The 5 Best Agricola Minor Improvements (E Deck)
There you are, medieval subsistence farmer extraordinaire, family of three to feed and an impending renovation to look forward to, once you've scraped together enough clay to keep the breeze out and your phlegm in check. You're working your fingers to nubs swinging a hoe, tilling and toiling so that the ground's ready for the carrots your partner picked up the other week. It's taken you an entire day to prep this patch; exhausted, you want nothing more than a side of mutton and a warm-enough bed. Your gaze wanders to your neighbour's plot. Poor fool's spent his time learning frivolous vocations like "Renovation" and "Food Tasting". His land lies empty and unplowed. He won't get his grain in by harvest time, sure as the sun sets.
The next morning you sleep past the cock's crow; given yesterday's hard labour, you figure it'd be best to leave the morning duties to junior. You wander outside, self-satisfied and scratching yourself, and come face-to-face with three freshly-plowed fields on the wrong side of the property line. Your neighbour is standing next to a newly-hewn plow, looking as smug as a lord. His condescension is as thick as the scent of cow dung, and has the same effect on your humour. You seethe, contemplating the best way to make sure he starves come winter. The dying words of your father, rasped from clammy lips as rainwater leaked through the straw roof of your childhood home, echo in your psyche: child, whomever has the best stuff, wins.
While almost every Minor Occupation in Agricola is situationally useful, there are some that, given proper circumstances, are vastly superior to others, saving a savvy player precious actions to put towards other goals. We'll be looking at at least all of the decks included in the base game, but we'll begin by focusing exclusively on the E Deck, the set most fledgling farmers are familiar with.
5. Reed Pond
Place 1 Reed each on the next 3 Round spaces. At the start of each round, you receive the Reed.
Reed is the least glamourous of the four Agricola building resources. Barring uncommon circumstances, its only use is to extend or renovate a player's house. Yet, in order to do well in a game of Agricola, it's practically necessary to build at least one room. A conflict: reed is extremely scarce in two-player. The space that provides it only accrues one per turn, and a good player will attempt to starve the opponent of it. This card gives you 3 over as many turns, plus a Victory Point (VP). That's enough for a room and a renovation. The only minus is its steep prerequisite of three Occupations played, which can be difficult given a sub-par hand. Rarely, it can be worth it to play late-game Occupations like Mendicant and Chief speculatively early, just to be able to dip toes in this pond.
4. Baking Tray
Clay Ovens and Stone Ovens are Minor Improvements for you. Clay, Stone and Wood-fired Ovens cost you 1 building resource (of your choice) less.
Turning any oven into a Minor Improvement is great. Making them cost one resource less (especially if that resource is stone) is greater. Being able to surprise-buy the Clay Oven early, devastating another player's game and forcing them to squander actions feeding their family or take begging cards: greatest. Each Oven built also comes with a free Bake Bread action, so an enterprising player can trade resources for food and VP by building more than one oven simultaneously saving actions and relegating the other players to baking bread over inferior Fireplaces. Bread tastes better and is more filling baked in two separate ovens, kneaded with the tears of the competition. In tandem with the Stonecutter Occupation, Ovens are even further discounted, and if played alongside the Meat Seller, it opens up succulent mutton, pork & beef at Cooking Hearth conversion rates, without need for a Hearth or Fireplace.
3. Corn Scoop
Whenever you use the “Take 1 Grain” Action, you receive 1 additional Grain.
With Baking Bread in mind, envision the following: it's within the first couple of turns and you're low in turn order. Everyone ahead of you spent their go taking spaces like Occupation and Reed, Stone, Food. You take 3 Wood. Everyone takes their turn again, getting Clay early, taking Day Labourer, and so forth: You slam a worker on Starting Player, pay 1 Wood, and play Corn Scoop. Now, every time you would Take 1 Grain, you instead take 2. At worst, the space is an ersatz Day Labourer. At best, it represents 5 food more than normally would be received, every time you play on Take 1 Grain, for the small cost of 1 wood. Usually this leaves 2 wood left over to put towards a new room, as well as bestowing the valuable Starting Player seat in the all-important early rounds. This card is the bread-and-butter of good minor improvements. It is never unneeded with the Baker, and also pairs well with the Brew Master. Corny jokes aside, scoop this one up if you see it.
2. Simple Fireplace
At any time, you may convert goods to Food as follows:
Vegetables -> 2 Food
Sheep -> 1 Food
Wild Boar -> 2 Food
Cattle -> 3 Food
Whenever you use the “Bake Bread” action, you may convert:
Grain -> 2 Food
If this card were simply 1 clay for 1 VP, it would still be in the upper echelon of E Deck Minor Improvements. As printed, it represents so much more: not only is it almost as good as a regular Fireplace for half the price (except while converting Sheep, which admittedly is what an early Fireplace is best used for) it can be redeemed for a Cooking Hearth just as well. Where the Simple Fireplace is at its most maliciously magnificent, however, is in its ability to screw up opponent momentum. Since it is a Minor Improvement and can be taken in conjunction with Starting Player, other players can be taken unaware by the sudden ability to convert food. If the only player who has built a Fireplace has been letting the Sheep space build, holding the ability to cook them like the Sword of Damoclays over everyone's game, why not build a Simple Fireplace and make some mutton? Sure, the return is only 1 Food per Sheep, but that's 2 Food per head taken from the other player's mouth, a potentially devastating maneuver the round before Harvest. This strategy is surprisingly effective in a two-player game, where, unless the other player is keen to your edges, taking the Clay space with only 1 Clay on it appears to be an ill-judged spite move. It is especially devious with the Grocer, Pastor, or any Occupation that makes incidental clay: one innocuous piece can lead to a blowout, thanks to the power of your crudely-constructed cooking flame.
1. Clay Roof
You can replace 1 or 2 Reed with the same amount of Clay whenever you extend or renovate your home.
Clay Roof is amazing. Ludicrously easy to play, it demands a mere one Occupation played and provides one VP. That alone would not make it the best Minor Improvement in the E Deck; the important bit is the ability to substitute Clay for Reed in all matters Building. Clay compiles fast, usually at a rate of 2 per turn. It's also not as valued a commodity as Reed or Wood; a player can often claim a clay space that's had three turns to accumulate. It is easy to stockpile a surplus of Clay, fueling powerful Build Room actions (two, even three rooms at a time) and making Renovations easy. It can be argued that a farmstead's fledgling Clay proficiency leaves the other players free rein of Reed. Of course, Reed can always be used as itself; the Clay Roof player's strategy is malleable and the opportunistic spite-and-deprive use of an action to take 2 Reed remains very strong. Better still, Clay Roof shines in situations where Clay is scarce, such as the 2-Player game: taking Clay not only prevents the opponent from blocking your expansion by constantly taking Reed, it also incidentally can prevent your opponent from building a cooking Improvement by blocking Clay. Paired with Clay Deliveryman or Clay Mixer, it all but guarantees enough Clay to pack together a hasty five-room Hut, threatening a strong Family Member advantage.
Your neighbour, yawning, arises, smiling, the dreams he remembers dominated by your palpable chagrin, fuming beneath your red-faced, bit-lip platitudes as you envied his new plow. Damned thing broke after three fields, and the ones it turned over remain fallow: there simply was not time in between trips to the fishing pond to get the crops in. He looks out the window of his modest wooden hut; his jaw drops, eyes now affixed to the big and beautiful kiln-fired home you appear to have created from clay overnight. You wave at him from your front yard, the new baby crawling inquisitively around your ankles; they sure grow up fast. You belch softly; sheep always sits well in your stomach. The coming winter is going to be difficult... For some.
Thus concludes our look at the 5 Best Minor Improvements the E Deck has to offer. Paring the list down to five was a difficult endeavour: excellent cards such as Turnwrest Plow & Fruit Tree were omitted, primarily due to their high Occupation prerequisites. Are there cards that you feel were unrightfully excluded from this list? Let us know in the comments. We'll be back again with a look at the 5 Worst Minor Improvements in the E deck, a deplorable collection of pitfalls and dreck befitting a medieval farmer with a love for frivolities and shiny objects. Until then, good farming.