The sacred lands of Vaalbara; wanted by all but claimed by only the smartest clan leader!
VAALBARA is a fast playing, 9 round, hand management, set collection, push your luck game where every player has their own identical deck of 12 tribe members. You’ll be using your Characters’ unique powers to outsmart and outmanoeuvre your opponents in order to gain territory cards for coins. And in Vaalbara, as in real life, money makes the world go round. So you’ll want to be the richest player by end game to claim that sweet Valbaaric victory!
The neat trick is that, whilst everybody has 12 identical tribe members, you randomly draw 5 into your starting hand. From that point on, every player is curating and using their own mix of characters to best effect.
So each round, in Phase 1, everyone simultaneously and secretly chooses a character to play. These are then revealed in a flurry of flipping and ta-da-ing! The initiative value of a character is written on the card along with their special ability, and the player who played the lowest always gets to carry out the action and pick first. “Pick what?” you say? Well, territory cards! Six varieties to be precise, and each one has its own unique scoring criteria. Fields, for example, score 2 coins x number of fields in your collection. Forests score the value of the coins on the card. Mountains score but only in sets of 2 and 4 etc.
And when it is your turn to land grab in Phase 2, you pick from the bottom of two rows of cards (the top row showing you a preview of what’s to come. Although I say you pick from the bottom row, but that’s not necessarily the case. Because, well, those special abilities I mentioned? The character you just played could let you swap cards in the rows or even swap cards you own with those from the bottom of the deck!
Tribal Trade Offs
This game throws players straight into a series of brilliant trade-offs. Seeing a card you want will tempt you to play a character with a lower initiative value. But, with Characters discarded after use (visible so that everybody else can see what you have played and what you might have left if your hand to play), is that the best use of that power right now?
With some Characters’ powers depending on what other players have laid down that round, as well as those which give opponents an instant bonus in exchange for being low down on the initiative rankings (thanks Fighter (1), thanks Bard (2)!), balancing the initiative power value with the special ability and timing of deployment is fast playing, crunchtastic fun!
We instantly fell for this game and fell hard. It has the brilliant deck building and hand management aspect of Libertalia Winds of Galecrest and focuses on just that. And in a small box card game only lasting 9 rounds, that efficiency and effectiveness is precisely what we want. The artwork is also stunning, and the cardboard coins are thick and chunky. The game suggests keeping your coin values secret until end game (they are blank on one side). But to be honest, we haven’t once tried to work out how much money each other has mid game as a strategy – we are way too focussed on lands, initiatives, and powers!
We love the fact that not all of our tribe powers will necessarily be used each game, and that our clans instantly deviate through the randomness of the draft. Luck can play a part in timing of course. But with each character feeling balanced in terms of potential, not having the right card and the right time feels like a weak-sauce excuse! Haha And speaking of timing, it remains a crucial consideration throughout the game. No round feels like a coast or a waste.
I love trying to work out what cards my opponents may have left to play in hand. And with characters like the Midwife allowing the return of a character previously played, the challenge levels up again.
We also love how some characters’ powers, and the value of your territories change depending on not just what we have collected ourselves, but also on what others have in their own collections! As a game it feels really well balanced even when players use the same card on a given round. And the tie-mechanic deserves special mention because it is super-efficient and super-effective. On the back of each Territory Card is a unique order of Omen (player colour) symbols. And so, if there is ever a tie where two players play the same character in phase 1, the priority of initiative value is determined by the Omen order shown on the top card of the Territory draw deck! Now that’s some Vaalbara smart-sauce right there!