Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a one to five player game about tableau and engine building in the name of the kingdom, which is being ravaged by threats from all sides. Our review includes content from the base game, as well as the Flames and Frost expansion and a couple of other mini expansions. A new expansion for Valeria: Card Kingdoms called Shadowvale was published in 2019, but the content from that release is not included here.
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a game that comes with a ton of content in the base box, but an even more ridiculous amount when you factor in all of the cards that come in both the large and small expansions that have already been released. The intent for all this content is not that it is all used at the same time, but that it can be mixed and matched in different ways to create a different experience every time.
The game itself is extremely straightforward. A marketplace of four rows of cards will be laid out in the centre of the table. The top row will feature five decks of monster cards that the players will battle against, whilst the second and third row will feature citizens that will be used to generate resources including gold, might and magic (which can be used as a wildcard for either gold or might.) The final row will include a number of domains cards, which are powerful locations that the players can purchase to affect the game rules in some way.
Each player begins with just a peasant and a knight who have a chance to generate one gold and one might respectively, but it’s not quite as simple as that in Valeria: Card Kingdoms. Instead, each turn begins with the roll of a pair of dice. Only cards with a number that matches the number on either dice or the total will be activated. The peasant shows a five and the knight a six, so in this example the knight will only generate his might if a six is rolled on either dice or if the total across the dice is equal to six.
With this rule in mind, the players will spend their turns rolling the dice to harvest income, then they’ll spend that income on any two actions, which will mostly include defeating monsters (usually by spending might) or by recruiting the citizen cards to their tableau (usually by spending gold.) Magic can be substituted for either gold or might (and must sometimes be spent anyway) but the player must always have at least one of each depicted resource as a minimum.
Another, less common action is purchasing a domain card, which the players will generally do two or three times per game, simply because of the cost and the fact that domain cards often add points, but don’t tend to offer as much resource generation as the citizen cards. That said, domains will offer persistent effects or additional resources that don’t require the dice to hit a certain number, so they are more reliable.
The final, and perhaps most important action during the early game, is the ability to generate a resource of your choice from the bank. This mitigates the (likely) fact that the dice during early turns simply won’t roll the numbers that your cards show. I should also mention that during the harvest step, if (at any point in the game) the dice roll does not show any of your cards, then you can take any one income at that point as well.
Gameplay continues with the players harvesting income, then taking actions until at some point, one of the end game conditions is met. When all enemies have been slain or all domains have been built both trigger the end game, as does when a number of citizen stacks equal to twice the number of players have been exhausted. As a side note, whenever a stack is exhausted, an exhausted card should be placed in its space and there can be events in the exhausted stack that might add new rules or even introduce new enemies into the mix.
When the endgame is triggered, the players will perform a final scoring which takes into account all of the victory point tokens that they have gathered, as well as those shown on slain monsters, built domains and those gained as the result of any special objectives shown on the players duke card, which is dealt to them during setup.
Valeria: Card Kingdoms is remarkably light and simple to pick up, to the extent that I’d say it is very much a gateway game that could offer a good lead in to a more complex engine builder such as Wingspan even though it has a very different kind of theme. If you boil it down to pure mathematics, then what the players are doing is hiring citizens to increase their likelihood of generating the income they need, then spending that income on the point scoring monster and domain cards.
Like so many other games of this kind, Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a puzzle about efficiency that is wrapped in beautiful artwork and brought to bear with a fairly high dose of randomness that affects everyone in a broadly equal way. You may have noticed that I never mentioned the monsters actually attacking the players — and that’s because they don’t — but I kind of wish that there was a way to introduce some level of threat or challenge that could result in all players losing if they don’t work in some kind of logical way.
I’ve actually played a fair number of solo games of Valeria: Card Kingdoms and in this mode, the enemy player is represented by a randomly chosen duke and the monsters will slowly eliminate citizens as the game progresses. This mode ensures that the lone player can lose if enough citizens (and ultimately domains) are destroyed, and whilst I never lost this mode, it did feel like it offered something different that I really enjoyed.
To summarise, Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a really enjoyable game that is accessible and attractive enough to be played by a wide range of people with different interests and experience levels. It’s a very generous game that rapidly allows players to make just about any decision they want (you’ll have stacks of resources by the mid game) and that will feel rewarding to young or novice players, but it isn’t much of a challenge for those looking for a more hardcore experience.
Overall, Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a beautiful game that I can see a lot of mileage in, thanks to the huge variety of card combinations that are included in the base games and the first tranche of expansions that I already have. With others like shadowvale either recently released or coming out and a few expansions that add new rules (such as Agents, who offer single turn effects) there’s an awful lot to see here, if you enjoy the basic premise.