Mystic Vale is a deckbuilding game that comes with a twist. Instead of simply building a deck you’re building the cards themselves. The cards come with room to insert up to three extra cards in them. The extra cards you add are mostly transparent with one of three sections filled in, and you can fill in your cards with anything that doesn’t overlap an already used section (unless a card states otherwise). Some cards in your starting deck start off blank, some come in with one section filled in. As you cycle through your deck over and over your cards will trigger more effects including effects that give you victory points similar to what you would see in some of AEG’s other more famous games such as Smash Up. Most points at the end of the game gets you the win as you’ve probably guessed by now.
**Game mechanics section, scroll down to the next bolded part if you want to get straight to the review.**
Setting up the game before the first play takes a bit of time. I cannot stress enough how important it is to read and carry out the pregame setup before inviting your playgroup over. Sorting things takes a bit of time. A minor knock against the game is this combined with a fair bit of setup and tear down for each play.
The game itself is much easier to learn than first impressions would lead you to believe. Once you learn the rules it’s very dyslexic-friendly as the vast majority of the card effects are summed up with symbols and the rest are worded in a simple manner. How you win is easy to understand as well, especially once you play a few turns. If you put a card into play with a points symbol on the left you earn that many points. If the points symbol is on the right you get that many points at the end of the game if that card is in your deck.
Before the first turn everyone reveals cards from the top of their decks and places them onto the field until they reveal three red decay icons. The last card revealed is always on top of the deck before it hits the field, and once you hit your third decay you leave that card on top of your deck face up. The on deck card only counts decay and growth symbols that cancel out decay. Everything else is blank until it hits the field.
After everyone does this the game begins. You start by looking at the cards you have on field. At first the only attribute other than decay on your cards will be blue mana. The number of mana symbols on your field cards will be the amount of mana you can use to spend on card upgrades. If you’re not satisfied with your field you can perform a push. When you push you take the on deck card and put it on your field. You can do this as many times as you want but if you reveal a fourth decay symbol you skip the rest of your turn until the discard phase and lose the chance to buy cards! If this happens though you get a ‘coin’ that gives you one mana you can spend on a future turn. If you’ve played Hearthstone it works exactly like the coin in that game.
If you decide to stop pushing or not to push at all you go onto the harvest phase. This is when you get to make all the meatier decisions. Here you can buy up to two cards sections to slot into your on field cards. There are a limited number of cards on the table you can buy which are replenished from various decks when purchased. At first you likely will only be able to afford to purchase sections that produce an extra mana when the chosen card hits the field but as the game progress you will be able to produce a second kind of currency to purchase vale cards which are separate from your deck, cards that cancel out decay symbols to make pushing easier, cards that have a guardian symbol, cards that interact with guardian symbols to produce additional effects and of course, cards that give you points whether they’re upfront or added at the end of the game.
Harvesting is also when you can activate abilities on your cards. Lower level abilities do things like produce extra mana/symbols. Speaking of card abilities some of them activate while your putting cards onto your field before your turn but they’re very well explained. Higher level abilities do things like generate those cherished victory points.
The last kind of card as mentioned above is the vale card. At first you can’t purchase them since they aren’t purchased with mana but as you get the symbol based currency you can purchase these cards which stay on your field at all times. Some can be discarded during a harvest phase to produce extra resources, some provide a permanent effect, some simply give you a bunch of points at the end of the game.
At the end of your turn you discard all cards except the on deck card and then repeat the process of putting cards on your field until you hit three decay. The game instructions state you can do this during your opponent’s turn to save time but I recommend doing it right away at first while everyone is learning the game. Then you leave everything as is until your next turn!
Once your deck runs out you simply shuffle your discard pile back into your deck and keep going. After you cycle your deck a couple times you’ll start to notice that your cards become much more interesting and do far more things. The game ends once all the physical point tokens are taken out of a pile by the players. Then you go through your decks, add up the grey points on the right side of your deck/vale cards and compare final point totals.
**End of game mechanics, here comes the review part.**
Both myself and the friend I played this game with found it very enjoyable. Although the uniqueness of the card crafting system is a bit overblown it is still different enough to be noticeable. Having sections on cards to customize is a bit more in depth than simply choosing cards. For example you may have two sections of a card prepared to function with a third card for a desired effect but you may have to abandon that plan with the third section for a different effect on the fly. It’s kind of like having deck building decisions within your other deck building decisions. But with that said despite the extra decision making it is still a deck builder in the end. If you’re not a fan of the genre this won’t change your mind.
The game itself does have room for multiple strategies which is excellent. You can choose to create high point value cards, cards that let you buy more things more quickly, alter your cards with decay on them so that the decay is cancelled out to make pushing safer and more! Our second game I managed to make a deck that on the last turn only had two noncancelled decay symbols in it so I managed to play my entire deck in one turn! That was a good time right there. However if it wasn’t for the fact that the purchaseable cards on deck had high point totals that I managed to snag all at once I risked not having any win conditions as I didn’t have many vale cards with points on them nor did my cards do anything exciting other than producing lots of mana.
As fun as the game is it does run into some logistical issues. For example when we were playing abilities that let us search our decks for decay cards to discard to making pushing safer, when shuffling decks it was very easy to feel which cards were blank and which cards had multiple purchased sections in them since the latter were much thicker. This makes it very hard to randomize the deck especially if the deck is down to a few cards.
Another minor disappointment is that the game appears to have a strong lore on the box, but in game the lore is absolutely not tied to the game at all. You choose one of four factions with an appropriately colored starter deck but there are no difference between factions other than the card backs. During the game the symbols feel like they could be replaced by letters or numbers or literally anything with no difference in gameplay.
Other than that though the game is well worth the suggested retail price. Easy to learn, fun to play, it requires adopting different styles/builds on the fly and it appears that it will take a decent number of playthroughs before becoming repetitive.
Personal score: 9/10. I miss playing it already.
Objective score: 7/10. The card crafting system, while fun is also overhyped. It is still very much a deckbuilder. And while the game itself is very fun there are some physical logistic issues such as a good chunk of setup/tear down time, and differences between cards with multiple effects on them and blank/basic cards make it hard to fully randomize your deck when shuffling. If the game exactly as is was made into a digital product that alone would automatically make it at least an 8/10 easy.
**Below is the audio version, enjoy!*