In a weird way, I feel a bit sorry for the student team that made village romance. Call it Joseph Heller Syndrome: the first time and they’ve made a classic. Does that confuse her? Scared? I suspect not, and that’s why I feel just a little sorry for the team. The bad news is they made something that will be hard to top, but the good news is they made something that will be hard to top. You have brought happiness to hundreds of thousands of us around the world. I think that feeling stays.
I play a lot of village romance. It’s a hex-based tile game about creating landscapes. You get a stack of tiles with small rivers, train tracks, forests, villages, grass or farmland on them and drop them. Quests appear to connect specific sets of a specific landscape type, and these quests, once completed, give you more tiles. But at some point you will run out. Game over. Loss? Not really, because you’ve been creating a landscape and taking care of the details all along, and once you’re outside, the landscape is done. You see the whole thing for the first time. you did that!
Village Romance just landed on Switch, which explains why I’m doing what I’m doing right now. I’m trying to unlock the Midwinter biome. Biomes are unlockable prizes that give the landscape a specific color scheme or vibe. Midwinter does what is expected of it: it makes it look like winter. But beyond that, it transports me to Christmas and to the bookshelves that house the most Christmassy book of all time, John Masefield’s The Box of Delights. Christmas in the country! Village Romance is the Masefield game of all time when you play with Midwinter. You float above the landscape, above forests and fields and groves. I feel a bit like Santa Claus.
Village romance is very much at home on the Switch. It is a glory to look at this screen held in your hands and of course to see those winter forests and the frost. But also because you’re freed from the frantic speed of the mouse when placing tiles, Village Romance on Switch feels a lot more like a physical board game. The cursor moves more slowly, so the tiles you place nestle into each slot as you pass with a speculative click. This in turn makes the whole thing feel more magical, as when low-smoke trains appear on the tracks of this physical board game, everything feels possessed of brilliant wintry magic.
But what I really thought about while playing on Switch is something that applies to all forms of village romance. I’ve been thinking about why I felt from a very early age that this game was something special. And it’s not just the setting or the joy of watching a forest grow lazily across the land. It’s the fact that this is a tactics game – you can have tactics on how you go about it, that’s what makes it a tactics game to me – that is exciting and interesting and compelling at every stage of the game itself.
I’ve talked about this with many puzzle, tactics, and strategy game designers over the years. Take a 4X – okay, more strategy than tactics, but the point remains. Not all of these Xs are equally exciting. The first two, Explore and Expand, always fill me with dizziness. I’m not so sure about Exploit and Exterminate. And yet I know people who love these two and find the early parts of the game sluggish.
Village romance, on the other hand, has me from the first to the last tile. And that’s because the choices you make with each placement stay interesting. I think that’s because they’re primarily a balance between aesthetic and tactical choices, and as the game expands that balance can shift, but the parts of it – aesthetic and tactical – remain, just in varying amounts . So early I arrange my fields one way, trains the other, lake over there, forest over there and it all looks very nice. I keep the forest running as I please – rejuvenating and then blooming – and I wrap my train tracks. But twenty minutes later I’m fighting my existing tile placements while trying to keep the flow of tiles going. It’s tactical at this point, but I still don’t want it to look bad. The two corporations never fully agree.
I was playing the game this morning and nearing the end, and I had messed things up badly – three different quests had created a bottleneck on a single missing tile field, and that tile would need train tracks, forest, and a river in order to fit. Maybe that’s what village romance is all about, I began to think: it’s a warning not to overwhelm the landscape. Enjoy it, but don’t overwhelm yourself and the soil you live on. In other words, explore, but don’t exploit.
#Village #Romance #Switch #love