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BUILDING A VP ENGINE FOR AGRICOLA, MASTER OF BRITAIN (by Tom Russell)

At the end of each of Agricola, Master of Britain’s game turns, you’re required to have met or exceeded a certain Victory Point threshold in order to stay in the game and, eventually, to win the game at the end of Turn 8. The thing to keep in mind is that you don’t earn VP for what you did on that particular turn, but on what you did over the course of all the previous turns. That is, each thing that scores you VP will score you that VP on every subsequent turn so long as the condition applies. Therefore, finishing a settlement on Turn 2 is going to score you 7 VP over the course of the game, while finishing one on Turn 8 is only going to give you 1 VP (and, technically, it’s going to cost you the equivalent of 1.33 VP to build it in the first place); obviously, a Turn 2 settlement is a lot better than a Turn 8 settlement. The sooner you get something done, the more it’s going to pay off, and the trick is to do as much as you can as early as you can without leaving yourself overextended or vulnerable.

In essence, at a purely mechanical level, what you’re doing is building a “VP engine”, a way to generate a certain amount of VP per turn. This is naturally going to have several components: completed settlements, defeated leaders, experienced troops, empty regions, and cash. While it might be fruitful to put a special emphasis in one area or another, you can’t really afford to ignore any of the others, as no one thing can really generate 75+ VP over the course of the game’s eight turns, and they’re all somewhat tied in with one another.

Settlements

You can build a total of four settlements, and ideally you want to build at least three. The earliest you can complete a settlement is at the end of Turn 2, and you should definitely do that, because that’s going to score you 7 VP as discussed previously. It will also result in twelve additional coins in your Treasury over the course of the remaining six turns. Think of those coins as one-third of a VP; after you subtract the 4 coins (or 1.33 VP) it cost to build in the first place, your first settlement ends up being worth almost 10 VP by the end of the game. I like to finish my second and third settlements somewhere in the next three Turns. If you get them both finished by the end of Turn 4, together they’re going to be worth another 12.66 VP (inherent value plus traded-in coins minus the cost to build). I usually can get the second one done by Turn 4 (6 VP all by itself), but the third sometimes has to wait until Turns 5 or 6, in which case the third will end up yielding a net of only 4.66 or 3 VP, respectively. If you can’t place the third settlement until Turn 6, chances are you’re in no condition to place a fourth, and the cost of building it is going to negate any VP gains you might make by building it in Turns 7 or 8. A fourth settlement in Turn 6 might be profitable if you’ve gotten your third out in Turn 4.

Of course, there’s also the question of where to build your settlements. It’s usually more efficient to build one settlement per region; the addition of a second settlement doesn’t have any additional calming effect on the region over-all (beyond its effect in a specific tribal box), and with four regions to pacify, and a greater likelihood of getting three settlements completed rather than four, it usually doesn’t make sense to build multiple settlements in one place (but sometimes it does). I tend to build my first settlement among the Welsh tribes, usually in a box I’ve just cleared out through battle or suppression, since I’m already there, and that’s the region that usually needs it the most. But there’s also an argument to be made for building in the “friendly” blue region while most of those units are still safely in the friendly cup, for an easy build.

When it comes to setting up the initial garrison, obviously the most efficient way to do it is to place a one-aquila unit, since you want to save your three-aquila units to score VP, and your two-aquila units to be promoted to three-aquila status. But sometimes it’s a matter of working with the units that are in the actual region where you want to place a garrison, and so sometimes I’ll use a two-aquila unit.

Defeated Leaders

This one is pretty self-explanatory; each Leader that is defeated in battle (instead of just removed at the end of the Turn) is going to score you one VP every turn. There are three enemy Leaders in the game, but I tend to mentally set Calgacus aside because chances are I’m not going to be ready to fight the Battle of Mons Graupius until the last couple turns of the game. So at most he’s worth one or two VP. That leaves the leader in Wales and the leader in the green region as legitimate targets. When one of them shows up, I take a long hard look at my men and at the situation on the board, and if I can get into a battle before the end of the turn, then I do that. That’s not always going to be possible; the Leader might show up late in the turn, or be too far away, or I might be in no shape to be picking a fight. Or there just might be other fires that are more important for me to put out right now. That’s why I usually end up taking out only one of the non-Calgacus Leaders, scoring a handful of VP (usually between 4-6), and seldom get a second. But if the opportunity presents itself, take advantage of it. Once the leader’s out of the mix, your actions in that region are far less restricted, and it becomes much easier to place garrisons effectively and clear out resistance.

Promoting Troops

At first glance, this might look to be the easiest to spam, in that the only upper cap is that imposed by the rather generous counter mix; you can have a max of eight three-aquila units, scoring 8 VP per turn. Every battle gives you an opportunity to turn a single two-aquila unit into a three, or a one into a two. (Technically, it’s every battle action, so if two or three Legions participate in the same battle, you can promote two or three units.) You start with two three-aquila units that will score you 16 VP over the course of the game, so adding to their ranks early and often seems like a pretty obvious tactic, and people who are playing the game for the first time might be tempted to focus on that.

And, definitely, promoting your units is something you should be doing, because you’re definitely going to need better troops if you want to come out on top at Mons Graupius. But picking fights indiscriminately is a good way to push all the tribal units into the Hostile Cup, and with two reactions per battle action, it’s also a good way to fill up the board but fast. That’s going to make it significantly harder to clear regions and place garrisons/settlements. And then there’s the simple fact that while you’re likely to win most of the battles, there always exists the very real risk that (a) you’ll lose the battle, resulting in you instantly losing the game, or (b) you’ll lose some of the Legionary Units you’re spending so much time trying to build up.

Really, it’s a matter of picking the right battles at the right time, a determination which is going to be highly contextual and subjective. I’d say as a general benchmark if you’re doing a battle action every single game turn, you’re probably fighting too often, and if you’re participating in two or more battles during a single turn, you’re probably not choosing those battles very carefully. But there are game states where it’s perfectly reasonable to do both of these things.

And while it’s important to get your twos promoted into threes, it’s just as important to get your ones into twos. You don’t want an army that’s all ones and all threes, because the ones are going to be garbage, and the threes are too valuable to lose. By the time I’m ready to take on Calgacus, I want to have mostly twos and threes, and no ones.

Note that as you promote your soldiers for VPs, and peel off Garrisons for eventual settlements, that you’re probably going to need to get some new troops, especially as the number of auxiliaries each Legion can have assigned to it is tied to the number of “Roman” units. This of course costs you some VP, and requires that you have a Legion stationed in a camp to receive the raw recruits. In my experience, it’s usually better to call in reinforcements only once during the course of the game, and to do that in the early game, when it’s easier to get ahead of the turn-end VP threshold.

Empty Regions

Each region that’s free of enemy units is 1 VP. It should be fairly easy for you to pull this off with the blue region; unless something really screwy happens, you can rely on that VP coming through each turn. So, your next goal is to flip one of the neighboring regions – either Wales or the green region. This is something that’s going to take more than one game turn to accomplish, and it will be much easier to do once you’ve established a settlement. I’d advise to be really judicious with your Legion Actions and Leader Actions/bonuses in order to really maximize the units you’re removing to the dead pool, and to take pains to keep them out of the hostile cup. Long-term stability means VP you can count on for every subsequent turn, not just a one-off here and there. I’d say it’s generally better to concentrate on pacifying a region so that you can get that VP as early and as consistently as possible (by turn 4 or 5 at the latest), rather than splitting your focus and time between two regions.

Money

Money has three purposes in the game: to build settlements (requiring two separate investments of two coins), to influence a die roll against resistance using Agricola’s Negotiate action, and to buy VP at 3 coins apiece. As a general rule: unless you need the money to build settlements or negotiate, you should use it to buy VP every chance you get. Whether or not you need the money for settlements is pretty easy to grok, but it’s a little trickier to determine when to use Negotiation. So, let’s dig into that a little.

The Negotiation action is very similar to the Legion Action Suppress, in that you need to roll high against the enemy unit’s Resistance. What makes Negotiation different is that it’s a “free” action, in that it doesn’t reduce the number of actions you can take on that turn. It’s not "really" free in that you need to spend between one and seven coins to earn a per-coin modifier to your die roll. There’s no cup adjustment unless the roll is unsuccessful. So, the times when you want to Negotiate rather than Suppress are going to be those times where your Legion Actions are needed elsewhere, or to set up a situation you can maximize with those Legion Actions.

You’re also going to want to choose your targets very judiciously, and to use your coins to slant the odds of success in your favor. It’s possible, of course, to go all-in, and spend the exact number of coins to guarantee a successful roll no matter the result, but that’s a lot of coins, and thus potential VP, that you’re flushing down the drain. Try to look at it from the position of, “how many VP is this attempt worth?” I can usually make the case for 1 VP (3 coins) or less. If the roll is a dud, I’m only out 1 VP or less.

The flip-side is, “how many VP will this give me?” Eliminating one unit isn’t going to result in any VP gains, of course, but in aggregate, if successful that action will contribute to a game state that will allow me to further one of my other VP aims. Like everything else, timing and context are important: I’m much more likely to try Negotiating in the early game, or to eliminate the last hold-outs in a Region that I expect to score me some VP in subsequent turns.

Passing, and VP-per-action

There is one other way to score VP, and that’s passing: each action you forgo gives you 1VP. But note that unlike all the rest, this isn’t really part of your “VP engine” that will continue to score you points over the course of the game. If you’re using your Legion Actions really efficiently, it’s usually going to be better to use those actions to actually do something. If taking two actions will create a situation that will score you 1 VP, and you score that 1 VP every turn for the next five turns, each action is responsible for 2.5 VP, whereas if you were to pass those two actions, you’d score just 1 VP each for a total of 2 VP. So, one way to determine if a course of action is really worth pursuing is to determine how many of those actions, in aggregate, will be needed to accomplish something that will score you VP, and to keep in mind how much VP that something will score you over the remaining course of the game.

All That Being Said...

This is all well and good in theory, but it probably makes it sound like a soulless, mechanical exercise in maximizing efficiency. The game is more than that, and, I’d like to think, more thematic than that. If I’ve done my job properly, for every one of these tips and maxims you try to follow, there’s some reason why you shouldn’t, something pulling you in the other direction.

Let it pull you; that’s part of the fun.

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