An evil countess tries to build a better village than you, in a land where some sort of plague destroyed all other villagers. That's more or less the backstory for Villagers, a small and fast little draft and tableau building board game.
Villagers was one of my first ever kickstarter projects I backed (which since drilled a big hole into my budget), so I was happy when I received it in the mail. The first euphoria has since settled and I'm now able to give a more rational review of the game.
Be aware that some of the content of the game is kickstarter exclusive (the wodden tokens for example), but they might be available in retail at a later time.
The quality of the components is really good. The cardboard pieces are thick and sturdy, the cards have a nice finish and the wooden tokens are a nice extra. The game even includes the most important thing for a card game: dividers. And not just flimsy cardboard ones (I'm looking at you Legendary: A Marvel Deck-Building Game) but they are thick cardboard ones, that even has a list of all the cards on the backside. Why can't every card game include dividers? That is literary the first thing I do with every card game, because it removes so much time from setup.
A bit disapointing is the first player marker. The standard version is just a card. This can be overlooked quite easily within all the other cards. In other games you always have some sort of cardboard token, so I would have expected one here too. Of couse if you get the kickstarter edition, you get the wooden marker, but for the retail version this is a bit disapointing.
Another good point is, that you will be able to fit everything in the provided box and there is little to no unused space. It even fits sleeved cards, when you but the tokens to the side of the box - there is just exactly enough room between the inner small boxes and the bottom lid, when all the cardboard punchouts are removed. The only downside is, that the rulebook will be banged up after just a few uses, because it will hit the upper lid of the box where there are small lips to elevate the upper part of the box a bit to make room for some text around the box.
The artwork is nice and clean and the text is sharp and can be read from afar quite clearly - which is always a plus in these type of games. The googly eyes might be a bit off-putting to some people.
I've also got the wooden money tokens from the kickstarter which are also really nice. I'm happy that they did go for wood instead of plastic - a nice touch in todays world, where we should keep track of this stuff (although saying that is a bit hypocritical, when I look at the mountain of plastic minis from my Zombicide Invader kickstarter). They feel nice and heavy. You have to poor them out of their nice little chest for playing though as it is quite full and searching for the right coin within the small box is probably not the best idea.
The coins are slightly brighter than their cardboard counterpart, but that isn't a big issue as you probably don't need to mix them together anyway. It has probably to do with the process of coloring wood. You just can't have the same exact color on it.
The solo gameplay is mostly like the multiplayer game. Instead of having a real-life person as opponent you will play against an AI: the aforementioned Countess. There isn't a complicated automa to follow. You control her draft and she will provide additional gameplay via events, which each is really simple to understand and implement. The challenge mostly arises from the provided cards in the market and the current events. The game at this point feels like a puzzle.
I've prepared a playthrough video for you to watch and get a better understanding on how the game plays in solitaire.
The obvious comparision is probably Imperial Settlers. In both games you draft cards to build into your village. Whereas Imperial Settlers is an engine builder and resource managment game on top of that, Villagers keeps it simpler by having you just handle one resource. The drafting is also much simpler, especially in solitaire, so it is a good game to play with younger players or less experienced ones. It also plays fairly short so you get more games in.
The card pool is limited and you will probably see all villagers in every game. That probably comes from the fact, that you will use the reserve more extensively than you would in a 3-5 player game. You can select what the countess get (apart from the random card she gets in the event phase) so you will be able to always select the best cards for yourself. You can even safe it for the next round if you run out of draft actions. There is no other player that is snatching the cards from you, so you rarely have to adapt your strategy. This makes the game a bit more puzzly than I anticipated. You just try to get all the best villagers into your village, and what changes from game to game is the order you get them. There is some randomness in what the Countess gets from the reserve during the event phase, that might thwart your plans, but this was a very rare occasion. Since having villagers in your village that do nothing (apart from giving you money at the end of the game) you can just add them to your village without a downside. In Imperial Settlers every card has to serve a purpose to keep your engine going, this is not the case here. If you like a game to be a bit more like a puzzle, Villagers will scratch that itch for you.
The game feels also a bit fiddly in some parts. You have to remember to refresh the market row with reserve cards and to flip a card in the event phase, something I forget constantly but might go away with more routine. All in all the fiddliness isn't too much - less so than in Imperial Settlers. I was disappointed to not find a player aid for counteracting that. Speaking of which: It is nice that they added Player Aids, but to get the full information you will need 3 separate cards. I get, that fitting all this information on one single card might reduce the font-size too much and it may be harder to read, but there could have been maybe a better solution. Maybe the back of the rulebook?
Also speaking of the event cards. There is a nice variety of cards in both winter and summer decks. No card is the same. What is a bummer though, that there are not more cards for the winter deck, to create more variety during gameplay. You hit the first market phase on turn 2 almost guaranteed. So you will se at most 6 summer events. Given the amount of summer cards in total, there is a nice variety and it is very unlikely you get the same summer cards in every playthrough. The winter deck however, you will probably see most of the cards (even more so, when playing the harder version, when there is one less card in the deck). Here I would have hoped to see more cards, just to get more variety.
If you want to get the game for solitaire play only, be aware that all the extra cards from the expansion should not be included in the game. This was the biggest bummer for me, to not be able to play with all the cards, especially the development cards. These alter the gameplay the most in my opinion and might force you into different strategies from game to game (and thus providing more replayability) to get the bonus - which you get every turn and can add up very quickly.
Villagers play quick though, so you can easily get multiple games into one session easily. This puts it also near Onirim category, where the gameplay is quick and puzzly. Be aware though, that this game is quite the tablehog.