It’s 2:00pm Friday, March 16th, 2018. I’m at my desk doing a business, when Janine from the front desk walks through the office with a large wooden crate. Danger, confidential, and top secret are printed in bold red font down the side. She puts it on my desk, complains about her back, and walks off. I wonder what this is, I didn’t have any packages arriving today, did I? People in the surrounding cubicles stand up and apply standard social pressure; anything to break up their 9 to 5.
“Alright you vultures, I’ll open it,” I say, pulling out one of the several crowbars in my desk draw. It takes three strong cranks before the lid clatters to the floor, revealing 10 to 20 dirty purple vegetables. Turnips? Who would send me turnips? I start pulling them out and lining them up one by one on my desk. I begin to realise who would send these, and when I see a small box at the bottom, it was all but confirmed. This was a free prototype version of Village Pillage, a new 2-5 player board game designed by Peter C Hayward and Tom Lang and published by Jellybean Games.
How to Play
To win the game a single player needs to rise from Village Chief to ruler of the Turnip Kingdom – unrelated to the Mushroom Kingdom so put your lawsuits back in the closet. Like all forms of royalty, the kingdom (or queendom) is awarded to the first person to collect the three turnip related relics: Turnip Sceptre, Turnip Crown and Turnip Throne.
Before the beety battle for supremacy can begin, combatants must first set up the game by giving every player four cards, each representing a person living in their village. These cards come in one of four flavours: Farmer, Wall, Army, and Trader, and have printed conditions on them for when played against each of the other cards.
The players are also given a vault, and two turnips, the currency of the game, placing one in their turnip vault – noting that a vaulted turnip cannot be stolen, at least not easily. Finally shuffle the market deck, then draw and place the top four cards face up in the centre of the table. These market cards are nomadic people who can be added to your village. They act and play exactly like the starting villagers, only they’re substantially stronger.
Each round every player will play two cards from their hand face down, pointing at their two neighbouring players. It’s recommended you try to barter, negotiate, or intimidate your neighbours into playing a card beneficial for you – so a quick tip when playing, is to always remember your baseball bat.
When ready, all cards are flipped up and the effects on the cards are activated based on the card played by the opponent. For instance, if I played a Wall and you played an Army card, I would resolve the army effect on my card, and you would resolve the wall effect on yours. Just kidding, the army card doesn’t have a wall effect, sucker.
Cards are resolved in the order: Farmers, Walls, Armies, and then Traders. Therefore, if I play the Army card, and you play the Farmer card. Then you’d get three turnips from your farmer, only to have four turnips stolen away from you by my army later in the phase.
After all the effects are resolved, players retrieve their played cards. Unless that card was the target of a Skip effect. Other effects include:
- Gain: Take turnips from the supply and add to your stockpile.
- Bank: Move turnips from your stockpile into your vault. Max five turnips.
- Steal: Take turnips from your opponent’s stockpile. You cannot steal from their vault unless your card says so.
- Skip: The target card doesn’t get picked up at the end of the round, instead will be picked up after the next round.
- Buy Relic: Buy a turnip relic. These must be bought in order and cost more each relic.
- Buy Card: Pay the price as mentioned on the card and take a card from the market.
There are a few more rules dealing with timings of resolutions but otherwise this is it. The first player to three relics is crowned the winner.
Village Pillage is rock, paper, scissors, after its hit the gym, got a new job, and spent a week with five gay guys who’ve made over its entire life. However, it’s still a form of rock, paper, scissors which means that it’s dead easy to teach and learn and has all the associated mind games attached.
Only in rock, paper, scissors these mind games are easier to figure out as you’re limited to only three options. The Market in Village Pillage allows players to pick up as many cards – ergo options – as they want. Each card has different interactions with others, meaning that the game can get very deep very quickly. By default, there are four options, with the trader being terrible for anything but buying cards and relics. This creates moments where you need to sneak a trader past someone, knowing full well that you’ll be vulnerable to attack. It’s a fantastic risk or reward mechanism, that adds a new twist on the old formula.
The Market is also responsible for the great replayability, and ever changing meta in Village Pillage. With 20 market cards, our three player games only saw six or seven taken each game, meaning that every game we played we saw a different set of cards. Some games were like a Hong Kong prison and filled to the brim with thievery, while farmers were dominant in other games making it feel more like a race to the peak of turnip mountain.
One thing we’ve talked about previously and will continue to talk about in the future is short and long-term objectives. Village Pillage gives you the overall mission to get turnips and turnip relics, and the short-term objective of maximising the current turn. This is when we revisit the aforementioned mind games, as optimization is a combination of understanding your and your opponent’s best move towards victory. Then weighing your options to increase the effectiveness of your own turn, while diminishing the effectiveness of your opponents. THEN, considering whether your opponent is thinking what you’re thinking, and if so then what will they play. This cyclical in-depth mind-breaking soul-crushing thought process boils down to who gets more turnips.
It’s this silliness, and the lovable card art that extracts the meanness from the game. Also, a shout out to whomever designed the vault cards, from a UI perspective they’re amazing. They show max turnip limit of the vault, the price of relics, and the order that cards are resolved, all in an extremely friendly format.
If you’re interested in this game just be aware that it’s purely tactical. There’s no guarantee of what’s going to happen whenever the cards are revealed. This makes it near impossible to form any long-term strategy, except for gets more turnips. It’s like trying to write Shakespeare with a room full of monkeys. Sure, they’ll come to you with pieces of paper in their tiny hands, but whether they make sense, or are just full of faeces makes Shakespeare that much harder to write.
Another point of awareness is that the game can be mean. Because of the silliness of the theme, it never dips into the territory of personal attacks – at least not with me. This may also be because you always have the option of defending, therefore when you are attacked it feels like you messed up, rather than you being picked on.
The only real concern I found is when playing with more than three, you can no longer affect every player. Meaning the fourth or fifth players are out of your control, you can’t attack them while they’re weak, or attack them while they’re strong, or even attack them at all. This can be a cause for frustration with players, as you’re able to lose, not because you played bad, but because other players did.
Village Pillage is right up my alley. I enjoyed all my plays and highly recommend it when it hits Kickstarter on March 26th. I thought it would be too mean for my tastes but I’m not sure if I’ve evolved to a higher state of acceptance, or it was the theme, art, or turnips. Either way I didn’t feel the same vitriol that comes from a game like Coup. The endless mind games were fun, and lead to some great moments where I thought I had someone figured out, only for them to surprise me. I’m eagerly looking forward to getting my own copy of Village Pillage, a copy that has art for the Doctor and the Pickler and doesn’t make my hands smell like a camp fire every time we play.
Thanks for reading, I’m currently ranking all my board games in a best to worst list. You can see this games’ initial ranking below.
I was so close to referencing rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock, though I don’t know if I’d gain, or lose nerd cred for referencing Big Bang Theory.