While many dice follow-ups of popular games are simplified versions of the originals, the same cannot be said here: if anything, this is a little more thinky and complex. But it certainly shares some traits with Village.
Fans of that game will recognise the graveyard and your dying citizens; the church, the traveller, the market and more. But the difference, as the title suggests, is that each player is building their own village rather than all living in the same one.
You should be able to find a copy of My Village for around £25, which is solid value for what you get in the box. You get five small village boards (one central and one for each player), 108 square cards, 100+ wooden bits and cardboard chits, plus 12 dice. As well as the rulebook you’ll also find a scoring notepad – always welcome in a euro game with lots of ways to score points (yes, it’s one of those).
Each round a certain amount of dice will be rolled by the start player, depending on the number of players. In turn order, players will take two of these dice and use them to get one, or several, actions. So the later in turn order you are, the less choice you’ll ultimately get each turn.
All the available actions you can take are marked with a banner, which is either black or white. Some are on your player board, but most are on the various buildings you can take from the central stock and add to your own village. Each banner has a number (or two) on it, showing the dice combination you need to be able to choose that action. If you go black, you can only do one action: if you go white, you can activate every white banner in your village that boasts the corresponding number.
Many actions have a time cost. Your village starts with five residents, but each time you’ve spent enough time to pass the grim reaper on your board one of them dies. They go to a central graveyard on the main board and after a certain amount of villagers die (between all players) the game ends. Other actions will have a cost in gold or resources, which can be collected from your fields, council and craft tiles as you add them.
These concepts are pretty easy to understand, and the theme carries pretty well throughout, but what makes the game a challenge to both play and teach is the sheer number of choices available from the get-go. A rough count suggests that the start player, if rolling a reasonable spread of dice, has close to 20 choices to pick their one action from: pretty daunting, even for experienced players. This does decrease once you start to decide on a strategy, of course.
You also need to consider schooling new citizens to replace your dying ones, as you can’t use areas effectively that don’t have a worker. And don’t forget the white banner combos you can create by taking the right village tiles.
None of these actions or choices are complex, but they are many and varied. So, while My Village is not a ‘hard’ game to teach per se, it’s a hard game to take in all at once and probably needs a good few turns of your first game to truly get a grip of.
The four sides
These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.
- The writer: While My Village borrows a lot from its predecessor, it is a very different game. The dice choosing mechanism is simple yet ingenious, forcing you to choose between several poor choices in order to mitigate their randomness – or to risk it and embrace it. Spending an action to become first player can feel like a wasted turn, but so can having to spend gold or resources to mitigate a weak choice; but leaving your fate in the hands of chance in a euro game is only for the very, very brave.
- The thinker: For me the game has two stages; deciding/executing your strategy, then deciding when you need the game to end to win. There are always two black dice on offer and many white ones; and taking black ones means having to progress time, making it another interesting decision. Players often fear the black dice and more time-heavy actions early on, usually in error; for it is at the end of the game they become a crucial way to hasten, or slow, the end game to your advantage.
- The trasher: Oh god, I HATE that damned tree! Many victory points you get during the game are placed on the ‘story tree’ on your board during the game. To make them safe you need to do a very boring ‘bank’ action (which can at least be done with any dice combo) – but this itself can only be done after you’ve done an even more boring ‘take 1 coin’ action on a previous turn. But hey, while it might be one of the dullest pairs of actions on the planet the plague itself rocks – and seeing someone lose five or six victory points through it makes up for the boring actions!
- The dabbler: My Village is a really lovely euro game, both mechanically and thematically, which also plays well within its suggested two hours and is good across all player numbers. But I worry that some newer or younger players will be put off by what can by a very tough first experience. I definitely think it’s worth saying that it’s a tough one at the start of the game, and helping less experienced players as you go through the game (or letting them take moves back) – even at your own expense. It’s so easy to forget some rules – for example, what happens if you don’t have a worker in a particular area.
My Village certainly won’t be for everyone: it is a thinky, sandbox, engine-building euro and that concept will send some gamers running to the hills. If that’s not your bag, you probably won’t have your mind changed here.
At the other end of the scale, some won’t like the lack of direct interaction. Personally I think the choice of dice (you can hate draft sometimes) and rushing/slowing the end game add enough quirks to keep everyone paying attention, but they’re hardly fisticuffs inducing.
There are also questions over possible replay value, as there a limited number of strategies and little to stop you choosing the one you want to go for. But this is similar in games such as Russian Railroads and Lewis & Clarke, both of which continue to find an audience; and My Village has a similarly fluid game length. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the possible overpowered nature of a pure market strategy alluded to by some, but having seen this well beaten on several occasions I’m reserving judgement.
And finally – the Grim Reaper standees are simply awful. It’s only in the box as fluff and would’ve been a bit of fun if it actually stood up to even the lightest of breezes but oh my – terrible. I’m sure it’s just a production error and hopefully it will be fixed in later editions, but how did it not get picked up in the preproduction process? Sloppy.
Quite simply, I’ve got shelves packed with great euro games and I couldn’t think of one I’d rather get rid of to let this take its place on the shelf. I know some who will disagree, but you can only have so many games – even if they’re all great. And I’m selling it to a friend, so hopefully I’ll get occasional visitation rights.
I would probably rank it, in terms of quality, above some other keepers too: it’s simply down to game time versus collection size and whether I’d play this before Terra Mystica, Caverna, Tzolk’in, Caylus or many other favourites. For me the answer is no, but My Village is still a fantastic euro game that will not be out of place in any game collection. I just can’t wait to retire so I can get more games played…