Villagers from Sinister Fish Games is a card drafting, tableau and engine building card game. It has a solo solution for card drafting that makes it work. The production quality from the Kickstarter campaign bonuses made the unboxing quite the experience. I will be looking at this game from a solo only perspective as someone who typically hates card drafting games.
Why did I choose to back this game? Ultimately it was how well the Kickstarter campaign was run. The art, theme and wooden coins (not included with the base pledge) caught my attention. Including a solo mode pushed me over the edge and include a card drafting game in my collection.
The Solo Game
Solo is played a little different from the standard game of 2+. Playing solo you will verse the evil Countess. After a draft and build phase there is a rather punishing event phase with cards pulled from Summer and Winter decks. A Jester is given to infiltrate the Countess’s village and distract her to avoid doing one event card of your choosing.
Founders cards are given just as they are in games with 2+ players. These founders cards can be used to start building a village. The first phase is called the draft phase where villagers are chosen from “the road” a lineup of 6 villagers that changes each round. Every time a villager is chosen (based on the amount of food symbols in the current village +2) you must choose one card to give the Countess and replenish the missing cards.
After the recruiting limit is reached, the build phase begins. As many villagers can be placed in the village as there are building icons in the current village +2. Keeping in mind the tableau aspect of needing to create chains of workers and paying for any workers that have a padlock on them.
There are two scoring rounds after a certain amount of cards are used on the road. These scoring rounds are called the market phase. During the first market phase only gold on villager cards and the gold coin amount printed on the cards is totaled. In solo, this is also when the event decks switch from Summer to Winter. The second market phase marks the end of the game. You total the coins like you did in the first market phase, but this time you also add the silver printed coins on cards. These are usually cumulative bonuses (3 coins for every food icon in your village.)
My favorite new-to-me mechanic is unlocking villagers. A lot of villagers have a padlock on them. If you have the villager needed to unlock the padlock, then you can pay that villager from the bank. If your opponent has it, you must pay them. If nobody has the villager needed you can still unlock it, but must pay 2 gold to the bank.
There is a heavy set collection/tableau building mechanic, where you are making chains of villagers, the longer the chain the greater the rewards. You are only able to receive the benefits printed on the top card(s) as you build your chain you cover up the bonuses printed on the others.
I had to switch my strategy mid game during my first play-through. I originally thought I should choose to give the Countess cards without coins on them so she doesn’t receive points during the market phases. The event cards made that strategy obsolete fast.
At the end of the round cycle you have to draw a card for the Countess to put in her village. If the card has 10+ gold on it, you only need to draw one event card for the next round. If the card has 1-9 gold you have to draw 2 event cards. If the card you draw has no gold on it, you only have to draw 1 event card. Some rounds can be very unforgiving, if you receive three punishing event cards.
A lot must be considered when choosing which cards to give to the Countess. As I said before I made things difficult on myself the first game I played. Once I understood how the Countess and events worked I started figuring out how to manipulate the cards I give her village. A welcome twist solo card drafting. The Jester adds a fun push your luck mechanic to the game trying to figure out mathematically the best event to skip. I waited too long and was forced to use it in one of the Winter events.
There is a lot of strategy here to explore, even in the solo game. The art is great all around and the theme loosely fits into each aspect of the game. After playing three games, I am left wanting to play more. If I were to review it right now it would be very positive. The only downsides for me as a solo gamer is that I am already looking for more variety. The special cards and all of the expansions are not balanced for solo play. I will be looking to the board game geek forums for variants that can work those expansions into the solo game.