A Review of Valeria: Card Kingdoms and the Cooperative Expansion: Darksworn

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Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a competitive victory point card game that’s been out for some time (it original came out 2016). Back in 2021, Daily Magic (the publisher) put together an expansion called Darksworn that adds a cooperative mode to the game: they also made a 2nd Edition of the original game. So, Daily Magic put Valeria: Card Kingdoms (2nd Edition) and this new expansion Valeria: Card King Kingdoms, Darksworn (seriously, that’s it’s full name) on Kickstarter back in March 2021. They fulfilled fairly quickly and it arrived at my door in early December 2021, but it’s taken me a while to get the solo mode, the group mode, and the cooperative mode played to get a sense of this game!

This will be a fairly longish review: we need to get a sense of the base game Valeria: Card Kingdoms before we jump into the cooperative expansion! After playing all the many ways (base solo, cooperative solo, group competitive, group cooperative), it was pretty clear we needed a sense of the base game before jumping into the cooperative mode.  Luckily, it was pretty easy to do that.

Unboxing and Discussion of Valeria: Card Kingdoms

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So, when I kickstarted this, apparently I got the 2nd Edition of Valeria: Card Kingdoms. I have never played the original, so I have no sense of what’s changed (apologies). I can only offer a look at the current edition. At its core, Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a card game.

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The cards are all linen-finished and have the same art style: that consistency works in the games advantage as it looks really good on the table when it’s all set-up (see below).

There’s some nice dividers to help “sort” the cards. Incidentally, there are a lot of cards in this game! Setting up and tearing down the game reminded me of many deck-builder games … so many cards to choose from and set-up!

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But the cards organize pretty well into the box above. When it’s all put away, it looks like the below.

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Here’s a bunch of the cards, starting with the Dukes! Each player takes on the role of a Duke in the game!

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In the game, each player gets to choose between two dukes to play: I chose Isabella the Righteous. This card is hidden until the very end: basically, it may shape your play as you get “extra” victory points at the end of the game depending on your duke.

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Throughout the game, the main goal is to fight Monsters: see some sample monsters above! You have to have enough strength and or magic to defeat a monster; For example: the goblin only requires 1 strength to defeat, but the dragon requires 6 magic AND 12 strength!). If you defeat the monster, you get the card and it will count as victory points (the purple badge: 1 victory point for the goblin and 7 for the dragon) at the end of the game. Whoever has the most victory points at the end wins!

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To help you gain strength and magic and gold, you must recruit citizens along the way! Each citizen costs gold (very much like a deck-builder) as you hire them. See a bunch of different citizens above,

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For example, the Miner citizen above costs 1 gold, but when he does an activate (on an 11 or 12: the activation number at the top left), he gets you one of two benefits, depending on whether you are primary player on not. Usually, being primary player gets you the better benefit (on the bottom left) or the alternate benefit (on the bottom right). In the citizen above, activating the Miner gives you all sorts of gold!

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Another way to get victory points is to buy domains: see above. They tend to cost a lot of gold.

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As the citizens get you more gold, magic, and strength, you have to keep track of your resources using the boards above (each player gets one). Note the +10 token which you drape along the right of the card to keep track of amounts above 10.

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When everything is all set-up, there are 5 monsters at the top row, 10 citizens in the next 2 rows, and 5 domains in the last row. You recruit citizens to get resources (strength, gold, magic), you kill monsters for victory points, and you buy lands (domains) for victory points. See above.

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The markers for the boards are nice wood components (see above). The two dice are quite nice and chunky! They are also the main thing that dictates how resources flow in the game! When you roll the two dice, you activate every citizen that matches the exact number on the dice OR the sum!

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You always start with 3 citizens (Hearld, Peasant, Knight: see above). In my first turn, I rolled a 5 and 6, so the Peasant (5) activates and the Knight (6) activates. If I had already recruited the Miner (11/12 from above) he would also activate! The Peasant activates to give you 1 gold and the Knight activates gives 1 strength (bottom of card for benefits!). See below for a more focused look at the starter cards.

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One of the more interesting mechanisms of the game is that EVERYONE who has a citizen that matches the die roll activates! The primary player gets the benefit on the LEFT, everyone else gets the benefit on the RIGHT. For the starting citizens (Herald, Peasant, Knight), there’s no difference, but notice the Cleric! The primary player gets 3 magic while everyone else only gets 1 magic!

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The game flows pretty well: everyone stay involved as you play, but the primary character gets the better benefit.  Usually, people spend the first part of the game recruiting citizens and building their army so they can fight monsters and/or buy land in the later game.  Once a certain number of stacks are exhausted, the game is over and you count victory points!

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The game has real nice components (see below) and looks really fantastic all set-up (see above).

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Rulebook for Valeria: Card Kingdoms, 2nd Edition

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I spend at least a little time every review talking about the rulebook. This rulebook was pretty good.

There were lots of pictures for set-up, lots of annotations of the different cards, and the rules seemed fairly complete. There was even a elaboration section at the end.

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For some reason, I didn’t love this font: the font seemed to make this harder to read for me? I didn’t love the font, but it was readable: it just seemed to demand “more” from me as a reader. Maybe I’m crazy on this one. The rulebook was good enough for me, a complete newbie to this game, to learn it from scratch. It also seemed complete and handled a lot of edge cases (either as a quick sentence or sidebar). Except for the font, I was happy with it.

Solo Game from the Base Game

So, interestingly, there are two ways to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms solo! Thank you for following Saunders’ Law! The base game comes with one way to play solo, and with the Darksworn expansion, there’s another way to play solo! Since we knew nothing of the game before getting everything, we decided to start simple and play the solo game from the base game.

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The solo mode takes about 1.5 pages at the end of the book.  The game flow does change up a little: you still roll dice, recruit citizens and kills monsters, but there’s this new notion of a monster phase, and you also activate the secondary benefit on your citizens (after everything else happens that turn).  The premise is that you are fighting against a “bad” duke (The Dark Lord) who controls the monsters! You either have to kill all the monsters or have to get more victory points than he does to win.  When you roll, you still activate your characters like normal … but in the monster phase YOU USE THE SAME ROLL to activate some column(s) of monsters on the board!  If there’s a monster in a column, the monster either kills a citizen in that column or a domain if both citizens are dead!

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If the Dark Lord has completely decimated a column so there’s nothing left to take out, the Dark Lord wins unequivocably! If you, on the other hand, kill ALL Monsters before he can exhaust any cards, then you win! Otherwise, it becomes a victory point counting game: when 5 card stacks are exhausted, you compare victory points. The Dark Lord adds victory points from monsters in the monster stacks and captured lands, and you compute victory points as normal. If you beat the score, you have a minor win.

I really liked that (in my words) there is a major win (kill all monsters), minor win (more victory points), minor loss (fewer victory points), and major loss (column decimated) in the solo mode!!! Multiple win/loss modes really adds a lot more “flavor” to the game! See the text below:

The minor/major win/loss conditions were also an impetus to come back and do better! I had minor wins in my first few games, but I still kind of want to try for a major win!

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To be clear: the solo game is more complex than the base competitive game: the solo game has you keeping track of columns, capturing citizens, and adding some new rules. But, I don’t think the new rules were too much: they were pretty straight forward and made sense. There were always interesting decisions, much like the base competitive game (When do I recruit? When do I kill monsters? When do I buy lands?), but the added element of citizens dying was really interesting!!! I liked the included solo mode, and I look forward to playing it again. It’s “simple” enough that I feel like I could play this as a relaxing solo game, but just challenging enough to be interesting.

Unboxing and Discussion of Darksworn Expansion

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The second way to play Valeria: Card Kingdoms solo is to play using the Darksworn expansion. I chose to jump straight into Darksworn expansion without playing Valeria: Card Kingdoms competitive. When I would finally teach my friends the cooperative Darksworn expansion, I would teach them the base competitive mode THEN jump into the cooperative mode. But, for now, I am jumping straight in a solo player into the Darksworn world!

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That tiny little box hold a lot of content! See above!

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The rulebook uses the same font as the base game (so at least it’s consistent) and lists all the content: see above.

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There are new Monster Events, Domains, and Citizens that WEREN’T listed in the components list: see above. I think these are just new content you can add to the base or expansion if you like.

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The tuck box, above tells us one thing: this will be a game that requires “saving the game” after a session. (Note, if you build the tuck box, it doesn’t seem to fit back in the base game?)

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The tokens are for a few new mechanisms. First, the numbers are used to notate columns because monsters will be attacking columns in the game (sounds familiar?) In other words, just like the solo game, but now we notate the columns explicitly. Because monsters attack columns, there are the walls to hold off the Monster attacks for a few rounds! The first time a monster attacks a column, it flips it over, then is only destroyed next time. The walls defer the monsters destroying citizens right away.

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The tokens are for balance: depending on the number of players, you will need more or less of these!

But what’s the solo game all about? It’s a campaign! (It looks resettable, so it’s not legacy). There are 6 books (decks) to the campaign and one “side quest” for the heroes. Each book of the campaign is one leg of a “saga” the in which the player(s) collaborte! (And that’s why there was a tuck box, because you will have to “save status” at the end of each book: new cards, new tokens, etc.)

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Somehow, the expansion includes two boards! (Seriously, this barely fits in the box) You’ll notice that the boards have a hard time keeping flat. The bottom board is “where the book unfurls”: as the adventure described in your current book happens, you will keep the book on that board (along with citizens that will be captured). And like the base solo game, citizens will be captured. In Darksworn, however, you can bring some of the citizens back!

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The other board is to hold the current “blessings” you can use! Since this game is now cooperative, victory points have no meaning as a winning means, so they are instead used to power the “blessings”! For example, for the last blessing, you can spend two victory points to rescue a citizen that was captured by a monster. So, you still accumulate victory points (immediately when you defeat a monster) but you use them to power blessings in the game!

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Darksworn also comes with new monsters that “activate” when they replace monsters. These slowly come out over the campaign until all of them are out … they are more powerful monsters because they activate and do stuff to the players!

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There are now 2 new actions (and buying Domains is GONE): You can “pray” (which allows you spend victory points on a blessing) or “share resources” (which allows you give resources to another player in a 2 to 1 ratio).

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There’s also a new starter citizen (Explorer) which replaces the Herald citizen.

Putting this all together, the cooperative solo game looks pretty cool set-up with the boards! Just like before, we have 5 monsters on top, but these monsters are randomized (and replaced every turn from the monster deck to the side). The citizens are the same, but notice that there are no lands. Now, we have the “book board” at the top, keeping track of where we are in the book and the Aquila board at the bottom (where we keep track of blessings).

Gameplay of Cooperative Solo Mode

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So, playing the cooperative mode as a solo mode was a lot of work! We had to keep both rulebooks open as we played (see above) and try to keep the components fairly separate so we didn’t mix them up … see below.

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BUT, we did this right by playing the solo game of the base game first! The whole “basic framework” of the cooperative game in Darksworn is very much like the base solo game! Monsters attack columns (based on the die rolls) and you lose if too many citizens are killed! Unfortunately, there are no special powers in the game! This seems like a lost opportunity: shouldn’t each player take on the role of a Duke with a special power? The solo cooperative mode just has you play one player with one resource board (you DO NOT take on the persona of a Duke or anything special). The multiplayer mode has each player have a resource board. (The Darksworn solo mode has an extra rule, like the base solo, that you get secondary activations at the end of your turn).

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Even though the Darksworn expansion has the “basic framework” of the base solo game, there are still a lot of other new interesting things the expansion adds: “blessings”, the walls, the current book (and challenges it offers) and some other things we don’t want to spoil.

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So, I liked the cooperative Darksworn solo game … mostly. It was so much work to set-up and keep track of the campaign and the campaign rules, it sometimes felt like too much. It was, however, very important for me to play the Darksworn expansion solo first! I had to teach my friends Darksworn, and that teach was a lot easier once I had stumbled through the Darksworn expansion as a solo mode first: that was critical. I think I like the base solo game better, though! If I really want a campaign to play alone, I think that Darksworn can work, but I think having multiple players is better if no reason other than your friends can help with the shared maintenance of the new Darksworn rules!

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I taught my friends the competitive game FIRST, then the cooperative expansion. Valeria: Card Kingdoms is a pretty simple game to teach: roll dice, gather citizens, kill monsters, add victory points. Even though this is a cooperative game blog, I have to give the base competitive game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms props! It’s easy to learn, quick to play (30 minutes?), and pretty fun. It doesn’t have huge depth, but we had a good time playing the competitive game, even though it was just a goalpost on the way to the cooperative game. (I think my friends would play the competitive game again if they wanted a light game).

Cooperative Game: Darksworn

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Like I said in the solo section, Darksworn adds a lot of rules to the base game, using the base solo game as a “basic framework” for the cooperative game.  Here’s the thing: we really enjoyed the game a cooperative game!

  1. The extra load/maintenance of new rules wasn’t so bad!  Because we had multiple players to “share the load” of extra rules and  maintenance, the extra load didn’t seem so bad.  In the solo game, that extra load bogged the game down a little as only one player has to deal with everything.  Now, you may enjoy that, and frankly I would too.  But I think it was better in the cooperative game.
  2. There’s no “Take That” in Darksworn: Even though we like the competitive version of Valeria: Card Kingdoms, later in the game, we got annoyed at some of the “take that” Domains you can buy. That wasn’t a problem at all in the cooperative game
  3.  The game encouraged cooperation: The “Shares Resources” action, which is new in Darksworn, can be very useful.  It allows players who are doing better in certain resources to help out their brethren when they really need it!  
  4. Using Victory Points for blessings: we really liked how Darksworn kept the victory points, but could still use them for blessings
  5. Follow Action: the fact that when another player rolls the dice, he still activates everyone else’s secondary action was great!  This action, still in the cooperative game, keeps everyone involved

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So the only reason not to love the Darksworn cooperative game is that you are tired on campaigns! There is no way to play this game cooperatively without the books, so you have to play the campaign. But, we really got into the story! See Teresa above really getting into the tales from the first book!

We liked it enough to want to continue playing through the campaign.

Conclusion

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Should you get both Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn if you just want cooperative play? I think you should try out the base game to see if you like it first. The solo game in the base game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is actually quite good and almost worth it as a game by itself! Although the competitive game of Valeria: Card Kingdoms is fairly light, fun, and easy to play, some of the “take that” in the base game can be annoying. But, if you like the base game, especially the solo game, and you want a campaign, the Darksworn expansion is a good choice! Darksworn is good as a cooperative campaign game, but there might be too many rules to play it solo: Caveat Emptor.

We liked Valeria: Card Kingdoms and Darksworn enough that it probably could have made our
Top 10 Games You Can Play Fully Cooperatively, and Darksworn will definitely will make the Top 10 Cooperative Expansions of 2021!

3 thoughts on “A Review of Valeria: Card Kingdoms and the Cooperative Expansion: Darksworn

  1. I bought, played and sold Villages of Valeria (2017) along with the monuments expansion. This game was a huge mistake. Yes the cards are good quality. But the gameplay was soo bland. So – not getting Darksworn or any of that.

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