Reviewed by Herb Levy

VALDORA (Abacusspiele, 3 to 5 players, ages 10 to adult, 60 minutes; about $60)


Exotic locations have long been used as settings for boardgames. But when you add to the locale the possibility of great riches to be found in gems, you’ve got the premise of Valdora, the latest design from Michael Schacht.

Valdora comes with a mounted game board, 78 gemstones (including gold which is treated as gems), 4 “books”, 111 cards, a craftsman board, 59 tiles, 5 pawns, a bag and rules in several languages (including English). The game board shows the valley of Valdora and its important cities and landmarks. Anetwork of roads crosses the valley and connects to spaces with gemstone symbols, harbors, silver mines and patron houses. Six randomly drawn gemstones are placed in each road space. Players begin with their chosen pawn in the harbor at the center of the board. Meanwhile, the craftsman board and “books” are prepared.valdora

The craftsman board, an octagonal piece in 8 colors, is bordered by craftsmen tiles of matching colors. (The number of tiles vary from 4 each in red, blue and green up to 9 for silver-gray and yellow.) The equipment and commission card decks are shuffled separately and placed in their respective “books” which are wooden “holders” designed to look like an open book. As cards are bought, the pages of the “book” turn to reveal additional equipment and commissions available for purchase. Diagonally situated on the board are two cities with “equipment catalogs” and, on the other diagonal, two cities with “commission books”.

All players begin with an adventurer card in their chosen color (with the “no provisions” side face up) and a basic equipment card (allowing a player to load gold). The start player receives 1 coin with additional players getting one coin more than the previous player.

Each turn, a player’s pawn may move in any direction along a road as far as desired until reaching a city which ends the movement. (You cannot end a turn on the same space you started on.) If you end on a space occupied by another player or two, you must pay each player 1 coin. (Silver mines are the exception. Any number of players can occupy those spaces for free.) Money is limited. At no time may you have more than 6 coins in your possession. After moving a player may perform ONE of five possible actions: buy equipment or commissions, load gemstones, complete commissions, replenish silver or take provisions.

You need the right equipment to gather up gems and gold which are, in turn, used to fulfill commissions. You get the necessary equipment and obtain commissions in cities with books. Each piece of equipment costs 1 gold; each commission costs 1 coin. You may buy as many as you wish as long as you can pay for them but may only have one of each type of equipment and hold no more than three unfulfilled commissions. The twist here is that you may only purchase items SHOWING in the “books”. You are allowed to “turn” a page in the book for free. Subsequent “page turnings” cost 1 coin each.valdorapcs

Gems and gold are obtained by landing on a road or harbor space where they have been seeded. Generally, equipment is specialized, limited for use with a specific gemstone. (One equipment card can be used for any gemstone but requires a coin payment.) Gems located on the roads, once claimed, are gone (no replenishment there).

Commission cards require the delivery of specified gems to the matching patron’s house in exchange for Victory Points (as noted on the card). Gems used in completing commissions go into the discard pile on the board, coins to the bank. The gems may be “recycled” by players going to the harbor and picking up one or two of them (depending on the number of ships displayed in the particular harbor space).

Completed commissions go under the player’s adventurer card and also reward the player with a craftsman tile in the matching color. As the game progresses, some tile colors will be snatched by other players so that no more of that color remain available. In that case, you receive the NEXT color craftsman tile around the wheel (going in clockwise order). Gathering craftsman tiles is important. If you are the first to gather enough of a particular color (and the number varies), you get the matching workshop tile. A workshop is worth VPs and once you have a workshop, you receive a separate bonus tile EACH TIME you compete a new commission in the same color!

Travelling to a silver mine allows you to replenish your coin supply up to 6 coins.

The final option of taking provisions is a choice to take when nothing better avails itself. If on a city space, you can flip your adventurer card over to its other side. Now that you have “provisions”, you have increased your movement potential and may pass through one city without stopping. (But this advantage is fleeting. Once done, provisions are “used up” and the adventurer card is flipped back to the “no provisions” side.)

Play continues until only one color of craftsman tile remains. At that point, the round is played to the end with each player having the same number of turns. Then we score.

Completed commissions are worth their stated amount of Victory Points. (Incomplete commissions are worth nothing.) Players also score 10 points for each color of craftsman tile they hold. Workshops are worth the VPs printed on them. Each commission bonus tile is worth 10 points and finally, each gem still on an equipment card is worth 1 VP. The adventurer with the most VPs wins the game!

The graphic quality of Valdora is quite high. The board is attractive (artwork by the consistently good Franz Vohlwinkel), the player pieces and gems are colorful and the wooden “books” which serve up the equipment and commissions present a very different, clever and pleasing look to the game. The only graphic improvement I would suggest for a second printing would be to use different colors on the equipment and commission cards for easier differentiation.

Within the genre of “pick up and deliver” games, speed is generally important. In Valdora, it certainly is. Movement around the board is very fluid; navigating from one end to the other can be a virtual whirlwind. This serves to make competition – for gems, for commissions, for equipment and, particularly, for those workshops and the 10 point bonus tiles they can bestow upon you – fierce. This is particularly true as gems snatched from road spaces make certain gems needed for commissions more difficult to come by. Harbor use is a clever way to gets some of these gems back in circulation – just enough to give you a chance – but not enough to make it easy. The trick is to plan your movements with as little wasted motion as possible. If, along the way, you can place yourself in sites valuable to other players (forcing them to steer clear or pay you for the privilege of sharing the space), all the better. This sense of urgency is compounded by the endgame which, triggered by the craftsmen wheel, can come surprisingly quickly. Smart players need to prepare themselves for an abrupt ending to avoid being left holding unfulfilled – and valueless – commissions.

Michael Schacht is a well respected name in game design. With Valdora, Schacht has done it again. Valdora, with its combination of good looks and solid game play, provides gamers with a pick up and delivery game that promises much and delivers! – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

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