In the land of Vye, competing rulers each seek to control the largest kingdom and have their sights set on expanding their holdings into neighboring lands. In this cutthroat game of strategy, place and claim land cards to assemble the biggest connected territory—and keep an eye on your borders, to protect them from rival incursion. With good fortune and tactical play, you might get the best of your opponents and reign supreme over Vye.
What Is Vye: The Card Game of Capture and Control?
Vye is a card-laying game of abstract strategy for 2–5 players, age 8 and up, and plays in about 20 minutes. It retails for $24.95. The object is to have the largest territory of linked cards at the end of the game. This is a review of the second edition, which differs from the first in the number of components and in some tweaks to the artwork.
Inside the box you’ll find:
- 64 Land cards (4 each of 16 sets)
- 20 Family cards* (5 family sets)
- 25 Special cards*
- 1 Inevitable Empress card
- 150 wood Family tokens (30 each of Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, and Magenta)
- 6 Undead tokens (Bone)*
*The instruction manual includes seven possible modes of differing complexity, and some of the listed components may not be used in all modes. In this review, I will outline the Beginning Journeys mode, which does not use the Special cards or Undead tokens, but the rulebook covers their use in the more advanced modes.
I’m a sucker for abstract strategy in general, but when Vye was first recommended to me, I took one look at the artwork and knew I had to add this game to my collection. Vye’s artwork shines, and it’s perfectly in tune with the theme. Colorful and appealing, the illustrations feel both classic and modern at once. The creatures and landscapes evoke a fantasy terrain, vast and rich and available for the taking, but the art also has an edge to it—sharp curves, angular composition, and hard points that align with the ruthless play.
The uses for all the cards will be explained later, but it’s worth pointing out here that the design of the four Family cards—the Advisor, King, Queen, and Heir—is also instructional, as the arrows on the shields indicate the direction in which that Family member can capture cards in the tableau. I have to give a thumbs-up for design that is both attractive and functional without needing to use text.
The Special cards are only used in the more advanced modes of play—the rulebook outlines which cards are used with which modes, and how each is played. They are the only cards that contain any text (and barely any at that). For the most part, the game requires no reading at all aside from the rule book.
The small wooden Family tokens are the perfect accompaniment. The colors are bright and colorblind friendly (according to the product listings, at least—my own eyes can’t verify this). The tokens are sized large enough to easily see and use, but aren’t so big as to overwhelm the tableau. Vye is all about the cards. They bring such beauty and table presence that the tokens are correctly secondary in this case.
How to Play Vye
I’ve mentioned that the rulebook suggests seven possible modes of play. For the purposes of this review, I will describe the Beginning Journeys mode, which utilizes the Family and Land cards. Additionally, there is a simpler Kid Friendly mode that uses only Land cards, and five more complex modes that incorporate Special cards, making the game highly adaptable to your group’s level of experience.
Distribute to each player one set of Family cards and all the wooden tokens of the same Family color. Family cards are laid on the table in front of the player in left-to-right order of Advisor, King, Queen, and Heir.
Depending on the number of players, choose how many sets of Land cards you would like to include in your deck. The rulebook recommends 9–11 Land sets for two-player games, scaling up to 13–16 Land sets for a game of five players. The number is really at the group’s discretion, depending on whether they want a shorter or longer game. Shuffle the Land cards and deal 4 to each player. These cards are kept secret and taken into the player’s hand.
The dealer then creates the initial playing field by laying out 5 cards in a cross shape, starting at center, then placing cards to the right, bottom, left, and top of the first card.
The remaining Land cards form the draw pile. Before placing it face down on the table, the dealer should remove the bottom five cards from the deck (without looking at them), shuffle the Inevitable Empress card in randomly, and return those cards to the deck bottom. Drawing the Inevitable Empress immediately ends the game, so this placement adds a level of unpredictability. She could be six cards from the bottom or the very final card, so players must keep in mind that if they hold their most strategic cards in reserve too long, the game might end before they’re able to use them.
What to Do on Your Turn
On their turn, players must lay one card, either from their hand or their Family line, onto the field of play. The card must connect orthogonally to a card already in the tableau, but other than that, any card and any placement is fair game.
After the placement comes the conquest. Players claim the card they have placed by putting one of their Family tokens on it. They also then lay claim to any surrounding cards that their placement has entitled them to take, based on Land Matching, Family Capture, or Color Capture:
- Land Matching enables the player to claim any matching Land cards to which it connects orthogonally (not diagonally). If that connecting card is in turn adjacent to other matching cards, your placement allows you to claim the entire chain.
- Family Capture allows the player to claim cards adjoining them per the symbol on the shield. The Advisor can claim all cards around it diagonally and orthogonally; the King claims any/all four orthogonal cards; the Queen claims any/all diagonal cards; and the Heir can claim only one card, but has its pick out of every diagonal or orthogonal card. Family Capture also applies to Family cards already in the tableau, though note that there is no cascade effect–only the rival Family card is captured, not the cards surrounding it.
- Color Capture specifies that if players lay a Family card adjacent to another Family card of the same color, they automatically capture that Family card, even if that location isn’t part of the Family Capture.
If the card to be claimed has an opponent’s token on it, that token is removed and returned to the original player, and the new token put in its place.
(If you play one of the more complex modes, any Special actions would also be resolved at this point in the turn.)
Vye‘s strategy lies in finding the balance between being proactive and reactive, offensive and defensive. Players must build their territory outward while also protecting it from opponent Land Matching. At the same time, it behooves them to disrupt their opponents’ holdings to disconnect large areas, even if that action doesn’t add to their own largest territory. The balance is often guided by the cards they take into hand, which offer different opportunities depending on which cards have already been played.
As the board fills out, it becomes clear which cards are left in the deck and which cards in your hand may be worth hanging onto for a sneak attack. But players must also be cognizant of the Inevitable Empress—if they hold back their best cards for too long, the game might end before they make their move. This is especially true of the Family Cards, which are tempting to save because (except for the Heir) they can claim several cards at once.
After all Land Matching, Family Capture, and Color Capture are resolved, the player draws their hand back up to four, and the turn is done. Play continues in clockwise order until the Inevitable Empress is drawn from the deck, at which point the game ends immediately. Players count the number of connected cards they have claimed—if they have more than one set of connected cards, the largest set is scored. The player with the biggest territory wins.
Why You Should Play Vye
Vye’s chief virtues are its versatility and elegance. Intuitive to learn and play, it scales well from 2–5 players, though the tone and strategy of the game change across that range. Two-player games can become tense duels in which the “take that” moves feel pointed and acute—perfect for players who can handle the rivalry in good humor, but take this as a warning if you’re playing with a kid (or adult!) who is a poor sport about quick reversals of fortune. More players cushion the competition a little and encourage different strategies. For instance, players may find themselves able to stay out of the fray and sneak in at the end for a win while other players are distracted by their own showdown.
The additional modes of play allow players to adjust the game to different levels of ability, and complexity can be ramped up as the group gains experience. Replayability is high because the field of play changes every time, and the different modes encourage players to flex different strategic muscles. The absence of text on the cards also makes Vye accessible to a wide range of players. The rules, turn structure, and object of the game are straightforward to explain, and there’s basically no reading required to play, so anybody who struggles to read will find this game easy to pick up. On a practical level, compact storage makes the game portable and ideal for travel, though it does require a large surface on which to play.
Vye also gracefully balances tactical maneuvering with luck. While players are subject to the vagaries of the draw deck, they’re also able to strategize the use of the cards in their hand, holding certain cards until the time is right and trying to play them when the layout on the tableau is most favorable. And while they don’t know what their opponents are holding in their hands, they can see which of the rival Family cards are still unused, and by counting the matching cards in the tableau they can guess which cards are still in the deck and may be played either to their benefit or detriment. Finally, the Inevitable Empress adds a suspenseful layer of uncertainty, forcing players to either push their luck and hold their best cards or risk playing them too early. This may not be the game for players seeking total strategic control, but if you like to inject a bit of chance into your tactics, it’s a great choice.
Originally Kickstarted in 2014, Vye is now in its second edition, and I find it to be a gem that has flown a little below the radar. If you’re seeking a beautiful, portable, strategic game that plays in a half hour or less, you can pick it up for $24.95.
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