We're All Gonna Die: A Review of Village

Today we're going to review the Kennerspiel des Jahres-winning board game Village, a sort-of worker-placement game from designers Inka and Markus Brand, and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. Let's take a look.

You're part of a family, trying to rise to prominence in your village. But, to quote the great musician Joe Henry, "Time is a lion, and you are a lamb."

The Gameplay

You have a number of family members with numbers on them (4 x 1s, 3 x 2s, 2 x 3s, 2 x 4s), and you'll be sending them out to do various tasks in the Village, which will translate into VPs. Hopefully. 

 It tolls for thee...

It tolls for thee...

Perhaps the most unique mechanism in Village is that many of the tasks on the board cost Time--it's one of the numerous commodities in the game. Each player has a Time board with 10 spaces on it. As you spend Time throughout the game, you move a marker along the Time board. Whenever the marker moves across the 10th space, you have to kill off a family member--and you have to kill family members with the #1 before #2, and then #2 before #3, and so on. 

The game board holds different spaces where your family members do things. At the beginning of the turn, each space is seeded with a certain number of cubes (depending on the space and the number of players), drawn randomly from a bag. 

Turns are "simple": You grab an available cube and them you can do the action on the space.

ย 

  • Grain Harvest: lets you harvest grain, as long as you have a family member on your farmyard. Two bags as a base. Three if you own a horse and plow. And four if you own an ox and plow.
  • Family: lets you add a family member--the lowest available number--and add it to your farmyard. Instead of adding a family member, you can use this space to take a family member back from any other space (other than a graveyard), and put it back on your farmyard. 
  • Crafts: lets you produce a good in one of five different buildings, paying either with time or goods. You can get a wagon, horse, ox, scroll, plow, or exchange grain for gold. 
  • Market: triggers a market day. Whoever triggers this gets to serve one of the five available customers for free. Each customer wants something different, and will give different VP rewards. You might get 3 VPs for turning in three bags of grain. Or a horse and plow might get you 6 VPs. You lose the items (you're "selling" them to the customer). In turn order, every other player gets a chance to serve a customer, but everyone else has to pay a green cube. So everyone serves a customer or passes, and it wraps back around and if there are still customers, players can continue serving them in turn order. (After the very first customer, everyone has to pay a green cube, including the player who triggered the market day.) This continues until all five customers have been served or everyone has passed. 
  • Travel: lets you send a family member on a journey. You either start a member in one of the two starting cities, or move a member already out and traveling. You go from city to city with each activation, paying the cost to move and receiving the reward. You can only get the reward for each city once, but you can have multiple family members traveling through that Travel area at the same time. 
  • Council Chamber: Here you either take a family member and place him in the first spot of the council chamber--paying one Time and two green Influence cubes, or one Time and one Scroll. If you already have a family member in the chamber, you can move that person up and pay the cost. For both of those actions, you take the action of that spot or any lower spot. If you already have a person in the chamber, you can perform an action without having to pay the cost, as long as you don't move up. The actions are take starting player, take two Influence cubes of your choice, take a goods tile of your choice, or exchange one coin for three VPs. 
  • Church: Lets you add one family member from your farmyard to the black bag. You must pay either a brown Influence cube or three Time. 
  • Well: You can choose not to take a cube (this is the only time that's true), and instead pay three cubes of the same color to take any action on the board.
 the chronicle

the chronicle

As for those cubes you take: You keep those. Unless you grab a black cube, in which case you still do the action on the space, but you also have to toss the cube back in the bag and move the marker on the Time track ahead two spaces. 

You don't have a choice about taking a cube (unless you use the Well), and you can take any available cube on that space. But sometimes you have to take a plague cube because you really want that space. 

Or sometimes you take one strategically because you want to kill off a family member. That's because there is a Village Chronicle on the board, which records deaths and, depending on how many family members you have in the Chronicle, you can earn VPs. It's sectioned off, so family members who die while traveling go to one section, and ones who die in the crafting section go to that section of the Chronicle. Once a certain section of the Chronicle is full, family members who die are buried in a pauper's grave by the church for no VPs. 

A round ends when all of the cubes have been taken. Then there's a Mass. In the church you could pay to put a family member in the black bag. There are always 4 black monks in the bag, too. Someone draws four pieces from the bag, and any player pieces are put into the lowest section of the church. Before you begin drawing, any player with a family member in the bag can pay one coin to make sure one of their family members makes it out and into the church. This begins with the starting player and moves clockwise. So if four family members are "bought" before it gets to you, tough noogies. Now players with family members in the church can pay resources to move them up in the church. This accomplishes two things. First, if you have people still alive in the church at game end, you earn VPs. Second, whoever has the most family memebers in the church earns 2 VPs. In case of a tie, it's the highest-ranking member. 

The game ends in one of two ways: either the last spot on the Village Chronicle is filled, or the last spot on the last pauper's grave space is filled. 

 Travel!

Travel!

Final scoring includes the number of cities your family members have visited while traveling, how high your surviving members are in the Council Chamber and the Church. Then you count the members in the Chronicle and possibly award VPs. Then you count the customer tiles, most of which grant end-of-game VPs. And finally, coins are worth one VP each. 

The Verdict

As you can see, there's a whole lot going on here, and it might take a game or two to really get a feel for what's going on, and how it all fits together. 

But once you do, it's fairly straightforward. 

I said this is a sort-of worker-placement game, but really it's an action-selection game. You're not placing down workers; you're taking action cubes and then doing the action, which might include placing a family member. Also, in most worker-placement games you want to get more workers because that means you get to take more actions. But that's not true here, since there are a fixed number of actions available each round (though the Well messes with that number, too), regardless of the number of family members you have. Also, traditional worker-placement games have "trained" us to keep them alive, by feeding them or whatever. Here there are good, solid reasons to let people die. A shrewdly timed death can yield numerous VPs. Sorry, grandma! 

 customers!

customers!

One of my favorite mechanisms is the way cubes are seeded onto the action spaces. It makes every turn different because the valuation of the spot is different. Maybe you really need a green cube to serve that customer in the Market, and the only spot with a green cube is the Church. You were going to get a new family member, but you change tactics midstream based on that green cube. I love games where you have a plan, but you have to be flexible with the plan based on others' actions, or some aspect of the board changing. 

My one complaint is that I'm not sure how viable the Travel path to victory is. I've tried it. I've seen other people try it. And I have yet to see someone win using it. It's expensive to Travel, and even though you get VPs and rewards for it, it just doesn't seem as strong as other routes. (I'm SURE plenty of people have won or seen someone win using Travel. I'm just saying I've never seen it any of my games.) Both expansions (Village Inn and Village Port) seem to make Travel more viable. I'll be reviewing Village Port on Thursday, so stay tuned. 

Whatever you want to call the main mechanism, Village is a great Euro with little luck, interesting decisions, clever mechanisms, and a perfect play time. 

Thanks for reading! have you played Village? What are your thoughts? Be sure to check back on Thursday for my thoughts on the new expansion Village Port.