Updated: May 5, 2021
“We know not why or what brought forth the Judgement of the Lord, but ague turned to plague and death stalked high and low and cut off multitudes to meet their maker sooner than they wont. Young became old and withered in a week. Whole hamlets, towns and villages were wiped away as were the Cities of the Plain in days of yore. With so many felled, fields remained untilled until their harvests rotted like the carnal husks of those who would their reapers be.” - Poins
The back story to Villagers is the extinction-event Plague that beset Europe in the middle of the 14th Century. Don’t worry though, this is not a game about death and disease. In Villagers, players are trying to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the Black Death. The premise of this charming easy-to-learn engine-building card game is the need to recruit the craftsmen and the skilled labour required to develop and extend a Medieval village.
Cards representing villagers with different skills are set out on the ‘road’. Villagers draft them (or take a chance in selecting a face-down card) according to the amount of food their village generates. They can always recruit at least two villagers but as they add villagers who produce food, they will be able to draft up to five cards. At the conclusion of the drafting round, the cards go to the players’ hands. Players then ‘build’ to their village by placing out villagers. Again, they can always place out at least two cards but, with appropriately skilled workers in the village, a player can add up to five cards to the village. Each specialised skills gives some sort of benefit in terms of food or build capabilities but may also generate coins, and it is these that constitute the game’s victory points.
In keeping with the theme of interdependency, most skilled craftsmen and labourers require the resources or produce of another worker. That means that you can only place a Blacksmith into your village if you have a Miner. A cooper (barrel maker) is dependent on the village having a lumberjack, but a cooper also requires ironmongery so the card is ‘locked’ and can only be placed into your village by paying 2 coins to the owner of any blacksmith in play or paying 2 coins to the bank. If you already have in your village, however, a skill required to unlock another you are playing, then the bank pays you. Through judicious hand management, therefore, players can develop quite profitable engines.
There is player interaction in Villagers: you’ll be watching to see what others have built and what specialties are gone (there are only two copies of each skill in the game) but this is, above all, a good-natured game. It’s not a game where you need worry unduly about your carefully constructed points engine being destroyed or disrupted by another player. Villagers is competitive, but not aggressively so.
Villagers plays with two to five players, but it’s very much the sort of game that lends itself to solitaire play. For the game's launch on Kickstarter, Sinister Fish have added event cards to facilitate play against an AI player ('The Countess').
Villagers is an attractive and appealing game designed by Haakon Hoel Gaarder and published by Sinister Fish. The version shown here on Board's Eye View is a pre-production prototype, so the final version may look a little different, depending on how well the game does in its Kickstarter campaign.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)