Full disclosure: A review copy of Village Green was provided by Osprey Games.
Always exciting to try games from a publisher I haven’t tried before. I don’t think I’ve played anything Osprey other than Shahrazad, and I’m terrible at that, so that review never ended up coming together. Maybe it will someday! Who knows. Either way, we’re rounding the corner on April, by this point, which means that my attempt to write reviews all week went a little less well than it did in December, largely because I ended up … hanging out with my new housemates more. I moved! It’s a better spot. More space for shelves. You know how it is. Anyways, before I wax too long on that topic, let’s get down to the actual game business.
In Village Green, you are prim, proper, and ready to show off your town’s finer gardening skills in order to earn your town a coveted award. You frankly feel that you deserve it, and it’s only a matter of time before your superior gardening puts the other local riff-raff to shame. Yes, you’re one of those people, but the nice thing about being one of those people is that I assume you’re not quite self-aware enough to realize it. Thankfully, your opponents seem to be as well, so it’s largely a problem that sorts itself out, long-term. Only one of you will be able to become the absolute snootiest, and you figure it might as well be you. Can you present yourself prim and proper enough to take the highest praise? Or will your chances of victory just end up wilting?
Start off by giving every player a Village Card. They don’t matter, but it’s polite to let players pick, if you want:
Next, shuffle the green cards:
Make a deck of them, removing a few based on your player count:
- 2 players: Remove 15 green cards.
- 3 players: Remove 10 green cards.
- 4 players: Remove 5 green cards.
Then reveal three, in the center of the play area. Do the same with Awards:
Similarly, remove a few based on your player count:
- 2 players: Remove 10 Award cards.
- 3 players: Remove 5 Award cards.
- 4 players: You can use all the Award cards.
Each player should draw three Award cards and place them to the right of their Village card in a row. You’re going to make a 4 x 4, eventually, so leave space for that. You should be ready to start!
Alright, you’re in … England, and you need snooty decorations and awards for those snooty decorations. The dream. Your opponents are equally snooty and equally motivated, which is a real danger. Will you be able to make your village the pride of the area by scoring the most Award points?
A game of Village Green takes place over several rounds. Essentially, you’ll play turns until one of two cases are activated. On a turn, you can do one of two things. Before doing that, if you want, you can flip your Village card to the gray side to clear either the green card or Award card market and refill it. You can only do that once per game, though.
Get Green Card
For this action, you’ll draw one of the three green cards into your hand. You could instead take the top card of the deck. Then, play one of them into your Village! When you play a card into your Village, it either needs to be a Lawn card, or it needs to match all adjacent cards on either flower type or flower color. There are three colors and three types, so a blue rose can be placed next to a blue lily, blue petunia, red rose, or yellow rose. If you cannot play a card correctly, you cannot play it, but also note that you don’t have to play cards adjacent to other cards if you don’t need to. Also, you cannot cover cards up, unless the card being covered is a lawn. There is one particular exception: if you flip your Village card to the gray side, you can play a card on top of another card, following the normal rules.
Get Award Card
When you want an Award, same rules. Take one of the top three cards, or the top card of the Awards deck. This, you’ll place in either the same row or the same column as your Village card (only three Awards in that row or in that column). Unlike green cards, you can cover Award cards with other Award cards.
End of Game
The game continues until either the green card deck runs out, the Award deck runs out, or a player has completely filled their 3 x 3 village with green cards. Once that happens, finish the round so every player gets an equal number of turns.
Then, tally your point from your Village Card (if it’s face-up), two points per lake, and any points you get (or lose!) from Awards. The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
I feel like I’ve been bringing up this specific thing a lot lately, but I’ve also been doing a lot of writing, so it’s hard to say exactly, but this is another game with a shared market. In this, it’s the green cards and the Awards, so, there’s two sets of markets that can vary pretty wildly between your turns. At lower player counts, you have less churn to worry about; one player can only take so many cards. At higher player counts, a lot can change in those markets between your turns. That’s not normally that big of a problem, but this is a pretty tight game. It’s not a problem; it’s just more a question of what you’re looking for. At two, there’s lots of opportunities to be petty and hate draft, but at three and four you’re going to be lucky with what you get. It’ll be hard to chain too many things together with all that market churn. Plus, then you have to worry about the additional players after you contributing to a quicker end of game than you initially expected, which, of course, is its own problem. My personal take is going to be that I’d probably most prefer this at lower player counts, though; I enjoy the ability to keep some semblance of control over what I play and what I expect to play in the future, and having a lot of market churn can be a bit more intense than what I’m looking for in my standard game. Similarly, I don’t think I’d be playing this much at five players, even if I were in a situation where I could. A bit too much time between player turns at that point and too much market volatility for my personal liking.
- Don’t go too hard on the gazebos. This is a mistake that I largely made in my first game. There aren’t a ton of Award cards that reward you for specifically going hard on gazebos / other structures, so you can end up in a situation where most of your Village is filled up and you can’t get a ton of points. They are useful, however, if you are looking for just flower-related points and you’re trying to quickly get Awards down as well. As with basically everything, keep an eye on your current Awards before playing too many cards! Also, forcing yourself to draw Awards can be dangerous if you’ve already got all the Awards you want in the places you want them; you can end up forcing yourself to cover an Award that you really want to keep!
- Keep an eye on how many cards are still in the decks. You don’t want to plan too far ahead and then find out that your opponent is about to drain the Award deck and leave you with one more round. Make sure that you are prepared for any particular round to be the last round!
- If you have the time, keep an eye on which cards your opponent might need. This is a game that incentivizes you to live your pettiest life, I would assume. This does mean that sometimes the pettiest thing you can do is to keep an eye out for the exact card that your opponents want, and then, you can take it from the Market for yourself. That’s rude, hateful, and potentially even churlish, but I think that’s going to be within the spirit of the game, as well! Sometimes you gotta take the exact arrangement that your opponent wants.
- Make sure you don’t play yourself into a corner. There are definitely card combinations that can leave extra spots in your Villages. Remember that you can play cards adjacent if they match on color or flower type, but if you’re building haphazardly, you can leave yourself in a spot where it’s hard to play certain cards. Worse yet, you may leave yourself in a spot where you can theoretically get certain cards, but your opponents may be able to sandbag you and hate-draft those cards away from you.
- It’s never a bad idea to keep at least one playable card in hand. This is kind of the “bailing out” option. If you always have one playable card, then even on your worst day, you aren’t entirely stopped. It also is a nice petty counter to an opponent hate-drafting you. If your opponent hasn’t been paying the appropriate amount of attention, they may take a card that they think you want. If you already have a workable version of that card in your hand, then you’ve also potentially wasted one of their draws! It’s a very satisfying mood.
- Also, very specifically avoid taking negative points on your awards. This is a surefire way to dunk on yourself. I understand that a strategy article that says “don’t score negative points” is incredibly insightful and wise, and my Patreon link is always at the bottom of these posts so that you can reward my strategic knowledge. That said, this is more a call to keep an eye on your Award cards to make sure you’re not placing a row that will inadvertently torpedo your column. Keeping an eye on how things interact in your Village is key to making sure you can successfully pull out a win! And, you know, not losing points for no reason.
- Don’t be afraid to flip your Village card. If you’re stuck with bad options or you need to fix your messed-up Village, this can be an easy out. You really should spend the Village card if you think you can get extra points on a good draw, but it would be ideal if you didn’t have to use it to dig yourself out of a placement hole.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cute theme. It’s gently snooty and passive-aggressive, not directly cutthroat. And that’s great! That’s exactly what you want for this sort of thing. It’s always nice when the gameplay matches well with the theme.
- The art is quite pleasant. It’s a very like, watercolor-y, impression-y style, and I’m quite taken with it. It almost perfectly captures a perhaps-too-involved-with-the-whole-gardening-thing energy of a small English town. It’s always nice when games do such a good job just nailing the art style for their theme.
- I like the tableau-building aspect. I’m generally a sucker for tableau-building, though. I like the sense of progression it brings to a game, since you can see your space growing and changing as the game progresses. Plus, once you finish the game, you have a delightful little garden. Mostly.
- It’s fairly challenging, which is interesting. It definitely seems like you might be able to string together huge combos for tons of points, but, frankly, you will only rarely fill out your entire tableau. Players might drain the Award Deck or beat you to filling yours out while you focus on Awards, but either way the game goes by fast. This means the challenge is making sure you at least get some points, otherwise you’re going to be out of luck when the final scoring rolls around. That’s kind of neat, though it occasionally makes some decisions feel like they don’t matter since you likely won’t be able to score off of them. Instead, it becomes minimizing the points you lose. That’s a fun tension, but if you plan poorly, you can easily (and severely) mess yourself up.
- There’s some light interaction with the occasional amount of hate-drafting, but it’s not too mean. Sometimes I’ll take a card that would obviously benefit my opponent, but given there aren’t that many different major types of cards, it’s just as likely that I would need that card. The ability to pull cards from the market is a fairly light form of player interaction, since, that’s pretty much all you can do to affect other players, but since similar cards exist in the deck, it’s hard to guarantee that you’ve messed up another player, even with hate drafting. I wouldn’t call this game particularly interactive or terribly mean, so if that’s what you’re looking for, then, yeah!
- You can play this one fairly quickly, as well. Wouldn’t say much longer than 30 minutes. It’ll take some time for players to learn the awards, but once they’ve internalized most of them you should be able to just shuffle a few times and then get right to the game!
- Very portable, since it’s all cards. I keep noting that portability is nice even though I haven’t really gone anywhere in a year. I think I only recently unpacked my Quiver? Wild stuff. Even though I’m not taking games places currently, it’s still pretty nice to have games that are fairly portable. Village Green is exclusively cards in a box, so you can take the cards out, slap them into something transportable, and you’re good to go.
- It can be a bit confusing when cards reward you for similar things. This mostly just rewards players who can successfully consolidate and focus on one particular thing, but it also can be hard to follow, sometimes. I think more generally I would like some clarifications around certain Award Cards, but unfortunately, none of the ones I’m confused by were in the scoring example. Alas. Actually, while I’m on the subject:
- It would also be nice to have explanations of all the Award Cards somewhere, for clarification’s sake. There are a few things that confuse me about certain cards and there isn’t always a clear clarification as to whether or not it’s referring to two pairs of trees, two trees, or the idea of trees. The third one isn’t as likely. Just having a quick explanation / FAQ in the rulebook would go a long way.
- Not that I expect it to happen a lot, but the game would benefit a bit from a “card played illegally” mistake penalty, especially a light one. Not everyone immediately notices when they’ve misplayed a card, and I’m honestly not checking their tableaus that closely. The problem is, once we do notice, it suddenly becomes impossible to rectify it fairly. It would be nice to have a simple penalty like “remove the card” or “flip the card face-down”, just to cover for what feels decently inevitable, given how haphazardly I tend to play, sometimes.
- It can be fairly difficult to easily identify what type of plants the yellow plants are (just for contrast reasons), which can occasionally cause some issues. Having a black outline or something around the plants would have helped, or using a darker yellow, but even I have trouble distinguishing them at times. It’s likely frustrating from an accessibility standpoint, but additionally, it just makes the game take a bit longer since it’s not as clearly identifiable.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I enjoyed Village Green! I’m generally given to that kind of thing, and I think that this is a good little title. That said, I’m not over the moon about it. I think there are a few places where it’s tighter than I’d like and a few places where it’s not quite tight enough, if that makes sense? I struggle with games that have difficult scoring options generally, but the games themselves are usually longer, to allow players to build up to it. This one is short, which is fine if you want to replay, but makes it hard to course-correct if you’ve made a mistake unless you get the card you need. Additionally, the Awards cards can sometimes be confusing, and that can make it challenging for players to want to commit to certain strategies. That can cause weird effects over the course of the game, but I also think that’s easy to fix with some online explanation / clarification for the various cards. My particular gripe is that the yellow flowers (specifically the petunias and lilies) are difficult to tell apart because they’re a fairly bright yellow on a white backdrop and the contrast doesn’t play well, there, in the corner. I don’t always want to be looking very closely at a card, especially if I’m hoping that my opponent won’t take it, so having cards that are easier to distinguish goes a long way for my more subtle subterfuge / strategies. Oh well. There is a lot to like about this little game, as well! Setup is pretty breezy, for one, which when combined with high portability means that this could very well be a great game for particular couples who enjoy a bit pettier gameplay or for folks who are looking for games they can play on the go. Good groups, overall. It’s also got a very nicely matched theme, for its potentially petty gameplay. Nothing says snooty like people who care about their lawns too much. Just get drought-tolerant grass; it’s more environmentally conscious. Last big point is the art. It’s a genuinely beautiful game! Always good to have a few more of those around. All that is to say that, if you’re looking for another cute gardening game, or you enjoy a bit of complex hate-drafting, or you’re just looking for something fast, you might enjoy Village Green!