By Chris Bowler
Unboxed often runs behind the curve, reviewing games from five or even ten years ago, Valdora though only came out in 2009 and there was quite a buzz about this new Michael Schacht title, now however the game seems to have faded quietly into the night, with only the barest of mentions.
Is there a good reason for why Valdora has seemingly vanished from our gaming tables? Who knows, let’s look at the game…
In Valdora you play a wandering adventurer who is seeking fame and fortune. Your task is to head out of the cities into the wilderness and bring back valuable gemstones for wealthy patrons.
Luckily the roads are well policed so you have nothing to fear from brigands or wayward wolf packs, in fact the only real danger you face is not being able to carry enough gemstones. Luckily the cities are brimming with tools to help you, while the various silver mines in the valley have a “help yourself” policy.
If you deliver a gemstone to your patron you will be rewarded with a new worker, earn enough new workers and you can set up a jewellery business and then you can really rake in the cash.
Valdora is really pretty, as most of Michael Schacht’s games are.and it comes with some really nice pieces.
- 5 Pawns in 5 colours
- 5 Starting Equipment Cards
- 5 Starting Adventurer Cards
- 5 Turn Sequence Cards
- 30 Plastic Silver Coins
- 1 Game Board
- 1 Cloth Bag
- 78 Gemstones
- 7 Workshops
- 13 Bonus Tiles
- 36 Equipment Cards
- 54 Commission Cards
- 4 Wooden Books
- 1 Craftsman’s Table
- 39 Craftsmen
- 1 Summary Card
The board is beautiful, although it’s a little weird that the image is printed all the way to the edge, I guess I’m too used to having a Victory Point track around the outside.
The commissions and the equipment cards are designed to look like pages in a book, which is cool, but has a serious effect on my gamer OCD when people put the cards back the wrong way! Also, there are two identical stacks of equipment and commission cards, the stacks are differentiated by a dark border and a light border (which is the same on both Commission and Equipment cards), I would have preferred 4 different coloured borders to simplify sorting at the end of the game.
The Gemstones look really cool, but the plastic, tiddly-wink-esk silver coins seems a little out of place in this beautiful game. I think that perhaps cardboard coins would have looked nicer and felt more thematic, but that’s really a minor point.
Overall this is a visual fantastic game that uses it components well during gameplay. Speaking of which…
Playing the Game
To set up the players each choose a colour and take the corresponding playing piece, adventurer card and gold pan. The Adventurer card is double sided with Provisions printed on one side and not on the other, to start players place their card with provisions side face down.
Next they must seed the board with gemstones, place six randomly pulled stones from the bag on each gem space on the board until all spaces are full and the bag is empty.
The books with the commissions and the equipment cards are placed in the corresponding cities, the craftsman’s table is placed off to one side with all the craftsmen placed around it, as are the workshops and bonus tiles.
After deciding who will start the players receive some starting silver. The first player receives 1 coin, with each player clockwise receiving 1 more coin that the player that proceeded him. During the game players may never have more than 6 coins or 3 active commission cards, this is printed on your Adventurer as a reminder.
Valdora is a pick up and deliver game and the actions you can take on your turn are very simple and very quick.
Firstly you can and must move. You can move along a trail on the board as far as you like however you must stop if you reach a city space, unless you have provisions, in which case you may flip your card over to use the provisions and then move again, stopping if you reach another city.
After you move you can take one of these actions:
- Purchase Commission/Equipment
- Load Gemstones
- Replenish Silver
- Deliver a Commission
- Pick up Provisions
With the exception of 1 and 5 your move will dictate which action you will choose. For example you can only load gemstones on a gemstone or port space, or replenish silver at the silver mine space.
Because only one action can be taken at each space there is little to no analysis paralysis. Even if you move to a city, you will only be able to buy either Commission or Equipment (no cities sell both) or Pick Up Provisions, but you will probably know which you want to do before you move there.
To score points in Valdora you must complete commissions. Commissions can be purchased at a city for 1 silver coin. You can only purchase a commission which is visible (There will be at most two visible commission in each city, one on each page of the book) If you don’t like either of the visible commissions you can flip the pages to find one you like. You flip forwards or backwards, the first flip is free, each subsequent flip costs 1 coin.
Most commissions show 1 gemstone or a coin, this must be delivered to the correct Patron’s house, when the commission is complete you score 3 points and take a craftsman of the corresponding colour. If there are no craftsmen of that colour left you take the next one clockwise. If you have enough craftsmen of a colour you can take a workshop (usually 2 craftsmen) after that each commission you complete in that colour awards you an additional 10 points.
Some commissions are White and these require 3 gemstones to complete but are worth 15 points instead of 3.
At the start of the game the players only have a gold pan. This means, at most they can carry one gold gem and would only be able to complete gold commission. So to stand a chance of winning players need to buy more equipment in the cities. Players may only have 1 of each type of equipment, these include equipment designed to carry each different coloured gemstone, plus a cart which can carry any gemstone but costs you 2 silver coins every time you load it up and a pony which costs you 3 silver coins every time you load it up.
To buy new equipment players must spend a gold gem. Like with commissions they can only purchase the visible equipment cards but they are entitled to a free flip and can spend silver in order to flip multiple pages.
Play will continue until there is only one colour of craftsmen left. When that happens play continues until all players have had the same number of turns (it is helpful to give the first player a marker of some kind so that you can remember who started the game). After this the points are tallied.
- The Points on their Commissions
- Any 10 Point Bonus Tiles
- Any Bonus Points Printed on their Workshops
- 10 Points for each different coloured Craftsman
- 1 Point for Each Gemstone still in their possession
In the case of a tie the player with the most Silver wins, if it is still a tie all tied players win.
Valdora is very pretty, did I mention that? The components really make you want to play this game, much like the components in A La Carte do, or pretty much any Fantasy Flight Game. But the game is pretty light, a lot lighter than it looks from the outside.
Each turn takes only a matter of seconds, “I move I pick up gems, your go.” In fact the game moves at such a pace I find that I can’t really savour it. It’s not often that I wish games moved slower, but with Valdora I want it to because I want to take in all the splendid beautiful of the game.
To me Valdora feels quite like multiplayer solitaire, other than other players taking commissions or gems you may have wanted there isn’t much in the way of interaction (although if you land on another players space you must pay him a silver coin) and because the scores are effectively hidden it’s hard to tell who is winning (as the turns go by too quick for you to calculate it). So instead you simply follow your own strategy and plot the optimal moves for yourself, only adjusting if something you wanted was taken by another player before you got the chance.
This doesn’t mean that the game isn’t fun or even strategic. You do have to think several moves ahead to make sure that you play at the optimum level. Choosing when to pick up gems or replenish your silver or to take provisions is key in this game.
So, yes, I enjoy the game and I think it’s great to look at. It’s light enough for it to be considered a gateway game into the heavier genre of Pick Up and Deliver games. Is it a game I will play every night? No. Is it a game I will turn down if asked to play? No.
Other Things of Note
It is worth mentioning that Valdora has an expansion called Valdora Extra which basically makes the game playable as a two player.
Valdora is also the second part of a trilogy of games by Michael Schacht with The Golden City being the first and Felinia being the third.
UKGMN and the UK Games Expo
Finally I just wanted to mention that Myself, Mark Rivera, Michael Fox, Jean Rolfe, Brett Gilbert and Robin Harris of the UK Gaming Media Network will all be attending the UK Games Expo where will be running the seminars along with a live demo booth where companies will be showing off their new games.
Don’t forget to book your tickets and come down and meet us all. Until next week… have fun gaming!