When I was but a child (which could be described as “anytime from birth until this very moment in time” – depending on who you ask), I would have rolled my eyes at the suggestion that we actively seek out and indulge in board games that were based primarily around the concept of farming. Having known a great number of farmers in my lifetime and seeing first hand what it is they do, the thought of a game focused on their daily rituals and routines came across as being about as fun and exciting as being asked to seal a few thousand of those mint flavored envelopes – you know, the ones you have to lick? The life of a farmer is clearly one of hardship and of little reward (as it unfortunately remains today) and I could see little to no amusement to be had in the world of farming games.
Of course, life has an uncanny way of challenging our perceptions and during the heyday of the Super Nintendo / Genesis era I was introduced to a title that would forever change my opinion about farming as a concept for games.
Mind you, Harvest Moon’s rather saccharine presentation of life as a farmer is similar in nature to the over-enthusiastic promises of a campaigning politician – wholly inaccurate, not to be believed, yet completely palatable to interested parties. To their credit, however, Natsume had somehow managed to take source material that I once felt to be mildly unapproachable and create a game that was absolutely entertaining in almost every way. As a testament to its genuine appeal, one only has to examine the fact that since its initial release in 1996, the game has seen over 15 sequels, which is certainly nothing to scoff at.
And yes, I’ve owned every sequel. Thanks for asking.
That having been said, this small perceptual change led to a major revolution in how I approached board games. For example, had I not discovered the farming wonder that was Harvest Moon, I would have most likely passed on games such as Agricola, Carcassonne, or even Bohnanaza! I know, I know – even the THOUGHT that I would have missed out on Bohnanaza sends shivers up my spine, but the fact remains that my interest in farming based titles would have been nothing without Harvest Moon to guide me (and yes, I realize that none of those games are exclusively about farming, but farming is certainly a prevalent theme).
So why am I discussing my deep fondness for Harvest Moon with you? It’s quite simple, really – I’m going to start writing some Harvest Moon slash fiction and you’re my test audience…
Oh wait, no, that’s not right at all.
In all honesty, my whole diatribe about farming games and the influence of Harvest Moon was writ simply to set the stage for my latest review, this time for 5th Street Game’s newest title Farmageddon – a crop yielding card game whose produce is so fresh, you won’t even need to squeeze them to check for ripeness (lest you crumple the cards).
It stands to reason that an excellent card game must:
1. Actually use cards! If a title touts itself as being the “#1 Card Game in the USA” but comes with a box filled with nothing but dice, plastic cars and/or wizard hat tokens, you know you’re screwed.
2. Feature some kind of theme and the artwork on the cards must reflect that theme in their presentation. If you happened to discover a title called “Robotic Dinosaur Rampage” and see that the cards feature images from the movie “Freejack”, well, again you’re hopelessly screwed (unless you believe Mick Jagger to be a dinosaur which, judging by his appearance, is certainly something we shouldn’t rule out).
3. Contain rules that are easily to learn, yet allow for a modicum of strategic play. When you open up the box for your card game and are forced to wade through 35 pages of rules, something might be amiss – especially if said game boils down to playing a slightly more involved game of Top Trumps.
Thankfully, Farmageddon manages to take all three facets and bring them together to create a wholly unified gaming experience, one filled with food, folks and fun (and Gophers – see what I did there, McDonalds? It’s called “avoiding a lawsuit”).
Farmageddon places you and several other other players in the roles of aspiring farmers – planting a number of unique crops in the fields and harvesting them when the time is right, perhaps at the peak of freshness. Don’t be fooled by this rather zen description, however, as each player has the ability to wreak havoc on their enemies (nee friends) through the use of wisely played action cards. It’s brilliantly chaotic, it’s absurdly random, it’s as if you’re allowed to play as both the organic produce farmer breaking their back to earn a living off the land as well as those people at Monsanto who are simply looking to crush every farmer who doesn’t abide by their rules! I like to call it the “best of both worlds” scenario and believe me, it works.
Before we get into the game mechanics, let’s discuss what comes in the box:
3 x Planting Fields – These three cards are placed in the middle of your play area during set-up and represent the areas where you can plant crops. If there are no fields left, you’re out of luck (unless you have an action card that might turn the tides of battle).
60 x Crop Cards – Crop cards represent the cavalcade of unique produce that can be grown through the course of the game, as well as the fertilizer necessary to see said crops come to life. Each crop card features two numerical listings in the upper left hand corner. The first number is the “Harvest Value” of the crop, which is what you score at the end of the game (should you actually be the one to harvest the crop). The second number is the fertilizer cost, which represents the number of fertilizer cards needed to harvest this specific crop. Keep in mind – there is no fertilizer deck. When it comes time to harvest plants, a player simply removes crop cards from their hands and places them face down with the backside of the card showing, thus creating fertilizer.
45 x Action Cards – Action cards are what enable you to play “good farmer/bad farmer” with other players at your table. For example, if you like to play nice, you might very well choose to play the “Rented Land” card and simply plant crops on a possible fourth field or perhaps you could play the “Bumper Crop” card, which allows a person harvesting their crop to add an additional $3 to the value at the end of the game! Where’s the fun in that, I ask you? I, myself, prefer to use cards such as “Dust Bowl”, which annihilates (almost) all crops in play. “Pesticides” are great, too, as you can play it on any person’s crop and that crop, when harvested is worth $5 LESS than it’s value! Haha, suck on that organic farmer!
Either way you play, there are action cards for everyone.
Now, all three planting fields have been placed on the table, the crop cards have been shuffled and two crop cards have been dealt to each player, the action cards have likewise been shuffled and three action cards have been dealt to each player – I suspect it’s time to dig in and get dirty!
The rules clearly state that “the player who most recently visited a farm goes first”. I haven’t personally visited a farm in a very long time and none of the people I played Farmageddon with have ever been on a farm (one of them, I suspect, would have trouble spelling it), so we were forced to use extreme measures in order to make this rule work. It seemed that one of my gaming chums had earlier helped his young son put together a wooden puzzle and apparently the pieces featured a strong farm motif (or at the very least a cow and chicken). At the same time, another in our group commented that they had recently watched the film “Babe” and that they should be considered for the first player role. It was a difficult decision, to be sure, but in the end, after much deliberation and arguing, we went with the clear choice – I was to claim the coveted position of first player.
Hey, I was the only one who had ever been to a farm, right?
On my turn, I was to draw two crop cards and perform any or all of four different actions.
1. Plant Crops – Since I was the first player, all of Planting Fields were available to me, so I planted three crops, one upon each field, thus leaving nothing for my opponents! To plant crops, all I had to do was take the cards from my hand, place them on an open field and take possession of said field by placing it in front of my to show ownership. People certainly weren’t happy, but hey, I’m not out to make friends, I’m out to make cash and owning three fields seemed like a great place to start!
2. Play Fertilizer – This is where my master plan sort of fell apart. According to the rules, if they are able to, a player MUST play at least one fertilizer card before their turn ends, meaning my final crop card was to be used as fertilizer, thus leaving me with no crop cards. Again, as I stated above, fertilizer cards are played by simply taking a crop card and placing it facedown, with the back showing. You can play as much fertilizer as you wish per turn, but you have to play at least ONE card if you have to and this wiped me out.
3. Play Action Cards – Being the first turn, I couldn’t really lay waste to anyone’s crops, so I played a “Crop Insurance” card, which allows me to score $6 dollars if my crop were to find itself in a situation in which I could call it “destroyed”.
4. Harvest Crops – You can harvest a plant if you put enough fertilizer on it, though NEVER on the same turn it is planted. I couldn’t harvest anything, obviously, so I had to give up at this point, but I will explain how to harvest for those following along at home. To harvest a crop, you remove all fertilizer cards and place them in the discard pile, while at the same time moving the crop card to your “Harvest Pile”. It’s so simple, a politician could do it.
Keep in mind, you don’t need to play these actions in this sequence – all four turn actions can be played in any order (which is good, considering that action cards can provide you with extra fertilizer from other people’s crops or even free up a planting field should you need it (if you’re feeling like being an utter ass to your “friends”)).
When you run out of things to do, your turn is over and play passes to the the next player. When the LAST CROP CARD is drawn, that player finishes their turn and every other player takes one final turn. After that, the game is over and the value of all harvested crops are tallied (action cards that provide bonuses are also tallied at this time). The player with the most points is declared “The Harvest Master”, while the losers move on to a life of serfdom, toiling away in the mire and muck until they lose all sense of self-respect and hygiene.
If you feel that the game is too simplistic for your tastes and want to add a little spice to the produce varieties, you can toss in ten ADDITIONAL cards that I neglected to mention – and with good reason! These crop cards are SO devious that you could put whiskers and a tail on them and call them rats! Labeled by the creator of the game as the “FrankenCrops”, these unique produce items allow for some truly special, epic actions. Take for example the lovely “Flame Fruit”. Described by foodies as “possessing a uniquely piquant spiciness once you get past the incredible burning sensation that comes for the fact that the fruit is, as clearly stated, en fuego”, this crop allows you to destroy ONE crop when planted. The “Zombo-Weed”, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to place all fertilizer cards that are currently ON CROPS at the bottom of the crop deck. It’s a great way to sabotage every other player in the game at the same time! It’s recommended that you don’t add these cards in for your first game, but being that I’m rebellious by nature, I threw them in anyway (believe me, they’re easy enough to use, even for kids).
The gameplay is certainly simplistic and though I can’t say that Farmageddon is a very deep game, it is very enjoyable. While there is a small amount of strategy to be found within the game, the whole experience really boils down to simple hand management and luck. Regardless, the rather chaotic gameplay makes for a simple filler than can be enjoyed by anyone – kids included. As a testament to how much fun this game is, I had to reprint the PnP version of the game four times, because the cards were wearing out – and we were using heavier paper stock (not card stock).
Speaking of the cards, I have to say that the artwork here is absolutely brilliant. Brett Bean and Erin Fusco are to be commended here, as the different crops presented are simply amazing, oozing with personality and charm the likes of which you don’t often see. My personal favorites – the “Grumpy Melon”, with his rather dour demeanor and the “Helpful Tater”, the cutest potato you’ll ever see (and his fries are most likely equally adorable). It’s a colorful, well presented game and you’ll simply love the different produce (and action cards, frankly, as they’re impressive as well). The card stock is decent, as well, so you’ll be able to play the heck out of the game for quite a long time.
All things said and done, Farmageddon has been a big hit around these parts and while I don’t really see it as much more than a light filler, it still stands out as being a really amusing title that seems to get a lot of playtime (we play it several times each week in our gaming groups). The majority of strategy comes mainly from being attentive about timing – playing the right card at the right time. However, the problem is that you have to have the right cards in your possession and that’s where all the luck comes in. Regardless of the demographic, Farmageddon pleases everyone and that is something that makes it stand out, as my groups tend to be rather finicky when it comes to gaming. My daughter and her friends also enjoy it and it’s become their go-to game of choice in recent months, which again, is pretty unique. I find it funny that years ago, I would have passed on a game such as this, as I would have never thought a farm themed title would be fun, but thanks to Harvest Moon and the epiphany it provided, I’ve had a chance to play in the world of Farmageddon…
… and I’m certain I’ll return!