The game primarily consists of one hundred cards. These are divided into four types—Buildings, Challenges, Citizens, and Heroes. The purple-coloured Building cards are each marked with a cost in gold, a Victory Point award for the game’s end, the title of the Villager it can be paired with for more Victory Points, and in some cases, some special text. The pairing and the special text is for the Advanced Rules. For example, the Farm costs three Gold, awards three Victory points, and can be paired with the Farmer for more Victory Points. In comparison, the Castle costs six Gold, awards four Victory points, is paired with the Lord, and grants a bonus to recruit rolls. The red-coloured Challenge cards are marked with a Defeat Value that needs to be rolled for a Mayor to defeat it, a negative Victory Point value that is deducted at game’s end, a negative Gold value which is deducted from a Mayor’s current Gold until the challenge is overcome, and a positive Gold value, awarded for overcoming the Challenge. Some also have special text. For example, the Witch has a Defeat Value of four, loses a player two Victory Points at game’s end and two Gold every turn if not dealt with, but earns a player two Gold if overcome. In comparison, the Murder Bats have a Defeat Value of two, loses a player two Victory Points at game’s end, but no Gold per turn if not dealt with. It does earn a player one Gold if overcome, but it needs three successful rolls against the Defeat Value on one turn to overcome the Challenge. The Green-coloured Villager cards are each marked with a cost in gold, a Victory Point award for the game’s end, and the amount of Gold he earns each turn. For the Advanced Rules, each also includes the title of the Building it can be paired with for more Victory Points, and in some cases, some special text. For example, the Trader costs four Gold to recruit, gives one Victory Point at game’s end, and earns a Mayor two Gold per turn. The Trader can be paired with the Market. The Miner only costs two Gold to recruit, gives one Victory Point at game’s end, and earns a Mayor one Gold per turn. He can be paired with the Mine, but during the game, he allows a Mayor to pay three Gold to draw another card. This can be the Mayor who owns the Mine or it can be a rival Mayor, in which case, the owning Mayor earns one Gold. Lastly, the Grey-coloured Hero cards have a cost to recruit, a Victory Point award for the game’s end, and the Defeat bonus added to any roll to overcome Challenges. For the Advanced Rules, each also includes the title of the Building or other Hero he can be paired with for more Victory Points, and in some cases, some special text. For example, the Guard only costs one Gold to recruit, grants no Victory Points at game’s end and no Defeat Bonus, but can be paired with the Prison or the Captain. In comparison, the Warlord costs three Gold to recruit, grants no Victory Points at game’s end, and grants a Defeat bonus of two. He can be paired with either the Warrior or the Dwarven Warrior.
There are three other cards types in the game. The Deputy Mayor is a Citizen card that can be discarded for a one-time chance to Build or Hire a second card in a turn, whilst the Angry Mob can be discarded to gain a one-time bonus to a Defeat roll. Both cards can be played or kept to gain Victory Points at game’s end. A Reference Card explains the game’s cards and the Phase Order. Every Mayor receives all three of these cards, the Deputy Mayor and the Angry forming their initial hands. It should be noted that every card is attractively and colourfully illustrated with an amusing cartoon style that echoes that the comic book, Groo the Wanderer. In addition, every Mayor receives six Gold.
At game’s start, the game’s cards are shuffled and six are drawn—seven if there are five players—and placed face up in a line to form the Recruitment Pool. Each Turn consists of six Phases which starting with the Starting Mayor—the game includes a Starting Player Token—every Mayor must complete before moving on to the next. In the Recruit Phase, a Mayor chooses one of the cards he wants in the Recruitment Pool and rolls the die to get that card. So if a Mayor wants the fourth card, the Gladiator, he must roll four or more to get it. If he fails, then he must take the card in position one—whatever it is. A Mayor can spend Gold to buy Recruitment rerolls, but must do this in advance. In the Defend Phase a Mayor rolls to Defeat any Challenges. As Mayor he can only do this once, but for each extra Hero he has hired, he can reroll. In the Pillage Phase, each Mayor loses Gold for unresolved Challenges, whilst in the Earning Phase, each Villager in his Village earns him Gold. In the Building/Hire Phase, a Mayor can build one Building or hire one Citizen or Hero, paying the cost in Gold as necessary. Newly added cards are placed face up in front of the Mayor. Lastly, in the Reset Phase, all cards except Challenge cards are removed from the Recruitment Pool and discarded. The remaining Challenge cards are shuffled along to the end and then new cards are drawn from the deck to bring the Recruitment Pool back up to six (or seven if there are five Mayors). The Start Player Token moves onto the next Mayor.
Play proceeds like this until one Mayor has nine (or ten if a two-player game) cards—including Building, Challenge, Citizen, and Hero cards—in his village. The Mayor with the most Victory Points is the winner. This is just the basic game, but the Advanced Rules allow the use of all text on the cards, plus a King’s Favour Marker. It can be used to add a bonus to the roll in either the Recruit or Defend Phases, to counter the loss of Gold in the Pillage Phase, to gain one Gold in the Earning Phase, or to allow a Mayor to add an extra card in the Build/Hire Phase. A Mayor can also use King’s Favour Marker to decide who gets the Start Marker next and thus who goes next. Once the King’s Favour Marker has been used, its next recipient is randomly determined with a die roll.
Villagers and Villains is a nice looking game. Its cards are attractive and humorously illustrated, the cardboard pieces thick, and the rules are well written if plainly presented. The Basic Rules are exactly that—basic—and best suited to younger players or at best, the first play through. The Advanced Rules provide a bit more choice and depth, especially with the various special text on the cards that allow for the cards to interact. This makes the game more fun, but at the same, it lacks player interaction barring the competition over cards—and it does get very competitive as you add more players—in the Recruitment Pool and then those cards that allow one Mayor to buy actions from another. The rules state that the owning Mayor can block another from doing this, but that seems churlish.
Although light enough to be a filler, but perhaps a little long for that role, Villagers and Villains is nevertheless a bright, fun game, suitable for teenage players as well as adults.