This year’s WBC Agricola tournament told a story that in many ways was similar to previous years, yet it also had its share of differences. The biggest consistency is that it yet again became more competitive as the skill level of the field increased after a year of everyone honing their farming skills, much in part due to the introduction of the online Meeple League tournaments. For the first time in a few years, the tournament saw a moderately precipitous drop in attendance to just 70 participants in 2017, representing a 21% decline and nearly equaling the attendance from the last few years at Lancaster. This year saw fewer casual gamers dropping by for a heat of Agricola, as there were more options for gaming on the first day of the tournament compared to last year.
As previously alluded, although there was a drop in attendance, this most definitely did not provide an easier path to the semifinals. Through the heats, there were nine (9) double-winners who earned a berth into the semifinal round (most wins being the first determinant for advancement), leaving only seven (7) spots for those who had a single win in the heats. As an indication of the strength of the field, two former WBC champions, Cary Morris (2010) and Ben Scholl (2013), missed the cut, as did several other strong players: Haim Hochboim (2nd place in 2015 – the year of the 4-way tie at the final), John Corrado (2015 EuroQuest champ), and Steve LeWinter (2013 EuroQuest champ, 2014 WBC finalist). Four players tallied wins in all three heats, three of whom were no surprise in Jon Senn, Sceadeau D’Tela and Eric Wrobel. The fourth to achieve this feat was Derek Glenn, a King among men who hails from Berea, KY. Derek’s game has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years, due in part to his first year attending Farmageddon in Greensboro, NC and also from consistently playing his good friend and shark, Keith Dent, in what is surely a plethora of house games in Kentucky. You would be hard pressed to find a nicer guy in this hobby than Derek (although Micah McCormick gives him a run for it, but more on him later). Derek runs the Lion in Winter tournament in Kentucky every year, which is a weekend of gaming in a blender and features a unique bidding format that is a game in itself. Lion in Winter is truly a one man show, as Derek selflessly runs everything from the setup of the gaming to feeding no less than 32 hungry mouths over the weekend, all while not participating in the tournament himself. So yeah – that guy won three heats. Hats off to Derek. An honorable mention also needs to go out to Eric Wrobel and Rob Murray for keeping their streak alive for consecutive appearances in the semifinals (now at six).
Semifinal game 1 pitted Sceadeau D’Tela with Micah McCormick (also part of the 2015 four-way tie), Mike Kaltman and patriarch of the “Agricola family,” Ray Wolff. It was good to see Micah back in the tournament after his strong performance in 2015. Last year he was unable to make it out early enough to compete in the Agricola tournament due to some scheduling conflicts. Although Sceadeau was playing in top form this year and very eager to get back into the final, the Agricola Gods had other plans. Some accidental shenanigans ensued in the midgame due to a bit of a tactical error at the table involving Farm Steward, which allowed Micah to sneak in a quick second Family Growth and send some of the other players tumbling behind. When you fall behind a guy like Micah McCormick, your chances of mounting a successful comeback aren’t very good. This game was no different, as Micah emerged victorious by a comfortable margin: Micah (45), Mike (39), Sceadeau (35) and Ray (32).
Semifinal game 2 was a bit of a cruel twist of fate. Three of last year’s finalists randomly drew one another! Last year’s winner, Dave Brown, was unable to attend this year’s WBC, but the other three finalists, Eric Wrobel, Keith Dent and Rob Murray were once again looking across the table from one another with a new variable in the mix – another non-American to take Dave’s place, Aran Warszawski from Israel. Rob immediately feared that America would once again come up short, and early on it looked like that may have been the case. Aran stayed in two rooms all game, played Farm Steward for his first Family Growth and then raced to stone to drop… Groom. The other players breathed a sigh of relief when it was Groom rather than Plow Driver or Scholar. As much fun as it was to see Aran’s unorthodox farming skills, in the end it was Eric Wrobel who would emerge the victor in the closest top-to-bottom game in the semifinals: Eric (44), Keith (41), Aran (40), Rob (40).
The game with the most controversy was certainly game 3, pitting Derek Glenn with Alex Bove, Randy Buehler and newcomer, 16-seed Allan Jiang. A rare GM ruling was required in this one, as late in the game there was a suspected error made in paying for a renovation / improvement cost by Alex, which went unnoticed until the following round. Unfortunately, the previous position was not able to be confidently re-created and agreed to by all players at the table, so play continued with the player boards “as-is.” Thankfully in the end, it is unlikely that the players’ finishing order would have changed. Allan’s Humble Farmboy took down Randy’s Field Watchman! This one ended at Allan (43), Randy (42), Alex (38), Derek (36).
The fourth and final game of the round matched Jon Senn with Bill Crenshaw, Chris Senhouse and Ricky Boyes. Ricky has been a perennial tough competitor in the tournament who consistently fell just short of breaking into the semifinals. It was nice to see Ricky get that monkey off his back once and for all. There was a bit of agony and irony in the result of this game, as Bill Crenshaw pulled of a surprise victory over Jon Senn by becoming the first person to win a game using the “4 seat” tiebreaker that was instituted last year. Had this rule existed just one year earlier, Jon Senn would be your 2015 WBC Agricola champion and Sceadeau D’Tela would still be the Susan Lucci of the tournament. This one ended at Bill (43), Jon (43), Ricky (40), Chris (31). Hopefully the 5th place plaque was a small consolation for Jon’s woes… but I doubt it.
Therefore, this year’s final would once again produce a first-time winner, as Eric Wrobel (seat 1), Bill Crenshaw (seat 2), Micah McCormick (seat 3) and Allan Jiang (seat 4) would battle it out on Wednesday morning at 9 AM sharp, despite the efforts of some to reschedule to a more convenient time.
The draft rules for WBC are as follows: Occupations pass upstream, and once all Occupations have been drafted / selected then the Minor Improvement draft passes downstream. The results of the first half of the draft were as follows:
- Eric: Church Warden, Sunday Worker, Storyteller, Tutor, Weaver, Juggler, Corn Profiteer
- Bill: Resource Lender, Hide Farmer, Godfather, Slaughterman, Mendicant, Forester, Shepherd Boy
- Micah: Contractor, Livestock Keeper, Tinsmith, Cook, Clay Mixer, Basin Maker, Smallholder
- Allan: Chief’s Daughter, Stone Curator, Hoarder, Fisherman, Chemist, Stable Deliveryman, Maid
Due to the lack of power in the Occupation draft, no player had a clear advantage or disadvantage at this point. The only somewhat interesting decisions that were made in the draft were from Bill’s starting pack. Bill took Resource Lender first, Eric took Sunday Worker second and Allan took Hoarder third. All three cards are Wm cards (Wm is used with E, I, K in the elimination rounds), and all three cards are strong for entirely different reasons. The choice of which one to take comes down to taste and play style, although Allan should be happy to have a third-,lipick Occupation that could potentially be a five-point reward for playing an otherwise slightly wasteful game. Resource Lender requires a bit of early game discipline, while Sunday Worker can be a tactical powerhouse.
The Minor Improvement draft proved far more interesting:
- Eric: Forest Pasture, Petting Zoo, Strawberry Patch, Dovecote, Free-Range Chickens, Sawmill, Building Material
- Bill: Pelts, Straw-Thatched Roof, Ruins, Sleeping Corner, Worm Bait, Brewery, Slaughterhouse
- Micah: Riding Plow, Milking Stool, Undisturbed Pond, Cookies, Alms, Bonfire, Weekly Market
- Allan: Writing Desk, Field, Reed Pond, Lamp Oil, Fruitcake, Mansion, Gypsy’s Crock
I’ll be honest – as the GM watching all of this, I thought I saw some surprises. However, as the discussions would continue for the remainder of the week, lots of people had lots of different opinions regarding how this draft went down. I suppose that’s the beauty of Agricola… while there are power rankings on Play-Agricola.com, it’s hard to really assess what’s “right” or “wrong” since nothing can truly be taken in a vacuum and since all players have a bias to some cards depending on play style. I never expected Field to be taken second and Sleeping Corner to fall to Bill fourth, but it happened. Some would argue that getting two grain fields running by Stage 5 is difficult and that you give up other things to make this happen, but my counter-argument would be that I often have a grain and a vegetable field by round 9, and that could just as easily be two grain fields instead. So “extra” work…? Meh… if your game consists of card points and a weak farm, I suppose. I also expected Alms to go much earlier in the draft due to the lack of power in the Occupation draft, but as it was in the same pack with Riding Plow – Field – Strawberry Patch (which fit very well into Eric’ pre-game plans) – Sleeping Corner, this too fell to Micah fifth. Fortunately for Micah, he also drafted an early Undisturbed Pond, so his “family game” was looking good early. What the players didn’t know, but the GM *DID* know, was that Family Growth was shuffled as the Round 5 card, so a player pushing first room / first baby that also had cards that paid food for not playing Occupations, particularly in a draft that didn’t contain lots of Occupations, would have a very healthy start and strong chance of winning. While Agricola is a game that requires a tremendous amount of skill, it still has a fair bit of luck. The timing of when Family Growth appears in Stage 2 can often turn a winning position into a last place finish.
Eric opened the game with Juggler to secure early game food and set up his Storyteller combo at his leisure. Bill played Resource Lender in the 2 Seat, which is a card falls into that category of a dozen or so cards that really does need to be played as soon as possible to maximize its effectiveness. That means that Micah was able grab the G-Spot (Reed, Stone, Food) with his first action of the game in Seat 3. At this point, I personally felt that Micah was likely going to win the game. Sure, three moves in is early, but consider the following… He is a very strong player and a deep thinker that rarely makes mistakes. And here he was with the coveted early RSF action, the best chance at getting the first room with Family Growth coming out in Round 5 and cards that rewarded him with food for not playing mediocre Occupations – which really fuels the midgame.
There was another important variable in Stage 1 – sheep. Sheep came out in Round 1 and Bill was the one to get his hands on some clay first. He took 2 clay in Round 1 and distributed it for 3 clay total. Major / Minor Improvement would not come out until Round 4, so Bill promptly took Start Player in Round 3 (with Worm Bait) in order to secure the first Fireplace. There was only one problem with that plan. Micah had already taken Start Player in Round 2 with Bonfire. When Round 4 hit, Bill built the Fireplace and Micah picked up 8 food by taking Sheep. Bill would take a couple of Begging Cards rather than taking an inefficient food action (later removed with Mendicant) and Micah built the first room, being the only player with the materials to do so.
Family Growth flipped in Round 5, and Micah grew with an Undisturbed Pond. He would take Start Player for funsies in Round 6 with Alms, and he had such a jump on the rest of the table at that point that barring a major unforeseen incident, the game was his to lose. He played Contractor in Round 6 because, what better way to spend tons of extra food than to substitute them for resources. Renovate and build the Well in Round 8 for a wood, 3 clay, 2 stone and two food…, Don’t mind if I do! Later in Round 10, Micah rushed a few more Occupations out to play Riding Plow and cruise to the win.
Final scores: Micah (53), Allan (40), Eric (39), Bill (37)