- For ages 7 and up (publisher suggests 12+)
- For 2 to 6 players
- Approximately 15 minutes to complete
- Active Listening & Communication
- Counting & Math
- Logical & Critical Decision Making
- Strategy & Tactics
- Hand/Resource Management
- Bluffing & Trading
- Child – Easy
- Adult – Easy
Theme & Narrative:
- Rebuild your small corner of the kingdom
- Gamer Geek approved!
- Parent Geek approved!
- Child Geek approved!
Congratulations! Your selfless service to the Crown and to the Kingdom have not gone unnoticed! You are hear by given a noble title a, a small castle (with a lovely view of the surrounding countryside), and several miles of land. With much excitement, you quickly bow to the King and travel to your new home only to find it in a state of total disrepair. The peasants are unhappy, the castle is leaning, and winter is soon approaching. If you want to keep your new home and make a name for yourself, you best clean up your lands, feed your people, and do it quickly.
Village in a Box (Kickstarter Version), designed by Peter Jackson and published via the Game Crafter, is comprised of 131 Location cards, 10 Character cards, and 3 Rule cards (double-sided). The illustrations for the Location cards (our name for the card type) depict different areas the player can build during the game. The illustrations include water, roads, buildings, forests, and other easy to identify landmarks that make it clear what each Location card is meant to represent. The Character cards each depict a role in the kingdom where the player’s land is located. All the cards are as durable as your standard playing card.
Note: We were provided the Kickstarter version of the game which comes with two game expansions. Specifically Water and People in a Box. If you chose to purchase Village in a Box, a number of additional cards will not come with it by default.
Game Set Up
To set up the game, first determine if you will be playing with the Character cards or not. The Character cards are explained in further detail later in the review. For now, remove the Character cards and put them back in the box. It’s easier to learn the game without using them at first.
Second, shuffle the very large deck of cards as best you can and deal to each player 6 Location cards face-down. Place the remaining deck off to one side, face-down. This will be the Location draw pile for the duration of the game.
That’s it for game set up. Begin!
Quick Tour of Your Land
Each Location card provides the name of the location, the number of victory points it’s worth, and requirements that must be met before it can be played. Requirements include 1 or more Location cards that are either individual cards or larger sets of cards.
Location cards that require an additional 1 or more Location cards to be played are kept together. This pile of cards is referred to as a Location stack. Location stacks are the equivalent to a technology tree (also referred to as a “tech tree”). A technology tree displays the requirements that must be met to create an upgraded Location. A bigger and better upgrade often results in more victory points.
Some Location cards have a special ability that is available to the player once it’s played. As long as the Location card is not buried, the player can use the special ability whenever and however they like. A Location card is considered buried when it’s played under 1 or more Location cards in a Location stack. Each Location card can only be used once if it’s part of another Location card’s requirement. For example, you could not use the same “Road” Location card to build 2 separate “Gate” Location cards.
Village in a Box is played in rounds with no set number of rounds per game. There are not turns in the game. Instead, a round is broken down into phases where each player takes their actions simultaneously. A typical game round is summarized here.
Phase 1: Play Location Cards
A player’s hand will consist of 6 or more Location cards. Any Location cards the player can play in front of them should be done now. There is no right or wrong way to play cards, but whatever method is used should be easy to view and organized. We used the following method that worked brilliantly.
Players should play and organize Location stacks close to them, making sure the point values for all the Location cards that are part of the Location stack are visible. Location cards not yet part of a stack should be played above the Location stacks in rows and columns, organized however the player likes. These Locations are considered unused and might be susceptible to an opponent’s attack. When an individual Location card can be used in a Location stack, it’s moved from the above rows to the below stacks. It’s also possible to move 1 or more Location stacks underneath another Location card to create even bigger Location stacks.
This method takes up a bit more table space but it provides 2 important benefits. First, it helps the player keep track of how many points, Locations, and abilities they have available to them. Second, this method of organization also allows other players to quickly scan the table to see what is available for a possible trade.
Regardless of what method is used (ours or your own), where the players place their Location cards and organize them is refereed to as the player’s “village”.
IMPORTANT: Location cards do not need to be played so road and water illustration features match. They simply won’t.
After all the players have played all the Location cards from their hand and organized their playing area according to any new Location stacks, the next phase begins.
Phase 2: Trade
Players may trade any cards in their hand and any Location cards currently in play. Trades are done at the table and with everyone involved, although a player can choose to only work with one other opponent if they like. Players can trade for cards they can use right away or they think they can use later. The only restriction is trading Location stacks. The top-most card of a Trading stack can be traded, but any cards that are buried in the stack are unavailable unless the entire Location stack is traded.
After cards are traded and even during trades, players can continue to play Location cards to the table and build Location stacks. After all the players agree they can no longer play any cards or want to trade, the next phase begins.
Phase 3: Discard and Draw
If the player has any cards left in their hand, they must discard down to a maximum of 2 Location cards. It’s the player’s choice which cards are kept. If only 1 Location card remains, the choice is pretty simple. If all the Location cards were played from the player’s hand, there is no decision to be made.
All discarded cards are collected, shuffled, and placed on the bottom of the Location draw pile. Then 6 Location cards from the top of the Location draw pile are dealt to each player. At minimum, each player will have 6 cards in their hand. Depending on some of the Location cards the player has in front of them and the number of cards they kept, a new hand could consists of 7 or more Location cards.
This concludes the round. A new round now begins starting with phase 1 noted above.
Endgame and a Noble Victory
The game continues until 1 player has earned 20 or more points during phase 1 or phase 2 of a round. This triggers the endgame where all the other players need to trade and build like mad to make as many points as possible before the end of the round. When the round ends, all the players count the number of victory points earned. The player with the most points wins the game.
Playing with People (in a Box)
The People in a Box expansion includes 10 roles that a player can take on. During game set up, 1 Character card is dealt face-down to each player. Players should read their Character card carefully and then place them face-down in front of them. Each Character card will provide the player with a special ability, but only when the player reveals their Character card to their opponents. This is done by flipping over the Character card, announcing the use of the ability, and resolving it. The Character card then remains in play and face-up for the duration of the game.
Each of the Characters are summarized here:
- The King: Immune to all Character effects
- The Princess: Force every player to give 1 played card once per game
- The Chancellor: Discard 1 card from your hand and draw 1 card from the Location card pile once per round
- The Bishop: Play 1 card to opponent’s village, take a look at their hand, and then take 1 card
- The Merchant: “Road” Location cards are worth 3 victory points when used to create the “Market” Location card
- The Duchess: Force 1 player to trade hands at the end of the round
- The Cook: Receive +1 victory points for every “Farm”, “Shepherd”, and “Fishermen” Location in the player’s village
- The Warlord: Discard 1 unused Location card worth 0 or 1 victory points from 1 opponent per round
- The Outlaw: Receive +1 victory points for every “Lodge” Location card played in every village
- The Peasant: Ignore the need for a “Hut” Location card in any Location card’s build requirements (i.e. you don’t need to have a “Hut” Location card in play, ever)
Note: The Character card does not count towards the player’s hand size.
According to the game’s designer, and contrary to my statement about attempting to match road and water illustration features on the Location cards, it would appear to be technically possible to link Location cards together. Designer, Peter Jackson, explained it in a recent email to me.
By the way, a little easter egg…the little paths all actually do connect, but you’ll have to rotate the cards on the table to make everything fit together–not all edges will be parallel. But I did make sure that every card with 2 requirements had two paths, for example, and every card has one extra path for whenever it’s used, itself, as a requirement. So it’s mathematically possible! I believe some friends have actually mapped out all cards; there should be precisely enough for every building to be built, except for the thieves & raider.
Interesting! So Village in a Box is also a puzzle in a box! Give it a try if you are a puzzle lover.
When playing with just 2 players, consider raising the endgame victory point requirement from 20 victory points to 40 victory points. This will offer the players an opportunity to play a longer game, trade more, and create more interesting Location stacks. Raising the endgame victory point requirement will increase the duration of the game, but not significantly enough to make the game feel like it’s dragging.
The Child Geeks loved building their little corner of the kingdom. The easy game rules made it possible for all our Child Geeks to quickly learn how to play the game and get involved within a few minutes. The only aspect of the game they did not fully grasp was the value of their trades. By and large, most trades for a card were based on the Child Geek’s immediate need versus any short or long-term goal. Not all that important in the end since the game is only about 10 to 15 minutes long, but I did challenge the Child Geeks to consider their trades more carefully. In response, one Child Geek said, “It’s OK if you trade some cards to the enemy for a card you want. You know that every card being traded is going to be used, so why not get what you can before the game ends?” Actually, that’s a really good point, so I stopped giving the Child Geeks advice. Another Child Geek said, “What I really like about this game is how easy it is to build things. What I hate about this game is not having the right cards to build what I want!” Frustration over missing cards and exaltation over building large Location stacks went hand in hand during every game, leaving each Child Geek feeling tossed, turned, and thoroughly dizzy. They loved it. All the Child Geeks voted to approved Village in a Box.
The Parent Geeks went about playing the game in a much more pragmatic way, focusing on building specific Location stacks for the points rather than the thrill of building what they wanted. According to one Parent Geek, “This is a fun game. I feel it should be played with tiles, but the cards work perfectly.” Another Parent Geek said, “The only thing I don’t like about the game is that I cannot actually see my villages growing. The space in front of me with all my cards looks like I’m playing a game of Solitaire instead of building a little corner of a larger kingdom.” While all the Parent Geeks enjoyed the easy game play, they all unanimously agreed that the most difficult aspect of the game was the trading. As one Parent Geek put it, “You need the cards your opponents have and they need yours. The trick is finding that sweet spot where everyone agrees to the trade. That’s really hard to find. Most of the time I feel like I’m being cheated or spending a lot of time convincing another player they are getting a good deal.” Good trades or not, all the Parent Geeks found Village in a Box to be a quick and entertaining card game they all enjoyed with friends and family.
The Gamer Geeks raided Village in a Box and did their very best to find something they didn’t like. The only aspect of the game they didn’t care for was how boring it felt after playing it 5 times in a row. Five games, back to back. According to one Gamer Geek, “I know we just played this game a lot, but I think it gets pretty repetitive after you play it 2 or more times in a row.” To which another Gamer Geek said, “Agreed. I think this game is perfect for a game filler or as a starter. But I can’t see myself wanting to play this game more than 2 or 3 times in an evening.” When the Character cards were introduced, the Gamer Geeks found that the game play changed, but not enough to breath new life into it. As one Gamer Geek said, “These Character card buy the game a few more plays, but no more.” So we counted up the number of plays and the total was 9. Nine times the Gamer Geeks played the game and when they considered that, they had to smile. One Gamer Geek said it best when he stated, “I guess that means this game is Gamer Geek approved. If it can keep our interest that long, it’s worth a thumbs up from me.” All the Gamer Geeks voted to approve Village in a Box and asked that the game not be played for at least 1 week.
Village in a Box was a lot of fun for me. I have played this card game more times than I care to count ever since it arrived at my door step. I don’t normally play games as soon as they arrive, but my two oldest little geeks took immediate interest and wanted to play it. So we did and we didn’t stop for a good hour after we cracked it open. The game play is straight forward, but done in such an elegant way that it makes one feel very involved right from the start. As the game progresses, the player’s village grows and grows. The victory points are nice, but the real kick comes from building onto the village, adding new features, and creating larger and larger structures.
The individual Location card abilities were a secondary concern for most of our players, including myself. You don’t tend to build towards an ability. It’s more of a perk than anything else. The proverbial carrot is the victory points. Don’t get me wrong, the special abilities are nice and can do a lot to disrupt an opponent or give the player a small edge in the game, but they will very seldomly be the key to a player’s victory. Still, I really liked the fact that they were there. It reminded me of my early days with Warcraft and the Sim City computer video games. When you built larger and more complex structures, they often came with bonuses that made them all the more interesting to use.
Trading is, by far, the most interesting aspect of the game and the most cutthroat. You can build your village with the cards you are dealt each round, but not quickly. You will need to trade to reduce the amount of time it will take to build and to reach your goal, but all of your opponents know this and are after the same thing. This makes each trade something of a nail-biter. Do you trade this Location card for the two your opponent is offering? Obviously, they don’t need what they are suggesting for the trade and clearly want what you have. How badly do they want it, you wonder? Or, better yet, how badly do you need those cards the opponent is offering you? Since there is a lot of information visible on the table and the number of victory points each player has at the moment can quickly be calculated, expect trading to be shrewd and brisk.
And therein lies the game’s Achilles Heel, if you will. Once a player learns the requirements for all the Location cards, trading becomes either stagnant or intolerably gridlocked. However, I must point out that this only happened with the Gamer Geeks after several games and some impressive ninja-like memorization skills. Our other groups either didn’t bother to memorize the Location building requirements or never took the game seriously enough to think it was worth doing so in the first place. This is a very light game, after all. Just be aware that one of the most complex aspects of the game can wink out of existence as soon as players start taking the trading portion too seriously or not at all.
The Character cards add an interesting twist without upsetting the game’s subtleness. I do fear that the Character cards unbalance the game a bit, however, and should not be used unless players are in the mood for something different. The “Outlaw” and the “Peasant” Character cards, for example, tend to always give their owners an advantage that is hard to overcome. Since the Character cards are nothing more than an expansion, they can easily be ignored, which many of our players did. The core game was plenty and entertained all. There is just enough luck and randomness to make every game play differently and offer new Location cards to work on.
This game is simple enough to teach to Child Geeks and non-gamer with ease, engaging enough to keep casual gamers entertained, and complex enough to make the Gamer Geeks consider the pros and cons of each card they play or trade for. There is something for everyone in this microgame. All of our players liked it and so did I. If you are looking for a great game filler or a great gateway game, do sit down and play Village in a Box when you get the chance.
This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.