I get offered a lot of prototypes to preview for Kickstarter campaigns. I turn many of them down, and the ones I do preview I do not often end up backing. Some, though, I know I am going to back from the very first play. Villagers, from UK studio Sinister Fish Games, was one of those games.
From it's stark, clean art work, to superb graphic design, the prototype sings quality, and that's just the beginning.
You play some games and you can sort of see how the designer came up with some of the ideas and put it together, other games stun you with their complexity. Villagers sits somewhere in the middle of this, as there are definite paths in design that stand out and make sense, the cleverness that blows me away is how tight and smooth an experience it is. I'm sure it's technically maths that is behind this but I prefer to think of it as voodoo.
Villagers is a card drafting and tableau building game. There is a line of six villagers that you can draft on your turn. You draft one card at a time up to your drafting limit. This starts at two, but you can increase this by drafting villagers that have a food icon. After drafting you have the building phase. Similarly to the drafting limit, your building limit starts at two, but can be increased by building villagers with house icons. Both drafting and building have a top limit of five.
There is a clever interplay between cards. Each card has a resource type and this is shown on the back of the card as well as the front. On the front there is a job title in bold, which indicates what this card is, there may also be some titles in plain text before and/or after the card title. These indicate a stacking order. Certain cards need to be played over the top of old cards, often improving benefits but covering the old benefits too, making them obsolete.
Some card need to be 'unlocked' to play by other specific cards - either owned by yourself or the other players, but you must pay to use them off course.
As your tableau grows so do the things you can do; special cards allow you to earn money from your cards and a clever timing system activates two markets in the game, the second being the final scoring. You can delay this to a degree by trading cards in your hand for basic villagers (often the starting block for a stack) but the system gives you a good idea of how long you have left in the game.
Keeping an eye on the other players villages is essential as you may be able to swipe high scoring cards they need before they can grab them, or realise you are aiming for the same goals.
I was really really impressed with Villagers, as were the people I played with. I haven't played at four players but at two and three it works brilliantly and it's a game I will absolutely back. One of the guys who tested it with me is taking his first Kickstarter steps with Villagers too!
If you like clever, medium weight games, that offer more than their components let on they you need to check out Villagers on Kickstarter ASAP! At the time of writing, the project has just passed its pledge target of £7,660.