Dale Yu: First Impressions of Valparaiso


  • Designer:  Stefan Malz, Louis Malz
  • Publisher: dlp games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 45-90 min
  • Ages: 12+
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by dlp games

I started reading about the Essen 2018 games back in August, and Valparaiso was one of the ones which I quickly focused on.  I have generally been a fan of the dlp strategy games, and the previous efforts of the Malz (father/son duo?) – Edo and Rococo – were hits for me.   I also liked the fact that this one of the small number of strategy games that I was interested in which could handle up to five players… I dove into the rules as soon as they were posted, and I was ready for my first play in no time.

In the game, players are working to be the best developer of  trade in the city of Valparaiso. The board shows the harbor of the city as well as multiple villages hidden in the offshore forests.  Market tiles are arranged around the board and achievement cards are lined up against the top edge of the board. Each player is given their own Repository board and a set of 8 identical action cards to start the game.  On this board are a number of slots to play cards into. There is also a warehouse and a cargo hold area on this board. Each player also gets to choose a starting set of 3 goods, but each player must choose a unique set and a meeple on the board in an unoccupied village.

The game is played in rounds until a game end condition is triggered.  Each round has 3 phases: Planning, using cards, cleanup.

In the planning phase, players choose the cards they want to play this turn.  Four slots are always available at the bottom. A fifth spot on the bottom can be unlocked if you have two houses played above the space.  A Mayor’s space on the left hand side can be used if you pay 5 pesos. In the advanced game, players race to finish their planning. The player that finishes first gets a free good of their choice.  All other players have one sand timer’s worth of time to finish. Cards are played face down, and then all are flipped over once the planning phase is complete.

In the card phase, each player in turn order activates one card.  In general, you play the card in the #1 spot. The card in the Mayor’s space can be used whenever you want. You can choose to play a card out of order – there is a cost above card slots 2-5 which can be played to have the corresponding card played out of order.  When you play a card, all the cards in numbered slots are moved left to fill any gaps. Note that if you need money, you can always sell a good for 3 pesos.

In general, you can do the following things:

1.       Transfer goods between the warehouse (unlimited capacity) and the cargo hold (max 6 cubes)

2.       Build a house – pay 10 pesos and put a house where one of your merchant meeples is – houses give benefits based on where they are located

3.       Hire a merchant – give up a set of 3 different goods from the warehouse and add a meeple to town

4.       Move a merchant – move up to 3 spaces; the first is free, 1 peso for the 2nd step, 3 more pesos for the third.  You must follow the paths. Spaces where you have a house do not count as a step.

5.       Sell a Good – 10 pesos for a good from your warehouse

6.       Trade in the villages – for EACH village that you have a merchant in, EACH merchant and building of your color can make one trade according to the trade marker in the lowest position.  You must pay all other colors present 1 peso per mechant/building in the village where you trade.

7.       Move your ship – move your ship to any sea sector

8.       Trade overseas – in the three topmost sea sectors, you can trade in 3 goods from your cargo hold as shown on an achievement card to collect the card – which is put in your hand and will be able to be used starting with the next planning phase.

9.       Ignore the card action – take the secondary action seen at the bottom of the card instead (get resources or money usually)

This continues until all players have played their planned cards, again with each player only activating a single card on their turn and then scooting everything towards the #1 space.  When all cards have been used, the round moves into the cleanup phase.

In the cleanup phase, put all the goods you collected into your warehouse and the money gained into your supply.  Then the buildings in the city score – 5 pesos for the most, 2 for the next most. Finally, in turn order, each player can choose to trash one of his achievement cards to score the VPs shown on the card.

The game now ends if: an achievement card was taken this round and there isn’t a new one in the deck left to replace it OR if any player has 18 points.  If either happens, move onto final scoring. Otherwise, prepare for the next round. All players may keep one merchant in a village so long as he doesn’t own a house also in that space.  All other merchants come back to Valparaiso. The starting player for the next round is the player to have most recently built a house in Valparaiso.

In final scoring, score all remaining achievement cards as shown on the cards.  Then sell all remaining goods for 3 pesos each. Then trade in every 20 pesos for a VP.  Remember how much money you have remaining. The player with the most VPs wins. If there is a tie, the most money left over wins.

My thoughts on the game

Valparaiso is a solid strategy game – one that offers many different options each turn.  I like the programming in the game – you do get to plan out your strategy with the cards, but there is the added dimension of playing cards out of the planned order (for a cost of course). I can see where analysis paralysis might be an issue, but have not seen any of that in our group.  Partly because we’re not overly AP prone, but also because you don’t have to be perfect in your planning – the usual bane of a programming game.

At the start of the game, there is some sense of engine building.  You have to work on getting extra men to use in your operations as well as deciding if you want to inhabit some of the huts along the paths to make movement cheaper for the rest of the game.   You can also be looking at the achievement cards as a way to focus your strategy as most of the actions on the achievement cards are improvements on the base actions. There is also a mild sense of deckbuilding – as you can add achievement cards to your possible actions each turn – but this process is so slow, you really won’t get more than two or three cards over the course of the game.   So, in the end, I wouldn’t consider either a major mechanism of the game.

One thing about the achievement cards is that they are worth VP points at the end of the game.  They can also be “sold” at the end of any round for immediate points. In my first game, players made the “mistake” of selling the cards often, and I think that it is not necessary to do so.  You only cost yourself the flexibility and potential of being able to use them in planning as they will score the same number of points at the end of the game. The only real value to selling them in the midst of the game is a way to trigger the end game faster; perhaps trying to cut the game a turn short to not allow your opponents to run their engine one more time.  In my second game, players really only sold their cards in the final two rounds – and that seemed to be a better play. Of course, with only two plays, it remains to be seen if my initial feel for this is correct.

The trading posts are a great way to further your cause – if you can get a deal that works with your resources.  The competition for a particular offer can be fierce, and it if often worth spending extra to take a trade action early in order to get a good action.  For a programming game, this is the one place where your engine can really run off the rails. If you’ve already spent actions to move your people to the particular trading post, only to have an opponent take the action that you wanted – you might be left with something that you can’t do (because you don’t have the right resources) – and there’s no good way to change the offer there.  Thus, your whole turn could be borked if this happens. Just be sure to watch this closely.

The cycling of cards is a bit cumbersome and fiddly, but once you get into the swing of things, it becomes slightly less fiddly.  But it does seem like lot of moving cards around to get them in a slightly different order… and the fact that each market holds 5 actions in the queue means that you’re really never planning that far ahead.   Though I guess that the possible movement of a particular action from one trading post to another prevents a player from building a hut at a certain trading post city and then holding permanent advantage over a particular set of actions.

Overall, I have enjoyed my games of Valparaiso.  There is nothing particularly new or groundbreaking about any of the mechanisms or strategies, but this is one of those games that takes plenty of different pieces and weaves them together into a nice coherent game.  There certainly doesn’t appear to be a dominant strategy from my initial taste of the game, and this is one I will be playing again once I’m through the first pass of the SPIEL games.

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Alan H: it all works well but plays tighter (and better) with 5 players than 4. Planning is pretty fast and the game should conclude in an hour or so, which is about the right time for the game to avoid outlasting it’s welcome.

Dan Blum (1 play): The action programming is interesting but the rest of the game feels underdeveloped. The things you can do are not that interesting and your options tend to diminish as the game progresses (once you have goods there very few ways to use them, for example). Customs houses seem useless early in the game unless players collude to build several in the same area as otherwise they’re easy to get around. Etc.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y Alan H
  • Neutral. Lorna, Dan Blum, John P
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
This entry was posted in Essen 2018, Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dale Yu: First Impressions of Valparaiso

  1. Jeff D says:

    Thx for the review, Dale. Makes we want to give it a try now.

  2. ianthecool says:

    Wow, that board is gorgeous! Two games that this made me think of with the card idea is Concordia and the new Underwater Cities I’ve been looking into. Is this game similar to either of those?

  3. Pingback: Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 12) | The Opinionated Gamers

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