Vaalbara is a simple card game played by two to five players with some tense choices and a surprising amount of strategy.
You and your rivals take the role of mythical clan leaders who are exploring and adopting lands in the newly discovered continent of Vaalbara. Use the varied skills of the clan to expand into new territories and broaden the realm. Clan members wield different powers and score various points. The six different types of lands score points in different ways. The clan leader with the most points after nine rounds wins.
The artwork in Vaalbara is exceptional. In particular, the character cards are beautifully drawn and you will find yourself stopping to inspect the depiction of the clan members as you play them.
Vaalbara is what most hobby boardgamers would call a “filler” game (fills the gaps between the big meaty games), however it is very will produced. There are small player aids available for each player to reference during the game. This is a very nice touch in a game that costs just over £15 (at time of writing – August ’23). The cards have a nice glossy coating which would withstand quite some use. They are standard playing card size so you could sleeve them if you wanted to. There are point tokens made from thick card included in the game box. These are all the same size and only have their point value printed on one side. I think this is to allow you to hide your accumulated point value by flipping your tokens over. Nobody on my group found this feature useful. Actually, this was the only annoyance in the game. We always played with the value side exposed.
Rule book: Vaalbara is a game that is very easy to understand. The rule book fits onto two sides of A4; folded to make four sides of A5. It is well designed and very easy to follow. The rule book includes some examples of scoring scenarios and even has space to include a summary of the character and land scoring on the back page.
How To Play
Each player has a deck of twelve character cards, numbered 1-12. They shuffle these and then draw a hand of five cards. The higher value cards have better scoring potential. However, the lower value cards play earlier in the round. Each character also has a special power such as “take a card back from your discard”, or “score double points this round”. When you play your character card you choose a land to be included into your realm. There are six varieties of land with different scoring mechanisms.
There is an interesting twist if you and another player use a character card with the same value. The back of each land card has a different grading of values for each clan. As you draw land cards to use in each round a new ranking is displayed each round. This determines which clan wins in case of ties. You play over nine rounds, taking nine lands into your realm and scoring as you go. The highest score wins the game.
Vaalbara is a perfect quick game. It fits nicely into a bag. It can easily be played in a café as there is no board; just two sets of cards and a few tokens. Although there is a very simple set of rules there is quite some depth to the gameplay. Strongly recommended.