The PLAYlist 04: Villages of Valeria

May 19, 2017 By Austin Trunick
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Hello, you. Under the Radar cinema editor Austin Trunick here, and you’re reading The PLAYlist. In this column, we pair up reviews of tabletop games we’ve enjoyed recently with playlists of lovingly curated tunes. This week’s installment is dedicated to Daily Magic Games’ Villages of Valeria. Take a gander, won’t you?

It’s Twin Peaks week, and while we’ve been eagerly awaiting (read: counting down the hours to) the return of television’s best weird, small town, we’ve been building our own small, weird towns with Villages of Valeria, a new tableau-building card game from Daily Magic Games.

Packing fantasy-themed empire-building into a box that’s approximately the size and weight of your typical George R. R. Martin paperback, Villages of Valeria is further proof that you can have games that look and feel large (this averaged us about 20 minutes per player in our games) without giving up a sizeable chunk of your bookshelf or a whole corner of a closet. Most noteworthy are these smaller games’ portability: they can be tossed in a bag and carried with you wherever you go without risking significant, longterm injury.   

However, like the TARDIS, Villages of Valeria’s box appears to be bigger on the inside. It may not look like much on initial setup, but as you play the components will eventually sprawl over a table like creeping moss. While it still requires less room than your average board-based game, you just won’t be playing it on a park bench or an airplane's backseat tray. That doesn’t matter – most people seem to either own tables or have access to, say, a floor or other similarly flat surface. In a pinch, you could have two people lay side-by-side on their stomachs and then play it spread across their backs. (I bet that’s what really rich, eccentric board gaming enthusiasts already do, anyway.)

“The gameplay mechanics you like are going to come back in style.”

There’s a lot in Villages of Valeria that will feel familiar to regular gamers. In board games, mechanics will often re-appear again and again in different games as designers tweak a previously-used trick and build it into their own, new set of rules. There’s nothing wrong with this, and it fosters evolution as each designer puts their own stamp on a particular idea.  Imagine if Jimi Hendrix had heard Muddy Waters’ blazing blues riffs and thought “Gosh, that sounds fantastic – I’d better never use them!” Games should evolve. Evolving is good. 

Villages of Valeria shares a few gameplay elements with several of the more popular games of the last decade. The tableaus each player thoughtfully spreads before themselves, what with their ability-enabling building cards and resources neatly tucked away under their starting cast;e, will feel familiar to anyone who’s played 7 Wonders. Turns are built around a role selection element that’s probably best known from Puerto Rico, in which players take turns leading an action after which their opponents follow with a slightly lesser version of the same. Finally, the rush for points – the big scorers typically coming in the form of big-point adventurer cards which have pre-requisites to purchase – reminded me a lot of the run on nobles that comes at the tail end of a game of Splendor. When this is done well (as it is in Villages of Valeria), it adds a level of comfort for first-time players who recognize those design elements from something else they’ve played. It’s the way that Villages blends them together and brings its own spin to the gameplay that ensures that it’s its own thing and potentially worthy of a spot in your collection alongside any of the aforementioned classics.   

Let’s expound further into that gameplay. Two to five players open with a spread of five random building cards on the table in front of them, lined by five more adventurer cards. They also get three wooden coins, a castle card, and a hand of six building cards. (One of these gets tucked, upside-down, under their castle, and becomes their starting resource.) The game begins, and the starting player takes the adorable, tiny wooden castle token and places it on one of five available actions:

- Harvest. The starting players draws three cards, and then each opponent draws one. It’s pretty self-explanatory.

- Develop. The starting player discards one card and adds a second, from their hand, to the resources tucked under their castle. You see, in addition to point values and special abilities, every building card has a resource value listed upside-down across its lower edge.

- Build. The starting player adds a building card from their hand to their village, providing they have the necessary resources and enough coins to fill the proper spaces on their resource cards. Then, they draw a card. These buildings are the meat of the game: not only are they your main source of points, but many provide a special ability – such as drawing an extra card or granting a free resource – that’s triggered each time a specified action is taken. (You also need them in your village before you can invite adventurers to come and hang out.) Your opponents can each do the same to add a building to their village when you take this action, but they don’t get the bonus draw. Gold coins spent on resources in this way are returned to you, but not until the beginning of your next turn.

- Recruit. Pay one gold coin – to the bank this time, so you lose it – to take an adventurer from the table and add him or her to your village. Adventurers are like souped-up super buildings, typically granting bigger points or game-changing special powers. The thing is, each one is very picky about which villages they’ll reside in – you have to have a certain number of buildings of designated types before they’ll even consider calling your village their home. Opponents can also do this when you select the recruit action, but it costs them a whopping two gold to instead of just one. 

- Tax. The starting player takes one gold from the bank and draws one card, and then their opponents draw one card each. Like Harvest, this is straight-forward.

Aaaaand, that’s the meat of it. Players take turns starting actions, with each of their opponent following in turn. Once a player hits twelve combined buildings and adventurers in their village (less, if you’re playing with four or five players) the game ends and the player with the highest point total wins. Easy peezy, right? With only five actions to keep track of, you’re never going to feel overwhelmed by the choices available to you. Plus, the penalties for following an action aren’t so severe that you’re going to overthink whether or not you’ll take them – unless you can’t afford to do it, you’ll probably want to go ahead and take advantage of the little actions your opponents pass your way. This puts it on the lighter end of the strategy game spectrum: turns move quickly around the table, not because there isn’t strategy to consider, but because the game doesn’t give you so many options to weigh that you’re burning up your brain over every move. While it feels a little like each, Villages of Valeria offers a meatier experience than Splendor, a far lighter one than Puerto Rico, and scales better to small player counts than 7 Wonders. All are great games, but VoV does enough different to separate itself from those giants of the hobby.

But, wait! I haven’t even told you about the small things that make Villages of Valeria different. One of my favorite things – and it’s so simple that it seems silly that you don’t see it in every game – is the absence of a discard pile. When you discard a card, it doesn’t leave play, but gets placed overtop of one of the five face-up building cards in the “shop” area. Thus, discarding a card gives you the opportunity to bury one of the ones that you think your opponent may want for their own village – on the other hand, you want to be sure you’re not coughing up a card one of your opponents can turn against you. This tickles me so much – I love that designers Rick Holzgrafe and Isaias Vallejo found a way to bring this extra little bit of strategy into trashing cards from your hand. Another nice wrinkle is the rule that allows players to tap into their opponents' resources by spending a gold on another player’s card – which the opponent keeps. There’s a limited supply of gold in every game, and these tiny wooden coins could wind up changing hands several times throughout. (If you don’t have friends handy, or at all, the game includes a solitaire variant where you try to set a high score – it’s nice to have this solo variant out of the box.)   

Villages of Valeria is illustrated by Mihajlo Dimitrievski, who gives the game a handsome-yet-playful look. It can be purchased for under $25, and the sturdy little box comes with enough extra room to fit a few expansion packs which add new buildings, adventurers, and gameplay elements, and can be purchased for around a fiver each directly from Daily Magic Games.

This column’s playlist is inspired by the return of the cult television series Twin Peaks, which comes back for a third season after a quarter-century-long hiatus. It may seem like a jump to go from a medieval fantasy village-building game to David Lynch and Mark Frost’s belovedly weird show, but if you take a close look at some of the bizarre towns you wind up building, it’s really not. On my last playthrough, my entire village sprung up around a Witch’s Hut and a Tavern, and if that’s not an odd little town square I don’t know what is. (Is it really that far a leap from One Eyed Jack’s and the Red Room?) Besides, Angelo Badalemnti’s score for the series is one of the most atmospheric of all time: it’s sure to set a dreamy, ominous, and slightly jazzy mood for your gaming session. 

Instead of compiling a list of songs from David Lynch’s filmography – which would be similar to a piece I wrote for Consequence of Sound years ago – we’re mixing it up a bit. Here you’ll find some of the iconic Twin Peaks tracks from Angelo Badalamenti and Julee Cruise, sure, but they’re alongside a few of the musicians who influenced the sound many artists and critics now identify as “Lynchian.” When Lynch wasn’t able to afford the licensing rights to use This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren” in his 1986 film Blue Velvet, he asked Badalamenti to cook up something with a similar feel – Badalementi returned with “Mysteries of Love,” voiced by colleague Julee Cruise. Lynch loved the song, and asked the two to record more for Twin Peaks with the instruction that it sound like This Mortal Coil fronted by the Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser. An instrumental version of “Falling,” which appeared on Cruise’s debut album, became the TV series’ iconic theme song.

And so, below you’ll find a playlist which includes songs from Badalamenti and Cruise, This Mortal Coil and the Cocteau Twins, plus a whole bunch of Roy Orbison because, obviously, this is a David Lynch playlist and we can’t leave Orbison out.

In closing, please check out Villages of Valeria if you’re so inclined, enjoy the long-awaited third season premiere of Twin Peaks this weekend, and come back next time for another installment of The PLAYlist.

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Previous columns: New York Slice, Watson & Holmes, Hanamikoji.



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