Epic quests may be adventurous, showering glory and riches upon those who journey forth to conquer them. But let’s face it. They’re quite dangerous. Why not play it safer? Like taking part behind the scenes to finance the venture. After all, someone has to keep affairs organized, making sure the barbarian gets fed and the mage has clean linen robes. It’s a lot of work. And just like any banker earning interest for investing capital, you are certainly entitled to a share of the spoils for your tireless leadership.
How To Play
In Quests of Valeria players are guild masters looking to root out and destroy the evils that would peril the kingdom. Just not personally. Instead, you’ll recruit heroes and champions with special skills worthy of undertaking these adventurous tasks. Where do you look for them? Why, the local tavern, of course.
You’ll assemble your bold fellowship through a mixture of action selection, card drafting and tableau-building. This compact design uses two decks of cards exclusively for all game purposes. Well, there are also a handful of Guild Master cards which are shuffled and one dealt to each player to start the game. These identify specific types of quests for which you’ll earn bonus points at the end. Players also begin with three Citizen cards in hand.
The tavern is created with six numbered tokens placed on the table in a progressive line from 0-1-1-2-2-3. The Citizens are shuffled and six are dealt face-up, one beneath each token. Then the Quests are shuffled and five are dealt above the tavern row. Quests are not related to the numbered tokens…only the Citizens.
On a turn you take two actions from among four choices, even repeating the same action if desired. However, you may be able to do extra things if you can chain the appropriate card combos through your actions.
Two of them are quick and simple. You can draw a Citizen from the deck and add it to your hand. Or you can reserve one of the five available Quests, adding it to your play area face up to denote it’s not yet complete. This is an option you might utilize when there is a particular Quest that you don’t yet have the Citizens to meet its requirements, but you don’t want another player stealing it away. You may only have one reserved Quest at a time.
A third action is to hire a Citizen from the tavern or directly from your hand. The cost to hire a hero from the tavern is denoted by the token it rests under. The currency used to hire are cards from your hand, which are discarded. To hire directly from your hand, instead, the cost is always discarding two other cards from your hand. Hired Citizens are then placed in your tableau, called your guild. Before moving on to your second action – or ending your turn – check to see if that Citizen has a hire power indicated by one or more icons at the bottom of the card. When recruiting that champion, its power activates immediately and may allow you to trigger other actions like draw, reserve or hire another Citizen. If the card provides a free hire action, you must still pay the appropriate cost to get the new hero, but still, that’s another enlistment for the same action! Furthermore, if that Citizen has a hire power as well, you can now trigger it (or them), and continue chaining actions until no longer able to do so. There are also some unique hire power abilities aside from the usual actions. Some even let you mess with your opponents. All of these are denoted by special symbols, for which you’ll be consulting the rulebook to decipher iconography.
Recruiting bands of Citizens to your guild is important for undertaking the fourth and final action – quest. You may complete a Quest either from those available in the center, or one you have reserved previously. Each Quest requires one or more specific hero classes to complete, and also a combination of resources. There are four class types – worker, soldier, shadow and holy – and every Citizen belongs to one. Also, these champions provide various amounts of resources – either gold, strength and/or magic. By assembling a band of Citizens from your guild whose combination of class(es) and resources meets a Quest’s requirement, you may discard them and complete the adventure, adding it face down to your play area.
Quests confer points to its Guild Master at the end of the game. However, similar to hiring Citizens, all Quests provide bonus abilities and/or actions that you trigger immediately upon completing it. Which could lead to additional chaining and comboing and free stuff – all for the success of the one action.
When one player completes his/her fifth Quest, the current round continues until all players have had equal turns. Then the adventuring comes to a melancholy end and thankfully you’re still alive. But of course you arranged it that way! Count up the points from your completed Quests and add a bonus for each particular type that matches your Guild Master’s preferences (adventure, battle, commerce or subterfuge). The master with the most points wins and his/her guild is the envy of all of Valeria. And your hands didn’t even get dirty!
Shall You Begin? Or Stay in the Tavern for Another Round?
Setting board games to role-playing motifs can be popular because many gamers enjoy that sense of progression and “leveling up,” but may not always have the time (and energy) to devote towards regularly dedicated RPG sessions. The extent to which designs immersively integrate role-playing themes of personal development, career adventuring and mission narratives are as varied as there are titles employing the subject. With few exceptions, most board games do not engage players as deeply and involved as meticulously fleshed-out pen-and-paper RPG’s. It’s just a different medium and experience. Still, they’re often enough to whet appetites, or hold one over until the next bout of D&D, Pathfinder or Shadowrun.
What you do get with Quests of Valeria is a well-oiled action point allowance system with a good role-playing flavor and most of the fantasy genre’s clichés. We’ll call them homages. Yeah.
The design is cleverly economical while maintaining its setting’s simplicity. One deck of cards handles both action and currency to work towards the other deck’s purpose – game objectives. As a small box card game, if there weren’t anything interesting to do with the first deck, then gameplay would undoubtedly fall flat. Thankfully, there’s just enough meat appropriate to the title’s weight to merit revisiting as a smart and light gaming experience.
The first choice confronting you is how to spend your hand. Quests of Valeria isn’t so much about dual-purpose cards, even though there are potentially two purposes. Still, where a card lies – the tavern or your hand – generally dictates what you’ll be utilizing it for. Primarily anything in hand serves as currency to hire from the tavern. As that row cycles and refills before your turn, if necessary, the costs frequently vary. Deciding when to nab a hero or heroine, as opposed to waiting and hoping they’re still there on your next round, can be a tough decision. Tougher still when there are more players and the chance of it being nabbed increase. Other times, there is chance that a citizen in hand is too good to pass up. So mixing in the choice of hiring directly form there is an added nuanced layer that both extends your options and gives your hand more potential, though it’s a little stiffer price.
Secondly, parsing out when and how to generate combos can often make a difference in racing out to victory. Obviously, they’re not always available, but taking advantage of reaping extra rewards via one action is more than necessary…it’s also just plain fun. In cases where there are a few opportunities, it can slow the game’s otherwise favorable pace as you analyze the order in which to trigger any hire and quest abilities. Interestingly, there are two tokens to keep track of your actions. As you take one, the rules recommend passing the first token to the next player so that you are aware you have one remaining. At first, this seemed absurdly silly in a game in which you only take two actions, and so we didn’t use them. However, we soon discovered that after chaining multiple things at once, we often found ourselves asking, “Wait, was that my first action, or second?” So now we do!
While chaining actions injects a dash of excitement into play, the ultimate goal is to gather heroes quickly to meet quest requirements. Therefore, many times all of that chaining merely proves an added plus, rather than concerted goal. Your immediate attention is directed at collecting citizens with specific assets, and so their hire rewards come along as an unintended bonus.
That task is central because you tableau is also fleeting. When an adventuring party is properly assembled, off it goes on its quest. Literally! The cards are discarded, and it’s back to the tavern to employ more pathfinders. Mechanically the element makes sense as a means of maintaining tension, generating competition over citizens in the tavern and combating runaway leaders. Thematically it deflates that sense of build up – or “leveling up” – one might seek in an RPG flavored design.
As a card game, luck of the draw is still influential, but to a more muted extant than you might experience with other designs. The simple draw a card action is the most obvious victim of randomity, but you’ll likely utilize the bulk of those to hire other Citizens – so you’re essentially just drawing money. The order in which cards hit the tavern on your turn might cause some mild frustration. It’s possible a desired citizen is under the “3” when you’re not able or willing to pay that amount. And since the row doesn’t cycle down until after your turn, there will be instances in which you have to work with what’s available or resort to another option. In a game stressing efficiency, it can be problematic. However, while precision is important, the design is also light and quick, so such infrequent offenses are forgivable.
Indeed the design as a whole is quite casual, but its not dumbed down by any measure. It has an intangible snappiness to it that perks up even more once you’ve surmounted its iconography’s moderate learning curve. The symbols and icons are actually identical to two other titles in the Daily Magic Games’ ludology, creating a veritable Valerian universe. Card Kingdoms of Valeria (perhaps to be reviewed in the future) is the original and larger parent, more in depth, with a large spread of components and greater complexity. Meanwhile, Villages of Valeria (also maybe tackled later) is another small box title along the weight and style of Quests, with but a few extra moving parts.
Familiarity with one substantially aids learning the others, and the continuity is fun to engage with and experience since few designs coalesce into such a cohesive series. Ironically, the miscues on its theming likely stem from connecting the three titles. Card Kingdoms is about acquiring citizens to neutralize threats and collect resources to build up. Quests is a distilled version of the former objective while Villages tackles the latter goal in a likewise diluted manner.
In line with its relaxed style, 2- or 3-player sessions shine a little better. There are no inherent flaws with a full complement, but downtime with four players can often be at odds with its otherwise healthy pace. The other issue with four player games is that there is no need to pay attention to the player immediately following you, because most rounds the tavern row will look completely different by the time it returns to you. Three is probably my preference as it offers controlled competition, but feels less of a see-saw nature of 2-player bouts.
While not convincingly immersive, Quests of Valeria uses a clean, straight-forward action allowance system to get players into the thick of their plans. It’s portable, sets up quickly and eases players into action without too much fuss. While its weight and size may denote an introductory gateway title, the iconography rather places the design in the “next step” category for gamers with just a modicum of hobby experience. And assembling your teams of heroes to accomplish quests as efficiently as possible is smart and tactical enough to pair with the adventurous role-play setting for a light romp that should please most tavern-goers and dungeon-divers.
No Bards About It
Well-structured for simplicity and accessibility
Quick, no nonsense pace
Mechanics provide interesting choices, but not hampering
No sense of build up - just discard and move on
Collecting cards is influenced by randominity
Some iconography learning curve
Great review! I’m a big fan of Villages of Valeria which I picked up at Origins this year. It plays in about an hour and it remains an enjoyable experience even after 30 plays