20 August 2019
A top tableau-builder for your tabletop
The Middle Ages were tough. An era characterised in large part by repression, poverty, warfare and plague. The latter offers the thematic starting point for newcomer designer Haakon Gaarder, with Villagers’ European communities ravaged by the Black Death and struggling to get themselves back on their feet after so many of their citizens have been lost to the disease.
Sounds pretty grim. But Villagers’ bright, cheery illustrations and graphic design (all impressively done by Gaarder himself) tell a different story.
Despite being a competitive game, it’s is all about co-operation – building a new community by welcoming new people to your village, and then finding ways for them to help each other, with greater rewards for all the more co-operation you encourage. So, in order for a jeweller to set up shop, for example, you’ll need to establish a production chain starting with a miner, via a seeker and spelunker, plus you’ll need a bit of help from the blacksmith – hopefully one in your own village, but if not, you can call on one of your neighbours’ at a small cost.
Bedded firmly beneath this positive and appealing theme (bolstered by some admirably diverse character design) is a tableau-builder that, like Elizabeth Hargrave’s recent hit Wingspan, involves many pleasing card synergies. Every game will end with each player leaning over a sprawling set of cards, laid out according to their relevant suit-driven production chains, and totting up points yielded by a variety of carefully constructed interactions.
As with most tableau- or engine-builders, player interaction is fairly limited, although you will be able to affect other players’ villages through some of the ‘special’ villager cards (the apprentice, for example, can be played to nab a villager from a rival), which adds a snatch of take-that flavour. You’ll also be drafting cards in the first phase of each round, which means there is some competition for the six face-up cards on ‘the road’ where potential villagers are laid out for selection, each placed below a facedown stack which can also be drawn from semi-blindly, knowing only the card’s profession-based suit.
Some villagers have value because they provide an essential link in a production chain to a high point scorer you might have in your hand. Others enable you to unlock other cards, yielding a two-coin bonus. Others give you big bonuses during the game’s two market phases, which come when the second and final of the road’s six facedown stacks are depleted.
It’s all satisfyingly implemented, and neatly compact too, both in terms of box size and play time. Gaarder has also included a dynamic solo mode, where you have to build your village while being harried by an evil countess, with her own deck of challenging events. Which is all even more impressive when you consider this is the designer’s first published game. We can’t wait to see what he produces next.
PLAY IT? – MUST-PLAY
If you like your tableau-builders then you have to check this one out. Villagers is slickly implemented, moreishly fun and, if you buy the basic set, welcomingly inexpensive.
Designer: Haakon Hoel Gaarder
Artist: Haakon Hoel Gaarder
Time: 30-60 minutes
Purchase the game here
This review originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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