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Game Preview: Valletta, or Deck-Building Meets Building-Building in Malta

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Board Game: Valletta
German publisher Hans im Glück tends to release one or two big box titles annually, old-school German games of a type that seem hard to find elsewhere on the market. Their release for the first half of 2017 — March 2017 to be specific, with Z-Man Games releasing the title in English sometime later since the manufactured games then need to travel across the Atlantic — is Stefan Dorra's Valletta, with the game's setting being as follows:

In 1566, Jean Parisot de Valette, 49th Grand Master of the Order of Malta, laid the foundation for Valletta, the future capital of Malta. Players are builders who also want to contribute to the building of Valletta, preferably under the eye of Jean de Valette since he'll reward them when he sees work being done.
In game terms, Valletta is a deck-building, resource-management construction game. Each player starts with a deck of eight cards, and on a turn, you start with a hand of five cards and you can play at most three cards. If you acquire a new card, it goes to your hand immediately, and you can play it as one of your three cards for the turn — but you acquire a new card only by constructing a building (which typically takes both resources and money) and to construct a building, you need to play a builder card, which means you've already played one of your three cards for that turn.

Board Game: Valletta
Your eight starting cards

To set up for four players, you lay out the central game board, which serves as a point tracker for the players and a path for Jean de Valette, who's going to walk down the street to see what players are doing, but only when someone plays a Jean de Valette card that prods him along. You shuffle the yellow, blue and green building cards, then lay out thirty of them in six rows as shown in the image below. You then shuffle the yellow, blue and green people cards, and lay out a person of the matching color on each building. Yellow items tend to give victory points, green items tend to give money or resources, and blue items tend to do special things. (With fewer players, you lay out fewer rows of cards.)

On a turn, you play your three cards one a time and do their things. If you pay the cost for a building, you add the card on it to your hand and mark that building as yours. At the end of the game, you'll score points for it, and each turn during the income phase you'll earn something for it: money, resources, points, etc. If Jean de Valette is in the same column as the building you constructed, you get a bonus; if you build something adjacent to another of your buildings, you receive a discount. Later in the game you can use an action to upgrade a building — flipping it to the other side to indicate this — doubling both the point value and the income.

Board Game: Valletta

One card in your starting deck allows you to cull cards from your deck to a central discard pile in order to increase your odds of getting the cards you want — but this same card allows you acquire cards from the discard pile, thereby allowing you to grab stuff that others have discarded.

The game enters its final phase when Jean de Valette reaches the end of the street (as he's ready to go cool his heels at home), or when a player has placed all of their building tokens on building cards, or when a player has reached the end of the point tracker for points scored during play. After any of those things happen, each player takes their entire deck and goes through it all one more time, thereby giving you a final chance to use everything that you've acquired over the course of the game, after which you tally points to see who wins an invite to the de Valette home as apprentice par excellence.

Board Game: Valletta

That's it! I keep thinking there's more to the game, but Hans im Glück lists a playing time of twenty minutes per player, and that seems accurate as the flow of gameplay is straightforward, with all the twistyness of play coming through the variety of building and people cards in the game (since not all are used each time) and whatever you add to your deck in order to make things happen.

(Please note that some details below might be inaccurate. BGG recorded a video overview at Spielwarenmesse 2017, and I'm reconstructing how to play from memory. I've updated this post since publication to add more images and ideally help clarify the explanation.)

Board Game: Valletta
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