Game Time: 30-60mins
Followers of the Diary of a Lincoln Geek livestreams may recall that on episode 13 of Let's Talk Boardgames we were joined by Lincoln-based Dave Clarke from Sinister Fish Games to discuss several of their games. Sinister Fish are a relatively young company founded back in 2015 when veteran gamer Dave Clarke decided to move away from his previous career paths, roll the dice and see if he could design and publish table top games. Well this week, we review Villagers a game that was a smash-hit on Kickstarter.
The question is can it live up to that mantel? We were curious to find out!
Almost all great games (not including certain beloved childhood classics) have a good story or theme to immerse the players in the game's reality. In Villagers you are transported back to the middle ages just years after the great plague, possibly better known as the black death or bubonic plague. Players take on the role of Village founders trying to build new communities. But it isn’t as easy as collecting cards. Your village will have to acquire the necessary skill sets and feed/pay its inhabitants to grow and be profitable.
First impressions of this game were very promising. The box, whilst a little large for a fairly small and simple card game, is well designed with removable trays, organiser cards and space for sleeved cards. These are all of good quality cardboard construction and the game's cards are of a reasonable stock (although maybe a tad light for my personal preference).
After unboxing and critiquing all the components, it was time to learn to play. Game set up was fairly straightforward after identifying the various components. However, for two-player or solo mode you need to flick from one section of the rules to the other during setup, which is very frustrating. The flaw in this game is definitely the rulebook. It is very poorly written; many actions, phases and mechanics are described without any true explanation and leaves you with more questions than have been answered. Indeed several players (myself and Dino Girl included) admit that the ONLY way they have been able to learn the rules is to find a video tutorial online. This is sadly a very big issue, as it stunts the game's accessibility especially with an age rating of 10+.
Once you have either decoded the rulebook, video-learned the rules or bribed your friendly neighbourhood rules lawyer to break it down for you, the game is actually reasonably simple, elegant and enjoyable.
The basics of the game are as follows: each round has a draft phase where players take turns recruiting villagers from the central area known as the road, continuing until each player has reached their draft limit, the recruited villagers go to each player's respective hand. The second part of each round is the build phase, here each player in turn may build (play) new villagers from their hand to their village. However, some tradesmen require that their suppliers are available either in your village (free) or in another player's (requires payment). This is known as a production chain. Chains generally require a basic villager, which you can trade a card from your hand to recruit from the supply and play immediately and does not affect your build limit. At the end of the build phase, players check to see if there is enough food in the village. If there is not, their founders must switch from providing currency to providing food and may never switch back.
The game then has two market phases, the first occurs when the second supply pile above the road is depleted and the second happens when all supply piles are empty and triggers the game's end once complete. During the market phases, players earn money based on their current holdings. After the second market phase is complete it is the player with the most money whom is declared the winner. In the case of a draw, the player who has achieved the most profits with the fewest villagers is the victor. It’s more or less that simple... not that you’d know it from the rulebook.
So how does Villagers score? I have found this quite challenging to pin down. The game IS actually quite enjoyable once you know how to play it. The theme, whist not something that immediately grabs my attention, does work and is reflected fairly well through gameplay. However, I can’t ignore the nearly incomprehensible rulebook. Even as an experienced gamer I was left scratching my head and needed a visual based breakdown from an outside source. This speaks poorly of its ease of accessibility. I for one don’t want to have to watch or get my guests to watch a tutorial every time we play. If that was a bigger issue over game play and how well the game is made and stored Villagers would be looking at a 2/6. However the fact that the game itself is decent and the box design has been well thought out, for me at least, Villagers scores a respectable 3 out of 6. Though I do acknowledge that this would score higher for those who absorb comprehend and retain the rules easily.
My other minor issue is that the max player count is an uneven one (five). Given that many avid gamers are adults with families and yes social lives, when calendars align it is nice to pick up a game where you can max out the number of players as couples. Whilst this isn't an issue for many people, I personally find that it feels unfair to be in the position where you have to chose whether or not to exclude someone in order to play the game.
Sinister Fish's new game Moon is live now on Kickstarter, and is already fully funded. To learn more or back it visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/sinisterfish/moon-1