Reaping the Rewards: ‘Valeria: Card Kingdoms’

Valeria: Card Kingdoms cover

“Reaping the Rewards” is a series about finished products that were crowdfunded. Today’s topic is Valeria: Card Kingdoms, a game originally funded in April 2015. The game was shipped to backers in early 2016, very close to the original estimated ship date, and subsequently sold out of its first print run. Daily Magic Games went on to fund two more games and an expansion set in the same world—Villages of ValeriaQuests of Valeria, and V:CK—Flames and Frost—and the second print run of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is now available.

At a glance: Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a game by Isaias Vallejo for 1 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, and takes 30–45 minutes to play. (I would personally say you could go down to age 8 or so as long as the kids have some other gaming experience, and expect the game length to stretch a bit if you play with 5 players.) It’s available now in game stores and online, with a retail price of $50.

Here’s my original Kickstarter review of Valeria: Card Kingdoms, based on a prototype. The bulk of the game has not changed significantly, so I’ll give you a quick look at the final components and outline the major differences: 5th player, solo rules, additional content, and expansion packs. If you want to find out how the base game works, please check the earlier post.

The one major change that you’ll see right away if you compare this to my original review is the box cover image. The feedback that Daily Magic got during the campaign was that people liked the game but didn’t really go for the cover, which was dark and covered with monsters. The final version shows the some of the citizens in the game, with a couple of domains in the background, and is much more colorful, and I think is a little more friendly. Sure, there are monsters in the game, but a lot of what you’ll be doing is building a big tableau of citizens, so I do like this cover better (though I liked the original just fine, too).

Valeria: Card Kingdoms components
Final base game components. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Components:

  • 108 Citizen cards
  • 48 Monster cards
  • 24 Domain cards
  • 10 Duke cards
  • 10 Exhausted cards
  • 10 Starting cards (5 Knights, 5 Peasants)
  • 32 Card Dividers
  • 5 Reference cards
  • 2 6-sided dice
  • 189 tokens (50 Gold, 50 Magic, 50 Strength, 25 Victory)
  • First Player token
  • Resting token
  • 12 Multiplier tokens

If you compare this to the original list, there’s a little more of everything, mostly what was added due to stretch goals. Significantly, the game went from a maximum of 4 players to 5 players, so that added some more Citizen cards and Starting cards, and also added the “Resting” token (which I’ll explain below). Additional Monsters and Domains were included for more variety.

The First Player, Resting, and Multiplier tokens are all chunky cardboard tokens. There was a slight mistake made with the Multiplier tokens in the first print run (which should be fixed in the second): they were supposed to have “x5” on one side and “x10” on the other, so you could flip them over depending on how many resources you had. Instead, they were the same on each side, with ten “x5” tokens and two “x10” tokens. It’s not a huge problem, but in a 5-player game you definitely can amass a lot of resources, so you’ll start running out of these and may have to figure out creative ways to keep track of resources.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms resource tokens
Resource tokens are nice wooden bits now. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The resource and victory point tokens are now wooden shapes, and are pretty nice: a red shield for strength, gold coin for gold, rounded blue triangle for magic, and a spiky purple shield for victory points—all of them match the icons on the cards as well.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms dice
Custom dice match the card typeface. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The dice are also pretty nice: larger than standard 6-sided dice, a pearlescent black plastic with etched and painted numbers that match the numbers on the cards.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms box insert
The box has room for expansions; the well for victory points is shallower since there are fewer of them. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The box itself was designed with room for expansions. The insert has a section to hold the four different types of tokens if you want to separate them out (with bits of foam to cover up the wells), plus wells for the cardboard tokens, and dice. There’s a long section for the cards, and the dividers are handy so that you can flip through and find the cards you need easily. There’s one more large card-shaped well, and I’m not sure what that’s for exactly, but I guess they had some extra room on the insert.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms domains
Each domain is unique, with its own artwork, name, and effect. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I really love the artwork for the game, which was done by Mihajlo “The Mico” Dimitrievski. He’s done all of the artwork on the other Valeria titles as well, giving the whole thing a consistent look that ties them together. My prototype didn’t have finished names on the various domain cards, but the finished version has 24 unique domains, each with its own name and artwork.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms at GameStorm
This shot from GameStorm in March shows a little of the curling, but current photos show the curl is gone. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The one issue with the game was that there was a manufacturing issue in the first print run with some batches that caused the cards to curl. Daily Magic replaced cards for people who had an issue with curling. I did notice mine curled a bit at first, but over time they seem to have flattened back down so I didn’t get a replacement. The cards have a linen finish and are pretty nice. You don’t actually shuffle most of them, though—just the domains and the dukes, really.

Five Players

During the Kickstarter campaign, a stretch goal was reached to add a fifth player. This added a few more copies of most cards to the game, as well as a slight rule change only used when playing with five players. The last player (to the right of the first player) receives the Resting token. When you are resting, you do not harvest anything based on the first player’s dice roll. At the end of turn, both the First Player token and the Resting token are passed clockwise.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms
Cardboard tokens for the first player, resting player, and resource multipliers. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

I think the primary reason for this change was to prevent runaway resources. If you have five opportunities to harvest before you take your actions, you can amass quite a lot of resources, making your actions extremely powerful. Even in a 4-player game, it can be easy to acquire a lot of resources, and it would be much more pronounced in a 5-player game. Resting alleviates that a little, but it’s an easy rule to forget.

The one downside I see to the resting is that it can be frustrating when the numbers you’ve invested in are rolled during your resting turn. With fewer players, you can sometimes take a strategy where you buy a lot of a citizen that doesn’t get rolled often—say an 11/12 Miner—knowing that on the few occasions when somebody rolls 11 or 12, you’ll get a huge payout. But because you sit out 20% of the rounds in a 5-player game, there’s a 1 in 5 chance that even if somebody does roll 11 or 12, you won’t get anything. Valeria: Card Kingdoms balances out the luck of the dice with the fact that everyone harvests based on the same die roll—but when one player doesn’t harvest each turn, it means that good and bad rolls affect different players.

Even so, I’m glad there is an option for 5 players, because I have played the 5-player version several times, and I like Valeria enough that it’s nice to have it as an option even with more players. It does increase the length of the game, too, so that’s something to take into account when playing with that many players.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms dukes
The Duke cards have custom portraits of backers—plus one promo card of the artist, Mico. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Solo Variant

The solo variant rules were also introduced as a stretch goal. You set up the game as normal, but you also place a Duke card face-down above the monster stacks to represent the Dark Lord, your opponent.

During your turn, you roll the dice, harvest, and take actions as usual, but there are two more phases: a monster phase and a second harvest phase.

Using the same dice values, you activate 2 monsters from the stacks, corresponding to the monster columns. (If you roll a 6, you choose any monster stack that isn’t yet exhausted.) Each monster that’s activated will remove one Citizen card in its column, placing it next to the Dark Lord card. If both Citizen stacks below the monster are exhausted, it removes a Domain card instead.

After the monster phase, you get a second harvest with the same dice values, but this time from the right side of the cards (as if another player rolled the dice).

The game can end in three ways:

  • If you kill all the monsters: you win!
  • If a monster attacks and there are no more Citizens or Domains to remove in that column: you lose!
  • If five card stacks are exhausted, you compare your score to the Dark Lord’s score to see who won.

Mixed Citizen Variant

There’s one other variant included in the rulebook: instead of choosing which Citizen to use for each die value, you shuffle them and deal out a fixed number of them face-down, turning the top card face-up. For instance, Monks and Clerics are both 1s—so you shuffle those, and have a mixed stack of Monks and Clerics for stack 1. Citizens are revealed as you go.

The rulebook also has some recommended setups for combinations of monsters, citizens, and domains that will focus on gold, strength, or magic.

Expansion Packs

Along with the base game, I also received the Kickstarter bonus alternate art Starting cards, as well as two small expansion packs, the King’s Guard and the Undead Samurai. The alternate Starting cards do not change the gameplay at all, but just give you different artwork to choose from for your starting Peasant and Knight. Each expansion pack retails for $5, though they seem to be in limited availability currently. I did find them both at Cool Stuff Inc.

The King’s Guard expansion pack includes:

  • 6 King’s Guard Cards
  • 5 Unique Event Cards
  • 1 Rules Card
  • 2 Dividers

The Undead Samurai expansion pack includes:

  • 1 Undead Samurai Lord
  • 5 Undead Samurai
  • 5 Event Cards
  • 1 Duke Card
  • 1 Rules Card
  • 2 Dividers
Valeria: Card Kingdoms events
A few of the Event cards that may appear when stacks are exhausted. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Event cards in each expansion pack have the “Exhausted” card on one side, but an event on the other. (The base game’s Exhausted cards look the same on both sides.) To use them, you remove a number of Exhausted cards from the base game and shuffle in some of the Event cards in their place. Then, every time a stack of cards is exhausted, you draw one and see if it has an event on the back, in which case it takes effect immediately. Some events give everyone a bonus (with an extra bonus for the active player); some are bad for everyone; some allow everyone to spend some resources immediately for victory points.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms King's Guard
The King’s Guard Event brings in a new Citizen for hire. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The King’s Guard also comes with one event that puts the King’s Guard Citizen cards into play. It’s a soldier-type Citizen that activates on a 7 or 8, which is pretty powerful, and gives you 2 strength whether it was your roll or somebody else’s. When this Event card is drawn, the King’s Guard stack is put on top of the Event card—it still counts as one of the exhausted piles for the purposes of game end conditions.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms Undead Samurai
The Undead Samurai is a new monster class. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Undead Samurai can be played in two ways. One is as a new monster stack: simply make a stack of the Undead Samurai monsters, with the Undead Samurai Lord at the bottom, and use it as a new monster stack. They’re not too hard to defeat, and provide only 1 point and 3 magic when defeated. The Undead Samurai Lord is a little harder—5 strength and 5 magic—and provides 4 points, plus bonuses for other Undead Samurai that you’ve defeated.

You can also use the Undead Samurai as an event. There’s another version of the Undead Samurai Lord with an Exhausted card back, mixed in with the Events. When that Event is drawn, it goes into the exhausted spot as usual, and then each player will put an Undead Samurai monster card on top of a non-exhausted stack of their choice. Those stacks cannot be accessed until the monster is gone. If the Undead Samurai Lord is slain, all the others go away.

I really like using the Event cards when playing—usually you don’t replace all of the Exhausted cards, and it’s an easy variant even for players who are learning the game for the first time. It does add a little more randomness to the game, because you never know if you take the last card whether you will trigger an Event, or whether it will be good or bad.

The Verdict

The gameplay in Valeria: Card Kingdoms is fairly simple and straightforward, and it’s a nice mix of luck and strategy. I have felt that some of the Duke cards are a little imbalanced, though I haven’t done extensive playtesting myself to confirm that, so that’s more of an anecdotal claim. I didn’t get a chance to play the Flames & Frost expansion before the Kickstarter, so I’m eagerly awaiting that along with everyone else.

Valeria: Card Kingdoms butcher
Alas, this butcher isn’t welcome when my daughters play. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

When I first played Valeria: Card Kingdoms as a prototype, I got a kick out of it and felt it was a pretty solid design. It reminded me of Machi Koro, another family favorite, and since then my daughters have taken a liking to it as well (though they really don’t like the look of the Butcher, who’s on the cover, so we rarely ever use him). Since getting my finished copy, Valeria has become one of my top 10 most-played games this year: it’s one that made my short list for packing to Gen Con, and it’s one that I’ve taught several times even when I wasn’t playing myself, simply because I think it’s a fun game that a lot of people will enjoy. Nearly everyone I’ve introduced it to has really enjoyed it, which is always a good sign for a game. It has definitely been one of my favorites this year.

Look for Valeria: Card Kingdoms at your local game store, or pick up a copy online!

Disclosure: I received a finished copy of this game for review.

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Jonathan H. Liu is a stay-at-home dad in Portland, Oregon, who loves to read, is always up for a board game, and has a bit of a Kickstarter habit.