Goblin Vaults Cover

Stash the Finest Fantasy Loot in ‘Goblin Vaults’

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Bid with the various treasures in your hand to collect more valuable treasures for your vault. Pay close attention to the value of each card and the order in which you stash them to fulfill the endgame objectives, collect the most gears, and become the richest inmate in all of Kulbak Prison!

What Is Goblin Vaults?

Goblin Vaults is a puzzly, tableau-building card game, set in the Roll Player universe, for 1-5 players, ages 14 and up, that takes about 45 minutes to play. The base game retails at $24.95 and will be available for pre-order on February 1st via its official website, goblinvaultsgame.com, which currently links to its BGG page until its launch date. It will also be released at retail stores on February 28th. Goblin Vaults features many well-known mechanics, but with six different scoring conditions to keep track of, it may take a few games for the younger or less experienced folks to digest the different strategies, so take that age range with a grain of salt.

Goblin Vaults was designed by Keith Matejka and Eric Schlautman, with art from Diego Sá, Lucas Ribeiro, Rainer Petter, and Veronica Fedorova, and was published by Thunderworks Games.

Goblin Vaults Components

  • 60 Loot Cards (green back, 10 cards per suit)
  • 5 Faction Cards (purple back)
  • 5 Faction Markers 
  • 1 Basic Goal Card (double-sided)
  • 6 Suit Goal Cards (double-sided)
  • 26 Gear Tokens
  • 1 Goblin First Player Marker
  • 5 Reference Cards
  • 1 Scorepad
All Goblin Vaults Components
The components overall are colorful and well-made. Photo: Alex Hart

The production of this game is well done and it fits in nicely with the other games in the Roll Player universe that Thunderworks Games has become known for. The cards all have a nice linen finish, and the art on them (and on the box) is stunning. The iconography on the cards as well makes everything easy to understand and keep track of, which is very important for a game like this that has a lot of moving parts.

The goal cards being double-sided gives this game a lot of good replayability, and I found that, in general, the scoring conditions were pretty easy to grasp, thanks to the concise wording and layout of the cards. I will say, though, as with any game with these variable scoring conditions, it’s always good to double-check with your fellow players before the game starts that they fully understand the stipulations at hand. This will prevent the mid-game “oh THAAAAT’S what that goal card means” revelation (which happened to me on a few occasions) and will help improve the experience for everyone.

Overall, Goblin Vaults is well-made but not overdone and has just enough quality in its components to help players forget about production and focus strictly on the gameplay. The box itself is sturdy and covered with awesome art, with minimal wasted interior space. It’s a great start, but how does it play?

How to Play Goblin Vaults

You can download a copy of the rulebook here

The Goal

The goal of Goblin Vaults is to be the player with the most gears at the end of nine rounds. You’ll gain gears by completing endgame objectives, collecting cards of your faction, acquiring Loot Cards with gears already on them, or placing Loot Cards in their proper tiers in your vault. After nine rounds, when your hand is empty and your vault is full, count up your total gears, and whoever has the most wins!

Setup

The setup for Goblin Vaults is pretty straightforward and requires minimal table space. To start, simply select one side of the basic goal card and two other suit goal cards to make up the endgame objectives for this game. For the first game, the rulebook suggests using the Cluster basic goal and the Tome Library and Gimnax’s Reign suit goals.

Three starting goal cards
The three starting goal cards for first-time players. Photo: Alex Hart

After determining your goals, you’ll create the Loot Deck by shuffling together different suits depending on the player count—2/3 players will use 4 suits, 4 players will use 5 suits, and 5 players will use 6. Also when making the Loot Deck, make sure you include the two suits that match the suit goals that you’ve chosen for the game.

Once the Loot Deck is shuffled together, deal out 10 cards to each player face down. These 10 cards become your hand, which you will use to bid on cards each round. After you’ve dealt the hands, place three Loot Cards face up in the middle of the table to make the “block” that serves as the market row for each round. You’ll also reveal one more Loot Card above the block that will serve as the Warden Card, which we’ll get into later.

Example of the market block with Warden Card
An example of what the “block” might look like at the beginning of the game, complete with Warden Card. Photo: Alex Hart

Each player will then be dealt a random Faction Card face up and take its matching Faction Marker, as well as 3 Gear Tokens. Then each player will choose one Loot Card from their hand and simultaneously reveal it, placing it on the table in front of them to indicate the beginning of their vault. The first player marker goes to “whoever looks most like a goblin,” which is one of the most savage first-player determinants I’ve ever come across but certainly sets the tone for the type of player interaction you might experience once you start. Personally, I’d like to propose a house rule to change it to “player who does the best goblin impression,” which adds a little roleplay into the mix, but maybe that’s just me. Anyways, once you’ve determined a first player, it’s time to start filling your vaults!

Gameplay

Each round of Goblin Vaults is played over three phases: the Scheme Phase, the Vault Phase, and the Warden Phase. A concise description of these phases is on the Order of Play side of the Reference Cards, which will help you keep things straight for your first few plays.

The first phase is the most important because the results of it will determine what you’ll be fitting into your vault this turn. In the Scheme Phase, each player, starting with the owner of the First Player Token, will choose a card from their hand and place it face up underneath one of the three cards on offer on the block. This is known as a bid, the strength of which is determined by both value and suit.

If you are not the first player, you have a few options when your turn comes around: you can choose to become the highest bidder on a Loot Card that has no previous bid on it or you can choose to place a bid on a Loot Card that has already been bid on. Now, if you choose the latter and your bid is higher, then you’ll simply possess the highest bid for that card for the time being. But you may also choose to intentionally play a card that is lower than the current winning bid in order to take advantage of the underbidding bonus. When a player underbids, they’ll have to place a Gear Token on the current winning bid card, but in exchange, during the Vault Phase, they’ll get to place their bid card in their vault rather than the Loot Card that was on offer. This is a great way to move cards from your hand directly into your vault, and when used wisely, can lead to some clever and unexpected plays.

Putting Gear Tokens on the winning bid
The third player has underbid with the gold card and must put a Gear Token on the current winning bid. Photo: Alex Hart

Now, before you move to the Vault Phase, players will check to see if the faction icon on the Loot Card they played matches the faction of the Warden Card. If it does, that player may immediately take a Warden Action before the bids are resolved. This step can be easy to forget, but it’s important for it to happen before the Vault Phase since the order of operations will have an impact on the final result.

The red hammer player’s card has a faction icon that matches that of the Warden Card; they can now take a Warden Action. Photo: Alex Hart

Anyways, there are two possible Warden Actions to choose from: Move and Draw. The Move action allows you to move a single card from one place in your vaults to another legal place in your vaults. This is the only way to adjust the order of your cards, so don’t forget about this action! Now, if you’re satisfied with your current arrangement, then you can instead take the Draw action which allows you to discard an unwanted card in your hand and replace it with the top card of the Loot Deck. This can be useful if you’re fishing for a specific value or suit of the card but is much more of a consolation prize compared to the utility of the Move action. Either way, these actions are optional, so you’ll never be forced into anything.

Once every player has bid and all eligible Warden Actions have been fulfilled, it’s time to move onto the Vault Phase! In the Vault Phase, you’ll resolve all bids and then add your winnings to one of your four available vaults. To resolve the bids, you’ll go through the three cards on the block one by one. If there are no bids on a card, add a Gear Token to it to sweeten the deal for the next round and leave it be. If there is only one bid on a card, the owner of the winning bid will take the card they bid on and place it somewhere in their vault, replacing it on the block with the Loot Card they used as their bid.

Now, in the common case of a card with two or more bids on it, you’ll have to determine whose bid is the highest. First, check to see if any cards match the suit of the Warden Card. This suit is treated like a trump suit for this round, so any cards matching the Warden Card’s suit, regardless of the value, will be considered higher than the cards of any other suit. If there are no cards in the trump suit, then the winner is simply the card with the highest value. If there’s a tie, whoever made their bid first wins. If your card was not the winning bid, you’ll take the card you played and, instead of refilling the market with it, you’ll place it directly into your vault.

The green 3 wins this bid because it matches the Warden Card’s suit. All non-winning cards go straight to their respective vaults. Photo: Alex Hart

Placing cards in your vaults is pretty straightforward but still worth explaining. Each player has 4 implied vaults in their play area. When you acquire a new card each round, you’ll either choose to start a new collection in an empty vault or start building down into an existing chamber. Each vault can only contain a maximum of three cards in it, and the order in which you play these cards will have a significant effect on your endgame scoring, depending on your goals for the game. Pay close attention to these scoring objectives and the tier icons on each Loot Card and you’ll be sitting pretty at the end of the game!

When placing cards in your vault, you can either build out or build down. Photo: Alex Hart

Once each player has placed their single acquired card into their vault, it’s time to move on to the final phase, the Warden Phase. If you are the first player, before you pass it along to the next player at the end of the round, you’ll have one more important decision to make. You now have the opportunity to switch out the Warden Card with one of the three Loot Cards on the block. Although this doesn’t seem like a hugely important action right off the bat, switching the Warden Card can allow you to change both the Faction icon and the trump suit for the following round, a round where you will now be bidding last. It also has the added benefit of protecting the switched card from being bid on and bought by someone else in the next round, a form of defense that can sometimes be effective. 

switching the Warden Card
A player may want to switch this card in the block with the current Warden Card if they have a lot of red cards to bid with in their hand. Photo: Alex Hart

Once again, though, switching the Warden Card is optional, and the current first player may choose to forgo this action and just pass the first player marker clockwise. If players still have cards in their hands, the game will continue on and the new first player will start the next Scheme Phase. But if everyone’s hand is depleted, then you’ve played nine rounds and it’s time to add up your points!

Game End

After the ninth round, all players should have a full vault of ten Loot Cards and no cards remaining in their hand. You will then check the Scorepad line by line and evaluate each player’s vault to determine their final score! Players can score gears aka victory points for the following:

  • Any Gear Tokens in their supply (1 gear per token)
  • Any Loot Cards positioned in the correct vault tier (1/2/3 gears for each card in Tier 1/2/3)
  • Any Faction icon in their vault that matches the player’s Faction (2 gears per matching icon)
  • Fulfillment of any of the 3 Goal Cards (gears determined by chosen goals)
Final Vault Scoring
This player will score 18 gears for Goal 1, 15 gears for Goal 2, 9 gears for Goal 3, and 9 more gears for correct Tier placement. Photo: Alex Hart

Note: when a Goal Card refers to the “highest” or “lowest” card, if two or more cards are tied for that value, then none of them score.

After all the calculations have been made, whoever has the most gears wins! If there is a tie, the player with the most Gear Tokens wins, and if the tie continues, then the players share the victory.

Why You Should Play Goblin Vaults

When the folks at Thunderworks Games were pitching me on this game, they cited my documented affinity for puzzly card games like Bohnanza and The Crew as a reason I might enjoy Goblin Vaults. And they were right… kind of. I certainly enjoyed Goblin Vaults, and I’ll get into why in a minute, but to me, it occupies a slightly different space than those aforementioned family-weight card games. Goblin Vaults provides a depth of strategy and a level of complexity that these other games don’t, which comes with both positives and negatives—so let’s get into them, shall we?

When you play Goblin Vaults for the first time, it’s easy to overlook the mix of really interesting mechanics and just focus on the big set collection and tableau-building puzzle in front of you. But as you play it more and more, you start to see how these mechanics, like taking Warden Actions or underbidding, can improve your overall strategy and help you get the most out of this game.

Take the Warden Phase for example. A beginner player might just see this as an opportunity to get another card they want into the block and pass on this action if they don’t see anything that works for their vault. But an experienced player, on the other hand, might consider a number of different factors. Is the suit of the Warden Card matching any cards in my hand, thereby increasing my bidding power? Does the Faction icon on the Warden Card match the icon on the Loot Card I’m about to use to get me a free Warden Action? Is there a card on the block that would be really useful for another player that I can make temporarily unavailable? All of these reasons are perfectly viable and become more apparent as you dive deeper into the game. In short, Goblin Vaults is more than the sum of its parts.

I also love that this game inherently has a ton of replayability. With the basic goal card and the 6 suit goal cards that are all double-sided, you’ve got plenty of permutations to mix and match. Plus, in my plays, the suit goal cards felt different enough that I actually had to alter my strategy significantly from game to game. Needless to say, the game really feels different every time you play it.

All Goal Cards
The seven goal cards, which are all double-sided, make each game feel different. Photo: Alex Hart

I should also mention that having six different scoring opportunities means that there are certainly multiple paths to victory. Since there’s a lot to pay attention to, it’s a bit much to just “go for everything,” so I’ve found myself mostly honing in on three to four of the goals and letting the chips (or the gears) fall where they may for the remaining goals. Now, I’m no stranger to these endgame point salads, and, in fact, I enjoy games where you have to balance generalization with specialization, but this brings me to my main commentary on the game.

Simply put, Goblin Vaults is more complex than it appears on its surface, and for a seasoned gamer like yours truly, this is a big plus! But for newer gamers or folks that are seeking something more casual, this one felt just one step too complicated for the family-weight crowd. If you’re coming from games like Bohnanza or The Crew, the learning curve feels just big enough that you might want to look for a card game like Cat in the Box with a little bit more depth to bridge that gap. But I will say, the fact that this takes place in the Roll Player universe certainly helps, since folks now have a certain expectation for the weight and level of strategy of games that carry this theme. Goblin Vaults feels like it fits nicely into this catalog and will be well-loved by fans of this line of games.

Goblin Factions
The art style helps to tie this game in with the rest of the Roll Player universe. Photo: Alex Hart

All in all, Goblin Vaults surprised me. I went in expecting a light, puzzly card game, and I came out with something that was unexpectedly strategic and full of tough decisions. And despite the complexity of the game being a harder sell to the family-weight consumer, core gamers like me (and presumably you) will revel in the deep decision space and tight action economy. Even the two-player and solitaire modes that use a dummy player present you with a thinky challenge where every action counts. Each game that I’ve played has revealed new strategies and new ways to win, and for that, it deserves its flowers. So if you’re looking for a streamlined tableau builder that stuffs a ton of strategic depth into just 10 cards, then might I suggest Goblin Vaults?

For more information about Goblin Vaults, visit the Goblin Vaults official website.


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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

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