Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Saturday 26 May 2018

The Game Shelf Previews:- Villagers

Game: Villagers

Publisher: Sinister Fish Games

Designer: Haakon Gaarder

Year: 2018

You are the founder of a new village in the Middle Ages, in the wake of a great plague. With scarce resources, you need to choose wisely which of the refugees you will select from the road to settle with you. You need to build up a population of villagers who rely on each others specific skills and crafts and provide each other with food and the ability to build new houses, which will in turn increase the capacity of your village and make you prosperous.

Villagers is coming to Kickstarter from Sinister Fish Games. Both the game design and artwork are from Norwegian designer Haakon Gaarder and I feel as though you can really see some inspiration in the art from the middle ages in Scandanavia. We first tried a prototype of the game at Airecon in 2018 and are really pleased to be able to share our thoughts on the preview copy.


Each round in Villagers consists of 2 phases, a drafting phase followed by a building phase. During the drafting phase each player will take turns drawing 1 card at a time from the common market, you can either draw from the face up selection or one of the face down stacks. Each round you will get a number of card equal to 2+ the number of food produced in your village, up to a maximum of 5 cards, It's quite common for  players to be drafting different numbers of cards as their villages progress.
The game setup for two players

Once everyone has finished drafting the building phase begins. Each player can build 2 cards at first, though much like food this can be increased to 5 by building the right villagers. Building has a few different possibilities, the simplest type of villager you can build is a "single" villager, these are built on their own and don't need a resource to build off of, though some do require unlocking (more on that later). Other villagers however have requirements to be built, for example a blacksmith can only be built on top of a miner. You may discard up to 3 cards from your hand a turn in exchange for one of the 3 basic resource villagers (miners, foresters and hayers), this doesn't count as a build action. Once you have a basic resource it can hold up to 2 villagers on it. The most rewarding villagers often require a long chain of cards, but in return generate a great amount of money.

Many cards also must be unlocked before you can build them, you may require a blacksmith before you can get a glassblower for example. Unlocking cards is simple, if no-one has the prerequisite card then you can pay the back 2 coins to unlock it. If one of your opponents owns the prerequisite then you must pay the 2 coins to their card these coins then make that card more productive. Finally if you own the prerequisite card then the bank pays you 2 money to the card.

Villagers getting paid for their skills
All of this is done in order to make money, the winner is the player who's village makes the most gold. There are 2 scoring phases in the game, during the first every card that has gold printed on it, or gold placed on it for unlocking a card, produces that number of gold. During the second market phase (which triggers the end of the game) cards with silver coins printed on them also produce gold, these are end game scoring cards that are often very rewarding if you successfully focus on their objectives.

Amy’s Final Thoughts

Villagers does a great job of combining a drafting game with a tech tree. There are some very real incentives to getting the villagers who unlock a large number of cards, but at the same time the penalty for no-one having done it isn't so severe that it slows down gameplay. If you find that you can't afford to unlock a card you want to build then you have probably made some serious errors along the way! I really enjoy the tech tree aspect, the re. wards for it give you a nice bonus for focusing in certain areas, or a nice way to leech a few points off of your opponents.

However there are a few flaws, not every card is used in certain games, and while the market does occasionally get refreshed from the deck of cards not in the game, still not everything can appear. This doesn't normally cause a problem, but it is possible that you are holding on to the end of a production chain where the middle simply doesn't exist. In the first game I played I collected the grape cards, these are an advanced resource as you can't discard a card to get a graper, you have to draft and build one like any other card. So while I had all the makings of a productive vineyard in my hand it turned out that no-one in our game every had any idea how to pick the dam things!

That being said, this is rare, there are several ways to get around this problem with the special cards. My first game was certainly an outlier. Usually when you find part of your supply chain as cut of it's from the traditional drafting mechanic of someone grabbing it simply to prevent you!

Villagers is a great drafting game, it's simple and quick, though has a good amount of strategy in it. It's a bit more than a filler game, but certainly light enough that you can teach it quickly. The art is simple, but mercifully clear as there are only 3 main symbols (food, construction and gold), anything else is explained in concise text. I highly recommend you check out Villagers on kickstarter now!

Fi’s Final Thoughts

I've really enjoyed playing Villagers. It combines drafting and engine building in a really simple and clean way, whilst still providing an interesting and challenging game. The rules are slightly challenging to explain to new players, particularly the unlocking mechanism, but very easy once you are playing the game.

It's interesting to select new strategies, often decided by the starting draft or your starting hand, but you also need to make sure to take care of the basics, ensuring that you build up your food to allow you to draft more cards and have enough building symbols to make sure you can build lots of cards each turn. If you accidentally lose sight of this to focus on a unique strategy, then your opponents will get ahead simply by doing more every turn. My enjoyment of the game comes from building something up better and better, and a lack of food or building cards in the shuffle can hold you back from this fun experience in lower player count games where not all cards are seen.

I think I prefer Villagers with three players. The two player rules work well, but cards only remain in the drafting pool for a single round which often means saying goodbye to some cards you would have really found useful. In the three player game, cards stay 'on the road' to be drafted for two rounds, with an incentive placed on older cards which gives you more a chance to collect more for your strategy. With that said, there's more chance of hate drafting or competition over the same cards so you still might not get what you want!

I am really excited to play more of Villagers. Its charming artwork, combined with a simple, clean design that still gives you different possibilities and mental challenges is just really pleasing and it's definitely a project to check out on Kickstarter.

The Good
  • You can typically pick a different strategy each game based on early cards you draft.
  • There is a nice balance between in game and end-game victory points, that can really alter your early game and late game.
  • The artwork and iconography is simple, clean and lovely.
The Bad
  • The order of the shuffle can really have an effect on gameplay, sometimes forcing less satisfying game where your nobody has a great chance to build a good engine.
  • The two-player rules offered us a slightly less interesting experience than with more players.

The Verdict
7.5/10  Villagers is a great engine building and drafting game that is fast paced and provides some real variability in strategies. The artwork is clean and really charming and it's a game we highly recommend.

Villagers was a review copy provided to the Board Game Exposure reviewer collective. It is currently live on Kickstarter and you can check out the campaign here.

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