Designed by Haakon Gaarder
Published by Sinister Fish Games
I’ve been quarantining myself during this pandemic since mid-March. I have literally only left my house once a week since then to the grocery store. Otherwise, I am occupying space in my house reading, writing, watching films and playing games. Villagers was a game I backed on Kickstarter back in 2019, primarily out of the beautiful minimalist art style and my love of playing city-building video games. This wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be, but I ended up loving it nonetheless.
In Villagers, each player is the founder of a middle ages village after a great plague has scourged the land. Because so many died, there are significant gaps in the production of goods and services for the survivors. These production chains rely on the people above them to provide raw materials and even offer a service to partially process them. The road into town is full of refugees seeking a new start, and as they pass by, you can entice them to choose your village. Picking the right craftspeople is crucial because they can’t settle down unless they have what they need to ply their trade.
The two main mechanics of Villagers are card drafting and building tableaus. All of your components are visible to everyone else and vice versa, which adds another layer of strategy on drafting cards. You can go for a craftsperson that would benefit you, or you could snatch one that you know an opponent is likely to pick on their turn. After the card drafting phase, the number of which is determined by the Food your village has you switch to Build. Whereas in the Drafting players took turns drawing cards on at a time, in Building, you play all your cards.
There are suits in the game that corresponds to the raw material used in the supply chains: Wood, Ore, Hay, and Wine. There is a specialized suit labeled Solitary, which are townspeople that belong to no supply chain but often provide a bonus or one-off boon when played. Individual cards in suits require the presence of specific craftspeople to operate. For example, a Milk Maid (part of the Hay suit) requires a Cooper or Barrelmaker (from the Wood suit) before she can be played. In the fiction of the world, it makes sense, she needs a bucket to store the milk in. To play the Milk Maid, you can do so for free if you already have a Cooper in play. If another player has a Cooper and you don’t, you can pay the Unlock price listed on the card, or if no one has a Cooper on the table, you pay that price to the Bank.
Playtime is determined by when the cards on the Road run out. As you empty out the road, two Market events always come at the same times, the first will happen after your second stack on cards on the Road is gone, and the second is how you wrap the game up. These Markets give conditions on what money you can collect based on your cards. This adds another level of strategy on what cards you Draft because certain ones give out big paydays during the First Market while others are great endgame cards for the Second Market.
Villagers takes a minute to click with, but once you mesh with the game loop, it can be very satisfying to pull off a game-changing Build phase that moves you from the bottom to the top. Based on the number of players, cards are added or withdrawn with a 2 player mode, a 3-4 player mode, and even a solo version that changes the game quite a bit. I think Villagers is a must-play for fans of games like Catan or other resource-centered tabletop entries.