With a 10% increase in WBC attendance for 2019, the Agricola tournament saw a similar increase in the size of its field. Attendance was up by 5 participants from the previous year, bringing the total number of unique farmers to 76. Player hours were also up slightly, meaning that Agricola should retain its Prize Level 4 status for 2020 barring any major modifications to the top-secret Century formula. There were 27 unique winners after three heats, with 12 double winners and just 2 triple winners, Keith Dent and Rob Murray. As Eric Wrobel was a double winner, that makes 8 consecutive years that Rob and Eric have reached the semifinal; both men refusing to back down from the possibility of sole ownership of the tournament’s most insignificant statistic, with neither winning an Agricola shield to date!.
The popular question at the tournament during the heats is always, “where is the cut?” In previous years, it has often fallen at one win and two seconds making it through. Just as was the case last year, the best first-second-third performer secured the 16th and final spot in the semifinal round, with the tiebreaker amongst all 1-2-3 finishers being the highest score in a single heat. This year, that honor fell to Lumin Sperling, who had a first and a third after two heats. After finishing second in his third heat, it was definitely questionable if he would make the cut, leading to what had to be the best quote of the week at the convention: “I don’t know how I’m going to explain this to my family if I don’t make it in.”
Semifinal Table 1 was Ricky Boyes, Tricia Wolff, Ian Streeb, and Rob Murray. Tricia benefitted from some players’ personal card biases in the draft and came out of the draft as the clear favorite, also sitting in Seat 2. Her first picks were Animal Breeder and Quarry. Ian chose to pass Charcoal Burner in favor of keeping Thatcher in the Occupation draft, while Ricky passed Riding Plow and kept Brushwood Roof. Ricky’s pick may seem suspect, but it’s hard to argue with results. Rob was sitting in front of Ricky and continually took reed actions that came to him. As Ian first picked Thatcher upstream of Rob, reed wasn’t in demand. With no reed on his board, Ricky tactically grabbed Start Player in Round 4 with Brushwood Roof, built a room and got first growth in Round 5, to which Rob uttered, “that’s not good for me” since he was working on an Animal Pen. Ricky was even able to shove in another wood room a few rounds later before Rob could build his room to grow. He used an unconventional Clay Seller as his food engine with multiple Clay grabs, aided by a Clay Worker. Tricia was a little unfamiliar with Animal Breeder and wasn’t able to use it to its full effect, often eating the purchased animals at harvest just to feed her family. In the end, Ricky narrowly beat Tricia 45-43, with Rob finishing with 40 and Ian at 38. Brushwood Roof for the win.
Semifinal Table 2 was Jack Wolff, Lumin Sperling, Alex Bove and Steve LeWinter. Alex pushed for early growth and was rewarded when it appeared in Round 5 – a common theme this year. The second Family Growth action without room came early as well in Round 12, which was also fortuitous for Alex at that point in the game. Steve played a mid-game Farm Steward, which dealt some significant damage to Lumin’s game, preventing him from his first growth until Round 12. Even still, Lumin was able to hit the Church Warden bonus by playing Adoptive Parents and catching up on actions. Ultimately, Alex’s accurate, tight play coupled with the benefit of playing for early growth and getting it, was too much for the table to overcome. Alex won with 47 points over the others, who finished in a tight pack with Jack at 42, Steve at 41, and Lumin at 40.
By far the coolest table was Semifinal Table 3: Sceadeau D’Tela (reigning champ and all-time leading laurelist), Eric Wrobel (perennial finalist, second leading laurelist), Allan Jiang (reigning Caesar and Consul) and 12-year-old Sam Wolff. Sam is the youngest member of the Wolff family, who all started attending WBC a few years ago. He’s earned a reputation in the convention as being a ruthless prodigy at many eurogames, and it’s a foregone conclusion that he’ll be kicking everyone’s butts in the years to come. Not only that, but he’s been known to throw some shade in other players’ direction, all in good fun, of course. Around the midway point of the game, Sam had a very solid position, as the only player who built a legitimate food engine in a game that was tight on food. At one point, he was heard as saying, “Sceadeau, what’s it like losing to a *TWELVE-YEAR OLD*??” Yeah… that was a pretty funny moment in the room. Long story short, the kid was right. He got the better of these powerhouse gamers to advance to the final in a 44-41-40-38 victory over Sceadeau, Eric and Allan, in that order. In defeat, Sceadeau was still able to snag 6th place laurels to add to his already impressive count.
Semifinal Table 4 was Micah McCormick, Josh Cooper, Ben Scholl and Keith Dent. In a game with a relatively weak draft, Micah benefitted from getting passed Field Warden (in favor of Serf) in yet another display of questionable drafting choices in the semifinal round. Micah played a superior game, and was lucky enough to grab Start Player in Round 5 just before flipping Family Growth in Round 6. Keith could have gambled with a naked Start Player action and grown first himself, but he ended up growing second with a plow as his minor, so the sequence was good for both players. But ultimately, Micah just ran away with it. He grew to four family members with a Clay Hut Extension and wrapped up the rest of his points in the end game through the power of his Field Warden. The scores were lopsided with Micah scoring the highest of all semifinalists at 51, followed by Keith at 43, Ben at 37 and Josh Cooper, returning to WBC for the first time since the move to Seven Springs, with 36.
The final table was set, and fast forwarding to a Tuesday morning reschedule of the final, Sam Wolff landed in Seat 1, followed by Alex, Micah and Ricky.
The Occupation draft began as follows:
- Sam’s opening pack: Basin Maker, Storyteller, Constable, Hobby Farmer, Wood Deliveryman, Outrider, Village Elder
- Alex’s opening pack: Church Warden, Wooden Hut Builder, Net Fisherman, Forester, Master Builder, Pieceworker, Conservator
- Micah’s opening pack: Mendicant, Pig Whisperer, Shepherd, Tanner, Farm Steward, Schnapps Distiller, Estate Manager
- Ricky’s opening pack: Tenant Farmer, Seasonal Worker, Serf, Fieldsman, Market Crier, Meat-seller, Stone Breaker
With no major surprises in a weak draft aside from possibly an earlier-than-expected Net Fisherman, the final drafted hands were as follows:
- Sam: Constable, Pieceworker, Schnapps Distiller, Market Crier, Outrider, Wooden Hut Builder, Mendicant
- Alex: Church Warden, Tanner, Serf, Wood Deliveryman, Master Builder, Shepherd, Stone Breaker
- Micah: Farm Steward, Tenant Farmer, Hobby Farmer, Conservator, Estate Manager, Fieldsman, Basin maker
- Ricky: Seasonal Worker, Village Elder, Net Fisherman, Pig Whisperer, Meat-seller, Storyteller, Forester
Not the most exciting Occupation draft, and the Minor Improvement draft was only slightly better.
- Sam’s opening pack: Raft, Outhouse, Corn Scoop, Mini Pasture, Ox Team, Sawhorse, Field
- Alex’s opening pack: Planter Box, Clay Roof, Stone Exchange, Clay Path, Harrow, Plane, Cooking Corner
- Micah’s opening pack: Boar Breeding, Clay Hut Extension, Pelts, Clay Deposit, Shepherd’s Pipe, Madonna Statue, Windmill
- Ricky’s opening pack: Village Well, Half-Timbered House, Corn Storehouse, Brewery, Hand Mill, Punner, Wooden Strongbox
The final drafted Minor Improvement hands were as follows:
- Sam: Sawhorse, Punner, Clay Deposit, Clay Path, Corn Scoop, Corn Storehouse, Shepherd’s Pipe
- Alex: Clay Roof, Ox Team, Half-Timbered House, Boar Breeding, Stone Exchange, Raft, Hand Mill
- Micah: Clay Hut Extension, Planter Box, Field, Brewery, Madonna Statue, Harrow, Outhouse
- Ricky: Wooden Strongbox, Pelts, Cooking Corner, Mini Pasture, Village Well, Windmill, Plane
What this final lacked in card power, it made up for in surprises. You needn’t look deeper than
Round 1 to find them either. After a predictable Pieceworker – RSF – 3W opening move selection by Sam, Alex and Micah, Ricky played Net Fisherman. It’s sometimes tough to get Net Fisherman to work in a 4-player game with strong players without special tricks up your sleeve. The second wave of actions followed as 2W, 2C, a plowed field and Ricky taking 1 reed to draft a free food off Fishing. One reed is a fine first round action in the absence of the ability to take Starting Player with tempo. In Round 2, Sam took 2 reed / 2 stone via the power of the Pieceworker and built an early Basketmaker’s Workshop. Alex played Church Warden for 4 wood, which enabled taking Start Player with a Clay Roof. Micah took a cumulative 5 wood and Ricky played a surprising Pig Whisperer followed by another 1 reed grab (+1 fish). If you thought Ricky was done there, you would have been mistaken. He took 1 reed as his second action again in rounds 3 and 4! Sam got out a Sawhorse but couldn’t acquire enough resources for a room build. Alex was able to both get a Fireplace (Sheep came out in Round 3) and build the game’s first room in Round 4. Micah played a Hobby Farmer, acquired clay, played an Outhouse for 2 points and was the Traveling Player who took 4 food.
The Agricola Gods were kind to Alex, rewarding his early room with Round 5 Family Growth. What was worse for the table was that he was able to first take 3 sheep before growing his family. Ricky built the second room and Micah continued to quietly accumulate resources. Sam was the Start Player in Round 6 after playing a Corn Scoop and took Reed/Reed/Stone using his Pieceworker, giving him the materials he needed to build a room. Alex bought the Well with his first action, enabled by a Stone Exchange he played with his Family Growth in the previous round. Micah took 2 reed to complete his room parts, and Ricky took RSF before his forthcoming growth action. The first misstep of the game came at this moment in Round 6, when Sam took 2 Grain and allowed Micah to build a room. Micah happily built his room as Alex acquired 6 wood over two actions and Ricky grew his family with Pelts. In Round 7, Sam built the Stone Oven, baking 2 grain for 8 food and built a room with a free Sawhorse stable. Alex kept locking up resources, gaining 4W, 4C and playing a Wood Deliveryman just in time to maximize its effect. Micah grew in Round 7 with the Field minor improvement and Ricky took that opportunity to seize Start Player with the same Field improvement, guaranteeing himself 6W in Round 8. He also had taken RSF this round and was able to draft 2 (!!) food off Fishing.
Stage 3 started as previously alluded to, with Ricky taking 6W. With the only open room, Sam took 3 stone to start Round 8, and Alex then built two wood rooms at full cost, locking down the 3-point Church Warden bonus. After Micah took RSF and Ricky took some clay, it was Sam’s turn to grow. But on Sam’s turn to grow, he took two reed, and bought a third reed with the Pieceworker. This enabled Alex to cut the queue and grow to his fourth family member in Round 8. To say things were going swimmingly for Alex would be an understatement. He was playing a sharp game with no mistakes, he got a little lucky with the family growth / sheep pattern in Stage 2, and now he was the sole beneficiary of an error by being gifted an earlier family growth action than expected. Short of a collapse of the Jean van de Valde or Greg Norman magnitude, the game was Alex’s to lose at this point. Sam would eventually grow in Round 9 while the other players began to add to their farms and acquire resources. Micah upgraded to a Hearth with his Renovate action and sowed two vegetable fields prior to the third harvest to take care of food for a little while. Meanwhile, Ricky ALSO built two wooden rooms in Round 9. It seemed that the table collectively decided that they were going to spend all their wood on rooms this game and temporarily ignore fences and breeding animals.
As Family Growth became the name of the game, Alex grew to 5 people in Round 10. Micah was able to sneak in a fourth room by taking Start Player in Round 10 with a Clay Hut Extension, jumping in front of Ricky for his fourth family member. In the game’s funniest moment, this jumping of the growth queue led to Ricky telling Micah, “That’s ok… at least you saved me some food.” Ricky then took a small gamble by taking Start Player in Round 11 (with Cooking Corner) in an attempt to grow twice in Round 12… which is exactly what happened. He was able to take the Family Growth Without Room action to open Round 12 and close the round with Family Growth the old fashioned way. To help alleviate the wood pressure created by all the wooden rooms built this game, Ricky played the Mini Pasture minor improvement with his growth action. The double growth was also beneficial for Micah, who was sitting on a Farm Steward. He played it in Round 12 to grow in Round 13, which guaranteed he would also hit the Church Warden bonus. That means all players except for Sam would receive the 3 bonus points at the end of the game. To try to close that gap, Sam played a Wooden Hut Builder to forego worrying about getting points renovating, and he pushed as hard as he possibly could to finish a farm with no negative points for a game-ending Constable bomb… but he *JUST* missed it because he had a single open space on his board and was short on actions. The rest of the endgame proceeded without too much fanfare, and in the fifth harvest the first animal of the game was bred (a cow by Alex). Alex took Start Player in Round 13 to guarantee he could Reno/Fence into stone to open the final round, which sealed his victory. In the end, the final scores were Alex at 45, following by Micah with 40, Ricky with 37 and Sam with 34. There were game-ending handshakes and slaps on the back for playing a very sportsmanlike game, and once the dust was settled and he had realized what he just accomplished, Alex was overwhelmed with tears of joy, which was a touching moment for all those who were present in the room lucky enough to bear witness.
Alex Bove is an all-around strong gamer who has accumulated an impressive laurel count in his years of attending WBC. He is among the top laurelists in several of his specialty games, including 3rd overall in Amun Re (104 laurels and the 2010 Centurion) and 8th in Puerto Rico (76 career laurels). His is most well-known for his prowess in Ra, where he established a benchmark for Eurogamers by winning the event three consecutive years from 2008 to 2010, amassing an astounding 240 laurels in the event through 2018. A number of years ago, he started dabbling in Agricola almost under protest, as most of his closer gaming friends both locally and at the tournaments were obsessed with the complex euro. Over the course of well over 1,000 games, he has grown from someone who would famously declare that he is “retiring” from the game (after being fence blocked) over his frustration in trying to gain mastery, to now reaching the apex of the summit that is the Everest of Agricola. He spent the last several years completely immersing himself in the game’s infinite replayability, becoming a regular on both play-agricola.com and boiteajeux.net as Montu. He enjoys broadcasting his games on his Twitch channel and is now as good of an ambassador for the game as you can find. His victory in this year’s event, which is now widely known as the toughest shark tank in the entire tournament, was hard fought and well earned. In 2019 he also earned second place honors in El Grande and finally won an elusive sand plaque by finishing sixth in John Corrado’s Facts in Five – the event that many now say is the highlight of their week. Alex has hit his stride once again and entered the second prime of his gaming career. The next stop on his route is the quest for 1,000 laurels, which could happen as early as 2020.