Villages of Valeria — build a house of cards in this expansive town

Only a few months ago we reviewed Valeria: Card Kingdoms, and I really enjoyed its accessibility, speed of play and how generous it felt overall. Today, we’re taking a look at its sibling — the travel sized Villages of Valeria, which is set in the same world and shares the same artwork, resources and a few aspects of gameplay. There are several expansions available for Villages of Valeria, and this review incorporates a few of the older ones, such as Monuments and Landmarks & Artefacts, for example. 

Looks can be deceiving, and while Villages of Valeria ships in a very small box, it’s quite the table hog and a much bigger game than you might expect. For starters, it supports five players and is built around a tableau building mechanic that takes up a lot of table space. Over and above that though, it’s also a reasonably strategic game, and like Card Kingdoms, it gives the players a lot of agency over their own destiny. 

Each game begins with the players taking one castle card, three gold coins and a hand of six building cards. A further row of these building cards is then dealt to form a shared market, and then a row of adventurer cards is placed below it. Depending upon which expansions you are using, you may cut additional cards into these decks, or even deal out another row of cards (such as the landmarks shown in some of my pictures.) 

An action selection board will be placed somewhere in the centre of the table, and the objective of the game is to be the player who has the most victory points across all the cards that form their village come the end of the game. The game end is usually triggered when one player has constructed and recruited a combination of eight building and adventurer cards, although I personally enjoyed using a house rule that increased this number to ten or even twelve, especially in smaller games.

Villages of Valeria uses an action selection system that includes both lead and follow actions. There are several to choose from, each of which is fairly self explanatory, but I’ll give you a few examples: Harvest is the simplest, and simply allows the lead player to draw three building cards, either from the top of the deck or the face up piles and take them into hand. Any player following (which will usually be all players) will then also be able to draw a single card in the same way.

Build and Recruit are similar to each other, but relate to buildings and adventurers in turn. To build, the lead player will pay the resources as shown on the card in their hand that they wish to build, then draw a card. A following player will build the same way, but won’t draw a card. Recruitment involves the lead player paying one gold to the bank, then taking an adventurer to add to their village, whilst a following player will pay two for the same. The trick with adventurers is that each one requires certain criteria to be met in order for them to join you. 

The Develop action is where Villages of Valeria shows an interesting bit of differentiation. Each building card can be “developed” by placing it upside down and tucking it under the starting castle, leaving the resource that it generates visible. The lead player can discard one other card to take a Develop action, whereas a following player will need to discard two. All discards, unusually, are placed face up on top of one of the existing marketplace piles.

The final action is Tax, which allows the lead player to take a gold coin from the supply, whilst the following players simply draw a building card. The number of gold coins is limited by player count, and each resource generated (to build) by placing a coin on it. When players replenish their supplies at the beginning of their turn, they pick up all gold on their resource generating cards. 

The interesting bit is that some of that gold might have been placed by someone else — since it is always legal to use anyone else’s resource, as long as you have a coin and there is no coin already on the card you wish to use. Knowing when to use someone else’s card (and pay them a coin in doing so) is an important feature of Villages of Valeria

I should also mention that many of the adventurers and buildings provide either instant effects (like drawing a card or a gold) or ongoing effects that trigger when a specific action is lead. For example, some cards will allow the player to take two coins instead of one when the Tax action is taken. Again, these cards are valuable and securing them early can be key to victory.

Each game of Villages of Valeria unfolds in a similar way, with players choosing their actions, following when it makes sense to do so and expanding their board state. Careful decisions about using other players resources (especially when you know it will hurt them) and even when to discard a card and block access to another one in the stack all play their part. 

Adventurers offer lots of victory points for players who collect sets or focus on certain things, but do little to expand on the range of abilities and resources added to a kingdom. As such, there’s another balance to be struck between going after high value cards that will stunt your growth, and just those that produce resources or add to actions, but don’t score many points. 

The bottom line is; I love Villages of Valeria. Daily Magic Games never seem to disappoint me with their artwork, the quality and choice of their components, or most importantly, the mixture of mechanics that they choose to employ. Villages of Valeria most certainly has similarities (beyond the artwork and setting) with Card Kingdoms, but it is also distinct in its own right. 

The action selection system is the key difference, and whilst it’s been done elsewhere, it works really well here in this small box experience. Layering in more expansions adds more rules and features, and there are already God-only-knows-how-many of these add-on packs to choose from, some of which come in foil booster packs, and others that introduce their own wooden pieces and other components. 

I’m a big fan of small box games that somehow offer more than their size suggests. Villages of Valeria is one such game, and despite being so simple — just a load of cards, a few coins and an action token — it features almost no luck. Everything you do can be controlled or influenced, and the decisions you make never feel restrictive. Following is often a no brainer, but as resources (especially building cards) get tight, the decisions get harder and harder.

Overall, Villages of Valeria is going in my longer term keep pile and it will remain one of my favourite small box games for some time, I suspect. The mixture of great artwork, a ton of theme and some interesting mechanics, as well as a quick setup and a low level of complexity (relative to decent depth) make it an absolute winner. An abundance of expandable content is the icing on the cake.

You can purchase Villages of Valeria on Amazon.

Looking to get your friends or family into board games? Check out our list of great, accessible games, perfect for just that, here.

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