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Vaalbara

In Vaalbara from Studio H, the 2-5 players are clan leaders selecting a member of their tribe to take over some territory. At least, that's the premise for this lively and very accessible card game. In practice, Vaalbaara is a well-designed easy-to-play filler-length set collection game, with some standout art from Félix Donadio and Alexandre Renaud. The game is distributed in the UK by Hachette Board Games.



You'll be collecting sets by drafting a territory card in each of the nine rounds and adding it to your individual tableau. You are drafting from a display that shows the number of cards equal to the number of players but a second layer in the display also shows the territory cards that should be available next turn.


Players each have identical decks of 12 cards representing the members of their tribe. Players always start their turn with a hand of five cards, and tho' you'll see all 12 cards in your hand during the course of the game, you won't get to play all of them. The number on the card determines turn order, with the lowest numbered card going first. In a neat mechanic incorporated by designer Oliver Cipiere, the card backs each have the colours/icons for each tribe in a different order and ties are resolved in favour of the order indicated on the back of whichever card is on top of the draw deck.


The card you play also indicates an action. Some actions give you a benefit depending on turn order; for example, the #3 card gives you a bonus of 3 points if you play before either of your neighbouring players, while the #6 card allows you to steal 2 points from the player who went before you. In both cases, you'll only get the benefit if your turn order qualifies you for it. Some cards allow you to manipulate the display; for example, your #9 lets you swap a card from the top row with a card on the bottom. That means you're able to draft that card this round.



The different territory types all score in different ways. For example, forests just score the value on the card (tho' note that playing the #5 card will score you an extra 3 points for each of the forests in your tableau); fields score 2 points for each field in your tableau, so if you've already collected four fields, the fifth will be worth 10 points. The first meadow collected in the game will score a measly single point but subsequent meadows score a point for every meadow in your own and your neighbours' tableaus. Other territory types score for each different type in your tableau, and there's an additional end-game bonus for having five or six different territory types. This all means there are lots of different ways of scoring, and it's a mark of how well balanced the game is that scores are often tantalisingly close at the end.


There's interaction between players, particularly where two or more players are competing to add the same territory card from the display, and late in the game players may tailor their choices to thwart an opponent as much as help themselves. In deciding which card to play, players may weigh up the desirability to opponents of cards in the display: do I think these make it more or less likely you will play a low numbered card? Even when stealing a couple of points from another player, none of this feels like aggressive 'take that' interaction, which, for many players, will be another plus for this game.


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