Here in Southwestern Ontario trick taking games like Euchre are pretty much ubiquitous and I’m always on the lookout for a game that does something new with those traditional mechanics. Thrones of Valeria is one of those games.
Thrones of Valeria adds multiple new twists to trick taking, like a new victory condition, the ability to play with up to six players, constantly changing ranked suits and more.
Disclosure: Thank you Daily Magic Games for sending us a review copy of this trick-taking card game. Links in this post may be affiliate links. As an Amazon associate we earn from qualifying purchases.
What is Thrones of Valeria about?
Thrones of Valeria was designed by Matt Jacobs and features artwork from The Mico. This game, along with two other small box Valeria games, was funded on Kickstarter and published by Daily Magic Games in 2022. The game should just be hitting retail stores now with most backers having already received their copies.
Thrones of Valeria plays two to six players with games taking anywhere from half an hour to about an hour depending on the player count. The more players the longer it can get. It’s listed for ages eight plus which seems about right to me. This small box card game has an MSRP of $30 USD.
Thrones of Valeria is a two to six player, potentially team based, two round trick taking card game. Unique twists on traditional trick taking include ranked suits where the rank can change mid-hand, three ranked jester cards which can act as the highest or lowest possible cards, unique card abilities for every numeric value, and a victory condition based on gold collected and not tricks won or lost.
Check out our Thrones of Valeria Unboxing Video on YouTube to get a look at the components you get in this modern trick taking game.
In addition to a nice linen finished deck of cards, you also get five mahjong tile like guild tokens, a bag to pull these from at the start of the game, silver and gold coin tokens, and a very clear and concise rulebook with lots of examples.
The cards feature line art from The Mico, which is quite busy, with the card information only presented in the top left of each card. The cards are also designed to look well used and worn. You get cards numbered one to nine in five different suits as well as three jester cards. The card artwork on each value is unique and each of the three jesters gets their own artwork. You also get a set of six summary cards that do a great job of giving you an overview of play and also list the various card abilities.
The small box has a cardboard trough style insert, mainly meant to protect the game during shipping. It works well enough to hold everything once you’ve punched it. We keep all the coins in the drawstring bag with the guild tokens and then toss the cards into a plastic baggie just to keep them from sliding all over the place.
Overall the physical component quality is excellent, but I don’t love the artwork direction on the cards. More about that when I get to my thoughts on the game.
Thrones of Valeria Overview of Play
You start a game of Thrones of Valeria by assembling the board and placing it in the centre of the table. Next, draw guild tokens from the bag in order to set the initial guild ranks. The cards are then shuffled and players are dealt a hand of cards. The number of cards in hand varies by player count, the fewer players you have the more cards you get.
Play starts with the player who holds the nine card of the top suit on the guild track. If no one has the nine you work your way down the card values until you find the player with the highest number from the top guild suit. That player can then lead any card they wish (it doesn’t have to be that top card).
Each card has an ability based on its value, as soon as the card is played that ability activates and must be used.
Here’s a quick summary of those abilities going from rank one to nine: move any guild to the bottom of the ranking, steal two coins from another player, gain three coins from the bank, swap the rank of two guilds, draw three cards from the deck and select one to keep, get six gold if this card wins the trick, gain a coin from the bank and discard a card, lock or unlock a guild (locked guilds can’t change rank), and move a guild up two ranks.
The jester cards each have the ability to be the highest ranked card in play, but only if you pay a cost in gold equal to the card’s rank. There are three ranks of jesters each of which can outrank the jester below it. These jester cards can also be played as a zero if you choose not to pay the coin cost. You cannot lead with a jester unless you have no other options.
After the first card is led, each following player must follow suit if they can. If they cannot they can instead play any card from their hand. The trick is won by the highest card played from the highest ranked guild. This is trickier than it sounds because guild ranks can fluctuate during a hand.
When thinking of this game in terms of traditional trick taking games every guild trumps all of the guilds under it, with the jesters trumping all of the guilds, but only if they are paid for.
The player who won the trick then gets gold based on the rank of the guild for the card they played. This gold reward ranges from -3 to +5. Yes, this means that you can lose gold by winning a trick which is a big part of the game and how it works.
You continue to play tricks until one player is out of cards at the end of a hand. Note due to the fact there is a card that lets you draw an additional card and also a card that has you get a gold and discard a card, it’s common for players to have varying amounts of cards in hand throughout the round.
Once the first round ends you gather all of the cards (including any cards left in players’ hands), shuffle them and deal out a second hand. The guild rankings stay the same as they were at the end of the first round and you play a full second round. At the end of the second round the player with the most gold wins.
What I just described are the standard rules that work for three to six players.
Thrones of Valeria can also be played with two. When playing this trick taking game with only two players, each player is dealt a hand of twenty cards. The players split this into two, ten card, decks which they then use to play through each round.
The other option, when you have an even number of players, is to play Thrones of Valeria as a team game.
When playing teams, players each play their own hands but share a pile of gold between them and it’s the pair with the most gold at the end that wins the game. This is the recommended way to play with four or six players both according to the rulebook and our personal experience.
Thrones of Valeria does modern Trick Taking right!
Trick taking card games are a part of growing up in Southwestern Ontario. I’ve been playing some form of trick taking card game for as long as I can remember and even to this day my mom is part of a Euchre club that she attends every Wednesday night. Around here these kinds of games are ubiquitous.
So I have a lifelong love of this style of game and because of that, I’ve played an awful lot of them. This includes traditional games as well as a number of modern versions, like Gorus Maximus and Macaron. I’m always willing to try out a new take on trick taking and jumped at the chance to check out Thrones of Valeria.
Thrones of Valeria introduces a number of new things to traditional trick taking, which can be a bit much for someone only used to traditional games. The biggest adjustment is going to be the fact that the suits have ranks and those ranks can change. This concept can be hard to remember even after multiple plays and even now we often end up with a surprised player at the table who mixes something up when playing.
Another big change, which is tied to this, is the card abilities. These are pretty quick to pick up though and the iconography on the cards does a good job of reminding you of what each card does. It didn’t take many games at all before we could leave the reference cards in the box as everyone had internalized what all the cards do.
The final change is the victory condition of collecting the most gold. The fact that winning a trick could actually mean losing points rather than gaining them means that you aren’t playing to win every trick, which can be quite the adjustment for traditional card game players. I personally love this aspect of the game. I’ve also been told that it’s possible to win a game of Thrones of Valeria without taking a single trick, though I’ve yet to see that happen.
Mechanically Thrones of Valeria takes a bit to learn but is extremely enjoyable once you do. Each of the changes I’ve just mentioned synchronizes to make for a fascinating game of cards with a nice short playing time, that’s just short enough that players are often begging to play a second time.
Now I said mechanically because we have found some issues with the game physically. There are some graphic design choices made here, for the final production copy of the game, that don’t really make sense to us.
The first is the fact that the information on the cards isn’t flipped like a standard deck of cards. These cards can only be splayed and seen when facing up. When they are upside down all information ends up being covered up. We found this to be highly annoying, with even my kids complaining about having to constantly flip cards over at the start of each hand.
Next is a problem with colour choices. We all found the yellow and silver/white cards hard to read. Not only on the table but even when holding them in your own hand. Looking closely you can see that the numbers each have a white outline, but they are over a white background which seems like a really odd choice. If they had put a black outline around the numbers instead of white, this problem would be non-existent.
Similarly, we found that with the blue and green guilds, the symbols are hard to see due to the colour. As no one in our group has any colour blindness issues this wasn’t a problem for us but I think any group that is forced to use the symbols over the colours to identify cards is going to have a hard time.
Another thing we spotted, which doesn’t actually affect gameplay at all, is that the card backs are designed to look worn, but the worn bits aren’t where your fingers actually hold the cards. It seems like the card backs were printed upside down.
The intentionally worn look is also a problem on the front of the cards. The problem here is that the cards look dirty. They look like they need to be somehow wiped down with a damp cloth or something. While this didn’t bother me, my podcast co-host Sean actually found this really bothered him while playing.
Finally, there’s the artwork itself. Thoughts on this one have been mixed, with some players digging it and others not liking it. It’s definitely an interesting choice and looks quite unique when compared to other Valeria games. Where this is most striking is when you compare the final art to the prototype artwork, which you will see in the many previews that have been published. Those prototype cards had the style of artwork you expect from a Valeria game, whereas this final version does not.
That leads me to my final issue with Thrones of Valeria. There’s really nothing here tying this game to the Valeria universe at all. There are no monsters to battle, the guilds have no background to separate them, they are just different suit colours, and as mentioned the artwork doesn’t tie in with other Valeria games.
Of these new small boxed Valeria games, this one feels the least Valeria-like. This game could have had any theme and it still would have worked fine.
The thing is, all of these complaints about the graphic design are washed away by just how well Thrones of Valeria plays. This is one of the best modern trick taking games I’ve played. Everyone from my youngest daughter to her grandmother has enjoyed playing it. It was a hit with my usual game night group as well as my family.
My favourite way to play Thrones of Valeria is the team based version. This method of play helps negate any “bad hand” problems while adding a fun level of player interaction you can’t find without playing along with a teammate. The game goes from good to great when playing in teams.
My least favourite way to play is the two player variant, though I can see how it would appeal to some gamers. Two player Thrones of Valeria is super strategic, as you have to select both of your hands for both rounds of play before you actually start.
In the two player version, all but eight cards start in play which makes this a dream for tactical card counters. Personally, I have a hard enough time trying to remember even what I’ve played in a given round let alone the ten cards I’ve set aside for later.
Thones of Valeria also works well with three to six players with the standard rules, but I found that once we had tried it with teams I had less interest in playing the standard game.
If you enjoy trick taking games at all you really need to pick up Thrones of Valeria. This is a fantastic modern take on classic trick taking mechanics with some really fascinating twists. This goes doubly so if you are a Euchre fan in particular, especially when looking at the team based play in Thrones of Valeria.
It trick taking isn’t your jam you probably haven’t read this far and I’m not sure if there’s anything groundbreaking enough to win you over. Though it may be worth giving a shot, especially if you like games with more strategy and tactics.
Where I think this game is going to be a hidden gem is for deep thinking two player abstract strategy players. Playing Thrones of Valeria with two players feels like a chess match, trying to outthink your opponent, and using knowledge of what cards you’ve seen to predict what your opponent will play. I know a couple of local gamers that I think would adore this as a two player experience.
Personally, I’ll be sticking with four or six player team games. Unless we happen to have five players, in which case I’d be happy to play the standard game.
I love the fact that game designers continue to innovate by taking classic game mechanics like trick-taking and tweaking, twisting and adding to them, to come up with brand new games.