You didn’t listen when the outcry against GMO farming reached its fever pitch, and now, here you are, at Farmageddon.
The usual rhythm of plant, wait, harvest here is more complicated than it used to be, upset by other skittish farmers, anxious to make what money they can before the crop seeds run out. What can’t be stolen or threshed can be devalued by pesticides. But if you play your genetic superworms and foul manure right, you might be able to keep the opposition at bay. Crops for consumption isn’t the point here–as long as you have the most cold, hard cash, your life of till and toil will be replaced by a life of ease come harvest.
Note: The photos in this preview are of a prototype. The art and design are final, but the cardstock and packaging of the final edition shown here are not. (The final product will match Hyperbole’s earlier release, Hocus.)
How It Works
Farmageddon is a hand management card game for two to four players. Players manage planting crops with playing farmer cards to collect money. The player with the most money in their score pile at the end of the game wins.
To begin, players shuffle the crop deck and the farmer deck. Each player receives three crop cards and four farmer cards. The player who last ate corn (or a corn product) begins.
The first thing players do on their turn is draw two crop cards. Next, they can perform any number of crop actions and up to two farmer actions. Crop actions involve players either planting a crop face up in front of them or fertilizing a crop (playing crop cards face down). Every card has a fertilizer threshold and cannot be harvested until that threshold is met. Players must fertilize at least once per turn if able (including fertilizing opponents’ crops!).
Finally, players draw one farmer card, harvest (score) all crops that have met their fertilizer threshold (and were not planted this turn), and discard down to six crop cards in hand.
While planting and harvesting crops is the core of the game, the farmer cards allow players to do things they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do, including harvesting the same turn they plant something, clearing another player’s crop, adjusting the value of a crop when harvested, or protecting a crop from tampering.
The game ends when the crop deck runs out. The player who depleted the deck finishes their turn and each other player gets a turn, then all remaining crops that have met their fertilizer threshold are harvested. The player with the most money in their score pile wins.
It’s the End of the World as We Know It, or I Feel Fine?
The Farm Fresh Edition is the third incarnation of Grant Rodiek’s Farmageddon. Farmageddon originally appeared on the Game Crafter, then was professionally published with 5th Street Games (now defunct), and is currently en route to the USA in a completely revised edition from Rodiek’s own Hyperbole Games. This newest edition, beyond being the definitive version of the game, reflects Rodiek’s growth as a designer.
I no longer own the earlier edition of Farmageddon, but my memories of it are of a game firmly in the take-that camp. While the Farm Fresh Edition certainly retains much of the player interaction (even conflict) of the original game, there is a much more interesting hand management puzzle than in the previous editions, one that will help this edition appeal to a wider swath of game players.
The core of Farmageddon is very simple: you plant crops and harvest them. What adds spice to the game is the farmer cards. Each farmer card has a special action, and these actions, while adding some volatility to the game, are what keep players invested. Special actions can protect crop cards, make crops more valuable, allow you to draw more cards, or even destroy your opponents’ efforts. But as devastating as these effects may seem on the surface, the cards in the Farm Fresh Edition are well balanced. You may destroy your opponent’s crop with Thresher, but they take all fertilizer back into their hand. You may cause a Dust Bowl, destroying all crops on the table, but you have to discard another farmer card, sacrificing an action you could take later. You may foreclose on an opponent’s crop, but you have to compensate them with two crop cards of your own–a precious commodity. Every decision involves a trade-off–as it should be in a hand management game.
What keeps all of this interesting is one simple rule: you can’t harvest a crop the same turn you plant it. In addition to the hand management decision of what to plant and what to use as fertilizer, you also have to play your opponents. Do you risk planting the 15-point Wary Squash? Or should you go for the safer, nondescript, easier-to-get-away-with-but-only-4-point Sassy Wheat? It can be tempting to play all your cards at once to ensure your gains, but if you expend all your resources now, you will be at the mercy of players who were less cavalier with their cards later.
So the game here is trying to find a way to expend your cards such that you get the maximum return. You don’t want to steal another player’s crop if you can’t harvest it immediately. You might plant a Wary Squash, but only after waiting until you have Foul Manure or another card that protects the crop from tampering. Or you could risk it, expecting that the other players will harm each other rather than you. It’s tempting to look at farmer cards other players are using and be jealous. “Well, if I had Foul Manure, of course I’d be in the lead!” But this is short-sighted. Really, all of the cards in the farmer deck are good, and all of them are great if the right situation presents itself. Farmageddon, while looking on the surface like a take-that card game, actually has the depth of decision to stabilize gameplay in a genre that is usually built on a shaky foundation.
Also helping Farmageddon is its fantastic look. I’ve always loved the art by Brett Bean and Erin Fusco, but the addition of Adam P. McIver’s art and graphic design in this new edition elevate it quite a bit. The main crop artwork is redone from the original game and fits the new look well. And there are small visual cues–the crop card back is a bag of seeds, the small plant stake that carries the bulk of information on the card–that are clever and helpful. The colors are well chosen, and the cards, with their full-card artwork, just pop. Farmageddon’s rules are simple enough for families, and since most of the rules are outsourced to the cards, families should be able to get playing quickly, especially with the included player aid. I think this new look and package will be appealing for the audience. (My copy is a prerelease copy, so I don’t have the final components, but I do have a copy of Hocus from Hyperbole Games, which I backed on Kickstarter. The components, I’m told, will be of the same high quality.)
In the earlier 5th Street Games edition of the game, Frankencrops were an optional add-in; here they are included in the deck from the beginning, which I think is a wise decision. They add an even more interesting hand management wrinkle to the game (their abilities are good even if their return on investment is not), and the abilities on crop cards are welcome without adding much complexity. The Farm Fresh Edition, in addition to rebalanced cards, includes a new promo crop, the Selfish Starthistle, which produces some fun gameplay situations.
Farmageddon will not be for everyone. For me, the game has more conflict than I typically like in a game. The hand management is a good puzzle, and there is some long-term planning here, but Farmageddon is mostly a game of tactics. When it is your turn, your goal is to manipulate the playing field to your benefit as well as you can because it might be a completely different playing field by the time you take your next turn. So players who like long-term planning will probably not enjoy that aspect of the game. This is not Euro farming, where each player tends his or her own garden in peace and safety. (Although once crops are harvested, the score can’t be taken from you, so, again, it’s not overly chaotic.) Take the title “Farmageddon” as delivering exactly what the game promises.
And deliver it does. I mentioned that small, take-that card games are often built on shaky foundations–they feel underbaked and unbalanced. They’re meant for a half hour of chaos (or longer, if you’re talking Munchkin), where the game is merely a vehicle for the players to beat up on one another. Farmageddon is much more than this. The design here is sound, and the conflict is reined in through hand management and trade-offs. While players choose their targets (conflict!), players who are overly aggressive without tending to their own fields will probably not win. Similarly, players who overuse their farmer cards in the early rounds will find themselves at a loss later in the game, as farmer cards are not replenished as quickly as they can be depleted. While it looks like a take-that card game, Farmageddon is much closer to a hand management game like Race for the Galaxy (only with significantly more player interaction and less rules angst). So while Farmageddon is not a game in the style I typically enjoy, I recognize it as a strong design from a seasoned designer, one that will attract players who like games with conflict and players who don’t. I expect this will be a hit with families and with players who want a short shot of back-and-forth aggression, a strong serving of greens to accompany the meat of a game night.
Farmageddon is not being Kickstarted! It is available for preorder directly from Hyperbole Games for $15 shipped in the month of August (MSRP $17.99), and it includes the Selfish Starthistle promo. You can get Hocus and Farmageddon both for $28 shipped in August as well. Magical!
This article is a paid promotion.