I’m a real sucker for colony management games. There’s just something so satisfying about watching all the tiny little people do your bidding. Picking pumpkins. Falling in love. Fearfully eating each other when the winter comes. And of course, erecting vast monuments in your honor. Truly, I think being an omniscient meta-colonial lord for the doomed was what I’m built for.
I’ve enjoyed everything from Rimworld, to Banished to the fallen Clockwork Empires – which added a delightful Eldritch twist to the usual colony management tropes. I even gave the mighty Dwarf Fortress a shot but figured I’d save my bleeding eyes for the version with graphics.
So in comes Lords and Villeins, the villein’s bit, being the uneducated sort, I assumed was a typo, and not in fact, a reference to a type of Medieval serf. And oh boy, do I love the medieval era. I just think it’s so cool that we had dragons back then, and also saucy bards wielding lutes to seduce them. Contrary to historical fact, there are no dragons to be had in Lords and Villeins, but there are tiny villas, farms, churches, and terrifying stone statues aplenty.
In essence, you nurture dynasties of medieval families. The adorable pixel art of Lords & Villeins belies its strategy game depth. Imagine the visuals of Stardew Valley whirred in with gameplay bits from Banished, but with more detail then you flail a bunch of wheat at.
So, here’s how you play. First, you pick out industrial areas, such as farmland for food, Royal forests for foraging, and fishing pools for delicious meats. You get the drift. You then assign a family, who is bound to that profession. You’ll then build up a work zone, and if you’re a generous and benevolent lord like myself, a lovely homestead, for them and their kids.
You’ll also lure families to your town by having a nice inn, where they’ll stay and then decide to move in on occasion, sometimes with kids and pets in tow. It’s very cute watching the families walk in from the distant voids of the map, and watching them grow in numbers over the years. Shout out to the Farmers and Carpenters, whose breeding rates truly exceeded my expectations. So. Many. Kids.
Because I am a monster, I named my families after their professions. I will now enlighten you with the saga of the North-Woods family, a chipper couple who stayed at my pretty inn one night, and sawed wood and gathered berries. One winter, they starved to the death. None of their neighbors helped them. The End.
Narrative generation is not so much a focus in Lords and Villeins as it is in games like Dwarf Fortress and Rim World, your townsfolks are mostly distinguished by their profession and mood. I found that a bit of a shame, considering the potential for mayhem there. But, Lords and Villeins veers more toward a cozy building experience with depth and strategy elements, emergent narrative is not its strong suit.
That said, you can decorate each little house and work zone individually, which I really enjoyed, upgrading to more luxurious items as you go on. It’s fun to start out all filthy and starving with hideous haybale houses before you make sleek intricate steel benches and glowing brick fireplaces and beautiful stained glassed windows. I sunk an ungodly amount of hours into making things pretty.
A video game protagonist wakes up in an on-fire science lab with nothing but an AI and a high-tech gun to…
Even better, the range of zones and depth in customizing them was delightful. Everything from the butcher to the baker buildings, mining, stonemasonry, and architecture. Capturing horses and taming pigs. Building up windmill fleets. The sheer variety of items required for building and how these replicate historical methods in a simple, lovely pixel art kind of way was quite bewitching.
That said, Lords and Villeins is weirdly hands-off. At points, it would be nice to fiddle with things more directly. It can also be frustrating. It’s riddled with where odd little delays. For example, I found that I just couldn’t get a throne together. I had everything required for it, but for one reason or another, my peasents wouldn’t build the damn thing. One can expect these things to be more ironed out with updates.
Unlike more chaotic sims, Lords and Villeins also has fairly low threat levels. Yes, your people may well starve in the winter or fight among themselves, but there will be invasions from the French or C’thulu-Esque cults like in Clockwork Empires.
You’ll also build up your own (generous) mansion, and snatch, I mean, acquire, servants from the local families to do your bidding. As the game carries on, you can also assign folks to the clergy, where they’ll tend to bees and make wine and hold service at church. You, of course, being a feudal lord, have your very own chapel, where the other richos can hang out without having to gaze upon the filthy peasants.
Each zone, whether it’s industrial, clergy, or assigned specifically to the noble class, has its own intricacies, to be managed by your silken gloved hand, including equipment, storage, and labour prioritization. The finer points of economic management are also included, with finickity resource price management tools. I did not enjoy these too much, although I did enjoy seizing and granting resources to my people, like a capricious god.
It can take quite a long time to get your basic setup going, namely, having a place for peasants, nobles, clergy, and the military to all peacefully co-exist while you pay the handsome fare to your reigning monarch, who is keen to remind you that failure will lead to execution.
You’d best get folks slaving away on the land fast, but also make sure there are enough fancy things to lure in the rich, who bring rare resources to your colony as well as artisanal trades like jewelry making. You can also execute and imprison people if you so deem and have the necessary items to build from. I opted not to do so, as I figured the backbreaking monotony of my villeins’ days was enough to put the fear in them. Also, I just didn’t have the staff required for the job.
A warning, construction, and so forth can take an obscenely long time. You are also a time lord, luckily, and can speed through events as you wait. This did, unfortunately, lead to some frustration though, as I’d miss key events like villagers starving in my frenzied bid to build limestone floors and tons of tiny barrels.
Overall, Lords and Villeins is perfect if you’re looking for a more relaxed colony sim that has a solid strategic foundation. The learning curve and early game can be a little frustrating, but once you set off your little colony the results are both visually and mechanically pleasing. With its already thriving community on Discord, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Lords and Villeins. Personally, I’m vouching for fantasy-themed expansions and even more tiny furniture to play with.