[TT] Valletta

Valletta is a deckbuilding game with elements of city-building, resource management, and worker placement. While the feel is different, the design space is somewhere between Dominion and Deus. My friends approvingly described it as doing nothing new but doing it well. I think Blizzard’s empire is founded on that principle.

In Valletta, you are helping to build the capital city of Malta. You accumulate resources to build buildings, which provide you new cards to play. New cards give you more resources, manipulate resources, or award victory points. Your goal is to combine buildings that synergize, build as well and quickly as possible, then end with the most victory points.

There are several high quality design decisions in this game.

  1. Valletta has less complexity than it seems at first because of commonalities between buildings. The buildings are each in categories, so once you understand the categories, there is less mental weight to carry.
  2. Valletta has a good balance of rewarding specialization and rewarding diversity. Mass resource accumulation is a good approach, but resource buildings produce the fewest victory points directly, and each resource synergizes only with itself (and you generally need all four). You might get better synergy from branching into resource manipulation or direct victory points, which may require different resources.
  3. When the endgame is triggered, players reshuffle their decks and discard piles, then play through the whole thing once. That is a great mechanic for preventing the common situation where you got something cool but never get to use it because the game ends. You will always get to use every card at least once.
  4. Valletta balances large and small decks by the same means. You can eliminate cards from your deck, producing efficient turns and letting you go through your deck more times. And then the endgame starts and you get fewer turns because you have fewer cards. The big, inefficient decks get to trundle on for extra turns at the end. Do you want more turns or better turns?
  5. Gameplay is quick. Each turn is playing three cards, and each card is simple. The synergy is not more complex than counting.

This is not the best game that I have played recently, but it seems solid and consistent. A feature that different people will call a “pro” or “con” is that there is a substantial “turn zero”: all the cards are laid out at once, and you can spend a while staring at them all to understand your options this game. You might have 30 options, so being able to see a good strategy across them (and adapt when someone else sees the same one) is a skill to develop. It is the sort of thing I did not much like about Agricola, but it seems less overwhelmingly necessary here. You can play pretty well just fumbling through, so long as you have some strategy.

: Zubon

The game doubles as a promo for Maltese tourism, including an ad in the rulebook.