This review is based on a preview copy provided by Sinister Fish games.
Hello there neighbour, welcome to our lovely village. Over here you can see our Wattler, he builds walls and likes to be left alone. To your left you can see our wonderful Founders who seem to be working on some new solid milk technology, they call it ‘cheese’ but I don’t think it’ll catch on. Hey, don’t you go leading that Cooper astray to your village now, you hear? Hello!? Helloooo!?!? That absolute git!
You set out to establish a bustling town with only a simple founder, some pennies to your name and a few random people milling around in your hand. As the game progresses new townsfolk will wander down the road and past your proto-town. Sweeping them up in a draft you can then build little industries, technology trees from which money will fall. When all is said and done money makes the world, and your village, go round – so the person with the most at the end of the game is the winner.
Everyone starts out only being able to draft a couple of villagers in a round, but as you add folk to your town you’ll be able to grab, in the Draft phase, more of the prospective residents. Similarly you’ll only be able to add two villagers, during the Build phase, to your town each turn, but you never know who might come along to help you out with that situation.
The tech trees can be exceedingly straightforward or excruciatingly convoluted. Do you go for a two tier tree just requiring a basic villager, only costing you the return of a card to the draft in the middle of the table? Do you draft that Fromager who needs 3 other cards to be found before their sweet, sweet cheese money starts rolling in? Will you even see the cards you need? Deciding between short term small goals, and lucrative long term ones is often agonizing.
Alongside the usual trades you sometimes get the odd special villager turning up. One day a monk may wander into town, able to help out with any job in a particular industry, just not the last one. Maybe there is a young person in town who wants to become an apprentice and you send him off to another village to take the place of another card, putting the replaced card into your hand. There are a few of these that disrupt play in fun ways and there will be more coming in the final product.
As well as being able to grab people from the road, you can also draft from the top of the draw decks that sit along the top of the road – when these run out the game comes to an end. You can see what technologies these cards use – Ore, Wool, Wine, etc – but not which villager they are, so you don’t know whether they will be useful or not. Sometimes the gamble is worth it, sometimes not, and it’s a fantastic point of tension, leading to moments of triumph and the depths of disappointment.
Please buy my lovely pigs
Twice during the game you will score gold for your efforts. The top card of each little tree, scores its gold value. In addition no Village stands completely alone. You’ll come across individuals who need another trade to supply them materials for their craft. Your locksmith will buy from an opposing blacksmith if that is the only place to get his supplies. This means that providing services for your opponents can be a legitimate way to score points.
In addition to creating a service industry you can also pick up villagers that play off the make up of your little town. You might have an Ore Muler in town that gives you 4 Silver for every 2 Ore villagers you have. There are several cards like this that score Silver instead of Gold and they are only scored once, at the end of the game. This gives you another route to victory, potentially keeping a surprise up your sleeve for the final round of the game. Alternatively you could build towards these cards, hoping to draft them if they turn up.
A local town, for local people
Villagers is a game with a charming aesthetic and straightforward rules that allow for experimentation and play. It’s also one of the most satisfying games I’ve played in a while: the building of your village, the final piece of a tech tree giving you a huge boost of points, the clever move with a special card that disrupts the usual rules. It just all clicks together in a really pleasing manner.
The Kickstarter is live right now, with a mere day or so to go, and I have backed at the £30 level to get myself some sweet wooden coins. I really like small box games that do a specific thing with elegance, tell an emergent story, and encourage repeat plays by not outstaying their welcome. Villagers is all these things and more. Back it now, thank me later.
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