Updated: Aug 30, 2020
This is a game that's been out for a couple of years in the Czech Republic but is only now being published in an English edition. It's a card game where you'll be competing to get the highest yield from your crop, and, yes, the plant you are growing in this game is cannabis.
Cannabis now has a host of medical applications. Coupled with the recent spread of liberal drug regulation in many parts of the world, cannabis may be a legal crop in many jurisdictions but we suspect that the designers of Autofarmer, David Konar and Slavomir Krbyla had illegal growing in mind. The 'naughty' subject matter will add a frisson of excitement and it helps to justify the 'take that' elements of the game: rival gangs are perhaps thought to be more likely than courgette growers to steal from each other and sabotage other players' crops.
Game play is simple and there's quite a high luck factor. Players each roll two six-sided dice twice. The higher of the two numbers rolled is the number of seed cards you take and the lower total is the number of seeds flipped to become growing cannabis plants. This set up means that lucky/unlucky dice rolls could mean that one player could start off with a row of up to 12 plants while another player could have as few as two. There's no compensation for starting in a weaker position: players all draw the same number of action cards (three). These variously allow players to attack each other's crops (stealing a plant or spreading disease) and boost your own crop. If you don't like the three cards you draw, you can discard any of them and draw again but this is pretty much the extent of the choices open to you, particularly in a two-player game where there is only one potential target for attacks.
In our plays of Autofarmer at Board's Eye View, several team members suggested practical variants that might reduce the luck factor including allowing everyone to draw the same number of cards (we settled on 12) but choosing how many of those to draw from the seed deck and how many from the action card deck; we then rolled the dice to see how many seeds germinated. This was very much a house rule but it seemed to work because it gave players a smidgeon more agency: do you go for more action cards but risk not being able to take full advantage of a good germination roll?
Each game is comprised of three short rounds and some action cards can only be played in specific rounds. Certain cards can be especially devastating. For example, playing a male cannabis plant to an opponent's field not only reduces to zero the yield of the plant it's played on but also halves the yield of that player's entire crop. The card for this can only be played in the third round so players who happen to have a sickle card in hand might prefer to hang on to that just in case it's needed to 'harvest' a male plant. The rules seem to imply that action cards can only be played on your turn but this makes turn order overly powerful (going last could mean you could play a male card on an opponent and they'd be unable to reply). We preferred to play allowing the option of using defensive cards 'out of turn' as a reaction to cards played by an opponent. Again, tho', that seemed to be our house rule rather than a rule in the game.
Players are advised to play a number of games equal to the number of players. We greatly preferred playing Autofarmer with a full complement of four players not just because it gave more opportunity to (hopefully) even out the luck of the roll and draw but because it gave each player options over where to direct any damage.
Autofarmer incorporates the Strains expansion which introduces nine specialised varieties of plant. These plants may be disease resistant and they can't become male. Some can be harvested early, albeit for a reduced yield, and some will only score if they remain planted until the end of the game. These all add to the game, to the extent that we'd recommend always playing with the Strains cards.
Autofarmer is a light 'take that' game that's easy to play. The publishers, Free Folk Industry, have given this game an 18+ rating. That's solely down to the cannabis theme: there's nothing troubling or offensive in the artwork by Jan Gruml and the gameplay and mechanics are very much in line with what you might expect to find in a family game that could be readily understood and played by children. Perhaps the publishers should've gone with courgettes after all.
The English edition of Autofarmer is due to come to Kickstarter on 1 September. Click here to check it out.