Designed by Hans van Tol and published by The Game Master BV, King of the Valley is a game we first played at last year's Spiel (Essen). We've delayed featuring the game on Board's Eye View because we've been waiting for news of its wider availability outside the Netherlands. We've since had reports of it also being available from game stores in France and Germany but it continues to be difficult to get hold of this game in the UK or USA. That's a great shame because King of the Valley is a very enjoyable easy-to-play 30-minute game that's great for introducing non-gamers to modern board games.
Well, we say modern, but of course the setting for King of the Valley is distinctly medieval. The 2-4 players are apparently contenders for the crown and they are scoring points by recruiting nobles and farmers to their cause. With art by David Cochard, your prospective subjects are represented by tiles, and these are grouped by the I/II/III numbers marked on the back of the tile. The numbers ensure a reasonable distribution of the different character tiles. Most of the 'I' tiles form the modular starting 'board': a 5 x 5 grid. The remainder are placed on the lower levels of 'The Hill', which is filled first with the 'II' tiles and then those numbered 'III'. To add to the game's table presence, the Hill is actually a three-dimensional construct, designed so that you can slide tiles down when lower tiles are removed.
On your turn, you can buy a tile from the Hill, paying the amount indicated by its position on the slope. You then move your marker in a straight line (orthogonally or diagonally) on the grid, taking the tile on which you land. If your movement takes you over two or more matching tiles, you get to take them all instead of the tile on which you land.
When you collect tiles, either by buying them or from your movement, you add them to your individual tableau. You'll score for them at the end of the game but you can also 'cash in' completed sets of subjects (ie: one of each type) to get a 5-point scoring bonus and 5 gold. You have to flip the tiles for which you claim this bonus. You also flip tiles from whom you levy taxes using the Tax Collector tiles. Flipped tiles can't be re-used within the game but you'll still count them in your end-game scoring.
King of the Valley then is a set collection game, and there are sub-sets too to collect (you get extra points for pairing farmers with their wives and for collecting knights within the same chivalric order). There are tactics too in knowing when to splash out buying tiles from the Hill, bearing in mind that coins are also worth points in end-game scoring: there are only three Queen tiles in the game (just one in each numbered 'level') so it will usually be worthwhile spending to nab a Queen. The grid movement is at the heart of the game; the winner will usually be the player who optimises their grid movements and tile picks, often relying on the extra movement that you can gain by using the tiles representing the Priest. The grid can involve a degree of forward planning - particularly in a two-player game. It is harder tho' to plan ahead when you play with three or four because the grid is likely to have changed too much between turns.
With its tiles-from-a-grid mechanic, there's obviously some similarity with the recent edition of Sobek (Catch Up) but that game only accommodates two players. And even if you're only playing King of the Valley with two, there are enough differences between the feel and flow of these two 'gateway' games to justify adding both to your collection - provided you can het your gauntlets on a copy outside the Netherlands, Germany and France...