Updated on 08.26.09

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Agricola Edition

Trent Hamm

For my birthday a few weeks ago, my wife gave me the board game Agricola. I opened up the box, looked at the abundance of pieces, read through the instruction book, and was immediately worried that the game would be too complicated for us to enjoy.

The first game we tried was pretty miserable. Sarah felt lost and the game was slower than molasses. We weren’t even sure we were going to try it again.

So, a few days later, we did try it again. And something clicked. We started playing it all the time.

In fact, Sarah and I had a “weekend getaway” last weekend (while the grandparents watched our children) and what did we do? We took Agricola along and, one evening, we wound up in our hotel room, kicked back with a bottle of wine, moving sheep around, laughing together and telling jokes.

Romance? In its’ own way, it definitely was.

Nevertheless, Agricola is getting heavy play around these parts as of late. It’s pretty complicated – and you should expect the first game or two to be pretty dull – but after that, it gets better. Much better.

Here are some great personal finance articles of the last week.

I’m Losing 50 Bucks to Be Happy, and I’m not Crazy A person who used to spend a lot of time doing balance transfers and other such games to maximize every penny of interest realizes that it’s a losing game – you’re not making much for the time invested unless you have a HUGE bankroll – in which case, this isn’t the game you should be in. (@ money ning)

Outwardly Simple and Inwardly Rich How rich is your internal life? Many people focus on the wealth present in their external lives – their money, their career, their stuff, and so on – but it’s your internal wealth that you’re left with when you go to sleep at night. Why not focus on maximizing that internal wealth instead of always focusing on the bucks? (@ millionaire money next door)

12 Tricks for Optimizing Your Freelance Career Here’s the thing: we’re ALL freelancers today. This is great advice for ANYONE who is doing creative work, whether they’re employed or not. You’ve GOT to get yourself out there or else you’ll find it much more difficult to move on when your situation changes. (@ freelance switch)

How to Make a Decision Like Ben Franklin This is a VERY good way to make a difficult decision. Almost always, with a difficult decision, it pays to face it head-on with a clear decision-making process. This one, inspired heavily by Benjamin Franklin’s writing on the idea, is pretty close to the one I already use. (@ art of manliness)

Why the stock market is still unsafe for the small investor A great essay on the dangers of stock investing for the small investor by Eliot Spitzer. I still maintain that the only real solution for a small non-obsessed investor is a broadly based index fund with low costs. Anything else is a fool’s game, in my opinion. (@ slate)

My Grandmothers and the Cost of a Funeral The last thing I want to do is burden my descendants with the cost of a funeral. I don’t want to make them have to pay to put me in the ground. Is that an argument for life insurance? I think it is when you’re young, but if you’re older and have a healthy net worth, I don’t see the purpose. The whole thought process pushes me further down the road towards term life insurance. (@ consumerism commentary)

Timebanking: What Is It? Timebanking basically means giving an hour of your own time in exchange for someone else’s hour. Here’s how it works – you visit a local time bank and take on a task that someone has listed – let’s say it’s three hours of painting. You go do that, then you get three hours of credit to use on the site. You can then use that credit to post a job that you want done – three hours of, say, garden work. This seems like a good idea on one level, but you have to find people that are willing to say one hour of their specific type of work is worth an hour of another type of work. (@ christian pf)

Odds Are for Suckers Whenever you try to do something exceptional, the odds are against you. If you let yourself be controlled by those odds, you’ve already decided not to succeed. Instead, ignore the odds. I agree wholeheartedly with the idea here – as long as you have a safety net when you fall, the odds of success should be the furthest thing from your mind. Instead, chase the dream. (@ awake at the wheel)

Uncluttering your personal time Time attracts clutter just as much as space does. In each case, it’s really the same problem – you find yourself gradually filling your time and space with things that are unimportant to you. To declutter, start cutting out the things that are unimportant! It takes some time and reflection, but the rewards are tremendous. (@ unclutterer)

Harnessing Your Competitve Spirit to Spur Your Goals Many people thrive on competition and a desire of “beating” other people. Pick the Brain offers some great advice on how to channel the need for competition into achieving one’s personal goals. I know that in my own life, this works well – I use Nike+ to “keep score” on my goals for getting into shape, for example. (@ pick the brain)

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  1. Hatch says:

    You should try Mr. Jack. It’s a two player game. Jack the Ripper is one of eight suspects. One player is trying to catch him, and the other is trying to hide him.

    Another good two-player game is Hive. You get five different kinds of bugs, each with a unique movement. The object of the game is to surround your opponent’s queen bee. You can try this one online. http://hivemania.com/play/

    I’m involved with a board game club. It’s a couple hours of cheap entertainment every week, and it lets you try out a lot of different games.

  2. George says:

    Missing link for Millionaire Money (or is it Millionaire Mommy?) and dead link for the Unclutterer.

  3. Kevin says:

    “Why the stock market is still unsafe for the small investor A great essay on the dangers of stock investing for the small investor by Eliot Spitzer.”

    *THE* Eliot Spitzer? The disgraced former governor of New York, who publicly came down hard against prostitution, while secretly spending thousands of dollars on high-priced call girls and cheating on his wife?

    I’m gonna take advice from THAT guy?

  4. Emily says:

    My husband and I were cleaning house the other day, and to tempt me, he said, “Wouldn’t you rather play Dominion or Carcassonne” (other Rio Grande games). I *almost* caved. Seriously, though, such games are great investments – they’re social and thought-provoking.

  5. Michael says:

    “Odds Are For Suckers” sounds like an MLM pitch. Only people offering poor odds don’t want you to consider the odds.

  6. Sarah says:

    Ha! Your description of Agricola sounds a lot like me starting my home jewelry business. In both cases, patience is a definite virtue!

  7. Bill in Houston says:

    Agricola is Latin for “farmer.”

    I just read a synopsis of the game and it looks fascinating to a guy like me who plays Civilization, Colonization, and some of the other “God games.”

  8. Jean Paul says:

    I’ve never flat-out disagreed with you on something before Trent, but I absolutely do with your “Odds Are For Suckers” endorsement. I play a lot of poker, and one thing that it has taught me that I find valuable in all areas of life is that odds matter, for everything.

    What I suspect you, and the article you link to, mean, is that one shouldn’t let low chances of success rule out attempting a particular action. This is a laudable and sensible maxim, but only when you consider what the payoff of your low-odds action is when you succeed.

    For example, the linked article claims that “Eighty percent of restaurants fail within two years.” Let’s say that you want to start a restaurant, and, for the sake of simplicity, let’s accept this 80% statistic as your odds of success. There is an 80% chance that your restaurant will fail in the first two years, and a 20% chance that it will still be running successfully (again for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that if it lasts two years, it is a success, and that this is your positive outcome).

    Should that 80% chance of failure rule out starting a restaurant? Absolutely not, but it should absolutely inform your choice, and provide a helpful framework to calculate whether or not starting a restaurant is likely to provide a positive return on the resources you put into the project (to use a little gambling lingo, it should enable you to work out if starting a restaurant has a “positive expectation”, or +EV for short. A “positive expectation” means that the benefits outweigh the costs once you have adjusted for the odds of each outcome).

    So, you’d work out the dollar value of the money needed to start the restaurant. Then you’d factor in the dollar value of the time you would commit, the mental exertion and stress of running your own business, etc. etc. until you had totaled up the cost of every resource you would have to commit. You pay 100% of these costs whether the restaurant succeeds or fails, so these costs are a given. Let’s say these costs are $600,000.

    You would include the price of failure – for example, let’s say you have a $200,000 home that you would lose the restaurant failed. As you have an 80% chance of failure, the expected value is 80% of $200,000 or $160,000 ($160k is the EV-adjusted figure). You repeat this process for all costs of failure. Let’s say that the total cost of failure is $500,000 so the EV-adjusted cost of failure is 80% of $500,000 which is $400,000

    So the total costs are $600,000 + $400,000 which is $1,000,000. This $1,000,000 is the EV cost of starting the restaurant.

    Then you total up the rewards of success. Let’s say that if your restaurant is a success after two years, it will be worth $5,000,000. Let’s say that furthermore, the additional value of the success in terms of personal satisfaction, job security, freedom etc. is worth an extra $750,000 to you. We now know that the value of success if $5,750,000. We have a 20% chance of success, so the EV-adjusted figure is (0.20 x 5,750,000) $1,150,000. This $1,150,000 is the EV of starting the restaurant.

    So, the total expected value of starting the restaurant is simply $1,150,000 – $1,000,000 which is $150,000 over two years. You can then use this figure to compare to your other options, e.g. working in your existing job for two years.

    Now obviously, most people aren’t used to assigning dollar values to things like personal satisfaction or their own time, but I hope this little example shows that odds are not for suckers. They are a useful part of the sensible evaluation of decisions, and should be used as such. By the same token, the fact that something has a 99% chance of failure doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it – it just means that the value of success should be high enough that 1% of it is worth something to you.

  9. Christina says:

    Please, please, please learn spell check and punctuate correctly! *Its’* does not have an apostrophe at the end!

  10. Jules says:

    Must see if they’ve got it on Amazon’s UK site…

  11. Strider says:

    My customer got me hooked on Settlers of Cataan over a year ago. For those not able to play with “live” folks you should try out games.asobrain.com where it’s called Xplorers. After reading the reviews on Amazon I’m very interested in trying out Agricola…

  12. brad says:

    @ kevin

    “The return you get from an investment isn’t always represented in dollars and cents.”


  13. PJ says:

    I host a weekly ‘game night’ where a bunch of friends get together and play boardgames (which is ending up being nice free (if you don’t count the one-time cost of games, which isn’t even really necessary because people bring their own) entertainment/socialization with a bunch of friends). No one’s brought Agricola yet, but I’m sure it’ll show up at some point.

  14. Nate says:

    I love Agricola! My wife and I are big board game fans, especially the European-style games that keep as many players as possible in the game for as long as possible (unlike Monopoly, Risk, etc.).

  15. Baker @ ManVsDebt says:

    Before moving overseas we sold our copy of Agricola to a friend (after many, many games). We’ve missed it so much (didn’t think we could fit it in luggage) that we’ve actually bought it BACK from him and are paying to have it shipped here (cheaper than rebuying).

    That should tell you how much we love this game! Looking forward to checking out the links today.

  16. ToddBS says:

    Looks like a cool game, and an interesting game genre overall. I have to admit, my only involvement with a “deep” board game was probably the old Axis and Allies back in the 80s. I’ll have to give this a look. (And I see there is a new version of A&A for sale on Amazon as well).

  17. Tyler says:

    That’s so weird, I just got Agricola recently too. It’s so much fun!

  18. Heidi says:

    Try Puerto Rico board game – can’t remember if it’s also Rio Grande. My family loves it.

  19. David says:

    Yeesh, that link to AoM about Franklin’s decision-making process? Fine insofar as BF’s description goes, then they have to ruin it with absurd over-analysis.

    Weighting attributes is a great decision-making tool, and is extremely simple: how important is this attribute? Give it a weighting e.g. 1-5, 5 being most important. Add attributes. More are not always better. Base decision on number of 5s, pro and con. e.z.

  20. Michelle says:

    Agricola is awesome. So far, my highest score this year in a 5 player game has been 45. You might want to get some animeeples or resource tokens as well. Ive substituted them into my Agricola copy and they also work well for other Euro games like Stone Age.

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