Urban planning is a surprisingly popular theme for board games, particularly tile laying games. It’s tricky to set up a town where all the homes are near parks and schools, but far away from any industrial facilities or office buildings. This goes back to one of the first great simulation games too, SimCity, and the million games it spawned. Some of these games get quite complicated, making them quite a challenge to learn and an all-day affair to play with a friend or two. Also worth noting is that most of them are based around building American towns with typical American buildings, with an occasional historical city mixed in.
The game “Panchayat” is a wholly new and fascinating variation on the theme because players are creating small, historical villages in rural India, including temples, wells, and flour mills. The game is designed by Andy Desa, 1-4 players, plays in under 30 minutes, and is published by Kheo Games LLP. The solo game has you laying out your own Panchayat (village) on a 4×4 grid while nefarious land owner “Zamindar” is busy trying to block your progress toward your goal. The game includes five increasingly challenging solo scenarios, with more on the kheogames.com site. I played through a half-dozen solo games for the purposes of this review, and definitely loved the experience. Let’s get into it!
SETUP AND COMPONENTS
The game has relatively simple components comprised of a village playing board, a reference card, scoring track, and stacks of cardboard tiles, including 68 building tiles, 20 adjacency tiles, 18 end game bonus tiles, 12 placement tiles, solo objectives and Zamindar discard rules tiles. For the solo game you remove specific building tiles and the entire stack of end game bonus tiles (they’re only used in the multiplayer game). Here’s the solo setup:
Notice that the village board has specific artwork and colors that denote the river (along the top), farmland (along the right), and village center (the green spaces). They will affect the point value of individual tiles when placed. There is also a randomly selected and placed Adjacency Tile (build residential here: 2 points) and randomly selected and placed Placement Bonus Tile (1 point for every house built). The board on the right is the scoring board and the “50” tile lets you keep track of when you’ve lapped the board and have > 50 points.
On the left side are the building tiles with “Panchayat” printed on their backs, and along the bottom are six building tiles flipped over and ready for action, two tiles that show the current solo challenge and Zamindar discard goals, and the reference sheet.
A closer look would be helpful, so let’s do just that, starting with the Building Tiles…
Every tile has a point value on the top left, a building name and an icon that represents its category, which is also indicated by its color: Green are Residential, as you can see. Along the bottom of each tile are special bonus conditions that can increase its point value. For example, the House is worth 1 point, but +2 if it’s adjacent to the river (e.g., on the top row of the board) and +1 if it’s orthogonally adjacent to a School. The scoring is a bit nuanced because you score Tiles as you place them in your village, but if you later fulfill a bonus condition (like placing a School adjacent to the House) that bonus will be retroactively applied too. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.
While most bonus conditions are positive, a few can be negative, like locating a quarry adjacent to the farmland (pollution, ya know). The reference sheet offers details on every single building, making it an invaluable learning aid:
You can see the five categories of buildings: General, Commercial, Residential, Industrial, and Utility. A close examination will also reveal that only four of those categories have associated icons: In the end game scoring, every building except “General” buildings earns two additional points based on adjacency.
Solo challenge #1 has the following associated tiles:
The left shows what tiles Zamindar is going to try and grab before you can add them to your Panchayat, while the right tile lists your win requirements: A House, School, Granary, and Temple all adjacent and a total score of at least 80 points!
PLAYING PANCHAYAT SOLO
Earlier I showed six building tiles as part of the initial setup. The bottom row is the “Old Buildings” and they get stacked up and eventually discarded. The top row is the New Buildings and the ones that aren’t chosen migrate down to the lower row at the end of each turn. You can choose any two of the New Buildings or the top Tile of the Old Buildings on your turn. Given what was shown above, I immediately took both the House and School, two of the four buildings required for scenario 1, and placed them in what seemed like optimal spots on the board:
The House earns me 1 point + 2 for being adjacent to the river + 1 for being adjacent to the School, and the School itself earns another point, for a starting score of 5 points.
A full turn involves picking your two tiles, placing your tiles, then moving any remaining New Buildings down onto the Old Buildings stacks. If any of the three Old Buildings slots are empty, they get a tile first, then tiles are stacked: If a new tile would make 4 in a stack, the older three are discarded and the fourth starts a new stack. Pretty straightforward.
Zamindar’s play is similar, but instead of taking building tiles to create his own village, the pesky landowner just discards those that are most useful for your plans to stymie your Panchayat efforts. Let’s say he drew Flower Stall, Wood Workshop, and Granary on his turn:
He’d pick up the Granary since it’s one of the buildings listed on his discard tile (see earlier), then the leftmost of the remaining New Buildings. In this case, the Flower Stall. They would go in a discard pile, while the third building, the Wood Workshop, would be placed on the bottom, Old Buildings, row, either on the largest stack (the middle with 2 tiles) or leftmost if all the stacks are even. That’s his turn.
Further along in the game, my village is shaping up quite nicely:
I’ve been scoring as I proceed with tile placement and it’s going pretty well. Notice that I built a Pandit House (a house of religious study) atop the lower right’s Placement Bonus Tile, meaning that the lower right tile was worth 1 + 2 points, while the Pandit House above it is only worth 1 point. The School above that, however, earned a retroactive +2 bonus for being adjacent to a Pandit House!
I’ll also call out the Post Office because it’s such a valuable building; it lets you pick the top building tile from the discard pile if that’s better than any in the New or Old Building rows. Given that Zamindar is always grabbing your buildings, being able to rescue some of them proves invaluable.
Notice also that we’re 75% of the way done with this solo challenge, having a House, School, and Granary adjacent. We just need to add a Temple, and you can see there’s an empty spot I’m saving in the village center for just that building when it finally appears.
NUANCES OF BUILDING PLACEMENT
The key to winning isn’t just to add all the required buildings, but to place them thoughtfully to create large regions of individual colors for end game bonus points too. The order of your placements can also matter, as I show in the below image. I had both a House and a Granary to place, and added the House first (as denoted by the arrow):
By adding the House first, I earned an additional point when the Granary was placed and covered the Adjacency Bonus Tile “+1 for every house built”. In other words, adding the new House was worth 1 + 2 (for being along the river), but adding the Granary was worth 3 + 5 points for all five houses. In total, 11 points. Not too bad for one round.
Getting near the end it got even more interesting because the Railway Station allows me to move 1 building which let me improve the layout of my village. The Flour Mill and the Quarry are the last two buildings I’m going to add to the Panchayat to wrap up my solo game:
Placing the Flour Mill in the top left would earn 2 points, but notice that it gives +2 for being adjacent to a Granary. I utilize the Railway Station capability to move the Restaurant just above it to the empty space on the top left, then drop the Flour Mill into the newly vacated spot, and add the Quarry to the bottom row. Board filled!
That means I’m done. Now it’s time for scoring bonuses. This is done by counting the number of buildings in the largest grouping of each category except the yellow “General” buildings. My green Residential is six buildings, blue Commercial is also six, purple Utility is two and the red Industrial is all by its lonesome as a single building:
Each of these buildings is then worth a +2 bonus, adding a very nice 15 * 2 = 30 point bonus. As you can see in the scoring track, it means I flew past the 50 point mark and landed, all told, just shy of the target score at 78 points. The solo goal required a minimum of 80 points, so I just needed two more points, but didn’t achieve it this game. No worries, excellent motivation to play yet another game of Panchayat and try again!
FINAL THOUGHTS ON PANCHAYAT
One of the things I enjoy with solo games is the ability to play at whatever speed I want. If I want to contemplate and even drop into a few minutes of analysis paralysis, hey, I’m playing solo, who’s going to complain? On the other hand, if i want to zip through a game to try a particular strategy or rough village layout, I can do that too. Panchayat lends itself beautifully to both approaches, offering up a game that is simple, elegant, and engaging. The theme is quite interesting, the artwork, by Vesley Carrasco, is terrific, and it’s an easy game to teach others if you want to try multiplayer. I’m a fan and will definitely play through the many solo scenarios while it’s on my table. Highly recommended.
Panchayat, from Kheo Games LLP. $28 USD, from kheogames.com, but start at BoardGameGeek.com for wider availability.
Disclosure: Kheo Games sent me a copy of Panchayat in return for this candid review. धन्यवाद!!