Full disclosure: A preview copy of Thrones of Valeria was provided by Daily Magic Games. Some art, gameplay, or other aspects of the game may change between this preview and the fulfillment of the Kickstarter, should it fund, as this is a preview of a currently unreleased game.
New Kickstarters! I’ve been a bit off the Kickstarter train lately (as I’ve been dealing with some other aspects of my life), but I’m back with a couple new Kickstarters over the next couple weeks! These are both two new games from the folks at Daily Magic Games, as part of a three-part game in the Valeria series! I got to try the two games I was interested in, Thrones and Dice Kingdoms, and so, here are the reviews! Let’s dive in and see what the games have going on.
In Thrones of Valeria, you’re playing a game that, in-universe, is based on the earliest power struggles of the five great houses of Valeria, as the kingdom came together. So a game about a game; you get it. Chart the houses’ rise and fall as you seek to do what anyone hopes to do during a major power struggle: get rich! Will you be able to trick the various houses into entrusting you with their funds? Or will you end up as broke as the early kingdom?
First, place the board into the center of the play area:
Then, shuffle the House Tiles and place them top to bottom in an random order:
Shuffle the cards, next:
Deal them out according to player count:
- 2 players: Deal each player two stacks of 10 cards. Set the second set aside until the next round.
- 3 players: Deal 13 cards to each player.
- 4 players: Deal 10 cards to each player.
- 5 players: Deal 8 cards to each player.
- 6 players: Deal 7 cards to each player.
Place the remaining cards on the board to create a deck.
If you’re playing with an even number of players, the game recommends playing in teams. If that’s the case, choose one player to be that team’s banker. Either way, give each player 2 silver coins, setting the gold coins aside:
You should be ready to start!
A game of Thrones of Valeria is played over two rounds, as players vie to earn money amidst the hectic back-and-forth of Valerian politics. Each round goes the same way, so let’s walk through one!
To start a round, players must find the player who will lead the first trick. That player is whoever has the highest-value card of the top-ranked house in the game. So if the top-ranked house is red, ask players if they have the red 9. If nobody does, check again for the red 8, and so on. That player leads the first trick, and chooses any card from their hand to play.
As with most trick-taking games, players must play a card from their hand that is the same suit as the led suit. If not, they may play any card from their hand. If it’s a Jester, they may activate its effect by paying its cost, otherwise that counts as a 0. Once every player has played a card, the card with the highest rank of the house with the highest standing wins. The player who wins the trick wins (or loses) coins equal to the value of their played card’s house. This does mean that a card that isn’t of the led suit can win, and the cards have various effects that can shift the standing of various houses over time. After the trick is resolved, all cards are discarded face-down. They cannot be looked at.
Once a player runs out of cards, the round ends! Note that certain card effects let you draw or discard cards, so players may run out of cards while other players still have cards in their hand. Once a round ends, gather up all the cards, shuffle them, and deal out again to start another round! In a two-player game, use your second hand of cards without shuffling the deck and discard pile.
After two rounds, the game ends! The player or team with the most money wins!
Player Count Differences
Weirdly, you’d assume that the big player count difference is the team variant. Generally, in a lot of the games I’ve played, the team variant usually shakes things up a pretty big amount. Here, it … doesn’t? The game plays largely the same, but you just have some advantages from another player who’s ostensibly trying to help you. Does that actually help? Does it just end up adding extra confusion? Honestly, it depends a bit on your teammate. Good team synergy helps a lot; you can leave winning a trick to your teammate while you steal coins or get coins or refill your hand, or you can team up with them to cost your opponents points or to steal their tricks. It’s grand. The game recommends playing with teams at all even numbers, and that makes sense, but you’re perfectly fine playing without teams at lower player counts, as well. I would just expect scores to be a bit tighter since you’re now competing against a bunch of other players. The other big gameplay shift is with two players: now, you pre-draw all 20 cards, keeping them in two stacks of 10. Play one round with one, and one round with the other, but don’t look at the second round’s cards until that round starts. I wouldn’t say I have any particular player count preference, though I worry that the game gets a bit unwieldy with 5+ folks. There, the hand you draw matters a lot, and you personally have limited influence on the rankings (since there are a lot more players involved). I’d probably stick to the 3 – 4 player range, here.
- Keep an eye on the House rankings. This is the number one way to trip yourself up! Especially given the House rankings can shift dynamically during a trick, you should make sure you know what the value of the card you’re playing is before you play it. You can think you’re playing a high-value card, only to see the entire value of the trick shift downwards and suddenly, you’re losing money, even though you won! Or another player can just outpace you by playing a card and moving that card’s House above yours. It’s chaotic, but you at least want to set yourself up for success when you can.
- Winning with an Alchemist is always worth it. You get 6 coins, which is more than any normal payout. It’s especially worth it if you can win with an Alchemist of the least valuable house. Instead of losing 3 coins, you gain 6! That’s great. The best part is, that creates tension for the other players. Do they let you get a huge payout, or do they play a higher-value card and win the trick (but still lose coins)? Neither option is good, and I love that for players. Honestly, the move is to play a Sorceress, since then you only effectively lose 2 coins.
- Keep in mind what happens when you play the Assassin. I kept running into this problem. I wanted to play the Assassin to drop the current House’s value to the bottom, but then that means that my Assassin (off-suit) would have won. Unfortunately, that means I would have lost a coin for the trick, so I ended up being better off playing another card. The Assassin is best played when it matches the color of the lead suit.
- Jesters are always worth it, but keep the costs in mind. You basically get to win a trick for free, which may or may not be what you want. They also cost money to activate, though, so you’ll still get 5 coins if you win, but the effective gain will be lessened somewhat. That said, if you need to lose a trick, just don’t pay for them! They’re worthless otherwise. The worst scenario is you paying for a Jester and another player out-Jestering you with a 2-Jester or a 3-Jester. That’s a bummer, but it does happen.
- Sorceresses will speed up the round, unless you’re playing Necromancers / Hunters to compensate. Sorceresses cost you a card from your hand, and that will eventually wipe you out of cards unless you’re drawing some new ones. That can affect how you budget time and rounds (and might mess with your teammate if you’re on a team). It may be worth cutting the round short if you expect that your opponent is going to make bigger plays towards the end of the round.
- You don’t always need to lock the current House when you play a Condotierre. Sometimes locking other Houses can set your teammate or another player up for combos. For instance, if you pivot some Houses around, a locked House can force another player to move a House down by two, rather than one. That can set you up for big plays or cost your opponents big points. Locking the current House is great, though, if you’re in the lead and the 9 has already been played in the suit. Even more so if you’re the highest-ranked House.
- If you’re playing the team mode, keep your teammate in mind and don’t steal their tricks if you can help it. You can’t communicate, but you can assume things from watching your opponent play. For instance, at a very basic level, if your opponent plays a high card they probably want to win the trick. If they don’t, they might be ceding the trick to you to take. Sometimes you don’t have a choice, since you have to follow suit, but try to save your cards to cooperate with your opponent, rather than just out-valuing them for tricks. You’ll likely win more that way.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Not too tough to pick up and play. I’m generally a big fan of quick trick-taking games, and since there’s not too much to the actual trick-taking process beyond “follow standard trick-taking rules”, you can usually get people to pick it up and play it pretty rapidly. The one hiccup is around house standing, and I’ll freely admit that that’s complex for players, but the core of the game is fairly straightforward.
- I think, as players get comfortable, this is a good quick trick-taking game for like, a pub or just hanging out and drinking with friends and the like. I think the team-based play helps with that a lot, honestly; it encourages some table talk without players sharing strategies, and the actual play of the game is quick and simple enough that you can set it up and go back and forth while you’re waiting for beers or pretzels or whatever people order at pubs.
- I haven’t played a trick-taking game in a while where the trick-taking was simple but the cards were complicated; it’s always a fun shift. It reminds me of a Daniel Solis game that I quite enjoyed called Trickster, where every card had abilities but the trick-taking itself was fairly straightforward. Here, they do a bit to mess with the money and the economy, and that’s good and all. It still has a bit of that complexity by allowing players to change the strength of suits, but it’s a relatively simple set of changes (based on cards), so I enjoy that change.
- I like that there are cards that can gain money without requiring you to win tricks, so that players can catch up without having to win much. I’m not sure you can make that a viable strategy without winning a few tricks, but there are plenty of cards that can help you shore up your economy if you’re not winning high-value tricks. I appreciate that! Trick-taking is difficult for a lot of players, so giving yourself a bit of a safety net can be helpful (and I think it speeds things up a bit).
- Similarly, I like that players can shift a winning trick into a zone where the winner will lose money. I just think that’s fun, in a mean way. In some games it’s very easy to shift the winning trick such that the winner will instead lose, but I haven’t seen a lot of trick-taking games where you, on your turn, can force the winner to accidentally lose points.
- The house standings can change wildly during a round, which can sometimes make for a chaotic experience, especially if multiple players aren’t on the same team. Not everyone is going to love that, but if the game’s moving quickly, I think, you might not mind as much. The chaos is generally good for a trick-taking experience, but players’ tolerance for chaos may vary.
- In the first few games, players are very likely to forget that the card of the highest rank within the highest standing House win, not just the highest card of the led suit. This is the most common problem you’ll encounter in Thrones of Valeria. Generally, after the first round players are more inclined to remember that the highest standing House is essentially a trump suit, but, for the first round or so you’re definitely going to notice players making mistakes because that’s not how they expect a trick-taking game to work. Be a bit understanding of players for this one, especially if they’re new to trick-taking.
- The card play zone being pre-set for six is fine, but it makes the play regions a bit odd at four. It’s just odd that the other side doesn’t have a four-player mode, given that that’s really the one player count that doesn’t evenly divide into six. It definitely ups printing costs, and I get that, but it would make the game a bit more cohesive than having players sit in an X shape.
- The prototype smells weirdly bad? Just the board. I mention this occasionally (it last happened with Bad Maps, hilariously), but the board smells really bad. Maybe it mildewed or it was a paint thing or a glue thing or something. It was wild. There’s nothing to say about it and it’s definitely not going to be a problem with the production issue (at least, I hope not), but it’s consistently kind of hilarious.
- Doesn’t really feel connected to the core Valeria experience? When I usually think of Valeria, I think of “each activates and then the sum activates”, and that’s not really … what’s happening here? The core of the trick-taking is shuffling the House rankings so that you’re either making big points during the round or taking high-value tricks, and that’s fine, but it feels like a semi-random trick-taking game with the Valeria branding. I’m a bit confused as to why they went in that direction or what compelled them to use the Valeria branding for this since it feels so disconnected, but it’s just something we noticed.
- The second round just feels like it was added to extend the length of the game. This is an ongoing gripe I have with a few different games. Thrones, like several other games, just kind of … plops a second round onto the existing game without really preserving much state (beyond the House ranking) between them. The weird thing is, I don’t think extending the game really benefits it that much! You just end up carrying forward your money and that’s … about it? I’m not sure why they didn’t just stick to a short and quick single-round trick-taking game. I think it works a lot better for the style and chaos of this game, and I’m surprised they didn’t go that route.
Overall: 7 / 10
Overall, I think Thrones of Valeria is fun. I wouldn’t call this my absolute favorite trick-taking game, but I also wouldn’t say I have a ton of major problems with it, either. I’ve enjoyed my plays of it and even surprisingly enjoyed learning the game in a team mode! I almost always hate learning a game with team play first. I think that the game most commonly benefits from very fast, hectic, chaotic play, and as long as you can get the other players to sign onto that, I think you’ll find that this has a nice place in your collection as a quick trick-taking game, but I also have found that there are other games that I like for quick-and-simple trick-taking more than this one. That’s not bad, but on its own merits, I’ve enjoyed Thrones. I particularly like dealing with the variability of the card values having different abilities; it can make the game a bit wild. If you’re looking for a quick trick-taking game, or you particularly enjoy the Valeria universe, or you just want to inject some chaos into your card games, you might enjoy Thrones of Valeria!
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