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Valparaiso Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Stefan and Luis Malz
Artist: Michael Menzel
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-5
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 45-90 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Valparaiso is a new euro from the designers of Edo and the artist who did Stone Age. 

Free trade has just been declared in Valparaiso, and you want to be the most renowned trader in your city. You will build stores and hire traders to facilitate the most lucrative deals on land, then ship goods overseas to gain increasingly powerful abilities. It's a game of longterm planning, but the ever-changing marketplace requires you to remain flexible. 

Each turn, players will use cards to program the actions they will take during the round. Each card has two options, so you can always do something even when things go awry. You can also pay a little extra to use your cards in a different order, which opens up a lot of interesting options. This is a new favorite that feels like a classic. 

Rules and Setup:
The rulebook is clear and to the point. There are 7 pages of rules, and 3 of reference. They have plenty of pictures and big print.

Setup takes about 10 minutes.

Place the board on the table and put 5 pesos on each of the outer sea spaces. Everyone takes a player board, 20 pesos, and the bits in their color. Then everyone places their ship and one merchant in the harbor and their point markers at zero on the tracker. Your four stores and two workers go on the slots on your player board. Shuffle the market tiles face-down then place them randomly face-up in the various markets in spaces with corresponding letters. Separate the Achievement cards into A, B1, and B2 stacks. Shuffle each deck separately. Place A cards in the slots at the top of the board. Make a draw pile out of the Bs with B2s on the bottom and B1s on top.

Choose a starting player and give them the lighthouse marker. Beginning with the last player, then in counter-clockwise order, each player takes 3 goods (cubes) and places them in their warehouse. These can be any combination, as long as it's different from sets previously chosen. The last player is the first to place their remaining merchant on a village space. Again in counter-clockwise order, each other player places a merchant on an empty village space.

Now, you are ready to seize your destiny as a legend of consumerism.

Theme and Mechanics:

Each player starts with a deck of 8 standard action cards. Each card has two options. The bottom is weaker and provides cubes or money. The top options let you move around the board, trade, build, hire merchants, and load your ship.

At the start of the round, each player plans their actions by placing action cards in the slots at the bottom of their player board. You start with 4 free slots and one you can use by paying 5 pesos. Another slot will open up once you've built two stores.

Once everyone has locked in their actions, the first player will do their first action then slide the other cards over so the second action is in slot 1. Play goes around the table clockwise with each player doing one action until all are used. When activating actions, the first slot is free. Subsequent slots cost money to activate. So, you can use your cards out of order, but it costs money to do so. The penalties aren't catastrophic, but this game rewards tight planning.

The map has three main areas: the Sea, Valparaiso, and the Village.

Valparaiso - This is the beach and the buildings built around it. One of your merchants and your ship will start there. Construction here provides an income in subsequent rounds and effects player order.

Village - The game revolves around trading at the three marketplaces in the Village (land below Valparaiso). Your merchants will move along the roads to various marketplaces, build stores/houses, and trade at those markets. There are plenty of market actions that will allow you to trade resources for VP, but you'll also want to send some to be sold overseas.

Sea - In the outer sea spaces, you can trade cubes for better action cards (also worth VP).

Basic Actions in more detail:

1. Transfer goods - This allows you to move goods onto and off of your ship, providing that it is in Valparaiso. If you Completely fill it up, gain 1VP.

2. Sell a good - Trade any cube for 10 pesos

3. Hire a merchant - Spend 1 of each resource and gain one of the reserved merchants on your player board. They start in Valparaiso and are active with immediate effect. You can move/trade with them this round if your cards allow it.

4. Move a merchant - Move a merchant along the road in any direction. All merchants can move with one move action, but the moving multiple spaces with one merchant costs pesos. Move one space for free, two for 1 peso, or three for 4 pesos. If you pass a non-market space with another player's house on it, you have to pay them 2 pesos.

5. Build - Pay 10 pesos to place one of your buildings on a location where you have a merchant. Some spaces provide immediate points. Buildings in Valparaiso must be built in the first empty space going from right to left. Once built, houses here provide the depicted income every round. The players with the most/second most buildings there get a bonus income of $5/$2. Ties are broken in favor of whoever built there last.

Buildings in marketplaces provide +1 trade there if you have a merchant present. Village houses (non-market buildings) act as tollbooths for other players and speeds your movement along that road. This step no longer counts or costs you money (for 2nd-3rd movement) when you move through it. They also provide VP when built.

6. Trade - This is the meat of the game. Merchants in a marketplace are activated to do whatever the bottom market tile says. You can do that trade a number of times equal to the total of merchants + your buildings there, but only up the limit depicted. (i.e., if you have 3 merchants and a building, but the trade tile says 1-3, you can do it 3 times. Your merchants are activated in all areas in any order. So you can activate one to get cubes, then trade those cubes somewhere else for money or VP. Only the bottom tile can be used in a trade, so you know what's coming, but you might have to do some other trading just to get some tiles out of your way. Alternatively, you can use Achievement cards to trade more than once in a round or to move merchants around a lot. There are tons of strategic options.

Three merchants here would be able to gain 3 grey + 3 orange cubes with one trade action. The next activation would provide 6 orange cubes. The third activation lets you trade white cubes for VP. Cubes go to the warehouse on your player board. From there, they can be loaded onto your ship and turned into cards at sea. Sometimes, a market will line up better than this. Say, the first two market tiles gave you white cubes. Your third activation could gain you up to 5 points if you had a store and four merchants there.

Once a tile has been activated, it moves to the top of the reserve. The bottom tile of the reserve is transferred to the top slot of the marketplace that was just used. One of the most intriguing things about this game is that you can see trade potentials coming from miles away. In the short term, you want to make the most of what's available, but you need a long term strategy to synergize all of your abilities with all of the market options. Being able to activate the marketplaces in any order allows you to affect the order that those tiles go into the reserve. Trading in the right place at the right time will draw those tiles to you in a specific order that will significantly affect the number of resources and points you will receive.

One last thing. You can occupy and trade in a marketplace where other players have shops or merchants, but you have to give them one peso for every unit they have there.

7. Move your ship - One move card allows your ship to move to any Sea space.

8. Trade Overseas - If your ship is in an outer Sea space and has right cubes, you can trade them for cards. Cards are worth VP depicted in their right corners and also provide advanced actions. Also, take any pesos on that space.

"A" cards are better than starting cards, but B1 and B2 cards are better still. If there are still any A cards on any Sea spaces, B cards cost 10 Pesos. You place those 10 pesos on another sea space that still has A's and no money. If there are already pesos on all outer Sea spaces, pay it to the bank.

End of round- Once all actions have been taken, players receive the income depicted on their buildings in Valparaiso.

Only one of your Merchants can stay in a Village space where you don't have a structure. The others teleport back to Valparaiso. This is a nice touch. It provides another incentive to build in the village and a crafty way to get free movement.

Pass the first player token to the player who most recently built a house in Valparaiso. If they were already the first player, it passes to the player on their left.

Each player has a chance to remove one of their Achievement cards from the game and score the points on it. This is a way you can trigger the game end condition if you're ahead.

Game end- The game ends when a player reaches 18 points. Remaining goods are sold for 3 pesos each. Buy VPs for 20 pesos each. Gain points shown on your cards. The player with the most VP wins. Ties are broken by leftover money. 


Valparaiso moves fast. The actions are all simple. Everyone plans at once, so when the actions are carried out, there's no downtime, no picking up your phone, and no conversation. Everybody stays focused on the game, so it really does play in around an hour.

There's a ton of depth to the gameplay. It's fun from the first round but probably takes around five games to get the full effect. I think this one has real staying power, especially given the short playtime.

Sadly, I suck at scaling my strategy down for shorter games. The game always ends right as my machine gets going.

Artwork and Components:
Everything is top-notch. The iconography is great. I don't think we've had to use the reference once. My only complaint is that the money is a little awkward. It looks nice. The coins are easy to tell apart. The problem is that the denominations vary a little too much in size. The 10's tend to sit on top of everything else. The 1's are a bit annoying to fish out. It's not a problem if you keep them in separate piles or cups.

The Good:
  • Speedy gameplay
  • Medium-short playtime.
  • Fun
  • Intense strategy
  • Simple to teach
  • It's beautiful
  • Lots of replayability

The Bad:
  • Slightly awkward money
  • I haven't won yet. 😢

Final Thoughts:
Valparaiso has a perfect balance of speed and depth. I love the way the tiles cycle through the three markets. It adds another dimension to the strategy. You have to decide whether you want to focus on moving around, hamstringing opponents, generating income, increasing your options, or going for quick points. But at the same time, there are all these market actions flitting around the board like fireflies. You need to figure out how to catch them. You also need to predict what your opponents will do on their turn, so you don't miss out on something. Even with all that going on, this is a fast-paced, fun game that you can play in about an hour. I'm impressed.

For Players Who Like:
Classic euros, action programming, versatility, speedy gameplay.

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Stephen Gulik - Reviewer

Stephen Gulik is a trans-dimensional cockroach, doomsday prophet, author, and editor at sausage-press.com. When he’s not manipulating energy fields to alter the space-time continuum, he’s playing or designing board games. He has four cats and drinks too much coffee.

See Stephen's reviews HERE.
Valparaiso Review Valparaiso Review Reviewed by S T Gulik on September 12, 2019 Rating: 5

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