Review: King of the Valley (The Game Master) – English

Centuries ago, in a land far far away, there stood a hill and there lay a valley surrounded by 4 kingdoms. The four kingdoms were ruled by four kings eagerly seeking subjects to please and rule, and of course collect taxes from. To be rich as kings, they sat on golden thrones and wore bejeweled crowns, and not even a shimmer of poverty shown lest shall they be overthrown. The inhabitants of the land wandered around aimlessly through mountain and valley looking for guidance and leadership. So every king saw its chance to recruit these souls wandering without aim through the valley for their own gain. May the best court win, but to become king of the valley, you have to move mountains. Recruit subjects, tax and play keen as a king to gather the best royal canon of knights in your castle. Will your victory be crowned or will your strategy go downhill?

King of the Valley is the new game by Dutch game author Hans van Tol. We already announced this new game during our podcast in May, but now the game has been published. As they say in Dutch: nobility must oblige. In King of the Valley, players compete to gather subjects in the valley (a grid of 25 subjects in the shape of tiles) and the hill: a literal cardboard slope where players can recruit subjects by reaching into their pockets.

During a turn, a player may recruit from the hill by discarding the required gold pieces. Then this player may move his or her king across the grid and lure subjects to his castle or activate special characters to perform actions. Players score points at the end of the game for their subjects. A queen scores many points, but there are only a few of these in the game. By making the right combinations with knights, you can score a lot of points. Also by linking sets of farmers and peasants, you can earn bonus points. Sets of different servants can also be used to earn one-off bonuses or to collect taxes and money to buy extra servants or to accumulate points.

Scarcity and choice mean that players have to make tactical decisions, plan well and consider their opponent(s). The fact that you can score in different ways makes it a challenge to seal victory with the best strategy while playing. This makes King of the Valley an elegant and abstract strategic game with sufficient depth. The cardboard hill is a funny tool and the artwork evokes nostalgic feelings and reminds me of computer games from the early 2000s such as Bard’s Tale. This game should be knighted as far as I am concerned!