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The Agricola Phenomenon

RANDOM MUSINGS on the fin-de-millénaire games scene . . .

3 February 2009 . . .

Recent news from Germany reveals that your favorite game about medieval farming has already sold a solid 60,000 copies. Perhaps surprisingly, only 15K of these were sold in games central, Germany, the rest going to foreigners (source).

Usually more sales within Deutschland – should we re-name it Gameland? – would be expected and fewer elsewhere. Typically numbers for games originating in Germany are in the tens of thousands in Germany and ones of thousands in the USA. Of course, Spiel des Jahres (German game of the year) winners sell in much larger quantities in Germany, often over a hundred thousand (not necessarily seeing a similar uptick in the USA).

It has to be asked: are the current financial crises taking their toll on Agricola's sales? Perhaps, but on the other hand it just might reflect the small size of Lookout Games who have never before had to contend with a phenomenon of this magnitude.

It's curious too that all of this is happening with an uncharacteristic deployment strategy. Usually such a game would include only a rather basic set of cards. But this one features so many decks in the basic box that one suspects some will never get played.

Add-on decks, which are probably where most of the profits are, have been minimal, at least so far. Instead, the expansions generating the most attention and excitement are the wooden replacement bits, the "animeeples" and "vegimeeples".

What are we to make of this? Were these decisions made because the publishers are very much game players and dislike what has gone before in the hobby, e.g. Magic: the Gathering as well as certain editions of Cosmic Encounter? Or was this actually a savvy move that has helped guarantee the success Agricola has had? It's perhaps impossible to say for sure, but as consumers we can only wish that future publishers see it as so.

Putting out 15K copies of a component-rich game like this one is already an impressive feat. But with such success often also comes challenge. We can wish too that Lookout will be able to manage their growing pains with characteristic aplomb. ...


by Rick Heli