Board GamesReviews

Goblin Vaults Review

Goblin Vaults Book Cover Goblin Vaults
Auction/Bidding, Hand Management, Set Collection
Thunderworks Games
Keith Matejka, Eric Schlautman
Veronika Fedorova, Rainer Petter, Lucas Ribeiro, Diego Sá

Goblin Vaults may look like a fantasy-themed card game, but it's really an abstract set collection puzzle driven by a quick, thinky auction core.

Today we check out Goblin Vaults, a card game that exists in the same generic fantasy world as the Roll Player series.  We love Roll Player both for its theme (creating fantasy characters) and for its mechanics (a thinky dice-driven puzzle) – does Goblin Vaults bring any of the same strategic wit and thematic charm?  Let’s find out!

The core gameplay loop of Goblin Vaults is a mechanically simple one.  In each of the game’s 9 rounds, players engage in a simple auction for 3 cards that are up for bid.  The goal of Goblin Vaults is to end the game with the most points (of course), and the way you’ll do that is by collecting cards from the auction and adding it into your titular vault, a 3×4 grid that each player fills as the game proceeds.  On a player’s turn, they will take a card from their hand and place it in the column of the auction card they’re trying to win (or not win, more on that in a second).  A bid beats others if it is a higher numerical value or if it’s a card from the round’s trump suit, but if a player places a bid that doesn’t beat the current front-runner in their auction, they must pay a point to the card that’s currently winning.

Once all players have placed their bids, each auction card is resolved: the player who placed the winning bid gets the auctioned card for their vault and the winning card becomes the subject of the next round’s auction.  Any players who bid and lost get the card they bid to be added to their vault.  And that probably has the mental gears spinning for the strategic players among us (which is convenient, since ‘points’ in this game are represented by gear tokens/icons – apparently the only currency they have in their little goblin jail or whatever).

When this is resolved, Red will get the 3, no contest, and the 1 they bid with will become next round’s card. In the 3rd auction, yellow takes it with the trump

In order to score, players will need to balance multiple scoring objectives as they add cards to their vaults.  Some of these objectives are static in every game – each player will have a suit they represent and will get bonus points for every card of that suit in their vault.  Cards also have a position icon to show what row they want to be in, and for every card in the correct row, players will gain some points, too.

Cards in the correct top, middle, and bottom tier for bonus scoring

But there are also variable scoring conditions, like having each row begin and end with a particular suit, or having a given suit be the highest value card in a row.  And what these multiple scoring conditions create is this thinky matrix of conflicting imperatives that players will have to balance and adapt as they bid and gain cards.  That’s where the whole strategic loss comes into play – sometimes, you want the card you’re holding more than the card on auction, so you might intentionally try to underbid so that you can pull your card instead.  There’s even a strategic element at play with regards to the trump suit – at the end of every round, the lead player can swap the trump card with one of the auction cards for the following round, which not only changes the trump suit but can also put a desirable card out of reach or vice-versa.

Goblin Vaults has a theme, by which I mean the game has artwork and some flavor text in the manual, but that theme, of goblin prisoners playing a card game to pass the time and impress their rivals doesn’t penetrate even slightly beyond the vernacular the rules suggest using to describe game elements.  The trump suit is the ‘warden’ suit, your tableau is your ‘vault’ comprised of 4 vertical ‘chambers’…and that’s pretty much it.  Goblin Vaults is an abstract strategic card game about manipulating a hand of cards and collecting sets.  It could easily be a game within a fantasy world (the subtitle ‘A Roll Player Tale’ suggests as much), but ‘thematic’ it absolutely is not, for better or worse.

That accepted, we liked Goblin Vaults once we wrapped our brains around the interlocking strategies of the card collection.  The game’s brevity works in its favor – you absolutely won’t be able to do everything you wanted to do, especially at higher player counts, but that’s ok because if it lasted any longer, the time it took for players to do their cost/benefit analysis every turn would drag it into a less enjoyable space.  At 3 players, we found the balance to be just right and we enjoyed the puzzle of bidding on exactly the right cards and cursing our opponents when they inevitably snaked them from us.  While you can pretty easily identify the ideal card for your vault, since a big part of the strategy is working around other players’ bids, 3 players keeps rounds short enough that they remain engaging.

So while we always enjoy a well-themed game, we found that Goblin Vaults’ lack of theme didn’t hurt the experience at all.  Moreover, as a tight, quick strategic card game in a small box, we definitely had a good time with it.  So if all that seems like the sort of thing that will tickle you, or if you’re a roleplaying group who wants a card game to play in character at the gaming table, you should definitely consider checking out Goblin Vaults!

You can buy a copy of Goblin Vaults here!


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