Full disclosure: A review copy of Villagers was provided by Sinister Fish Games.
Getting a few more reviews in this week! Things have been a bit crazy here with a lot going on, which is a bummer. This means I’m working from home for a bit, so my dining room is now doing triple duty as a home office, a photography studio, and a dining room. I guess we also play games sometimes. One such game is Villagers, and, since I still write a few reviews from time to time, let’s start talking about what’s going on there.
In Villagers, well, a plague happened, so, you didn’t die. That’s a bonus! But you now kind of have to rebuild from scratch. You’ve got a village to found! Recruit Villagers, but leverage their knowledge to build your up-and-coming little down as best as you can. You know there are other villages nearby, so, your competitive edge hopes to, you know, be the best village. That said, you can gain their knowledge to improve your town… for a price. It takes a village to raise a village, you figure, but will you raise your villagers the best?
Player Count Differences
I mean, the key difference is that you end up having to add in new card types (Wool and Leather) at higher player counts so that you have enough cards and variety for everyone, but higher player counts do carry the risk of allowing other players to dilute your strategy. If you’re going only for green cards, well, at two players that’s easy; at five players that’s going to be quite a fun little challenge for yourself. There’s also the slight difference in how the drafting phase works at two players, which I think is notable. The game doesn’t really change in a particular sense, past that, though it’s likely going to take longer to finish the game since more players are making moves (and they can’t really do that in parallel). Just for that, I’d say that I generally prefer this at lower player counts, but it’s not that big of a preference; I just like shorter games.
- Get those unlock cards played early. Those cards not only accrue value over the course of the game, but they also allow you to play cards from later in their unlock chain for free. They also have the benefit of making other players a bit less enthusiastic about playing cards that definitely give you money until later. That might help stall other players’ engines, which is certainly good for you if you can make it happen.
- Going deep in one color can be very helpful. That’s generally what I try to do, but it can be stymied a bit by other players taking cards of that color and using them to get the Basic Villagers they need. If you can make it work for you, though, you can get very useful late-game cards that reward you for the number of cards you have of a certain type. That’s huge, especially if you can get both of them. Either way, it’ll usually also reward your unlock card of that color if you build a bunch of cards of a color.
- Try not to pay other players for their cards when you could instead get the bank to pay you for yours. This may mean that you build your own Blacksmith or Carpenter later on, if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking to do. I’m not convinced that’s the worst move. If you’re doing it late-game, that might not be … ideal? But it is good if you can get both Blacksmiths (or equivalent) early, so you can hold on to the other one. Corner the market, you know? It’s an easy way to make a lot of money.
- Make sure you’re gradually increasing your ability to build and draft cards. You don’t want to hit the end of the game only able to draft three cards and play two. You’ll almost certainly lose. More cards is always good. You just need to get the right cards, otherwise you’ll be in a draw three, play five situation. That doesn’t work in Fluxx, and it won’t work here.
- That first scoring phase shows up quickly; make sure you have some gold to score. You can usually get up to like, 20 points from this if you know what you’re doing. That can make a big difference, especially because you’re all-but-guaranteed to get those points again during the Second Market Phase.
- It’s not necessarily always worth finishing up a production chain; make sure you’re considering that the old card no longer counts when you play the new one. You can sometimes cover a card that will then lower your ability to draft (but score you a bunch of points), but that means you should only do that right before the scoring phase(s); otherwise you’re just putting down effectively “junk” (it doesn’t help you right now).
- It may be worth holding on to some of the “points per symbol” cards if your opponents are starting to go deep in one type of card. Hate-drafting won’t make you many friends, but it might win you some games, which is … just … as good? That sounds right.
- Don’t forget that Silver only scores during the Second Market. Common mistake during your first few plays. Silver scores during Second Market, Gold scores during First and Second Market. This means you’d likely be better off not playing many Silver cards until the end of the game.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- I really like the art style. It’s bold, vibrant, and lacks outlines. These are all art affects that I love. It reminds me of Vye, actually; now that’s a throwback! I feel like it was one of the first Kickstarters I backed. Either way, it’s a really beautiful game; I love seeing it hit the table.
- Building off of previous cards is a lot of fun, as well. I generally like progression in games, and this is a super progression-heavy game. Pretty explicitly, since some cards can only be built once their previous card in the chain has been played, and others have explicit dependencies on cards outside of their sequence. It’s cool, and thematically consistent!
- I love that cards all have a universal cost. The cost being free also helps a lot, though it’s not always free; sometimes it’s 2 money payable to whoever owns the unlock card. Even then, having it only be one of two costs is super simple, and it makes the game a lot easier to understand than, say, 7 Wonders or something with a complex tech tree.
- I especially like the diversity of the Basic Villagers cards. They’re double-sided! Super straightforward way to diversify your game art, especially if they don’t need to be private.
- Giving each player a randomized starting hand is an interesting move, as well. I like that it gives you some things to shoot for and may bail you out of a rough starting turn.
- It’s pretty hard for any one player to keep you from getting at least one of the cards you want. You’ll usually get one unless you’re playing with like, five people or something.
- The scoring is also pretty interesting. Having two phases and Silver only scoring in the last one is an interesting move. It means there’s an early rush and then some late-game engine-building, which is kind of cool. Knowing when to cash out is an important part of the game’s sequence.
- I really like the idea of having to pay other players to unlock your cards. That’s a really nice player interaction that’s fairly nondestructive. And the cover if no player has it? You just pay the bank. Again, simple, straightforward, and still interesting.
- The cards of one type all having the same back also makes the random pull action interesting. It’s usually worth doing it because you might be able to get a card you really need, but either way I like that they took the time to make that option available.
- The box shape isn’t really helpful when I’m trying to store stuff. It’s very long and kind of thick? There aren’t a whole lot of places I can easily put it. Thankfully, it’s decently easy to transport in a Quiver, since it’s just cards, so I just usually don’t take the box with me.
- Lots of players with experience in other drafting games trip up on the “place the cards you drafted and plan to Build on the tile” rule. It’s a very subtly annoying thing, but it is annoying. I understand why it’s done that way, but it confuses players pretty much every time I’ve seen new ones try to play Villagers. It happens.
- It can be a pretty big table space hog. I guess it should be expected from a game that’s all about cards and playing all the cards face-up that you can. But man, it uses a lot of space.
- It sort of feels like going deep is useful to the point that I’m not sure I wouldn’t just do that every time. You just want to play all the cards of the same type; you get rewarded for it. I think it would be nice to see a few cards that reward you for specifically breaking that mold, just to make sure that the game doesn’t feel rote after a while.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, yeah, I think Villagers is pretty great! I think what really drew me in was the art style. It’s super bright and vibrant, and especially contrasted against the white cards, it does a lot to present the game as a slice of an idyllic and peaceful life in a small village, which is endearing. Sure, I’m generally opposed to Weird-Shaped Boxes, but I don’t think that takes away from the overall game experience. Plus, it’s not that hard to learn, which I really appreciate. The interesting parts of the game come from figuring out how to get what you want at the right time, particularly if you want to go deep in one color or get your opponents to give you money to unlock their cards. I absolutely love the unlock effect, personally. I think it adds a ton of really good and positive player interaction, and challenges players to try and find a way to avoid paying other players to use your own cards. Add in some interesting scoring rules and some nice diverse cards and yeah, you’ve got a solid drafting game that I’m enthusiastic about. If drafting if your scene, then yeah, I’d definitely recommend trying Villagers! I’ve had a lot of fun with it.