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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Tuesday 22 June 2021

The Game Shelf Previews:- Villagers: Shifting Seasons

Game: Villagers: Shifting Seasons

Publisher: Sinister Fish Games

Designer: Haakon Gaarder

Year: 2022

Villagers was successfully funded on Kickstarter in 2018. Its charming artwork and clever tableau building gameplay really charmed backers and made this small card game from a UK-based publisher into a huge Kickstarter success. This month, Sinister Fish will be back on Kickstarter with a new expansion, Shifting Seasons. Shifting Seasons adds a collection of modular expansions, including seasonal event cards, a new clay suit, helpful builder and harvest teams and an all new solo mode.

It's coming to Kickstarter on Tuesday 29th June. Should you be looking out for this expansion, or perhaps picking up the base game with all of its glorious Kickstarter content?

Before we look to what Shifting Seasons adds, here's a quick overview of the original game. The game starts with a market of face up cards each representing a potential villager with a career which you can add to your village. The game is split up into two main phases; during the first you will draft cards from the market into your hand. At the start of the game you'll only be able to draft two villagers per turn, but as your village generates more food you'll be able to draft more people each turn. The next phase lets you play the villagers from your hand into your village, by default you can place two villagers per turn, but over the course of the game you can increase this too. Many villagers unlock other careers, for example the blacksmith is needed for most careers that work with metal. When you play a villager with a requirement you must pay the bank, or the player that owns that prerequisite villager, a couple of coins. Eventually enough villagers will be drafted that a scoring round happens, during this many of your villagers will generate money, and after the second scoring round the game will end. 

Shifting Seasons changes things up in numerous ways. Firstly there is the addition of the titular seasons. Each pile of villagers in the market that doesn't hide the mid or end game scoring cards will instead hide a season card. When that pile empties the previous season card becomes inactive and the newly revealed one activates. These give a variety of bonuses, either instant effects or ongoing changes. Further pushing the shifting theme there is a new game mode where the starting villagers are randomised instead of being fixed. No-longer can you guarantee that your burgeoning village will have a carpenter, blacksmith and cooper, you may find yourself buying in horseshoes for longer than you might be used to! 
Lastly the expansion introduces a few new villager cards. The Clay suit of villagers gets added to replace the grapes suit, or as an additional suit at higher player counts. They act much the same as the existing sets of villagers but add some additional variety to the game. Additionally you can optionally play with the 'teams' villagers. These villagers are gained by discarding a pair of cards from your hand to become a team, which in turn provide building/food bonuses, letting you start your empire up sooner.
Amy’s Final Thoughts

Villagers is a game with a simple concept and relatively simple gameplay, but nonetheless has managed to carve a name for itself by doing what it does incredibly well. Sure, the theme might be a touch on the dry side, but the way that players each end up spending money to hire each other's craftspeople makes the village theme come to life. There's an economy that naturally builds as the villagers are dependent on each other's skills. The gameplay mechanics are little more than simple drafting, but the small twists, such as being able to discard cards face down on the top of stacks only to draft 'blind' off those stacks later, allow for interactions that a simple drafting game couldn't provide. 

So with such a solid platform to launch off of, how does Shifting Seasons change the game? I was most impressed by the season cards themselves. Not only do they add more variety to the game with different season combinations. But since the season effects are visible to everyone you can plan for them. Suddenly discarding cards during the build phase lets you delay summer that extra round, just long enough for you to be prepared to make maximum use of the free money put on all your craftspeople! The season cards encourage you to play differently to make the most of them, holding back cards you would previously have played, or playing cards in an order that might not have traditionally made sense. 

While the seasons are a great addition to the game, the other changes are less strong. The new game setup where you shuffle the full villager deck and randomly seed the market can result in craftspeople coming out too late to be worth using, which in turn destroys the inter-player economy that the game normally encourages. This was likely exacerbated at a low player count where fewer villagers appear in each game. The clay suit felt like more of the same, which isn't a bad thing as such, but felt like a slight missed opportunity to represent improving technology in the village. Lastly the teams were a perfectly fine addition to the game, offering a good way to survive getting a bad draft in the first round. They fix a potential issue in the base game and as such I don't think I'd ever play without them, but they aren't exciting. 

Ultimately, Shifting Seasons is an expansion that will bring Villagers back to the table for fans of the base game, and it keeps the game fresh! While some of the modules are less strong, none of them are bad and you certainly can add them all in without adding much complexity to the game. The seasons are a fantastic addition to the game and worth the expansion in itself.

Fi’s Final Thoughts
Villagers is a really elegant card drafting and tableau building game, which has just the right amount of player interaction for our tastes. Most of the game is spent focusing on your own tableau, creating chains of villagers and synergies, but you also need to be mindful of what other players are building to make sure you are not giving away too much money paying the blacksmith or the carpenter in order to add cards to your own tableau. These synergies help you to craft a new strategy each game and also feel really thematic because they make sense in the context of creating a small community where each villager has a role that helps others to complete their craft.

Shifting Seasons does not do a great deal to change up the game, but there are some nice touches. The four events - one for each season - which are added to the bottom of the four non-scoring market stacks can give you some nice goals to focus your strategy towards and I liked that they are visible from the start of the game so that they're not a random event that might benefit some players and not others by sheer luck. I also like that many of the events cause you to maybe draft some extra cards into your hand which might not be useful on the tableau, but can e used for an event - this gives you an extra something to think about and also an option for when the available cards might not suit you in the drafting phase. 

The addition of the Builder Team and Harvest Team also feels like a nice change. It can give you quite a big boost early in the game to be able to draft or play more cards, although you might suffer later because it costs you two cards to get them, so you might struggle to have enough card choices in your hand later in the game.
I certainly wouldn't classify Shifting Seasons as an essential expansion, but if you have room in the base game box for some extra content, then the events and builder and harvest teams feel like content we would never play without. However, if you are new to Villagers, then the upcoming Kickstarter would be a great time to jump in and get some of the extra goodies - we especially like the playmat, but do note that it doesn't have a spot for the Builder Team and Harvest Team cards from the new expansion.

You Might Like...
  • The event cards provide an opportunity to give the game new focus.
  • The new category of clay villagers can be added in at any player count, by swapping out other villagers.
  • The new modular expansions in no way over complicate the game, they just add a small dash of something new and fresh.
You Might Not Like...
  • Shifting Seasons contains a lot of small elements, but no one stand-out thing.
  • Like with the base game, there's always a chance of some bad luck in the drafting which can thwart your strategy.

The Verdict
Villagers is an excellent game that is just the right level of complexity to be enough for gamers, but also a game you could introduce to friends who are ready to try something new. With a successful first Kickstarter, there's already a good amount of expansion content and Shifting Seasons adds even more. It mixes seamlessly with the base game and, with plenty of space in the base game box (if you don't have wooden coins), there's no reason not to expand if you enjoy Villagers. Or if you've never played Villagers then the upcoming Kickstarter could be a great place to start and grab the very handy playmat and any other content that catches your eye.

A preview copy of the Shifting Seasons expansion was kindly provided to us by Sinister Fish Games. The Kickstarter campaign launches on Tuesday 29th June 2021.

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