Dicebreaker is Eurogamer's newest sister site, a hub for all things tabletop gaming: board games, card games, pen-and-paper roleplaying, miniatures and more. The Dicebreaker YouTube channel just launched, with a website to follow in the coming months. Dicebreaker Recommends is a new regular Eurogamer column from Johnny Chiodini, introducing us to a must-play game from the realm of the physical.
There's a moment I like to look for whenever I play a tabletop game. You do have to actively look for it, as it's very easily missed otherwise - it's the moment when the players shift their chairs and start leaning over the game in play. It's often quite subtle, to the extent most people seem unaware they've done it at all, but it's a brilliant moment nonetheless. It's the moment when the game literally shifts; when everybody stops sitting quite so comfortably and starts paying more attention, and suddenly the atmosphere in the room is quite different.
Villagers is a game made for that moment. It's an accessible, unassuming card game about starting a village and slowly laying the foundations for skilled labourers to ply their trades. Drafting a miner and adding them to your settlement, for instance, enables you to put down a blacksmith. Blacksmiths, for their part, make it possible for all sorts of characters to set up shop in your blossoming village; you might want to work up to having a jeweller in town, say, or maybe you can add that cooper you've been holding onto for a couple of turns - assuming there's a carpenter to support said cooper in his trade, that is.
It's a game of small and pleasant progressions with a very safe, gentle theme and a rich art style - but it's also a game of considerable tactical depth. Players draft their villagers from the same pool of cards each turn and, with only two copies of each card in the deck, competition for key figures soon gets fierce. If you fail to bag yourself a blacksmith, for instance, you can still player a jeweller or a cooper - you just have to pay the opponent who does have a blacksmith for the privilege. It's galling, to say the least.
With some cards triggering bonus scoring effects or increasing the number of cards you can draw or play each turn, there's a lot to think about and so each new game of Villagers draws slowly, inexorably toward that moment when it's no longer just about drafting nice-looking villagers and building a well rounded settlement, it's about cutting your opponents off at the pass, squeezing every last point out of the villagers you have and getting one over on the other guy(s) however you can.
All this is to say it's very good, but if you'd like to see for yourself, there's a full review embedded in this article. If you like what you see, there's plenty more over on Dicebreaker.