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Board Game Review – Mystic Vale

2016 September 7
by Michael Schroeder

Who knew the druids were into deck building? Here’s my latest review of AEG’s latest deck builder, Mystic Vale.

Number of players: 4

Age: 14+

Playing Time: 45 minutes +

Mystic Vale

What’s the game about: A description from AEG’s, web site…

In Mystic Vale, 2 to 4 players take on the role of druidic clans trying to cleanse the curse upon the land. Each turn, you play cards into your field to gain powerful advancements and useful vale cards. Use your power wisely, or decay will end your turn prematurely. Score the most victory points to win the game!

  • Innovative Card Crafting System creates a game experience like you’ve never played before!
  • Beautiful artwork and graphics that bring the game to life.
  • Concise rules offer a deep gaming experience with meaningful decisions.
  • Tremendous replay value that will increase with future expansions.

Basic idea in my own words:

To put it somewhat bluntly, in Mystic Vale, you are a nondescript druid that’s trying to get the most victory points by obtaining these translucent cards that have victory points on them, in the form of a grey stone icon with values on them as well as victory point counters and points through other special effects. Mystic Vale is a deck builder all the way. The game brings back memories of my Dominion playing days, for sure. But in Mystic Vale, the mechanism and presentation is more unique.

The big schtick with Mystic Vale is that each player has a set of, 20 larger cards – like starter cards. And the players can grow the abilities of these cards by inserting these equally sized plastic, translucent “sheets,” into the card sleeve that encloses all of your starter cards. Yes, card sleeves – lamination for cards. The game supplies the sleeves, and you just have to sleeve all the druid clan’s starter cards before you start playing.

Basic Card

Basic Card

Take the card in the above image; all it gives the player is 1 “dollar” to be able to spend in the “marketplace.” I say market place and dollar as I’m not entirely sure what the terms are, but for this game it really doesn’t matter. What’s appealing about this game is, the mechanisms, presentation and especially artwork. These starter cards, consider them like coppers in Dominion. Or if you have never played Dominion, consider them to be a basic or starter – meaning, they give you just what you need to get going, say, 1 dollar.

I took this from AEG's site

I took this from AEG’s site

The game has a flow similar to Dominion or any other deck builder, but in this game, there’s also large enough differences. For one, you can see in the image above, one of those sheets being inserted into the card sleeve on one of your basic cards, this is how you upgrade. When you buy a card, you’re buying a sheet, or a bonus long-term effect card. The sheets get inserted into your sleeve into one of the cards you used as your current hand, any one…and then they all get discarded. In most deck builders, when you buy a card, it usually just gets slapped into your discard pile, well you have a little different, “work” to do here.

Then if you can see the image below, you’ll see how things finish up when you buy a card. this process is the, “Card Crafting System.”

Setup (paraphrased):

During setup, a market place, or “commons,” of cards will be laid out for everyone according to different levels. The levels are nicely represented by small dots. Then below that, we had fertile soil cards laid out. The card layout was in a 4 x 3 grid (high level at the top, then 2’s, then 1’s, then fertile soils). the number of cards actually depends on the number of players. Place the VP tokens in a pile; shuffle the Vale card decks, we had 2 when we played and draw 4 cards from each deck. give each player their player deck (represented by a consistent color on the backs of the cards, red, green, etc.). Each player receives a large token that’s colorfully blue on one side, and grey on the other. This is an extra dollar to spend when you bust. One of these has a starting player indicator on it. Give one of the players this starting player token. You’re about ready to start.

How the game plays or, “a turn” (paraphrased):

  1. Planting Phase – During the planting phase, you must decide if you wish to push or pass. If you pass, that means you’re content with the cards in front of you, or you’re afraid you’re going to bust. If you push, you take that top face up card thats on your deck and splay it down on the other cards, and flip over the next card on top of your draw deck. Each time you flip this card over, see if you’ve met the spoils limit (3 spoils, red markers) or higher. If you met the spoils limit, you bust! you’ve just wasted your turn and your turn is done, you don’t get to do a thing (special cards can break this rule). If you passed, you don’t need to worry about busting. See, this game has a huge element of push your luck. You have only 3 dollars showing amongst your cards, did you want to try and push your luck to see if you can get more?
  2. Harvest – The harvest is essentially the buy phase. Count up the dollar markers on your cards in your hand, or lineup, then you can buy any amount of cards from the commons, that you can afford. When you buy these sheets, you slip them into any card you used in your hand that is legal. Legal means its not blocking another image, essentially. You can have up to 3 sections on a card. also, you can buy Vale cards, these give long lasting effects and points often. They are represented by a varying array of symbols. You can buy up to 2 on a turn.
  3. Discard – During this phase, you will put all cards laid out in front of you into your discard deck, simple as that. However, do NOT place the single card that is flipped over that’s showing, which is part of your draw deck.
  4. Prep – Take the top card that’s showing on your draw deck and place it face up as your hand on the table, then turn over the top card of the draw deck, look at it, make sure you have not met your spoils limit, and if you haven’t, add that card splayed on top of the right most card in your, “hand.” When I say hand, I really mean the cards splayed down in front of you, which is next to your draw deck. Keep doing this until you’ve shown a total of 3 spoils tokens, between your hand and the single card face-up on top of your draw deck. Then stop…start planning your next move and wait till the turn gets back to you, your turn is done.

The game continues like this until all the VP tokens are gone. Then at the end of the game, you count up all the grey VP’s on your cards, plus your tokens and any effects.

Example of a Vale Card

Example of a Vale Card

Component Quality: 4/5

The two glaring things about this game is the use of the sheets inserted into sleeves and the artwork. The sleeve idea is really neat. While it does make it a bit of a pain to cleanup, isn’t cleaning up every deck builder annoying? And the artwork is incredible! I give props to the publisher for finding these artists and the artists for their fine work. You’ll be amazed! However, I should note, I saw an image on twitter with a ton of the cards and sheets just completely melted! And after looking around Alder’s site, I saw a warning not to leave the game in a hot car!

Theme: 3/5

While I’m not huge on the theme – it integrates with the game very well. This game is about druids cleaning up their land. I’ve never been a fan of druids, even while playing a game like Hearthstone: Hero’s of Warcraft. But it should satisfy most gamers.

Instruction Manual: 4/5

AEG’s rulebooks always seem to work well for me. This one included. Nice examples and use of imagery.

Luck Factor: 4/5

This game, like all deck builders is heavily reliant on shuffling cards, so there’s a ton of luck. But ultimately its you who decides what goes in your deck.

Strategy: 4/5

There’s a lot of strategy in this game; while it’s not a perfect non-luck game, it has plenty of strategy. How well you do depends on you; don’t blame your shuffling. The cards have special text and bonuses and other effects, you must maximize your abilities in this game to win.

Overall Feelings: 4/5

I was pleasantly surprised when I played this game. I enjoyed it a lot. I give it high rankings up there with Dominion and Thunderstone. I’m looking forward to playing it again. The game moved along pretty quick once I understood it. The Card Crafting System is quite unique, great job AEG for doing this. I encourage everyone to give the game a try, I think you’ll enjoy it!

If you’re interested in purchasing this title, visit my store at Meeple Village! We throw in an extra goody in each order and the more you purchase, the more discounts you’ll receive!

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