The Farming Game

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The Farming Game is a board game simulating the economics of a small farm. Published in 1979, it was designed by George Rohrbacher, a rancher in Washington state. The Farming Game painfully reflects the real-life difficulties of running a farm. Also, the names and places in the game are the names of families farming for generations in Yakima Valley and other parts of Central Washington. When Rohrbacher invented the game, it was a desperate time for his failing farm and small family, which is reflected in the difficulty of the game, and the multitude of points taken into consideration in farming that are often left up to chance.[1] It is considered a board game which has educational value.[2]

The game sold more than 150,000 copies by 1985, and saved Rohrbacher's farm.[3] By 1995, the estimate of copies sold was 350,000.[4]


The game's objective is to raise money by harvesting crops and selling livestock, including hay, fruit, grain, and cattle. This is done by moving around the board using one die. Each trip around the board represents a year of farming, and players can increase their chances of earning more money by planting more crops or raising more livestock, which can be purchased by exercising the option given from an Option to Buy (O.T.B.) card a player has drawn during the course of the game.

Elements of the game are intended to reflect aspects of real-life farming. For example, players sometimes encounter Farmer's Fate cards that are either good or bad, similar to the Chance cards found in Monopoly. One such card allows a player to collect $2,000 from every player who has no harvester, if you own one. Another card informs that due to the IRS garnishing your income, you may not collect on any of your harvests for the rest of the year. These cards are intended to reflect the element of chance or luck that is involved in farming, which is the aim of the game.

Game play[edit]

The board itself is divided into squares representing forty-nine of the fifty-two weeks in a year, with different sections grouped together under the usual harvest for that season. While there are multiple sections for harvesting hay (the first, second, third, and even fourth cutting), livestock are sold only once a year. Similar to real life, poor timing (or unlucky die rolls) can cause the player to miss, or skip over, a harvest.

Players take turns rolling a die, traveling around the board, harvesting their crops when they can. Crops are purchased through O.T.B. (Option to Buy) cards usually referencing "Neighbor Sells Out: 10 Acres Grain", the crops are grouped into Hay, Grain (Wheat and Corn), Fruit (Apples and Cherries), and Livestock (Cattle). While hay is the cheapest to purchase and most often harvested, just as in real life, the chance for large profit is much smaller than with livestock or fruit. What balances this game, and provides the most difficulty for real life farmers, are operating expenses. In The Farming Game, whenever a player harvests a crop, he draws a card entitled Operating Expense, examples of which are "Pay $500 for Irrigation" or "Seed Bill Due: Pay $1,000". Also, certain spaces on the board instruct the player to draw a Farmer's Fate card. Farmer's Fate cards are usually unfortunate for the player, including references to the drought in the 1970s, Mt. St. Helens erupting, or chemical mishaps in which all the player's livestock are slaughtered. There are also expenses or bonuses incurred while traveling the board - some spaces instruct you to pay a fee for Winter-killed wheat or owning cattle, while another gives you a bonus of $1000 for a convenient "warm snap" early in the year.


The Farming Game is a heavily chance dependent game, and thus the winner is usually determined by luck. However, a player can increase his or her chances of winning by knowing which crops are more likely to be profitable and use this information to make advantageous trades with other players.

Based upon the probabilities of landing on each square and the average selling price of each commodity, Hay is slightly less profitable than Grain, while Cattle averages about 1.5 times as much profit as Grain. Fruit is even more lucrative, earning about 2.5 times as much profit as Grain.

Thus, a player's first choice should always be to plant as much Fruit as possible. In fact, the advantage is so great that the winner will usually be the player lucky enough to draw the most O.T.B. Fruit cards. This can be risky, however, as fruit is the most expensive item to purchase; costs the most in terms of Operating Expenses, negative Farmer's Fate cards, and board square instructions; and it is one of the toughest harvest seasons to land on (Livestock is arguably as difficult if not more so to land on).

A player's second choice should then be to raise Cattle, however, the game limits the number of Cattle one can raise on the farm to 20. In order to raise more, one must lease additional land, but in doing so you must pay a large fee. This fee is, in fact, higher than the total profit you are likely to earn on the Cattle by the end of the game! In other words, not only will you likely lose money on the investment, but you will also be losing the opportunity to invest your money in more profitable commodities. Thus, you should never lease additional land to raise Cattle. The only benefit to doing so is to avoid the dreaded Leaking Electrical Motor Farmer's Fate card, and since cows are relatively inexpensive, they can be easily replaced.

A player's third choice should then be to choose to focus upon either Grain or Hay. If two players can agree to swap commodities so that one grows only Grain while the other grows only Hay, then they will both have a slight advantage over other players who grow both crops because they will pay less in harvesting fees. However, the Grain player will still have a slight advantage over the Hay player, which may make negotiating such a deal difficult. Another disadvantage to this strategy is that it decreases both players' chances of harvesting. If a player grows both, he removes much of the variability involved in his expected profit.

Other mediums[edit]

The Farming Game was adapted for Windows 3.1 in 1997,[5] when it won the 1997 Mahnke Multimedia Award given by the Association of Educators for Communication and Technology (AECT), an international organization.

The Farming Game was also adapted for Mac, PC, and Linux in November 2012[6] by Game Masterminds,[7] a licensee of The Weekend Farmer Co.


  1. ^ Rohrbacher, George (1997). Zen Ranching and the Farming Game. Bookpartners Incorporated. ISBN 9781885221506.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Smoley, Richard (1985). "The Farming Game". California Farmer. California Farmer Publishing Company. 262: 179. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  4. ^ "Questions from the Country". Farm Journal. Farm Journal Incorporated: 18. 1995. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ [4]

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