Villagers is a compact card drafting game that has a good amount of depth. Whilst it’s simple in theory, there are lots of ways to optimise your villagers, create synergy and get the most points. The villager chains are by far the best part of the game and when you can finally place your optimum villager, it’s a great feeling. Villagers has a nice solo mode too that’s a nice introduction to the game (which can feel a bit overwhelming to learn) and contains all the key components.
I love games that create special components for solo play and Villagers is one of these games. You will be playing against The Countess, a royal relic holding on to the last remnants of the feudal era. There are two decks of event cards that The Countess will play every round (first from Summer then Winter) to hamper your village. This includes making you pay her money and stealing your villagers (which really isn’t cool and she won’t accept a basic villager). You also have a Joker card which is a one-time use card that lets you discard one of the Countess’ events when it’s revealed.
Otherwise the game proceeds as a multiplayer one, you set up the road that you can draft from. You replace those drafted cards from the row above it until the first and second market cards are revealed and you get a payout each time. After the second market phase, the game ends and whoever has the most money wins.
As it goes with the multiplayer game, after drafting you can build your village and create villager chains (e.g. Miner + Seeker + Spelunker + Jeweller) and you often need certain villagers to unlock others.
You can draft from the road, the row above the road or replace someone in your hand for a basic villager. At the end of drafting you have the option of placing a coin on a villager on the road and everyone else gets cleared and replaced from the main deck. The Countess doesn’t take this action. But it lets you save a villager for the future, and the coin won’t be discarded so they can indefinitely stay (though if the Countess gets the villager, she’ll also get the money).
The key difference in the solo game are the event cards and every draft the Countess adds someone to her village (ignoring chaining rules and padlocks). Depending on the gold value of the villager she drafted, she plays at least one event card (up to 3 if you reveal a villager with a gold value of 10). This is where things begin to snowball cause the events are pretty impactful and you end up giving a lot of stuff to her. Since she scores for all her villagers, perhaps it’s a good thing that you can choose a bad card for her. But generally I prefer when the Automa has criteria for how you choose their actions.
You should make sure you have a lot of space cause your village and the Countess’ village will end up spreading across the table. It’s nice that you still get to build your village as normal, drafting and building based on how much food and housing icons you have. Like in a multiplayer game, it’s great when you get your chains going and you finally get that villager that unlocks like 10 people. If you need a villager that the Countess has you have to pay her to use them. Otherwise you get the money if you have the villager.
You continue each round drafting and building until you reach the second market on the top row. Hopefully by this point you have lots of solid chains and will be making key decisions about the most profitable chains (as you won’t be short on cards). The solitary villagers continue to be useful and another note is that you don’t use Special villagers in solo play. In the second market phase you score both silver and gold coin symbols and once it’s all said and done you compare scores with the Countess and see if you’ve defeated her (and she’s no slouch). If you want more of a challenge you can give Countess more money or have her draw lots of event cards each time (but really there’s no need for that).
A Tale Of Two Villages
Despite being quite a compact game, you need a lot of space for the solo mode. This isn’t necessarily bad but there can be a lot of cards on the table and it may be hard to keep track of. The core gameplay is the same as the multiplayer game, with the key components that make it fun, namely the chaining of villagers. You can manipulate solo Villagers more than most games given that you draft for the Countess and you get first pick of the villagers.
There’s lots of space to learn and improve at the game as you learn the villagers and find out which chains are the best. Especially near the end of the game when you have lots of options but you need to pick the best ones. Villagers is a very charming game, and the cartoonish villainy of the Countess is fun to play against. You will probably start itching for a multiplayer game eventually (you can’t really replicate the competition for certain villagers), but it’s definitely a very serviceable solo version of the game.