Full disclosure: A preview copy of Dice Kingdoms 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.
Is this going to be my last Kickstarter preview for the year? I’m certainly excited to find out! I’ve been doing a bunch this year, so finishing out before the holidays is always kind of a goal. I’m always traveling and busy and et cetera in December, so I try to avoid doing too many next month. So the Valeria games might be the end of it! Guess we will see. Last week, I covered Thrones of Valeria, and now we’ve got Dice Kingdoms of Valeria! Let’s see how this roll-and-write shapes up.
In Dice Kingdoms of Valeria, players work to build up their various domains with various harvests and actions. While your roll might benefit everyone, part of your roll is exclusive to you, and you can use that to perform a variety of domain-benefitting actions. Will you invest in training the citizenry to take over guilds and become professionals? Will you construct roads and allow your citizens to travel to a variety of interesting domains? Or will you go after the monsters and make sure that your kingdom is safe for its residents? All those options and more are available to you, so may the best kingdom win!
Not much, which is great! Choose if you’re going to play the Summer or Winter version:
Give each player a Castle Sheet and a Map Sheet in the same season. Note that the 5 and 6 in the top row of your Castle Sheet (the Citizens) are pre-marked. Will explain why later. Set out the dice:
Shuffle both decks of Statues:
Place one on top of the other; it doesn’t matter which, and then reveal the top 6 Statue Cards to make a row. Once you’ve done that, you should be ready to start!
A game of Dice Kingdoms of Valeria takes place over a series of rounds in which each player takes a turn rolling the dice, performing a Harvest Phase, and an Action Phase. As you do, you fill up your Guild Tracks and, once three are completely filled out, the game ends. While that’s happening, players try to accrue points via stars, capturing domains, building statues, and conquering monster domains. Let’s dive into the game and see how that works!
Every turn, every player performs the Harvest Phase. The Active Player rolls the dice, and then players activate Citizens accordingly. Citizens activate based on the value on each die and the sum of the dice. For each Citizen a player has checked off, they can fill in a circle on that Citizen’s corresponding Guild Track. Each value and the Citizens within each correspond to one of four Guilds (based on the symbol), so that helps.
Checking off Guild Track spaces can give you benefits, like allowing you to advance on the Map Sheet, gain Gold for the Gold Track, recruit Knights for the Wall, recruit additional Citizens, Slay Monsters as a free action, or even gain points via collecting Stars.
There are times where, based on the roll, you cannot check off any Guild Track spaces! This is a bummer, but that’s okay. This may happen because the rolls didn’t line up with the Citizens you’ve recruited (recalling that you start with 5 and 6), or because you’ve already fully completed Guild Tracks for the Citizens that do activate. If this happens, check off any single space on any Guild Track you want. Gotta keep the game moving.
After all players have done this, the Active Player gets to move on to the Action Phase.
Now, the Active Player chooses either the Green, Yellow, or Red die, and takes the corresponding action. The Blue die is around, but it only exists to be optionally added to the other die values. It’s the Magic Die, and the real magic is boosting your other dice. Let’s go through the other actions.
Recruit Citizens (Yellow Die)
Fill in a pip in the Citizens section of the Castle Sheet corresponding to either the yellow die (or the sum of the yellow die and the blue die). This will allow you to potentially gain more pips during subsequent Harvest Phases, as well as whatever the benefit of the pip you fill in is.
Construct Roads (Green Die)
If you choose the Green Die, you move to the Map Sheet and create roads! You do this by picking any single filled-in black pip (or any claimed Domain) and filling in consecutive pips up to the value on the green die (or the sum of the green die and the blue die). You can only continue one path, though, so if the path ends at a Domain (the big ovals) or you run out of spaces, you’re just done, for the turn. No splitting.
Reaching a Domain gives you the benefit indicated: either you get to manipulate the rolled dice on your turn, or you immediately gain a Citizen of the indicated type. There are also additional Reward Pips that you can cross off as you advance along the road, should you choose to invest in that direction.
Slay Monsters (Red Die)
To take this action, choose a Monster Region you can access (in the Winter Map, you can only choose Monster Regions if you’ve captured the Domain whose trail leads to them). Fill in the left-most pip in the section whose range matches the value of your red die (or the sum of the red die and blue die).
Certain pips on the board allow you take this action for free! If (and only if) you use your dice action to take this action, you get the benefit of the pip you cross off and you gain a Gold for free.
If you complete a Monster Region before any other player, you gain the top-most points reward for that region. If you are the second person to complete it or later, you gain the bottom-most points reward for that region.
End of Game
At the end of a round, check to see if any player has successfully completed three Guild Tracks. If not, continue the game. If any player has, the game ends! Players tally points from their crossed-out Star Rewards, the number of Domains they’ve claimed, the Monster Regions they’ve cleared out, and the Statues they’ve built.
The player with the most points wins!
Player Count Differences
There aren’t a lot of differences in the gameplay itself, as the player count increases. The major thing is that every player takes a full turn (as mentioned above), but with more players, while you still fill out Guild Track spaces, you don’t actually get to take as many turns. This both decreases the overall score threshold for the game and makes the game take a bit longer, which I don’t love, as much. That places the game very comfortably at two, for me, though; you’re either getting a full turn or you’re still at least getting some Guild Track progress before you get to immediately take another turn, and I think that works, structurally. It makes going for Citizens or Slaying Monsters feel a tiny bit less bad, since you can do something else on your next turn pretty quickly. More players means you need to be a bit more thoughtful about maximizing your turn, which I also kind of think makes the game take longer for players. I wouldn’t say that the higher player counts are inherently bad; I just tend to prefer speedier games, and I think the game is much faster at two than four. I probably wouldn’t play the game at five, as a result, but that’s just a player count to speed thing. My general recommendation for Dice Kingdoms of Valeria trends towards the lower end of the player count spectrum, though.
- While it might feel bad to do early on in the game, going for some early Citizens might let you get more benefits from the Guild Tracks more quickly, which may pay off big. It may feel wasteful, but spending some early-game turns on getting additional Citizens can be a big help, since you’ll unlock a lot of the Guild Track more quickly. Just don’t overinvest! Citizens aren’t going to do much for you once you’ve completed their Guild Track.
- You can really go about the Citizen Track by either going wide and ensuring that you get something good every roll, or you can go deep and bank on getting multiple hits on the dice rolls that you really favor. I think going wide early is a good idea, but deep can be helpful if you’re trying to set up big turns and you want bonuses. One thing worth considering is that getting additional Citizens of the same type will often give you better bonuses than just getting the first one. Additionally, going deep on the Holy or Shadows Guilds will help you speed up the game, since those tracks aren’t really available to players at the start, so those tracks tend to see the least progression.
- Getting Gold is generally a good idea, but it also pushes you to get Statues, which starts to cause your play to get focused. If you get Statues, you’ll get bonuses for certain choices (endgame points, really), so that may be a good idea if you’re kind of playing aimlessly and not entirely sure what to do next? Having at least one endgame goal is a good plan. Gold also offers some additional bonuses (including additional points at the bottom of the track), so it’s worth investing if you can.
- If Gold is your goal, Slaying Monsters is a great way to get some additional Gold. Plus, it’s worth points if you complete regions! Similarly, Slaying Monsters gives you benefits for just filling in pips, but if you use a full turn action to do so, you gain a Gold for free, which can get you points or statues. The faster you Slay Monsters, the more points you get for completing regions, as well, so that can often be worth it. Certain Regions will give you additional Knights or Citizens (or Roads, which can give you additional Knights / Citizens), so you can really combo together a few things if you set your board up correctly or get lucky on a row.
- Slaying certain Monsters early on can help set you up for Monster Slaying bonuses later, which is also nice. The key here is either using full turn actions or Slay Monster bonus actions to clear out the left-most easier regions, thereby allowing you to use your free actions to take on the more difficult / more valuable regions. You have to go left to right with the free actions, so if you can clear those out quickly you can make your more free actions go a bit farther.
- Progressing on the Map Sheet can give you powerful dice mitigation features, as well as other huge bonuses. I try to avoid using a full turn action on any Map progression that’s 4 or fewer spaces; instead, I try to use my rewards from the Guild Tracks or Slaying Monsters or other bonuses for the small stuff, and then use the Road Die and the Magic Die combined to get the bigger plays. The rewards are pretty useful! They’ll let you increment / decrement dice or even flip them over, and they can be combined! Once you can do that, you’re pretty much able to get just about any die value you want. If you roll a 6 and you’ve got +/- 1 on Blue and +/- 1 on any die, you can literally get every number between 1 and 6, and that’s fantastic. Some Domains will also let you recruit a free Citizen instead, which is a great bonus. You also get points per Domain claimed, so it all ends up being pretty useful.
- It’s worth keeping an eye on other players’ sheets, just to see how close the game is to ending. As with a lot of these games, you’d rather not get blindsided. I think it’s generally polite to let other players know if you’ve filled two Guild Tracks, just so that people know that the game is getting close to ending, but whatever works for your players and your group, I suppose.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- It’s definitely heavier than a lot of roll-and-write games that I usually play, but I appreciate that it’s not as heavy as some of the ones that were too much for me, like Fleet or La Granja No Siesta. I think there’s just a bunch of things to do, but the combo potential isn’t so high that I end up getting caught up in it. That said, there are a fair number of different combos available! I like comboing, but I don’t want to get overwhelmed by the options and that’s largely not what happens, here. I appreciate that.
- This has the nice Valeria thing where you get both the values of each die and the value of the sum, and that’s good! You end up getting a lot for each roll. If you play your cards right, you can get up to six Guild Track spaces filled in per roll. That’s a nice feeling of progression for players, during the game. Plus, you usually get a good amount of rewards from each roll.
- Similarly, I appreciate that all players get to advance on the Guild Track during every player’s turn. It keeps the game moving and gives all players something to do. Yeah, this is the kicker. This helps keep players pretty engaged even when it’s not their turn, since depending on the roll they might have an even better Harvest Phase than the main player. It’s not the same as having a full turn, but the rewards are good if you can get enough of them, and you’ll occasionally have plenty to do if you’re also getting Road rewards and Knight rewards along with the standard pips.
- I really like the Magic Die, since it gives even bad rolls a chance at being augmented to something useful. It’s a good form of luck mitigation even outside of the more explicit mitigation techniques. It means that usually, you can either use its value to augment a Road play, or you might be able to get lucky and land a Slay Monster action because the Magic Die got you the value that you need.
- I’m a huge fan of the various dice mitigation techniques; by the end of the game you’re very able to do a lot of things you want, and the progression of the game to that point is very satisfying from a player standpoint. This is pretty huge. You can, essentially, lock down almost any value you want across both dice if you end up capturing enough Domains, and that’s awesome. There’s something to the idea that by the time you get far enough in the game for that, you’re basically done, but it still gives players a few very impressive turns. Some players will choose (wisely, I think) to eschew certain dice colors that they’re not really using so that they can more quickly get the +/-1 to any die or the Citizens, and that’s fair as well.
- I like the different map options, as well. They’re not, I’d say, overwhelmingly different, but the Winter Map offers some interesting strategy and gameplay differences to the Summer Map. I’d probably start with Summer, since all the Slay Monsters Regions start open, but Winter places a bit more interesting emphasis on the Roads, which I like, as well.
- I appreciate that the Statues can eventually duplicate as players take more of them; it both allows players to double up or to grab one that they want that they missed out on. I mostly like this because I managed to get two of the same Statue once and it gave me a ton of points, but I also like it because it deemphasizes some of the racing elements to the game; just because someone manages to get a Statue out from under you doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not going to be able to get the one you actually want. It does introduce a bit of luck, but, if you didn’t want to rely on luck to get what you want I suppose you should have gotten the Statue faster in the first place?
- It is a prototype, but the (I assume) placeholder art on the sheets is a bit distracting. I think I kind of expected more castles and trails and a bit less MS Paint, but hey, it gets the job done. Looks like the graphic design is mostly in place? I’m going to be intrigued to see what the final art is going to look like.
- It would be nice to have a way to indicate that you’ve progressed to a Domain other than circling it, but that’s again a graphic issue, I think. Just a circle to fill in or check off would be helpful, but I more often than not just end up circling it again to indicate that I’ve gotten it.
- There’s a bit of a timing swing as the player count increases; with more players, you’re taking a lot fewer turns, and the game can start to drag a bit as a result. The game itself progresses at technically the same speed, since everyone still marks off the Guild Tracks during the Harvest Phase, but the turns take a bit longer as players don’t get to dig as deep into their own strategies and knowledge. As an example, if it takes a player 5 turns to fully understand how to play (not an exact figure), in a two-player game everyone’s up to speed after 10 rounds; in a five-player game it takes 25. This means a bit more analysis paralysis on player turns (or that’s what I’ve noticed, at least). The problem is, slow turns for multiple not-you players can be a bit of a bummer, since all you can do post-Harvest is watch. It’s why I tend to color in my circles all the way; I didn’t have much else to do.
- This is more of a usability thing, but as a right-handed person I tend to notice things in the bottom-right corner of player sheets a bit less, which means that I originally didn’t notice the alternate start locations on the Winter Map Sheet. I’m never sure what to do about this, because this is the same problem I had with Railroad Ink Challenge. For this in particular , the sheets didn’t come as part of a pad, so I had to kind of rest my hand on the corners to keep them from bending upwards, so I tend to rest the heel of my hand on the corner of whatever I’m writing on. Unfortunately, here, on the Winter Map, it obfuscated that two of the start points for the road were available there. It didn’t matter too much, since I ended up noticing it about halfway through the game and progressing anyways, but having some kind of border around the sheet might make it a bit clearer for players.
Overall: 7.75 / 10
Overall, I think Dice Kingdoms of Valeria is pretty fun! The big win, for me, is that this has a nice bit of path-building, which I always like, but the overall complexity of the game is still lower than some of the other truly complex roll-and-write games that are a bit too much for me. This hit somewhere in the medium-weight range, where there’s a bit to learn but not so much that you’re going to be exhausted by the time the game ends. The smart thing that Dice Kingdoms does is that the turns tend to take the longest at the beginning as players learn the various systems, but the turns aren’t so complex that players are overwhelmed. As turns increase in complexity (by players getting more Citizens to activate), players are increasingly familiar with the game’s systems and can move more quickly on their turns. That’s good, and it’s also good that players can all Harvest every turn; it’s nice that players still get to advance on the Guild Track at roughly the same rate as player count increases (the game still takes longer, but that’s because more individual players are taking turns), but scores will tend to be lower since players get fewer actual turns each. It’s part of why I prefer Dice Kingdoms at lower player counts; I like getting to take turns. I was gently underwhelmed by the actual preview copy, just component and art-wise, but I’m decently sure that those things will be improved considerably by the time it gets to y’all, post-Kickstarter. In the meantime, though, I’m a fan of the multiple different types of actions players can take, the path-building, and the slow incremental growth of player engines! I think Dice Kingdoms of Valeria is a solid roll-and-write game, and if you’re looking for a roll-and-write that’s a bit complex but not too heavy, I’d recommend checking it out!
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