2-4 players, 60-90 minutes
designed by Inka & Markus Brand
reviewed by Simon Weinberg
I had the very enjoyable experience of playing one of the few copies of Village at Essen – unfortunately, the game fell victim to manufacturing delays in the Essen week and I have been really looking forward to getting my hands on a copy ever since. The game has recently been re-released in France and is planned very soon in Holland, Spain, Czech Republic and the US – which can only be testament to the interest in the game.
Village comes in the standard Ticket to Ride size square box and inside you’ll find meeples and counters in 4 colours, a set of wooden influence cubes in 5 colours, a whole bunch of cardboard tokens representing goods and market customer tiles, and a number of useful aids to help setup and play the game. There are also a generous two cloth bags and an excellent rule book. One thing I really appreciated when learning the game was how the rule book is colour coded to match the areas on the board. My only criticism on the component side is the need to stick some ugly numbers on the meeples to divide them into different generations of family member: the numbers are white and stickers in matching colours, while more difficult to produce, would have made the meeples look nicer.
The game board is divided into a number of areas, each of which can be activated by players to perform various actions. While Village could be described superficially as a worker placement game, one of the interesting aspects of the game is that these areas are activated not by placing workers on them, but by collecting a cube from the area which serves as a currency for some actions. These cubes are drawn from a bag at the beginning of each round and a fixed number of cubes is placed in given areas on the board. Thus, not only must players decide which area they wish to activate, but they will also be influenced by not only the available colours of cube on the area but also the number left. To make matters worse, some of the cubes will be plague cubes: these will often be last to be taken and will cause time to be lost – more about this later, but suffice to say that with 4 colours of cubes (not including the plague cubes) plus the use of 5 kinds of goods, plus grain and coins and the passage of time all being used to pay for actions, what we have is a seemingly complex game using 12 types of currency. Fortunately it’s not as complicated as it sounds, and the various currencies work together rather well.
Following distribution of the designated number and colour of cubes, which alters with the number of players, play proceeds around the table with each player taking a cube from one of the areas. With the exception of the market area, if a player takes a cube they are not obliged to activate the area (for example, if they simply want to stop someone else activating the area by taking the last cube). The different areas are as follows:
There are five different goods available from the crafts area of the board: Oxen, Horses, Scrolls, Ploughs and Wagons. Oxen, ploughs and horses are used to increase wheat production and may also be sold at Market for Victory Points (VP). Wagons are used to travel outside the village and thus gain goodies plus VPs at the game’s end; and Scrolls are used to further progress through the Council chambers.
Once a cube is selected from the craft area, players may produce one of the above goods in one of two ways: the first way is to buy it with cubes, time and/or grain, and the second way is to build it only with time. To buy it with time, players move one of their workers from their farm to the board and place it in the appropriate building in the craft area. This will not prevent other players placing their workers there too. The player then pays a one-off cost to train the worker to produce the good; and then pays a cost to get one of the goods. Once trained, this worker will produce the good whenever his owner chooses to activate him by taking a cube from the craft area and pay the cost. The cost is always in time, and is marked up on the player’s farmyard board as such. For example, an ox may be purchased for three grain; or the player may place a worker in the cattle barn for 3 time and produce an ox for 3 more time, in which case subsequent oxen will cost only 3 time. Of course spending time does have an impact, as I will explain later.
The cost of the 5 different goods is related to their usefulness as a commodity: so, for example, a scroll costs less than an ox or a plough as it is arguably less useful.
In addition to the above goods, the final commodity available in the area is money, which is produced by selling grain to the mill and paying time too. The mill is the only place in the craft area where you cannot employ a worker. Money is used both as a joker for any colour cube, and as a commodity to progress through the church or buy VPs in the council.
The craft area is a core area of the game and clearly players will be faced with the decision whether to spend time to train up workers and obtain goods, or use up their valuable cubes instead. Using cubes penalises a player who wishes to travel, which is the other area where a lot of cubes are required; using workers and time instead means that a player’s workforce ages faster.
Each player has his own little farmyard board on which he houses his grain, and workers, and keeps track of the passing of time. Taking the grain harvest action requires a family member in the farmyard and produces two grain, or three grain if the player owns a plough and a horse. If he has an ox instead of a horse, he takes 4 grain.
As the game proceeds, time is used to generate different resources, and players keep track on a time chart on their farmyard board. Whenever 10 time steps have been taken, it is time for one meeple to meet his maker and this is done strictly by generation; thus the players have a need to obtain fresh meeples to continue playing. On the Family area, a player takes a cube to increase his family size and may place a “new” meeple from his supply into his farmyard. As the game progresses a player will work through all his “2” meeples, and then possibly all his “3” and “4” meeples. Whenever it is time for a meeple to pop off, a player has to choose the lowest-numbered meeples first, and the meeples are laid in one of two resting places on the board. The first is in the “Village Chronicle”: there are limited places here for meeples which have come from the Farmyard, the Craft area, the Church, etc. Getting buried here signifies a life of achievement, and players score increasing points for meeples in the Chronicles at the end of the game. Meeples which do not make it into the Chronicles quickly enough are buried in ignominy in the Village churchyard. Since the points from the Chronicle are significant (3 famed meeples gives 4 VPs, 4 gives 7 VPs, 5 gives 12 VPs) it is important for all players to place their younger meeples strategically in the right areas to make them die off where there are vacancies in the Chronicle; and also to find the right compromise between rapid acceleration to death, using lots of time points to pay for things; and the issue of having no meeples left at inopportune moments.
There is only one cube on the Market area and if taken it triggers a market day. At the beginning of each round, a number of market customer tiles are visible. These tiles show a simple customer order (one ox, or three grain, or a plough and a horse, etc) and a VP value. The player who takes the cube may pick any one of the available tiles and fulfil the order to take the tile and get the VPs at the end of the game. Subsequently, all players take turns to pass or pay a green cube and a time to fulfill one of the other available tiles, and this continues until all players have taken a token or passed, or the tokens are gone. The Market tiles are an effective way to convert goods to VPs, and of course the market is another area where players will interact and compete. One nice touch is that players can see 5 tiles ahead and consequently can plan future market days in advance.
The travel area of the board depicts 6 towns connected together by paths. To travel to the towns, players must pay a combination of 3 cubes together with a Wagon and 2 time. Expensive stuff. Each town visited gains the player a small reward – e.g. a coin, 3 VPs, 2 cubes of choice – and the visit is recorded with a counter. At the end of the game, players are rewarded for each town visited – 1 VP for one town, then 3, 6, 10, 14, and 18 points for further towns. It’s interesting how this VP pattern doesn’t follow the usual triangular mathematical series 1, 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, etc., – obviously modified after a lot of play testing!
Taking a cube here allows you to pay a brown cube or 3 time to add a meeple from your farmyard into a cloth bag which already contains 4 priest meeples. At the the end of each round, a mass is said. Nominally, 4 meeples are pulled from the bag at random and placed into the church, but players can pay a coin to ensure their own meeple is pulled out. All player meeples pulled out are placed into the church at the first of 4 windows. Players may then pay grain to advance any number of his meeples up one or several windows, thus promoting his meeple in prestige. At the end of Mass the player with the most meeples in church garners 2 points, and at the end of the game players earn 2, 3, 4 or 6 VPs per meeple depending on which rank it has achieved. Not an awful lot of points per meeple perhaps, but in some games people have scored highly by repeatedly putting meeples into the church.
The Council Chamber is very reminiscent of the royal favours track in Caylus. Entry into the chamber (upon taking a cube) requires 2 green cubes and 1 time or 1 time and 1 scroll, and places your meeple at the lowest level of the council, where you immediately receive the ring, which signifies that you go first next round. Moving your meeple higher up in the council costs 1 scroll or 2 green cubes plus 2-3 time depending on which stage you are at. As you go higher, your benefits increase: in the second stage you receive 2 cubes of your choice; in the third stage you can take any good (scroll, plough, ox, horse or wagon); and in the fourth and last stage you can pay one coin to gain 3 VPs. One nice touch is that whenever you take a cube you can choose not to move your meeple up and just get the benefit; also when taking the benefit you may (like in Caylus) take any of the previously earned benefits instead of the current one.
At the end of the game players earn 0, 2, 4, or 6 points for each meeple in positions 1-4.
The council is certainly an area to be neglected at you peril, in my opinion, since the benefits of having a meeple at the higher ranks are definitely worthwhile; of course, like in the church it is important not to have your meeple die off after investing so much to get it to a high rank!
At first glance, the well looks rather boring. There are no cubes here; as an alternative to taking a cube elsewhere, you instead discard three matching cubes to execute any action on the board.
What’s clear after a few games is that this can be a central part of the game. Firstly, towards the end of a round there will be only black plague cubes left on the board: these work like real cubes but you must pay 2 time to take them, and you may not want to (or may want your opponents to). Secondly, there may be no cubes left in key areas which you need to activate. So, saving up matching cubes and even selecting cubes to try and get a set of three is a key tactic to winning the game. Finally, if you are going for a strategy which uses the market (e.g. having a council member to allow you to pick up ox/horses and other goods easily) then the well can be used to have more than one market day per round.
Play continues with players selecting the above areas to activate until all cubes have been taken, after which the well action is no longer allowed and the round ends with Mass. Then, new cubes are laid out, and play continues. The game ends when either the Village Chronicle or the anonymous graves are full. The number of spaces available on both of these varies with the number of players, and the game plays out in around the time indicated on the box.
Village is a really good game. I like the fact that it has several fresh ideas: the use of the time mechanism, the multiple currencies in the game, the trade-offs between the investment of meeple resources onto the board and the need to grow your meeple “family”; and finally the fact that meeples are trained into jobs and left on the board, unlike a typical worker placement game where the meeples are retrieved at the end of each round. As with most good games there are several paths to victory: saving cubes and using Travel to garner VPs, generating coins and using the Council to get VPs; using the market and time to get VPs; and probably a combination of several of the above strategies! The game is interactive but not terribly conflictual: conflict with other players comes mainly in the form of taking cubes before they do or fulfilling market orders that other people want. Thematically, most of the elements fit together very well, and I particularly like the idea of training a worker up with time to do a job, and of course the fact that workers die and may become famous in death and earn you points. The concept of village life is actually quite believable and well done and the excellent game board really helps. There are harrowing decisions to make, particularly in terms of the timing for getting meeples into the Village Chronicle, and of course which cube to take when – bearing in mind that when you turn comes round again there may be no cubes left.
In conclusion, Village is a well-designed and balanced game with enough good ideas and originality to be worth buying. It is certainly under-publicised and I hope that its publication in several countries will help get it more recognition. Another success from the Brands, of whom I’m becoming a firm fan.