Review - Mystic Vale - Designed by John D. Clair

Hi everybody! In the coming weeks I’m looking forward to reviewing a collection of awesome new titles, hot from the publishers!  But shipping delays abound, so while I wait for those to arrive I thought I’d share my thoughts on one of my favourite and more innovative games of recent times, Mystic Vale!

What’s Going On?

Mystic Vale is a 2-4 player card crafting game designed by John D. Clair and published by AEG. Player’s are druids in the Valley of Life, which is suffering under a curse by dark forces, using their powers the druids must strive to save the vale from the spreading decay.  Players draw points from a shared pool of VP tokens, once the pool is empty the end game is triggered and the player with the most VPs wins.  

Very Crafty Indeed

What makes Mystic Vale different from other deck builders is its card crafting system. Each player begins with 20 sleeved cards, several of which are completely blank, with the remainder being a mix of weakly beneficial mana generating cards or detrimental decay cards. There are three levels of decks made up of transparent cards called enhancements as well as a set of cheap Fertile Soil upgrade cards.  Each enhancement card has a top, middle or bottom upgrade which can be purchased during the game and placed into any empty space on a card in the player’s field.  Over time, these upgrades provide greater value and rewards, offering up anything from mana which is used to purchase enhancements to VPs which can be awarded immediately or at the end of the game depending on the placement and colour of the icon on the card. 

There are other abilities too, such as being able to negate a decay symbol (more on those later), or provide resources with which to purchase Vale cards; special cards which offer various powerful rewards.  All of which results in a game that includes a dizzying array of combinations and permutations.  Add to this the large number of expansions available and these combos are increased by an order of magnitude!  The expansions also offer new game play options, such as solo play, cooperative play and increasing the maximum player count from to 6 players, just to name a few. Though it’s a shame they couldn't have found a way to include a solo mode in the core game.



To Sleeve Or Not To Sleeve

Using sleeves as a game mechanism was something designer John D. Clair intended as he wanted to find a way to use this common game upgrade as a way to enhance a game and find new ways to play.  Using transparent cards is not necessarily a new concept as others have used them in the past, Gloom for example, but taking the extra step to sleeve them and allow the players to physically build entirely new cards during gameplay is a first.  Despite how clunky this sounds on paper, it actually works surprisingly well.  In the games I’ve played both on my own and with my gaming group, no one was complaining about the sleeving mechanism, they were all deeply into the construction of their next super card!

You’re Pushing It, Mate

Another core system in Mystic Vale is pushing your luck.  While push-your-luck isn’t everyone’s favourite style, here it isn’t so detrimental and in fact, depending on how you’ve built your deck, or which cards you have in play, it can even be a smart strategy to risk busting at times.  Players draw cards from their deck into their ‘field’, revealing mana and resources to purchase enhancements and vale cards, however, if a player reveals more than three decay symbols, they bust, aka ‘spoil’. If a player should spoil, that player begins the following round with a bonus mana point to spend as a way of compensation.  Various expansions add amulets, which offer unique abilities that trigger when spoiling as variant game options.

Likes

  • Card crafting is great fun, offering immense customisation, strategies and replayability

  • The artwork is fantastic

  • The game plays smoothly and is easy to learn

  • A large number of expansions allow for even further options of game styles and combinations, including co-operative and solo play

 

Dislikes

  • No dedicated solo play in the core box, an expansion is needed for that

  • The iconography on the cards can be a little small, also the glossiness and transparency of the cards can sometimes be difficult to see under the wrong lighting

Spoilers

Mystic Vale has become a stand out favourite for me over the past year.  Each time I play, I find myself spending equal time staring at the card art, or considering my next enhancement as I do actually playing the game. As I looked around and my fellow players I could tell they were in the same headspace as myself, to the point where you could almost see the matrix code in front of their eyes as they gazed down at the play area, trying to puzzle out their next upgrade. All in all, Mystic Vale is a solid deck builder that offers what few games do these days, a truly unique game experience that’s as enjoyable to play as it is innovative.


Thanks for joining me again this week.  Be sure to check back often as we have a ton of blogs to present to you in the coming months!  If you’ve had any experiences with Mystic Vale, please share your thoughts on the game in the comments below, or over on our Game Kings Gamers page. Until next time, play well!

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