Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria was the first Valeria game to deviate from the original card driven mechanisms of Card Kingdoms Of Valeria. It really broadened the license and opened up the door for more styles of games in the Valeria world.
This review has been a long time coming due to the game being out of print for over two years. Now that it’s back in stock, it’s finally time to share our thoughts on this dice drafting, engine building, worker placement board game.
Disclosure: Daily Magic Games sent us a copy of this game as thanks for doing the Kickstarter preview. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
I feel like we’ve been here before?
If me talking about Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria feels familiar, that’s because we did a preview of Shadow Kingdoms way back in June of 2020. Back then Daily Magic sent us what was very clearly a prototype copy of the game with unfinished components and rules.
As you can read in the preview, the game was a big hit with us and I had high hopes for the Kickstarter, which did go on to successfully fund. Quite a few months later a package showed up with my production copy of the game along with its expansion, sent to us from Daily Magic as thanks for helping them with their Kickstarter.
Shortly after that, I published a Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria unboxing video and we went on to play the game a number of times. From there we fully planned to review the game both on The Tabletop Bellhop Gaming Podcast and here on the blog but there was a problem. It had sold out. You couldn’t find a copy of the game anywhere.
That’s finally changed. Not only is there a second printing, which is available now in hobby game stores and online, but Daily Magic also just wrapped up another successful Kickstarter which is leading to a third printing along with a new expansion.
Now that the game is actually available I thought it was about time that we get a formal review of our production copy of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria out there.
What is Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria?
Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria was designed by Stan Kordonskiy and features fantastic artwork from The Mico. It was officially published in 2021 by Daily Magic Games after a successful Kickstarter, is currently in its second printing, and has a third printing already planned for 2023.
This engine building game plays with one to five players with games taking from about half an hour solo to under two hours at the full player count.
Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria is a dice drafting, engine building, worker placement game set in the Valeria world made popular through Valeria: Card Kingdoms and other games that followed it.
In this Valeria game, players take on the role of the monsters who are attacking the Kingdom of Valeria. Each player controls a different, competing, faction. They use their Warden to move around the board to collect troops, magic, gems, champions, and battle plans, which they will then use to launch attacks on the Kingdom of Valeria and earn their faction renown.
For a look at the components in this dice drafting game check out our Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria Unboxing Video on YouTube.
What surprised me the most when cracking open the production version of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria was just how little had changed. Sure the physical components were significantly better, for example, the board was no longer foamcore with the board printed and glued onto it and the cards were no longer sleeved cut sheets of printer paper, but the actual graphical design of everything was pretty much identical to the prototype we had tested out.
The components in this finished version are top of the line. You get silk screened warden and scoring meeples, with each faction having its own unique colour and shape, plus lots of silk screened custom dice, thick easy to read player boards, a very clear main board with great iconography, and some high quality cards.
I only had two disappointments in regard to component quality. The first is that the plastic tiddly wink like chips from the prototype have been replaced by cardboard tokens. While these do look better and feature each faction’s symbol on them, I was hoping for clear chips where you can see what is underneath them once placed.
The second is the back of the award cards. It took me a while to even notice they are different. I’m not sure why the art on the card backs isn’t more distinct and different, as you need to sort these cards by the backs at the beginning of play. It’s become a running joke with our group to hand any new player this deck and ask them to sort them to see how long it takes for them to notice the difference.
Overall, components wise, this game is great looking and features excellent graphic design that actually helps during play.
High Level Overview of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria:
One thing that didn’t change at all from the prototype is how Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria plays. Check out my original Shadow Kingdoms of Valera preview for a full overview of play. For this article, I’m going to keep things very high level so you get a general idea of how the game plays.
Players each choose a faction and take all the components for that faction. They set up their player boards with starting gold and magic and cover all upgrade spots with conquest tokens. They also grab a random campaign map, pick a side, and place it face up next to their player board.
Each of the five sections of the main board gets seeded with dice. Gems and cards, including award cards, battle plans, and champions are placed on their spots on the map and the game is ready to start.
Each turn players must take their warden and move it to a different spot. Either to one of the five regions on the map or back onto their player board to launch an attack.
When a warden is placed on the board, the player drafts one of the dice from that region and also does the action from that region. The reward value is based on the die value taken.
Higher numbered dice become better troops, which are needed to battle, but provide fewer rewards when drafted (one of the most brilliant parts of the game).
Board actions include collecting gems (which lets you flip dice), hiring champions (each of which has either an instant reward, an ongoing ability, or an end game scoring opportunity), earning gold (used to pay for champions and battle plans), claiming awards or gathering magic (which can be used to cycle the various card decks in play or to improve drafted dice), or collecting battle plans.
Once you have a battle plan and you have dice matching the troop type on that plan you can launch an attack on Valeria. You do this by moving your warden to your player board and selecting which dice will fight. The values of the dice are totaled, any modifiers are applied, and you get victory points for how high the end result is.
After each battle, you also get to “level up” by removing a campaign token from your board and placing it onto your personal campaign map. Removing the token unlocks more options and, depending on where you place it on your campaign map, can also award you additional bonuses.
The game continues until a player completes their seventh battle at which point you finish the round and the player with the most victory points wins.
Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria also includes a solo mode where you pick a faction and compete against an AI adversary.
My evolving thoughts on Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria
As you can read in our Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria preview we were really smitten with this game when trying it out in prototype form.
One of the things I appreciated the most about this game is how different it feels from other Valeria games. Today that’s not as much the case as this game seems to have opened the doors to new types of games in the Valaria series. Just last week we played a Valeria trick taking game in the form of Thrones of Valeria and a roll and write in the form of Dice Kingdoms of Valeria. You really can’t think of the series as just a bunch of card driven engine builders anymore.
The one thing that is still unique about this Valeria game is the flip of playing the baddies. So far this is the only Valeria game where you get to play the monsters instead of the defenders and I appreciate that.
I also still appreciate the dice mechanisms in this game.
I love the way that high numbered dice are very useful, if not required, for scoring well during battles but that they give you little to no reward when taking board actions. This leads to some really interesting decision points and you will often find yourself drafting lower numbered dice because you need the gold or really want a high cost champion.
This gets offset later in the game as you unlock more ways to modify the values of the dice. Drafting a die with a one on it isn’t as bad when you’ve got a gem ready to flip it over to the six side for when your troops are ready to march.
My biggest disappointment with this game sadly didn’t change with the production copy. Despite the fact that there are five different factions in the game, it’s not really asymmetric. The only difference between these factions is that each has a power (that has to be unlocked) that lets you use a different die colour as wild. I was really hoping that the final version of the game would feature some kind of bonus that was different for each faction.
The other issue we’ve found with this game after many plays is that it starts to feel the same, and I think that lack of asymmetry may be part of the problem. It doesn’t really matter which faction you play. Early in the game, everyone is going to be grabbing those high numbered dice, players are going to fill their campaign board based on what award is up, and similarly, they will draft battle plans based on that award, the campaign marker for influence will be one of the first to be placed, etc.
Note this only became a problem after quite a few plays and wasn’t even something we noticed in our first five games. This is also something that’s going to vary by person. Deanna was the first to note it and it took a few games after that for me to able to acknowledge it as a potential problem.
Overall Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria is a very solid and enjoyable part of the Valeria Series. It was the first game of the series to do something totally different and I really do think that opened up the door for more game types with the Valeria name on them. This is a very tight dice drafting, engine building, worker placement game, though I really do wish it had just a bit more asymmetry.
If you dig engine building games you really can’t go wrong with this one, especially if your group plays a mix of games and Shadow Kingdoms would just be another option, and not the sole game you play every week.
If you’ve enjoyed other Valeria games you will want to check this one out, just don’t expect another card driven, resource management tableau builder. This is a very different style of Valeria game.
If you are looking for your next lifestyle game, something you get together and play every weekend, you may want to avoid this one (at least without the expansion). Gameplay in Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria can start to feel repetitive though it does take a significant number of plays to get there.
Personally, I’m so glad we chose to preview this game two years ago and I’m glad to see it’s finally back in print and available for more gamers to discover. I look forward to checking out the existing expansion as well as the new expansion slated for later this year.
Over the years I’ve become a big fan of Daily Magic Games. I can’t think of a game from them that I haven’t enjoyed and they do a lot more than Valeria games as well. You can read about another of my favourite games from Daily Magic Games in my Horizon Review.
Have you played any of Daily Magic Games’ games? What’s your favourite? Tell us all about it in the comments below!