Villages of Valeria
A village-building card game set in the world of Valeria. Establish resources, construct buildings, and attract adventurers to your Village to be crowned the next capitol city. (Board Game Geek)
Variable Player Powers
Designer: Rick Holzgrafe, Isaias Vallejo
Artist: Mihajlo Dimitrievski
Publisher: Daily Magic Games
Category: Card Game, City Building, Fantasy
Price: $21.08 Amazon
Daily Magic Games, a publisher likely most well-known for Valeria: Card Kingdoms, brings us Villages of Valeria. Co-designed by Rick Holzgrafe and Isaias Vallejo, Villages of Valeria returns to the kingdom, in a sort of chronological prequel to the events of Card Kingdoms.
Daily Magic Games has also published a number of other titles, mostly on Kickstarter, including: Manasurge, the upcoming Food Truck Champion, and Quests of Valeria. While active on Kickstarter, Daily Magic Games also focuses on growing the north western coast board gaming community, through hosting an event network, called playtestNW. Games from Daily Magic are typically gateway focused, with an emphasis on bringing tactics and meaningful decisions to simple-to-learn games.
In my time with Villages of Valeria, I’ve found nothing suggestive about Valeria’s artwork. The worst you might find is a bit of blood on the swords of a few of the adventurer cards. Of course, the game features spell casters and a necromancer. Still, the artwork is clean.
Villages of Valeria is a one to five player card game of kingdom-building proportions. Players will compete to establish the most wonderful and valuable collection of structures and adventurers attainable. Through money and resources, one player will be determined champion.
A simple action card is placed in between players, allowing a number of possible actions. On a player’s turn, they will select one action of their choice and carry out its progression. In Puerto Rico/San Juan fashion, each remaining player may take the same action in a mechanic called “follow,” only missing out on a part of it. They might only get to draw a card instead of drawing both card and coin, or be forced to discard two cards in order to establish another card as a future resource opportunity.
With one glance at the face of any card, it should become quickly obvious how cards can serve different functions. You might play the bottom of a card as a resource. You might pay the resource cost to construct a building. Instead of discarding a card to a trash or discard pile, you will place it on top of one of five drawing stacks, thereby covering up an older card and making it more difficult for other players to retrieve the kingdom card they were hoping for.
Above these kingdom cards are adventurers. Being the picky lot they are, these heroes and scoundrels only make home in kingdoms with the appropriate insignia. Separated into four categories, some adventurers will only join kingdoms full of hard-working buildings, and others into cities full of magic. These adventurers not only grant points, but add special bonuses to actions as you take them. You might take an extra coin when taxing, or have free resources towards constructing buildings. Adventurers aren’t alone, however. Buildings will grant points, but offer many chances for bonuses, making sometimes worthless “follow” actions quite valuable.
Valeria takes a slow pace. Players plod towards assembling a rickety economy, usually taxing the poor in the early game, and hoping for low cost buildings. Adding resources to your castle is tricky because you must have gold pieces to activate them. Furthermore, in order to even play a resource, you will need to discard at least a card to do so.
The battles you fight in your mind won’t cease until ¾ towards the end of the game. At that point, it becomes very clear how to orchestrate your engine for victory. For those earlier moments, however, players find themselves paralyzed. The dilemma stems from the multi-use of cards. One might need to play a cheap building for an extra, instant coin. The downside? If you play it, you no longer have a card with the magic resource you so desperately need to build the five-cost, magic-heavy building you’ve been saving. It only gets worse though, because in order to build that magic building, you must discard the instant gold building, which means you need to spend a turn taking the harvest action to get more cards to afford placing another resource.
It’s sort of head-spinning, and the game means to do it. These are the sorts of decisions I love to be caught up in. Upon further investigation, it’s both a blessing and a curse for Valeria. Daily Magic Games has succeeded in developing a wonderfully strategic experience. At risk of showing my preference, I think this level of thought and depth seems a little strange for what Villages of Valeria is. This is definitely a good game, but it’s a card game. It seems odd for a card game to drag to an hour, maybe longer. Perhaps it’s fine, but if I want a quick game, I choose a card game. If I want something longer, I tend towards something meatier. This means I want a big board, more cardboard, and meeples or something. Maybe this critique is asinine, but it feels worth mentioning.
Despite my disdain for the length of time (or, perhaps how long my gaming groups took to take simple turns) Valeria does many things well.
By ditching a trash/discard pile, Valeria makes losing cards no longer a chore, but a choice. Where you place your discards matters. Sure, some of the cards getting picked up won’t change the game much, but it lets you make things a tad more difficult for another player.
I’m not a big fan of the action selection card, as the castle is far too tall, and I think it’s more confusing than anything else. So, many times I had to remind another player they weren’t actually taking their own action, but the follow action of the previous player. From this perspective, I think Valeria could be essential for teaching new gamers about action selection, and be a gateway towards opening up heavier games, like Puerto Rico.
On the topic of “shared action selection,” Valeria smashes engine building out of the park. Before, worthless follow actions were sometimes pointless. Now, these actions provide gold, cards, and cheap buildings. Couple this with building only buildings of one or two types, and now you are picking up stacks of victory points for owning faction bonuses. You might even recruit an adventurer that practically pays you for spending gold to recruit more adventurers. Valeria does all of this, and it does it in a way that makes me feel comfortable teaching it to players at different levels of complexity. Daily Magic has certainly accomplished their goal of building a series of games for introducing more and more to our beloved hobby.
Now, this might be a contradictory statement in light of the previous notes, but Villages of Valeria feels almost like a solitaire experience. All actions might affect you, but doesn’t hurt you too badly. You might spend resources building something, while the next player takes the same action. You’ve already covered your resources in gold coins, so you can’t build anything. Maybe this is good, maybe this is bad. If you play smart, you’ve found other ways to construct.
I mentioned further up how much thought goes into each action because of the plurality of ways cards can be used. This makes for almost more of a solitaire, indirect game than Splendor. Splendor was a standout for winning “Best Game Where No One Says Anything Until the Game Ends,” but now, Space Cowboys might need to hand the trophy over to Daily Magic. This doesn’t mean anything positive or negative in my book, only that players will sit quietly and stew over their multitude of options, caring little for losing out on certain cards, hoping for better replacements. It’s a dynamic game where even little sleights from other players can be corrected with smart decision-making.
Solo games can be played quickly, offering a scoring system for those who try it out. Actions are slightly altered, and players will attempt to beat their previous scores. It seems a wonderful way to learn the deck and try out new engine builds.
Villages of Valeria is covered in bright and dark, but mostly vibrant art. Each location has personality. Each adventurer feels distinct. Players drop gold coins near cheery resource icons. Picking up and placing the tall castle decides actions. Each player’s home base is set in a different ecosystem, featuring snow, water, trees, or mountains.
Valeria is consistent, and it’s quite the selling point for the game. Each mechanic feels like another cog in the machine, grinding against another mechanic, preparing players for the eventual end-game. Sure, it seems like a lengthy card game, but it’s an extremely well-produced and designed one. Or, maybe I just need to find faster thinking friends.
A review copy of Villages of Valeria was provided by Daily Magic Games for a fair and honest review.
+ Engaging, interesting artwork and high production quality all around
+ Full of meaningful decisions to make and tactics to pursue
+ Works well at various player counts, with a worthwhile solo mode
+ Smart and unique use of mechanics
- Tends to be long for a card game
- Feels somewhat like solitaire at points