Board Game (P)review – Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria a new Dice Driven Game in the Valeria Series

Thanks to Daily Magic Games I got a chance to check out a prototype of their latest Valeria game, Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria. This dice driven, engine building, worker placement board game is due to hit Kickstarter in early July.

Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria is the fifth game in the Valeria series of games from Daily Magic Games. However, in Shadow Kingdoms, you are playing the monsters raiding the kingdoms of Valeria. Yes, this time they’ve swapped things around by having the players play the bad guys.

Disclosure: Daily Magic Games provided me with a prototype copy of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria for this preview. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases. 

This Preview is based on a prototype copy of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria

Please be aware that this is a preview of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria and not a review. I have been playing a prototype copy of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria which Daily Magic Games was awesome enough to let me check out. All of the thoughts below are based on what I’ve experienced with this prototype.

Because all I have is a prototype, there is a chance that the final product will be different from what I’m reviewing here.

I have been told by people at Daily Magic Games that at this point the rulebook is 80% complete and the artwork is pretty much final. I’ve also been informed that since sending out the prototypes Daily Magic has done a lot of playtesting, as well as gotten quite a bit of feedback from people playing the prototype copies, and that they have made some changes that have made the gameplay tighter and more enjoyable.

As far as I know, no significant changes have been made to the game and everything in the following preview should still hold true.

What you can expect from Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria 

Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria is designed by Stan Kordonskiy and features artwork by Mihajlo Dimitrievski aka The Mico. The plan is for it to launch on Kickstarter on July 7th, 2020 to be published by Daily Magic Games in North America. It plays one to five players in about twenty minutes to an hour and a half depending on the player count.

This is the fifth game in the Valeria series of games which include: Valeria: Card Kingdoms, Villages of Valeria, Quests of Valeria, Corsairs of Valeria, and Margraves of Valeria. The other games in the series are mostly card-driven. Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria deviates from this by giving us a mainly dice driven game. It also swaps up the theme, having players play the monsters who are raiding the kingdoms of Valeria. 

Since I have only gotten to see a prototype copy of the game, I don’t want to comment too much on the component quality. The artwork, however, is pretty much finalized and I will say that it is top-notch. I’ve been a fan of The Mico’s artwork since first discovering him (with Valeria Card Kingdoms) and I think this may be some of his best work. The mainboard and player boards are all very well laid out with very clear iconography that will be immediately recognizable to anyone who has played any of the other Valeria games. 

That’s something I appreciate from Daily Magic Games, they use a standard set of icons and components for all of their games so you always know that the purple monster head is victory points, the slight blue rounded triangle is magic, the yellow disc is gold, etc. 

The main player board is separated into five regions called shrines surrounded by a scoring track. The board also has a spot for a row of battle plan cards, three award cards and three rows of champion cards. 

There are five player boards each representing a different monstrous race and five double-sided conquest boards. There is a marshal meeple to go with each player board as well as a set of resource tracking tokens for gold, magic and influence. Each player will also get a set of ten victory tokens that they will use to cover up spots on their player board that can be unlocked through play. There is also a first player token and a scoring marker for each of the monstrous hordes. 

There are five decks of cards in the game, all of which are smaller, hobbit-sized, cards. Cards include; battle plans that players work to complete, awards that players can earn during play, and three different types of champions that players can hire to help their cause. 

Finally, you have a set of custom dice. These come in five different colours, matching the colours of the monster armies in the game. These dice have a strength value of one through six as well as two other symbols on each side, a discount which is equal to the opposite face of the die minus one and a symbol denoting which troop type the die represents. The troop type is also represented by the colour of the die with the symbol being added to help offset any colour blindness issues.  There is also a bag to hold the dice and draw from during play.

Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria – Gameplay Overview

To start a game of Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria each player picks one of five monstrous hordes and takes a player board for that race. They also pick one of five campaign map boards and choose one side to use. The player boards have a place to track your influence, gold and magic. There are spots to put dice and gems and indicators on the edge of the boards for where to place cards you may gain during the game. Players take the victory markers and use these to cover ten spots on their player board that can be unlocked during play. The players’ warden meeple starts on the camp part of their player board.

The central board is stocked by shuffling each of the decks of cards and laying out the appropriate number of cards in the appropriate spots. This includes five face-up battle plans, three face-up awards and nine face-up champions, three of each type.  A number of dice are drawn from the bag, rolled and placed onto each shrine, with the number placed based on the number of players. 

Each turn players take their warden figure and place it on one of the five shrines, on the mainboard, that have dice at them or they place them on the camp area of their player board to perform a battle. Note players must move their warden each turn, they cannot stay where they currently are and they cannot go to a shrine that does not have dice.

When placed on a shrine, players first draft one of the dice at the shrine and place it on their player board. Players are limited to holding three dice at the start of the game but can unlock up to five die slots by completing battle plans. After taking a die from a shrine the player then gets to do the action for the shrine they are at. 

Shrines and actions include:

The Gem Shrine – Take a die and a gem. Players can only hold one gem at the start of the game but can unlock up to three gem slots. Gems are used to modify dice. A gem can make a die wild, letting that die be used as if it belonged to any army, or a gem can be used to flip a die over to its opposite side.

The Magic Shrine – Take a die and either get two magic or claim an award. Magic can be used for a couple of things. First, it can be used to roll up any of your dice by one. Second, it can be used to cycle through cards on the board. When choosing champions or battle plans you can spend one magic to move one card to the bottom of its deck.

The three awards are randomized at the beginning of the game and reward points to players who achieve the goal shown on the card. The first player to complete an award will get the most points, the second player gains fewer points and everyone else that completes it gets the lowest reward. The awards include things like having a specific pattern of victory chips on your campaign board, having sets of battle plans of different types, collecting a set number of champions, etc.

The Champions Shrine – Take a die and then buy a champion. You get to apply the discount value of the die chosen. Champion cards come in three types. There are instants that give you something once and are done, there are ongoing effects that give you a constant special ability, and there are end game effects that give you end game scoring opportunities.

There are a ton of champions that come with the game and they can do all kinds of things, like give you in-game resources, give you extra strength or victory points when completing certain types of battle plans, give you discounts on future actions, reward you for taking certain actions, etc. Similar to Valeria Card Kingdoms, you have to pay more for collecting champions of a type that you already have, at a cost of one additional gold per champion from a type that you have previously recruited. 

Every player starts the game being able to only field three champions but slots for up to ten can be unlocked.

The Gold Shrine – Take a die and then get gold equal to the absolute value of that die’s discount value. So a two would get you four gold and a five would get you one. Gold is needed to pay for champions and battle plans.

The Tactics Shrine – Take a die and reserve one of the available battle plans, apply the discount value on the die chosen to any cost. There is a row of five battle plans on the board costing from one to five gold. When you reserve a battle plan it goes into one of three reserve spots on your player board. Only one of these is unlocked at the start of the game but up to three can be unlocked by completing battle plans. Each slot also gives players an optional bonus when a card is placed there. The first slot lets players spend one gold to increase their influence, the second lets them buy a die from the board for a cost and the third lets them instantly buy a champion.

The Camp – Place your warden here to perform a battle. You first select one battle plan to complete. This can be one you have already reserved or you can buy one from the cards on the board as you complete it.

Each battle plan lists one of three types (arrows, axes or catapults) and lists two to four dice types. These could be all the same dice or a mix of the five dice types.

To complete a battle plan a player turns in a set of dice matching the symbols on the plan. Players can also use gems to swap the colour of a die to wild. As well, each player’s board has an upgrade that will let them use one die colour as wild.

Once dice are chosen their strength is totalled, this is added to any additional strength from champions and upgrades. Players can also use magic to roll up dice. This gives you a battle total. This is compared to the player’s influence value. Influence acts as a cap, you can’t have a battle total higher than your influence.

Once you have your adjusted total you look at the scoring chart and get points based on this total. Totals of less than seven only score one point, hitting at least eight will get you three, while eleven gets you six, and fourteen gets you nine, and so on.

Used dice are returned to the bag and the battle plan is placed to the side of your player board.

After completing a battle plan you get to level up your army. To do this you remove one of your ten victory tokens from your player board and place it onto your campaign board. Doing this does two things. First off, removing a victory token unlocks new things on your player board. This lets you remove your resource cap of fourteen, or hold more dice, or collect more champions, or unlock more battle plan reserve spots, or unlock your racial ability, or hold more gems, or gives you a permanent +1 to strength.

The token removed is placed on your campaign board and what spot you cover up can give you bonus points based on what battle plan you just completed. For example, there is a spot on each board that gives +2 points for each of the battle plan types, there are others that give points based on what dice were used, etc. In addition, the campaign board is a three by three grid and when you place two tokens next to each other you unlock a chain bonus. These bonuses include influence, gold, magic, free dice, or free champion cards chosen from the main board.

The game continues until one player has completed seven battle plans and then ends at the end of the current round. Players then get any end game victory points from their champion cards, as well as one point per die they still have on their player board. The player with the most points wins, with a tie decided by whoever completed the most battle plans.

In addition, the game also includes a solo mode that has you playing against a ghost adversary player. The ghost player’s warden is placed on the gem shrine and each round it moves clockwise around the board. When their token gets to the tactics shrine the adversary automatically completes the most expensive battle plan and gets points based on how many die symbols are on it. The adversary warden also blocks the shrine it is in and if it moves to a shrine you are in the adversary scores two points. 

As far as scoring goes, the adversary starts with ten points and at the end of the game gets seven points for every award you haven’t claim and five points for each one that you did. For a more difficult challenge, you can start the adversary off with more points.

My thoughts on Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria

First off, I do have to admit I’m a bit of a Valeria fanboy. When I first got to try Valeria Card Kingdoms at Origins 2016 I instantly fell in love. After one demo game, I immediately bought the game and the expansion packs for it. It was my first purchase of the con and we played it more than ten times before heading home. Since then I have enjoyed every other Valeria game that has come out and I jumped at a chance to be able to preview this game when it was announced in a Media and Reviewer group on Facebook. I was honoured when we found out that we were one of a very small number of channels that were being provided with one of their very limited prototypes. 

All bias aside, I am really digging Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria. What I think is important to note is that Shadow Kingdoms is very different from the other games in the Valeria series. All of the other games have been card-driven and generally involve using resources to buy cards and build a tableau. While Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria does have cards I wouldn’t call it card-driven. This is more of a worker placement, dice drafting, set collection game where the cards represent bonuses and goals.

Shadow Kingdoms isn’t a hard game to learn and it isn’t overly heavy but there are a lot of decision points in the game and players will have a lot of options to choose from. Despite the number of options presented to players each turn, it plays deceptively quickly with most games with experienced players taking about an hour. This, of course, depends on AP and on how many people you are playing with. Solo games can be knocked off in under twenty minutes. 

One of the things I really like about this Valeria game is how the different values on the dice are used here. In general, you want to collect high dice numbers so that you can get big battle values but if you do that you aren’t getting any discounts which can really limit your options as you quickly run out of resources. This means that when buying champions for example you may want to draft a high die but settle for a one or two in order to save a ton of gold. I also like the way you can use magic and gems to turn those ones and twos into higher numbers once you are actually completing a battle plan. 

Along with this, I really like the influence system that caps your battle values. Yes, a player can collect all the sixes on the board but that’s not going to matter much if their influence is still capped at it’s starting value of ten.

The one thing I was slightly disappointed within this game is the lack of asymmetry at the start of the game. When you read the rules and the background for Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria, it sounds like it’s going to be very asymmetric. The game does feature five different monstrous races and different campaign boards but in fact, the only thing that separates the five races is what die colour they consider wild.

Similarly, the five different two-sided campaign boards seem like they are all rather distinct until you check and see that each one has the exact same rewards listed, just in different places. What you will find is asymmetry that develops through play. With ten different upgrade options available to each player after a battle and through different champion purchases, players’ armies will grow to deviate more from each other as the game plays on. 

One other thing I think is worth noting about Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria is that there really isn’t a lot of player interaction in this game. Except for hate drafting dice, and the race to claim awards, there isn’t really any way to influence the other players at the table. None of the champions affects anything except for your own gameplay. This is going to be a huge plus for some players and a minus for others. Part of me wonders if there may be a more confrontational expansion coming in the future, similar to what Daily Magic did with the Extermination expansion for Horizons.

Overall I found a lot to like in Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria. While it may not really play like other games in the Valeria series I think it’s a great addition to this line of games. It’s a very cool worker placement, dice drafting game with plenty of ways to mitigate the randomness of the dice. The mechanics are simple to learn and the game plays in a surprisingly short amount of time for the number of decision points that exist. While I would have preferred that the armies in the game were a bit more asymmetric, I’ve yet to have a bad experience playing Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria.

When this one goes live on Kickstarter on July 7th I strongly recommend checking it out. This goes for people who are fans of the existing Valeria games as well as people who dig worker placement games and those curious about games doing new things with dice drafting. I think there’s a lot here to like for a wide range of hobby gamers.

We discussed Shadow Kingdoms of Valeria on our live show:

Are you a fan of the Valeria series of games from Daily Magic Games? If so, drop a comment below and tell me which is your favourite.

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