Thank you for checking review #48 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: A copy of the game was provided in exchange for an honest review. The below opinions remain our own based upon our impressions and reactions to the game.
An Overview of Valeria: Card Kingdoms
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a game designed by Isaias Vallejo and was published by Daily Magic Games. The box states that it can play 1-4 players and has a 30-45 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 1.95.
The land of Valeria is under siege by hordes of monsters. You and your fellow Dukes must recruit citizens and buy domains to build up your kingdoms and slay the foul creatures that lurk in the surrounding lands.
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a tableau-building game for 1-5 players and will feel familiar to deck-building fans. The cards you buy can work for you on your turn and on all the other player turns, as well. On your turn, roll two dice and activate citizen cards with the result of each individual die and the sum of both dice. Other players will simultaneously activate their citizen cards based on the roll. Next, take two actions from the following: slay a monster, recruit a citizen, buy a domain, or take 1 of any resource. The player with the most victory points at the end wins the game.
Setup and gameplay for 2 Players
To set up the game, players create a row of 5 Monster stacks, two rows of 5 Citizen stacks each, and a row of 5 Domain stacks. This forms the center supply, and when a number of stacks equal to 2x the number of players are empty (exhausted), that will be the likely trigger for the end of the game.
Each player receives 2 Duke cards and selects 1 to keep. These cards provide end game scoring and should be kept secret. Each player also receives a starting Peasant and a starting Knight card.
The game is played over a series of rounds. Each round follows the same pattern:
Roll Phase – The Active Player rolls two dice.
Harvest Phase – The dice activate citizen cards with the result of each individual die and the sum of both dice. All players take their resources at this time.
Action Phase – The Active Player takes two actions from the following: Slay a Monster, Recruit a Citizen, Buy a Domain, Take One of Any Resource.
End Phase – The Active Player passes the dice to their left.
The game ends when:
All Monsters have been slain OR
All Domains have been built OR
The total number of Exhausted stacks is equal to twice the number of players (4 in a 2-player game)
It goes without saying that the artwork in this game is beyond amazing. I’ve come to love The Mico’s artwork so much, and this game is no exception. Things are vibrant and the citizen cards somehow manage to give an impression of personality through the artwork on these cards. This is the sort of game you could just sit back and look at after setting it up.
The rules for this game are really simple and laid out well. Designers and publishers should take notice of how this one is done and use it as an example of how to get a player from opening the box to playing the game in a little amount of time. The thickness of the book actually comes from suggested setups, the solo and 5-player variants, and other additional content. The rules themselves are concise and straight-forward. The only real vagueness is that it doesn’t clearly state an exhausted card should go out when a monster or domain pile are empty. My first plays were with it being just for citizens, which really made the game drag on forever.
There are two aspects that set this as the best roll-for-resources game I’ve played: every citizen gives different rewards for rolling the number on your turn vs. the number being rolled on someone else’s turn, and the fact that you gain something even if you don’t trigger any citizens. These things help keep players engaged, and at least give you the sense of making forward progress even when the dice hate you. Gaining for the individual dice, as well as the sum, is another helpful boost.
I love the scaling of monsters in each pile. They grow in threat and reward, and there is a great reason to focus on plowing through monster after monster. They are varied and I like that they are keyed to each environment/area so you might have varied piles.
This game is so variable with its setup that you can make it where no two games played are identical. I love having the ability to get variety in what is available, from the citizens to recruit to the monsters you face to the dukes you have for scoring. Everything is really modular, which also speaks to how easy it would be to apply expansion content into the game.
The individual turns are simple and fast-moving…once you resolve what everyone gets from the die roll. You get to take two actions, from a small list of actions. It is a little like multi-player solitaire at that point, since what you do on my turn doesn’t necessarily affect what I can do on mine unless you recruit the last citizen in a pile, or purchase the domain I wanted, or kill the monster I was hoping to slay. If you like quick and simple player turns, this is a good one to look at. But if you want a lot of interaction, just know that outside of the dice rolls it might seem lacking.
The game runs a little longer than it should. Unless a player focuses hard on a specific pile, it is usually a gradual approach to depleting enough piles to trigger the end of the game. In a 2-player game, the only possible trigger is 4 exhausted piles because there are more monster and domain piles than the required number. You’d think that would make things go fast, but oftentimes it can be a challenge to build up for a big attack or purchase because there are only two players, so there are several turns spent “gathering” the necessary resources.
The abilities on the citizens vary. Some are really, really good. Some are okay. Others are situational enough that they tend to be the last ones purchased (whether right or wrong, that Alchemist just doesn’t get enough love!). I understand that some of the better ones are going to be 7+ because there is less chance of rolling those numbers than 2-6 (since you use both the numbers rolled individually and the sum of those numbers to trigger citizen abilities). It is just funny how there is a collective sigh when the Peasants trigger again and again.
Setup time is a bear. It never seems like it should be, since everything is organized with tabs in the box, but it will take a bit of time. The good news is that most of the cards don’t shuffle, saving some of the potential setup time. I imagine that it grows even more with expansions, much like a game of Dominion could, depending on the setup you want to go for. You’ll end up with a 4 x 5 grid of cards on the table, which also can take up a bit of table space.
This is more of a “it’s me” complaint, but the whole roll-for-resources system makes the game feel like it minimizes your chance to plan effectively. Yes, you can buy certain citizens to increase your odds. Especially since you gain for each number rolled and the sum of those numbers. But it still boils down to chance. Too much chance for me, and it may feel that way to other gamers. If all I need to accomplish my task is for X to be rolled, but it takes seven rolls for that to happen, you’ve effectively fallen further behind the other player(s) in the game. This is also part of why the piles tend to exhaust slowly: you need to cover as many numbers as you can, buying 1 of each before really looking to stack up on a specific number.
I really struggled to grasp my feelings about this game. On the one hand, I have discovered that I am really not a huge fan of the roll-for-resources system in a game. It was what drove me to hate Catan. It was something that convinced me to stay far, far away from Machi Koro after one play. It is a game I should absolutely say “nope, not for me” based on that alone.
Yet this game is easily the best implementation of that system. It does keep you engaged during everyone’s turns, although by the end it gets borderline ridiculous with the potential for stuff being earned by the entire table. I played it once with four, being the “banker” so to speak for the resource tokens, and never again. Even when the dice hate you, there is still a consolation resource you can earn and turn into buying new heroes in order to boost future turns. But it still suffers from the same problem as any roll-for-resource system: when the dice favor one player, it presents a runaway leader situation. And there is little you can do about it.
I think that, had the game actually played in the advertised 30-45 minutes, it might have been enough to propel this into a “I’m okay with this game” category. But every game, even solo, felt like it lasted about 30 minutes longer than it should have. Maybe it was just that no one ever went all-in with a specific citizen, or power-rushed through monster stacks, or purchased domains like crazy. All three end-game triggers always seemed to be on the verge of triggering, yet by that point usually one of us was trying oh-so-hard to end things because it had overstayed its welcome.
There is a lot of good in this game, and I know there is a right audience for the game. If you enjoy Catan or Machi Koro, this is arguably a better game with a similar flavor and a whole ton of variety. Family gamers and those who are seeking non-traditional “gateway games” to introduce newer players to the hobby should give this one a lot of consideration as well. This was definitely more of a not-for-me game than a “this is a bad game” situation. There is a ton of expansion content out there for the game that promises to add even more fun and variety to your experience, and anyone who enjoys the game will likely want to expand the content in the box to keep things fresh and variable for a long time.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Valeria: Card Kingdoms. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
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