As promised, here are numbers five through one on my list of top competitive games.
5. Valley of the Kings
In Valley of the Kings (which plays up to four), you are Egyptian nobles trying to stock your tombs for the afterlife. Various sets of artifacts are available for purchase from the pyramid, which collapses downward as players purchase cards, and ultimately, runs through the deck to more valuable cards in the later part of the game.
This is probably the most ingenious deckbuilder I’ve played, despite its unassuming, small-box appearance. The pyramid mechanic gives you pause about which cards will collapse down and become available to other players, while the necessity of stocking your tomb presents a unique challenge.
You see, the victory points on sets of cards only count if those sets are in your tomb; however, most cards also have useful effects (unlike the victory points in Dominion, which just took up space in the deck, and ultimately mattered only at the end of the game).
Thus, you must choose which is more valuable: having access to a card’s power or making sure it gets in your tomb. You can only entomb cards once per turn unless using a card’s power allows you to do otherwise–and it would be a shame to not bury something valuable to you.
Again, for a short game, there is a lot going on in Valley of the Kings. There is also a planned, standalone expansion coming soon from AEG, Valley of the Kings: Afterlife. It’s nice to know the game will be supported with at least one new supplement to its solid gameplay.
With Splendor, I may have succumbed to the ever-popular cult of the new, a little bit. But, I think I could get most people to play this with me, which is appealing because I am always looking to expand my circle of gaming friends.
The theme is so light, it threatens to float off into the ether–but that doesn’t mean the game is any less of a solid offering. The art and the surprising heft of the poker chips representing the various gems elevates the game experience considerably. Designers take note: good components and art can’t save a bad design, but they can elevate a good game into rarefied territory.
In this instance, I feel like they lend weight (pun intended) to the loose theme.
In any case, players take turns either acquiring gems, building assets, or reserving a card to build later. There is a solid sense of progression, as you start with next to nothing, and advance to have quite a few holdings in your bid to be the supreme gem merchant of the Renaissance. The basic cards with the green back are seldom worth victory points, but the more expensive cards are.
As players acquire cards, they may use the resource depicted in the upper right of the card in addition to gem tokens when purchasing more expensive cards. Also, if players’ card holdings match the numbers and type shown on nobles’ tiles, the nobles are impressed and lend their support to your cause.
The first player to fifteen points triggers the final round. At the end of the round, the player with the most points wins.
Jaipur is a trading, set collection card game for two players. In it, players compete for goods in order to have the most successful merchant empire to impress the Majaraja.
Sets of goods cards can be exchanged for points (money), in order to attempt to score higher than your opponent. For most types of goods, the point value decreases, the more of that type of good have been sold to market. This is represented by tokens marked with a specific point value. Players pick up these tokens in numbers equal to the goods they just sold.
If players sell three, four, or five of one kind of goods, they receive a bonus token worth additional points. Normally, players can only pick up one goods card from the center row at a time. If a player wishes to get more than one card from the center row, he or she must replace the cards with cards from his or her hand or herd of camels (a stack of camel cards in front of a player).
A round ends when one of two conditions is met: either the cards in the center row cannot be replaced from the deck or when three stacks of goods tokens are depleted. At that point, the round is scored, and the player with the highest score receives a token of the maharaja’s favor. Get two tokens, and you are now the maharaja’s personal trader–and you’ve won the game.
Play is fast, fun, and–at least for my wife and me–usually tense, in that our scores are always close together.
2. Race for the Galaxy
Race for the Galaxy is a game that doesn’t hit my table often enough, really. But, it is still quite fun, and has a sci-fi theme–something I normally don’t see utilized as often as a fantasy or medieval setting in my informal poll of games. Although, I have to say, the theme isn’t inextricably linked to the game, such that I couldn’t imagine the game in another setting.
Players control a starting world and race–hence the title–to build an economic and/or military engine that allows them to score the most victory points through conquest or trade.
In this tableau-building game, players simultaneously select actions, which expedites the game considerably. The actions take place in order according to the phases, so sometimes, it behooves a player to select an earlier action they might not otherwise have desired, simply to get a potential jump on other players–unless everyone else had the same idea.
With multiple, viable strategies to achieve victory, including going for large-scale galactic undertakings, to multiple, smaller accomplishments, the game offers much in the way of variety, while still being teachable. That’s what elevates it to the number two spot.
1. Lords of Waterdeep
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