“If we build it, they will come.”
“But we need them to come so we can build it.”
“Good point. If we make some delicious food, they will come, and then we’ll build it.”
“Do you know anyone who can make ‘delicious’ food?”
“I do a pretty decent Spaghetti bolognese?”
Designer: Haakon Gaarder
Publisher: Sinister Fish Games
Artist: Haakon Gaarder
Player Count: 1 – 5
Run Time: 30 – 60 mins
This review first appeared on the Polyhedron Collider website, but if you didn’t catch it there you can enjoy it here now.
The plague has run rampant across the land, devastating and ruining lives in its wake, but we humans are nothing but resilient, and so we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down and begin again. This is where you start, at the very beginning, you’ve found a suitable patch of land to build upon, and so construction can get underway. As people flee their old lives, or search out a better way to scratch out their livings they come across your blossoming village. If they have the right stuff you’ll offer them food and lodgings in return for their contribution to the greater good (the greater good).
Villagers is a smooth, uncomplicated engine builder. Your goal is simple; become the most prosperous village, achieved by attracting the most skilled and industrious villagers who in turn will generate the most gold. You need to not only feed and house them but you’ve got to be able to supply them with the materials and tools they need to do their job also. Not forgetting that you need to draft them into your own personal pool of villagers before any of your neighbours do so; which is the first phase of the game:
Players draft villagers in turn from a central ‘market row’ or is this game the Road, where there will be 6 face-up cards and 6 face-down stacks; I like to think of this as the face-up cards being those who are close enough to be able to identify, and those that are a little further away so you know roughly their trade. These six stacks also represent the general populace of the land, and the game ends once they have all been emptied. At the bottom of the second and the final stack is the Market Round, which is where you inhabitants will sell their wares and make the all-important, game-winning gold.
There are 10 different types or suits of villagers, ranging from Ore to Lumber to Grapes. You’ll draft as many villages up to the amount of food your fledgeling settlement produces, food being one of the two basic resources you’ll need to manage.
The build phase is where you’ll take those drafted villagers up into your hand and start adding them to the village proper. Naturally, this is also limited, this time by the number of builders you have. In short, to get people into your village you need food, then before they can start contributing to the village they need a house. Simple.
Now, to the nuts and bolts of you engine building village: it’s all based upon simple supply chains, to do G you F, which needs E, but if you had D then E is free, D obviously needs C, and if you have B then you’ll make more from G, but that also requires A. Which is very typical of this type of game, what Villagers does though is it takes this pseudo-algebraic nonsense and distills it in to a very accessible, very intuitive setting of 14th Century Europe…ish.
In the above gibberish what I really want is a Wine Trader – because on Market day the Wine Trader rakes in a pretty decent amount of gold, but before he can sell his wares a Vintner must first make it, and a Graper has to gather the choice grapes before that. But the Wine Trader also needs bottles from the Glass Blower, and the Vintner also needs barrels from the Cooper….and so on.
Villagers tricks you into believing you only have two resources to worry about; Food and Buildings, and that with its cute minimalist artwork style it’s a simple game. Whereas what you actually have is essentially two little engine builders that overlap one another creating rich, if not occasionally crippling decisions each turn. Each villager is a resource in themselves, providing a service or goods for anywhere between 1 and 10 other villagers (indicated by the keychain symbol). This includes neighbouring villages, meaning if you don’t have the required villager, but your opponent does, you have to pay them.
It isn’t always the largest village that prospers, it’s the most economical, and there are multiple ways to achieve this. A few of the direct supply chains end in very high-value cards, such as the Jeweller and Tailor, but an Ore Muler, Log Rafter, or Freemason can dish out plenty gold based upon who else is in your village during the final Market Round. Also, by just having those root villagers that everyone else will need you can gain a huge income from the other players like the Blacksmith and Carpenter.
Villagers does exactly what is said on the box, it’s a game about people building villages. You’re not juggling the raw materials that make a village; laying down roads and building up houses, your only concern is the people who will do this. You’ll be crafting a complex web of individuals, probably across other villages and players, to achieve your goals. Each card played branches out creating a new route and a new possibility. Above all Villagers presents a great engine builder but with a very accessible, and easily understandable theme, the links and chains between any two cards just makes sense.
I’ve walked away from this game each time thinking that I could have done it better, I could have built it more efficiently and I convince myself that next time I will. If you want to know more, or if this has been enough to convince you to get involved you can back this project on Kickstarter right now!
This review was based on a prototype version of the game provided by the publisher, as such the final version may differ from what is seen here.