Village (game review)

There’s a stack of games in our house we’ve said at some point or another that we’re probably going to sell. But before we do, I force us to play one or two more times to be sure we’re not making a terrible mistake and to try to think through why we didn’t enjoy the experience (if that’s still the case). THESE… are our stories.

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Village is the best game we’re getting rid of in this great clearing-out effort. In some ways it’s reminiscent of several games I really like: you have a lot of in-play move options and there are several ways to score. The theme is strong and organic, affecting all the choices you can make (Though I’m not entirely sure why we’re scoring our family of villagers—perhaps it’s about the family’s prosperity over time? Ah well.). You’re never unclear on the connections between the mechanical operations and the gestalt game concept. It’s not narrative, precisely, but it’s cogent and satisfying. (The only time this strong theming is a little silly is when someone dies shortly after completing their apparent life’s work: making a single wagon. Geez, that took a lot out of you. Wheelwrights have it hard.) There are a lot of bits and bobs to keep track of, but the play experience is well-designed, and I don’t find Village clumsy to interact with. This detailed review will give you information on the actual rule system, if you want that.

So why are we getting rid of what is in many ways an appealing game? Well, for a start I dislike that we’re not building anything substantive as we play. I suppose theoretically you’re building the prosperity of the Redmeeple clan or what have you over the generations, but mostly you’re scattering meeples, collecting resources, killing off meeples like this is Small World on a micro scale, etc. etc. I don’t really know terms, but my partner says this is a worker placement game, and that she’s not sure that we like that type as much as some others.

I do know that I prefer London or Rokoko, where I feel I’m building a city/suite of dresses and deck. Village also feels slightly like Castles of Burgundy to me. I think this sense of similarity derives from the shared ‘range of actions/build a thing within a board environment’ aspect of these games, but again, all of those do have some ‘grow your x’ element that doesn’t slip away from you. I suppose your placed meeples in Village are a little like that, seeing as they retain their capabilities and/or position from round to round as long as they live, but then they keep bloody dying on you. I know it’s silly, but I’d rather not kill off my meeples: I’m instinctively a creature-coddling rather than raw tactics sort of Magic the Gathering player (though oddly in Magic I’m decent at killing my darlings). I do think I’d like this game better if it didn’t mechanically demand meepledeath, both for resource accumulation and for dumb, subterranean sentimental reasons.

I don’t ONLY like games that let you build a tableaux or whatnot, but my mind codes Village as a somewhat broken example of the breed rather than, for example, a resources-and-goals game like Takenoko.

In terms of mechanics, I do think Village has a couple of weak points that aren’t wholly located it its not being what I want it to be. I don’t think the market works all that well. Everyone should be trying to keep a green cube in readiness against the coming of a market, and some of the goods that are due to come up in trade deals (you can see these deals approaching down the pipeline) on hand (though we never get through all that many deals). However given the rather tight resources of this game, this chafes a bit. You need everything: you can’t just have green cubes and wagons lying around in case. And if someone nabs the thing you’ve also been working towards, for you’re pretty SOL. (We’ve tended to neglect the market in previous games.)

I also find traveling too much of a resource-burden. It’s important to do because it gets you resources and a significant amount of points, but you need two or three cubes (so that’s two or three goes speny in acquiring them), another to make the necessary wagon (or two turns to acquire wagon components and another to play them), and then to take a turn to travel—and none of this is factoring in the DEATH CLOCK and meeple-degradation these steps entail. Everything is a damn ordeal in this game, and it makes Village feel a little chorish rather than gamiesh at points for me.

Village can be played with two, but it flows much better with more players. It’s a fairly pleasant game for three, but we’re largely looking for games that scale more elegantly between two to more. Since our household has only two to three people at a given time (barring guests), we really only want to give space to three player games we love rather than ones we ‘oh.’ It sounds dumb, but cheap and cheerful, tiny two-player card-games get more leeway from me than this great, bulky, travel-unfriendly space-hog of a box (on par with Diplomacy, Discworld and Rokoko) that comes at a fairly substantial price-point. If Through the Ages can be confined to a respectably shelf-deep box without overhang, why not this?

I find the art annoying. Why is the score track so much sharper than the images, which seem out of focus? Why do these villagers all look misshapen? Is that dude in front of the town hall sitting on a step or standing? Why is that even a judgment call? Why do my eyes hurt a little looking at this board, like its resolution is poor? Is this a printing thing?

Lastly, and wow this is petty, I weirdly suck at Village. My partner wins every time we play scherzo, and it’s not that fun for either of us. I did much better in tonight’s three-way game. My typical move is to work the town hall and to play significantly into the church, neglecting travel and marketing to do so. This time I reversed that and did better. I was also way more kill-happy.

I feel I could get better at Village if I varied my choices a little, which is to its credit: I like games where you can experiment with play styles, learn and grow. My favourite games I still don’t feel I play perfectly: there are more facets I’ve yet to really exploit, and I can sense that there are strategies I’ve yet to develop.

Ultimately Village suffers a little due to things outside its control. It it has a high trading value on BGG, making it prime swapping material, and it’s kind of reminiscent of many other games we have (but is somewhat less pleasing than these).

VERDICT: out the door in favour of Thurn und Taxis

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