Posted by: gschloesser | July 13, 2011

Agora Barcelona

Designer:  Oriol Comas
Publisher:  bbd Brabander
3 – 5 Players, 45 minutes
Review by:  Greg J. Schloesser

A few years back, Oriol Comas designed the delightful Antoni Gaudi tile game, which was produced to help honor the famous architect and his work in the Spanish city of Barcelona.  I was happy to hear that he had designed another game, and was even more pleased to receive a copy.

Agora is again set in his homeland, this time in the squares and districts of Barcelona.  Like many cultures in Europe and, indeed, throughout the world, the Spanish folk seem to enjoy strolling the streets and squares of their towns, soaking in the atmosphere and mingling with their fellow citizens.  In Agora, that is just what they do.  Players alternate placing “strollers” into the various districts of Barcelona, with the aim of capturing majority status in as many as possible.

3 – 5 players compete to gain control of the ten districts in Barcelona.  Each player will receive 25 – 30 strollers, dependent upon the number of players.  They will also each receive five cards, which are color coded to match the districts.  The idea is to play cards, and place the listed number of strollers into the corresponding district.  Of course, there’s a bit more to the game than that! 

Each turn, players take one card from the player on their left.  The cards themselves display the color of the district on both sides, but the back does not depict the number of strollers that may be placed using that card.  So, when taking a card from an opponent, you can select one that will allow you to place strollers into a district you desire, but you won’t know how many strollers you will be able to place.  Further, if not used immediately, that card may be taken from you on a future turn.

After this, players alternate playing a card and placing the listed number of strollers into the corresponding district.   The player may not place less than the number of strollers listed on the card, and may not place strollers that would cause a tie for most strollers in a district.  Ties for second, third or fourth place are fine — just not for first place.  This is a critical rule and must not be overlooked.

Next, in turn order, each player may move two strollers into adjacent districts.  The two strollers must be different colors, and no stroller may be moved more than once in a round.  Thus, they are laid on their side when moved to prevent another player from inadvertently moving it again.  This movement must follow the same rule wherein a tie for first place in a district cannot be caused.

An important point here is that the two strollers are moved simultaneously.  Thus, two strollers in adjacent cities can exchange places.  If the movement was not simultaneous, such a move could possibly cause a tie in a district, which is forbidden by the rules.  Unfortunately, this simultaneous movement is NOT spelled-out in the rules.  Rather, one must consult the illustrations provided to discover it.

Players end the round by selecting a new card from the two face-down decks.  Again, they will know the district depicted on the card selected, but not the number of strollers that may be placed there.  Once these two decks expire, players will no longer replenish their hand and will finish the game by playing their remaining cards over the final rounds.

The game ends after all cards are played.  On the final round, the only deviation from the rules is that players must move two of their own strollers as opposed to two strollers of different colors.  At this point, each district is examined, and the player with the most strollers scores the listed points for that district.  Points range from 6 – 10 points, so there are some decisions to be made in regards to the districts in which to compete.  The player with the greatest number of points is victorious, and becomes the favorite of retail vendors throughout the city.

When I first read the rules, my initial thought was “That’s it?  It just didn’t seem as though there was much to the game, and that there would be little tension.  Fortunately, I wasn’t completely correct, as the game does involve some competition for the various districts.  A player cannot possibly compete for control for all of the districts, so must instead concentrate on three or four.  Also, due to the movement of two strollers each turn by each player, control can change hands fairly quickly.  To secure control of an area, a player must commit an appreciable number of strollers.  Since his supply is limited, this usually means he will be severely restricting the number of districts wherein he can compete.

Another important tactic to keep in mind is to try to keep your strollers in districts that are fairly close.  It can take a long time to move them across the board and compete in distant districts.  Further, it is quite likely that your opponents will move some of your strollers into areas where you had no intention to compete.  Added to this is the fact that you can only place strollers into districts where you have the matching cards, and grabbing the cards you need is far from certain.

So, while the game wasn’t as bland as I initially anticipated, it still wasn’t filled with great strategic depth or excitement.  As the game progresses, it becomes clear that certain districts are beyond your reach.  Thus, you must focus on just a few districts, and hope that you have the cards to support this effort.  As the game progresses, decisions become more and more limited.  In the final turns, sometimes there isn’t much a player can do to affect the outcome.

Further, chaos reigns supreme.  Control of districts can change swiftly, and one doesn’t have a great deal of control here.  It is easy to assault the perceived leader, so one must try to keep a low profile and hope your opponent’s don’t notice if you are in contention.  With astute players, this isn’t likely.

The game is pleasant enough, but there is nothing here about which to get terribly excited.  It is yet another area control game, a genre of which I am quite fond.  However, Agora Barcelona doesn’t add much, if anything, to the field of work.


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