There's a certain part of your brain that gets tickled when a roll of the dice goes your way. The satisfaction of seeing the pips come up in your favor is made all the sweeter when there is some bigger reward tied to the outcome of the dice. Sometimes you are making an attack, other times you are scoring points, and yet other times your die rolls may trigger some rule or special ability. Regardless of the task at hand, it just feels good when the dice go your way. Valeria: Card Kingdoms is built upon the idea that it feels good to have the dice go your way, and it takes that idea and runs with it.
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a tableau building game. If you aren't familiar with the term, a tableau building game usually involves collecting cards or game pieces that remain in front of you on the table, and allow you to take more, and more complex, actions as your tableau grows. Valeria: Card Kingdoms takes the idea of tableau building and couples it with a dice-activation mechanic that works incredibly well. Like deckbuilding games, tableau building games constantly reward their players, giving them a sense of constant progression and gain throughout the game.
Each player in Valeria: Card Kingdoms assumes the role of Duke in the Kingdom of Valeria, determined to garner the most influence and assume the throne. In practice, this means you need to accrue the most victory points by game's end. The path to victory, and victory points, in Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a fun one though, and there is plenty of room for different strategies, even if some of the combinations that you can create do feel a bit too good.
You begin the game with two Citizen cards, the 5-activated Peasant, the 6-activate Knight, and a few resources. In the center of the table sits 2 full rows of Citizen cards, a row of Monster cards, and a row of Domain cards. On each player's turn they roll the dice, and any Citizen cards that they have in their tableau activate if either die, or the total from both dice, equal the activation number on the card. Each Citizen lists two possible rewards; one triggers when you activate that card on your turn while the other triggers when your opponents activate your cards. Even if you don't have any Citizens activate, you are still rewarded with the ability to choose any one of the game's three resources.
Gold, Strength, and Magic are the resources of Valeria. Gold is used most often for purchasing new Citizens and Domains, while Strength is used to defeat Monsters. Magic is essentially a wildcard that can stand in for either Gold or Strength (as long as one of the required currencies is included) although some cards, especially stronger Monsters, do specifically require Magic to defeat or acquire. The Domains have an added requirement as well. Not only do you need to pay the cost, which is usually fairly high, but you have to have the right combination of Citizens before you can purchase any Domain, and it's in choosing your combination of Citizens and Domains where the real strategy in Valeria: Card Kingdoms comes in to play.
After the dice are rolled, the active player can perform two actions, choosing between Slaying a Monster, Recruiting a Citizen, Gaining a Resource, or Building a Domain. The same action can be performed twice if the player chooses, and even though players are limited to just two actions, the game moves fast enough that players generally can avoid over-analyzing what they want to do. And your next turn is going to come up so quickly, even with a full compliment of players, that being limited to two actions doesn't feel like a hindrance, especially since you are constantly gaining resources on your opponents' turns. The fact that you get stuff even during your off turns keeps players engaged throughout the game, which is one of the game's stronger features.
The way the Citizen cards are laid out each game (there are enough that you don't use them all, adding replayability) each possible die result (1 - 12) is represented. It can make sense to gather as many different Citizens as possible, so that you can have cards activate on as many die rolls as possible, but it can also pay dividends to focus your efforts. Citizens become more expensive with each additional copy that you buy, but some of them combo extremely well with the abilities and effects on Domain cards, and you can create some incredibly powerful combinations this way. Some of the Domain cards let you alter the roll of the dice, and so you can essentially guarantee that certain Citizen cards are activated on each of your turns. Unfortunately, this strategy is SO effective that, when it comes up, people can race to be the one to grab the key Domain card, and the game can feel formulaic and the conclusion can feel almost assured. There may be a way to counter this strategy, but, even though we've played numerous times, we haven't found it, and so we've house-ruled out certain combinations of Domains and Citizens. Thankfully, there are enough Domain cards that you don't feel the loss if you do remove the few problem cards.
Aside from those few near-broken combinations, there are many ways to earn victory points in the game. Players are assigned a Duke at the beginning of the game that lets them score points for certain combinations of Citizens and resources at game end, and many points can be had by defeating Monsters. Domains usually generate points when they are purchased as well, but it pays to try to specialize, even if you don't build around a specific combination of cards. As I stated earlier, the game constantly rewards players, and the amount of resources generated starts to snowball each turn. Regardless of the path that you take, you are rewarded for it, and it feels really good. The game ends when all Monsters are slain, all Domains are built, or a certain number of card piles have been exhausted, so it's easy to track how close the end of the game is and plan accordingly.
A note on player count: Valeria: Card Kingdoms is at its best with a full compliment of 4 players. There are passable ways to play both solo, and with 5 players, but 4 is really the sweet spot.
A note on “chrome”: Valeria: Card Kingdoms has excellent components and an outstanding box insert. The art is thematic and interesting, and it fits the theme of the game, which isn't really connected to the gameplay very well. The rulebook is well laid out and does a great job of teaching the game.
The bottom line:
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is an excellent tableau building game that constantly rewards its players, even when it's not actively their turn. The smooth combination of dice-activation and tableau building go together like peanut butter and chocolate. The fact that players gain resources, even on their opponent's turns, keeps the game engaging from the very first turn until the very last. There are some extremely powerful card combinations that can make the game feel like a foregone conclusion if one player manages to acquire them, but there are enough cards in the game that you can easily play around them or choose not to include them. Even so, the game is fun, rewarding, and plays so quickly that it is easy to recommend.
Get this game if:
You enjoy games that constantly reward all players.
You like games that give a sense of instant gratification.
You like games that have dice, but give you ways to make the dice work for you.
You like competitive, Euro-style games where you try to win via points.
Avoid this game if:
You like to fight your opponents directly.
You prefer cooperative games.
The copy of Valeria Card Kingdoms used for this review was provided by Daily Magic Games.