Hidden Gem Game Review: Valdora

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# of Players: 3-5 (expansion adds 2 player variant)
Game Length: 60 Mins
Age Range: 10+
Mechanics: Pick Up and Deliver, Medieval
Designer: Michael Schacht
Publisher: AbacusSpiele, Rio Grande Games

I really enjoy most games I play, and our collection is a mash up of the popular hits, but also has some titles that people give a quizzical look when they see the box. ‘Hidden gem’ games for me are games that meet one or more criteria: they don’t make it to the table often, haven’t been heard of by many other fellow gamers, and they may be hard to find. I find games are a lot like technology; they go out of print fairly quickly, so a six year old game is considered ancient, and rare. In this case, the game also has gemstones, so it has an added bonus of being thematic to the review.

One title in particular is Valdora. This game was published in 2009, created by designer Michael Schacht, and was on the recommendation list for the 2009 Spiel Des Jahres. The premise of the game is to amass the most riches by the end of the game. Players are adventurers setting out into the valley around Valdora’s cities. Players rush to collect gold, silver, and other gems to return to the cities, to fulfill commissions.

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Always big on custom pieces!

The components are simple, but really well made, and have a nice look, and feel to them. The four outer cities have little wooden books that hold their cards; two hold equipment cards, and two hold commission cards. There is a craftsman board on the side, and the number of craftsman of different types are placed out dependent upon the number of players, as this is the way end game is triggered, but more about that later.

Players start with a starting equipment card (which allows a player to load one gold), an adventurer card, a player aid, and a number of coin(s) based on player order. Players start with no provisions which are required for moving through cities more efficiently. Your adventurer card shows you a reminder that you can only carry three unfinished commissions, and six coins at any time.

The player board is laid out with the main, walled city in the centre. Four other cities on the corners of the board, and roadways, some with bridges where there are harbours, leading between them all. This is where you find the various gems for commissions. Every player’s meeple starts in the central city. On your turn a player must move, and then performs one action. You can move as far as you like but unless you have provisions you must stop at the next city you come to. You cannot stop on the same place you started. If you stop on a place with other players meeples, with the exception of silver mines, you must pay one coin to each player there. The action you can carry out on your turn can be one of five options.

Purchase equipment/commissions – Two outer cities have books that contain equipment, and two that contain commissions. So dependent upon which city you travel to this will determine which type of card you buy; each equipment cards cost 1 gold, each commission card costs 1 coin. You can buy the top most card of the book in that city or you can ‘turn’ the page. The first turn is free, and additional page turns cost 1 coin, which allows you the option to buy different cards than just the one on top. You may also ‘turn’ the pages back or forward to get at cards underneath. You can buy the top card from either pile. Even if you don’t buy a card this is considered an action.

Load gemstones – This action allows you to load a gem stone onto a rucksack equipment card that allows that type of gem to be stashed on it. Each card can hold only one gemstone. Each road space starts with 6 gemstones randomly drawn from a bag. Harbour spaces, and cities start empty. Harbours allow you to load as many stones as there are ships depicted on that harbour. You take the gems from the discard pile in the central city. You may also unload gemstones from full carts, and horse equipment cards. Those go to the central discard pile. Loading gems to these two types of cards have a cost to do so. Certain cards carry a specific gem colour, and some carry any type so purchasing the right cards to fulfill your commissions is key.

Complete commissions – This is how you earn craftsmen, and end the game. Commission cards have a request for specific gemstone(s). Each card has a specific patron’s house. You must make it to that patrons spot on the board with the requested gems to complete the card. For each commission card you complete, you place it under your adventurer card. Afterwards you must hire a craftsman which means you collect the craftsman’s tile of the same colour as the patron, and place it in front of your player area. If that colour is empty you take the next colour clockwise on the board.

The player to collect the first craftsman of a colour immediately claims the corresponding workshop tile, getting you more points at the end of the game.

Additionally, if you have a workshop you receive bonus tiles when you complete same coloured commission cards; so completing commissions is a key strategic aspect of this game. How you go about doing so can vary.

Replenish silver – Silver mines on the board are where you can replenish your supply to six coins. Players can land here without a penalty if other players are present.

Take provisions – When you take provisions from a city, you turn your adventurer card over to show you have stocked up. This allows you to move through a city without having to stop, thus increasing your movement to where you want/need to get to.

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Don’t forget your craftsman collection.

The game ends when there is only one colour of craftsman left. The current round is played out, and scoring happens. There are multiple options for scoring so it allows for different play strategies. You score points on your completed commission cards. Each colour of craftsman’s a player has is worth 10 points. Each workshop is worth the points on the card. Bonus tiles are worth 10 points. Finally, gems on your equipment cards are worth 1 point each.

The original game was designed for 3-5 players, and we discovered a person who made his own variant, which allowed us to learn this game with two players, and played fairly well with just the base game components. After playing it, we discovered the expansion “Extra” which has a well-balanced 2 player variant, which we have yet to play but from the rules reading it seems to balance out the plentiful-ness, absolutely a Maven-ism, of the base game. There are no game mechanics that necessarily make it a three player minimum originally it is really just the amount of board space, and gem/craftsman availability is abundant.

Things I like: Language independent. Colourful, and visually appealing. Lighter game mechanics but allows for a deeper strategy, depending on who you are playing the game with. Solid game components. Thematically solid, it feels like you are travelling, and competing for patron’s money.

Things I don’t like: Sadly out of print, this is not any persons fault, just a sadness of the demand of the industry. Not colour blind friendly; the patrons have a specific symbol, but the gems are differentiated by size/shape.

ratingratingratingratingratingratingratingrating 3rating 3rating 3 7/10

If you get a chance to find this game, sit down, and give it a try. Makes you one step closer to getting to… Play all the games!

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