. Sam also played Net Fisherman, which slowed down Dave’s Landing Net in Phase 1. Randy had a solid game early and was able to punish Sam’s early mistake. Sam attempted to take one reed in Round 3 to draft the 3 food off of Fishing. Knowing Dave would probably take the 3 food on Fishing out of spite and principle, Randy looked the youngster in the eye and took Traveling Players (a fine 3 food action regardless) to force at least one begging card on him. No wonder Rob Murray calls him “Darth Buehler!” Sam would later take 1 reed / 1 food (Fishing) rather than take Day Laborer, and thus took two begging cards rather than one. Although Randy had the early lead, Dave came storming back with a fierce combination of moves. Using Slapdash Renovation, in one round Dave renovated to clay and grabbed BMW, then renovated to stone and built a Fireplace, and then later played Silo Girl which gave him all the grain and vegetables he would need to sow without wasting the family member actions to take them. At the end of the game, there was a tie for first place! With the new tiebreaker rules, that would’ve given Randy the victory since he started in the fourth seat. However, a recount discovered that Patrick inadvertently miscalculated Randy’s score by giving him credit for a fenced stable, which was actually unfenced. After several more recounts, it was confirmed that Dave prevailed in a one-point win over Randy, who would have to settle for fifth place laurels with the one-point loss - his first in this event. The scores were: Dave 44, Randy 43, Patrick 32, Sam 31.
Table 4: John Corrado • Keith Dent • Ben Scholl • Mike Kaltman
Table 4 was the toughest all-around semifinal. In a game with this much talent at the table, the game can come down to who opens the best starting picks. In this case, Keith got Field Watchman just as Eric Wrobel did in his game and proved how strong this card is in the hands of an expert. No amount of former plaques or achievements would be enough to slow Keith down in the 2 seat, as the table had a difficult time keeping up with his strong cards and precise play. Keith won by an uncharacteristically comfortable margin: Keith 50, Mike 44, Ben 42, John 37.
The four Preliminary triple winners were all eliminated in the semifinal round. Eric and Rob, both faced with early elimination in the heats, won their way into the Final. Eric was the only player with experience in the WBC Final, as Dave was new to WBC and Keith and Rob had never made it past the semifinals. There would be a new winner crowned this year.
The Final: Rob Murray • Dave Brown • Eric Wrobel • Keith Dent
Reaching the Final is no easy task, so when you don’t recognize one of the players there, it can only mean one of two things. Either they got extraordinarily lucky with a softer path to the Final than what is expected due to matchups or drafting mistakes, or he is just way better than you are. Dave was a total stranger to the others, and if they were worried than they had good reason to be.
The opening Occupation packs were opened as follows, and passed counter-clockwise (reverse from previous years):
Rob: Sheep Farmer, Layabout, Sunrise Admirer, Master Builder, Rancher, Wood Buyer, Butcher
Dave: Village Fool, Diplomat, Pig Whisperer, Clay Digger, Cowherd, Clay Firer, Pig Catcher
Eric: Clay Worker, Wood Deliveryman, Greengrocer, Gem Hunter, Traveling Salesman, Acrobat, Maid
Keith: Baker, Plow Maker, Tutor, Merchant, Gem Hunter, Stone Carrier, Minimalist
The draft saw a few good Occupations, but nothing game breaking on the surface such as Educator, Charcoal Burner or Field Watchman. Dave took Village Fool from his opening pack and then drafted the remainder of his hand defensively. This tactic took Ben Scholl to the title in 2013. Additionally, Dave got the seldom played Minimalist back seventh, which goes very nicely with a Village Fool game provided you can figure out food with one or two improvements. Eric drafted a hand of clay-heavy occupations, but was probably hoping to also get back Gem Hunter and Clay Firer, which were both taken defensively by Keith and Rob after seeing several clay-based cards floating around.
Final drafted Occupation hands were as follows:
Rob: Sheep Farmer, Diplomat, Greengrocer, Merchant, Rancher, Clay Firer, Maid
Dave: Village Fool, Wood Deliveryman, Tutor, Master Builder, Cowherd, Acrobat, Minimalist
Eric: Clay Worker, Plow Maker, Sunrise Admirer, Clay Digger, Traveling Salesman, Stone Carrier, Butcher
Keith: Baker, Layabout, Pig Whisperer, Countryman, Gem Hunter, Wood Buyer, Magician
Next, the opening Minor Improvement packs were opened as follows, and passed clockwise (also in reverse to previous years):
Rob: Iron Plow, Private Forest, Clay Roof, Spinney, Cooking Hearth, Clapper, Brewery
Dave: Field, Slapdash Renovation, Undisturbed Pond, Loom, Fish Hook, Boundary Stones, Butter Churn
Eric: Animal Pen, Almshouse, Ladder, Fish Trap, Attic, Apple Tree, Herb Garden
Keith: Sawhorse, Mansion, Pelts, Crib, Helpful Neighbors, Drinking Trough, Wood-Fired Oven
The improvements, as is often the case, made for difficult decisions. Eric chose Animal Pen first, which meant that Keith was able to get both Sawhorse and Almshouse. Those two cards are considered by a lot of players to be in the top five improvements in EIKWm. Rob’s starting pack was by far the most interesting of the bunch and also generated a lot of discussion afterwards. He chose to keep Iron Plow to combine with his Greengrocer, and also knowing he would more than likely get back the Cooking Hearth Minor Improvement. This left Dave with a very difficult decision, as he could have taken either Private Forest or Clay Roof, knowing whatever he chose would probably end up under his Village Fool. He spent a full five minutes considering which card to draft in this position (see Dave’s thoughts on his draft here: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1614607/wbc-finals-draft-review). Dave made a very precise and correct decision by keeping Private Forest, although Eric was very happy to see Clay Roof come to him third. The most controversial move of the draft was made by Rob in his fourth pack, when he had to decide between Fish Trap and Ladder. Unbeknownst to Rob at the time, this decision greatly affected the outcome of the game. Rob evaluated that at a final table with very strong players, he was unlikely to get more than ~6 food from Fish Trap, and while Ladder is not an amazing card it has several combinational opportunities that can break games (such as if someone has Clay Supports). Additionally, providing you get to a 4-room stone house, Ladder should be worth 4 reed. As Rob also had Mansion in hand as an outside possibility, he chose Ladder and gave Dave’s Village Fool the food engine he needed.
Drafted Minor Improvement hands:
Rob: Iron Plow, Mansion, Ladder, Loom, Cooking Hearth, Drinking Trough, Herb Garden
Dave: Field, Private Forest, Pelts, Fish Trap, Fish Hook, Clapper, Wood-Fired Oven
Eric: Animal Pen, Slapdash Renovation, Clay Roof, Crib, Attic, Boundary Stones, Brewery
Keith: Sawhorse, Almshouse, Undisturbed Pond, Spinney, Helpful Neighbors, Apple Tree, Butter Churn
As was the case in Rob’s semifinal game, this game started with player 1 taking RSF and player 2 taking three wood. Eric played his first Occupation for free … Clay Digger, which is usually not the first Occupation played in a game of this magnitude and skill level. Keith followed that with Gem Hunter, which is also not a power card. Rob took two clay, Dave took SP and got his Fish Trap out right away and got to work. In Round 2, Dave played Village Fool, which was met with audible groans from the other players. Eric continued rushing out Occupations: Clay Worker, Stone Carrier and Traveling Salesman in order to play his Animal Pen. Prior to the first harvest, Eric had 18 clay on his board and was hoping that Renovation came out in Round 5. With Eric’s Clay Roof and Rob’s Ladder, Dave was not met with much competition for RSF (or Reed), which he took frequently. Dave built the first room and when Family Growth flipped over in Round 5, the game was effectively over. When Dave was able to build the Basketmaker’s Workshop prior to the second harvest, it was a simple matter of proper execution of “The Family Game” to give Dave the game. Unfortunately for Eric, his gambit didn’t pay off and Renovation turned over in Round 7, which was a little too late to make a challenging push vs Dave’s position. Dave would later play Minimalist for some bonus points too and cruise to a 9-point win. Had the Renovation and Family Growth cards been reversed, it is possible that Eric could have made a serious push (he had also been fence blocked and stable blocked by Keith in the final round), but such was not the case. The final tally was: Dave 47, Eric 38, Rob 34, Keith 33.
A small apology is in order for those who look forward to a 5,000+ word treatise with a detailed round-by-round breakdown of the Final. Diligent note taking by the GM is more difficult when the GM is fortunate enough to partake in his own Final.