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Board Game Spotlight

 

Mystic Vale: Meditation through creation

 

Publisher: AEG   Designer: John D. Clair   Players: 2 - 4   Time: 45-90 min

Mystic Vale is the first deck-builder to introduce AEG’s new Card Crafting System.

In the box

Mystic Vale is comprised of 114 transparent plastic cards, 4 player decks, 54 Victory Point Tokens, 4 Mana Tokens, 4 Reference Cards and 36 Vale cards.

The box insert is durable and works well, with room for expansions. Obviously, sleeved cards fit into the insert as the game provides 100 sleeves for the game.  The sleeves feel durable though we’ve not put them through extensive shuffling quite yet.

4th Wall Break: The plastic cards come with a thin film on them. This film will naturally fall off the cards as you play, but if you’re like my wife, the film isn’t there for safety but rather 30 minutes of enjoyment peeling them off.

Initial Thoughts

I’ve been excited to play Mystic Vale since its release. I’m a huge fan of deck-builders and the Card Crafting System is an incredibly unique mechanic. A common complaint with the game is the frail theme. I’m not going to say the theme is fantastic, because it feels pasted on, but it also doesn’t detract from the game at all.

If you’re familiar with how the game is played, you can skip the following section and proceed to my Sustains and Improves section. If you are unfamiliar with Mystic Vale, please continue to read!

4th Wall Break: Regardless if you know how to play, I took the time to write this so you should read it…please.

How to play

Mystic Vale is a very simple game at its core and that is a great aspect in my opinion. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, accessibility and table time will always win out over complexity and marathon games for me personally.
 

Set-Up

If you are familiar with Splendor, set-up will be easy to understand. Each player chooses a deck of 20 cards. The only difference are the colored backs, so players can fight over their desired color. Each deck consists of 9 Cursed Lands, 3 Fertile Soil, and 8 Blank cards.

You won’t add or remove cards from your deck but instead will upgrade them using advancements. This is called the Card Crafting System and it’s really cool.  

 

Each advancement deck is set to the side and 3 cards revealed from each level to form the market. Each advancement deck is comprised of cards determined by the player count. You will also play with all the fertile soil advancements. Place the 2 Vale decks, levels 1 and 2, to the side and reveal 4 cards face up. You will play with all vale cards regardless of player count.

4th Wall Break: The victory conditions are also determined by player count; shocking!
 

After set-up, you are ready to begin the game!

On your turn, follow these 4 phases in order.

  1. Plant

  2. Harvest

  3. Discard

  4. Prep

Plant

On a player’s turn, he/she will play cards from the top of their deck until they have either passed or spoiled. If a player reaches 3 decay icons or Cursed Lands, that player can choose to push their luck. This action is called “push” (very creative!) and allows them to play their on-deck card (which is the top card of their deck, and is always revealed face-up) and reveal the next card. If a player reveals a 4th decay icon, they spoil and skip their Harvest phase. It’s important to note the on-deck card is counted when calculating spoil icons. If a player has passed their turn and did not spoil, they proceed to the next phase. If a player’s field spoils, they move to the discard and prep phase(s).
 

Harvest

After players have passed (and not spoiled), he/she calculates the number of mana and/or spirit symbols their cards produced. This mana will be spent to purchase advancements from the market.

4th Wall Break: In the early stages of the game, a player will likely only create 2-3 mana on a turn. This is normal! Don’t overlook the common Fertile Soil advancements; they can help get your combo started!

During this phase, you will also resolve Harvest abilities, score VPs from advancements and buy vale and advancement cards.

Buying vale cards can be crucial to a player looking to maximize their spirit symbols. There are 4 spirit symbols in the game: Animal, Forest, Sky, and Wild. These symbols are found on various advancements and each player may buy up to two vale cards per turn.

Buying advancements is the meat of the game and shows off the Card Crafting System beautifully. With the mana you produced, you may buy up to two advancements per turn. The cost of each advancement is printed on the upper left of the section of the card.

4th Wall Break: If your mana token is active, use it! This is essentially free mana, and can be re-activated if/when your field spoils. Don’t be afraid to spend it!
 

Discard

It’s time to get creative and sleeve each advancement you purchased! This is where the advancements shine. Each card has 3 levels: Top, Middle and Bottom. To purchase an advancement, you must have a legal available section on a card in your field. Slide the advancement into a card sleeve and revel at your creation. You can spread the wealth to many cards or build a super card. The possibilities are endless!

After adding your advancements, put all the cards from your field into your discard pile and replenish any cards you purchased from either market. At this point, the next player can start their turn.

 

 

 

 

 

Prep

While your opponent is taking their turn, you can prep your field. Follow the same steps outlined in the Plant phase. When your opponent has finished their Discard phase, you may begin your Harvest phase.

 

How to win

 The game ends when the pool of victory tokens runs out. Finish the current round and if a player were to receive any VP tokens, that player takes them from the box. Players count their points from the tokens they’ve earned and any VP icons on the advancement cards they have purchased. Additionally, vale cards may also provide players with VPs.

positives and negatives

Positives:

  • Impressive artwork.
  • A good rulebook with easy to understand illustrations.
  • Quick turns lead to nearly zero down time for players, even for the most Analysis Paralysis prone among us.
  • The Card Crafting System is my favorite “new” mechanic of any deck-builder. I cannot wait to see how this is utilized in future games.
  • Durable components and an insert with expansions in mind.

 Negatives:

  • Theme. Has anyone seen it? It went missing. This is a game to be enjoyed for its mechanics, not its theme and that’s okay.
  • Zero player interaction in the core game (outside of buying cards from the market).
  • The plastic cards do not play well with light. Sometimes the cards are difficult to read with overhead lights.

Final Thoughts

Mystic Vale was recently awarded the Origins 2017 best traditional card game and it absolutely deserves it.

I appreciate the pace of the game. I like the options in building a deck for synergy and combos.

I really like that players can win via vale cards and spirit symbols, huge beefed up cards or a mix of both. My main disappointment with the game is lack of player interaction. Mystic Vale is a relaxing stroll through a beautiful glen. While a player may take a card you wanted in the market, it’s not earth shattering and there is usually a card that works just as well.

If you enjoy deck-builders, push your luck and static tableau/engine building, Mystic Vale is for you! Mystic Vale deserves a spot in every collection as a gateway deck-builder that offers enough depth to make players return for more!

Expansion Update: Vale of the Wild

Remember my no player interaction disappointment? Well, AEG listened! Their newest expansion includes a new card type: LeadersDuring set-up, players may add a leader to a blank card. During the harvest phase, players may pay the cost to upgrade their leader if it’s in their field. Leaders injects new life into Mystic Vale and allows players to interact with the not only the game but their opponents as well! Vale of the Wild breathes new life into a game that needed player interaction and because of this expansion, I can’t recommend Mystic Vale enough.

I give Mystic Vale AND Expansions 8 Cursed lands out of 10.

This review was brought to you in part by Fun Again Games! You can check out their website at www.funagain.com.

Derek Funkhouser