Board Game Review: Village – A Different Kind of Worker Placement
This week we take a look at Village. In addition to being up for the Game of the Year, it also won the KdJ. At its heart, Village is a worker placement game. But unlike most cube-pushers, in this game you generally acquire resources for taking actions and you have to worry about the death of your meeples.
The Basics. Village is about the founding of a small community and the various families that begin that journey. Each player gets a farmstead and four workers all marked with a 1. Then the board is seeded with resource cubes at all the action spaces. Though most will be the desired cubes, there will also be some plague cubes that do not provide resources.
On their turn, a player can take one of the seven available actions. The game has everything from city council, to the Church, to traveling abroad, to growing the family. To take the action, the player simply takes one resource cube from that area of the board and places it with his goods. Then he takes the action. Often, that action requires him to move one of his meeples from the farm to the indicated town area. Others, like growing the family, allow you to get a new meeple. The next generation is born and you grab a meeple marked with a 2.
While some actions cost additional resources to complete, nearly all require time. As time passes in Village, the player taking that action marks it on his farm. If the marker goes all the way around, then enough time has passed and one of his family passes away. The player chooses the one who dies, but has to chose someone from the oldest generation (a 1 at the start of the game).
But the village also takes note of its first citizens. Depending on that person’s job at the time of his death, he may be entered into the village chronicle so that his deeds are remembered. The chronicle is open to craftsman, farmers, clergy, councilmen, and travelers. However, there are only so many spots for each occupation. Once filled, the next person who dies is just “another farmer” or “another craftsman,” so they get buried in the cemetery with no formal recognition.
The game ends when either the chronicle or the nameless graves are filled. Highest score wins.
The Feel. The game does a great job of reinforcing the theme despite being heavily on the euro side of things. As new generations emerge and marry, you get more meeples. As time goes on, the older generations pass and are discarded to the chronicle or graves. Although not explicitly supported in mechanics or rules, it is easy to see the story being told by the game.
Beyond just the tale of an early village, the game has tremendous mechanics behind it. At the beginning of each round, the action spaces are completely seeded. So the players have an easy pick of taking both the action that they want and the resource they desire. But, as the round goes on, the resources are depleted. When an action space is out of resources, it cannot be taken again (at least not without substantial cost). Some of the most interesting play is in this area of scarcity where players have to choose between taking the resource they need or the action they want or, in some cases, sniping a coveted resource from another player.
The game is played over several rounds, so there will be multiple seasons of plenty and rarity, and there are many options for scoring points. City councilmen can convert their fortunes directly into points. Clergymen can score during the game and are worth points at the end. Travelers gain fame and craftsman can sell to willing customers. Generally, players have to focus on one or two main methods of getting points while dabbling in the others. By the same token, players cannot ignore what their opponents are doing. Allowing only one player to compete in the market, for example, can allow that player multiple scoring opportunities.
The other interesting element is that the game end is controlled entirely by the players. Sometimes players will want to keep their meeples healthy and alive for as long as possible to continue to allow them to score points or create items. Other times, though, it may be beneficial to use as much “time” as possible and start killing off your family members. On one occasion, I grabbed an early lead while an opponent was gearing up for some massive market points. I decided to put all my efforts into ending the game quickly and killed off about three family members. Because it cut short his massive turns, I eked out a one point victory.
Village is also a tad on the lighter side of things. While this makes it very accessible, with a short but satisfying play time, it also means that all interaction is extremely indirect. Competition comes from getting there first or having the most rather than from kicking other people out or directly countering them. Also, any unopposed strategy is often strongest, especially an unopposed market. So sometimes it can come down to claiming the area with the least resistance, somewhat akin to being the only producer of a good in Puerto Rico.
On the other hand, maybe the game feels lighter than it is. Part of that is because the planning is done in one step instead of two. In other worker placement games, you might have to spend a turn or two gathering the right resources, then a turn or two accomplishing your objectives. In Village, you can gain the resources you need while accomplishing your objectives. Ideally, you take an action by selecting a cube you need for the next turn’s action. So, maybe there is just as much going on, but the compression makes it feel lighter than it is.
Components: 4 of 5. All of the pieces are wooden bits and extremely high quality. However, the numbers 1 through 4 have to be applied to each meeple by the buyer, so the do-it-yourselfness is a little annoying. The board art is tremendous and, again, does a wonderful job of evoking the theme of this euro title.
Strategy/Luck Balance: 4.5 of 5. Despite Village being (or feeling) on the lighter side of things, it is very heavy on strategy and very light on luck. There are only two luck elements in the game. One is in how the resources are seeded onto the board each round. But this impacts everyone more or less equally and the players have time to strategize around it once the lay of the land is ascertained. The second is in getting your candidates selected into the clergy. But even there, the player may make a donation to ensure his family’s selection. Everything else is the strategic selection of goods and the taking of actions.
Mechanics: 5 of 5. The game plays wonderfully and, in general, intuitively. Taking resources to then take actions is a wonderful twist on the genre. In effect, it makes every turn productive. In other worker placement games, there will be turns where the player just obtains resources and then hopes to use them on later turns. Here, almost every turn also gets a resource. The iconography on the board is very helpful and the rulebook is laid out in such a way that answers to questions can be found quickly.
Replayability: 3.5 of 5. I think its unfortunate that this game is capped at four players. I think a fifth player would have been easily added without significant additional downtime. That aside, Village has a lot of replay value, as the seeding of the board comes up differently each time and the game allows the players to experiment with a wide variety of strategies.
Spite: 2 of 5. Each round begins almost spiteless. There are many options all over the board and it’s easy to get what you want. But as the resource cubes become more scarce, it can become a little more spiteful. On several occasions, I’ve had a player take the last orange cube when I needed one – and I’ve done the same. In lean times, it’s just as much about denying your opponents as it is about your own needs.
Overall: 4 of 5. Village is a blast to play and one of the more interesting and thematic “cube pushers” out there. The major rules are simple and there is plenty in there to both attract casual gamers and sustain more veteran players. Fans of worker placement should definitely give this one a play and see how taking resources each action not only invigorates the genre, but also keeps you doing the “fun” parts of the game.