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Subject: Not really a game about druids. A review of Mystic Vale. rss

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Scott Sexton
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Like most people I'm sure that you've been dying for a great game about druids, right? Is Mystic Vale that grail game? Lets find out.

Elevator Pitch: Mystic Vale a deck building game where you alter the cards in your deck instead of swapping them in and out.

Opening Thoughts: I fully expect that I'm going to voice some very unpopular opinions in this review, and I'm sure I'm going to get some very sternly worded rebukes. That is fine. First off, I want to be VERY clear about how I feel about Mystic Vale (MV). It is a very good game that suffers from a hand full of issues that I don't think should dissuade anyone from buying this game. The only reason I am going to bring up my critiques of MV is that I hope designers and publishers can take some of these issues into account when designing similar games in the future.

How does this game play? See a video for the specifics. For the purpose of this review, MV is a deck building game with an interesting push your luck mechanism and offers the first "card crafting" mechanic paired with a deck building game.

Who should buy this game? This is a very solid deck building experience. So if you would enjoy a traditional deck building game (ie not a "hybrid" deck builder ) with a few new twists, this is worthy of your purchase. If that doesn't sound interesting to you, this isn't a game for you.

What do I like about Mystic Vale?

1- The art assets are gorgeous. AEG has traditionally always excelled when it comes to art work in their games, so this should come as no surprise.

2- The component quality is solid. Again, AEG isn't known for cheap quality (unless you count the original Love Letter's card quality). The sleeves, chits, and even the insert all work very well.

3- The game play is entertaining. I suppose this is what really counts. Is the game fun to play? For me, I enjoyed my plays quite a bit. The turns play quickly. Preparing your field while the next player takes their turn is a great way to speed up game play and eliminate down time. AEG's advertising has focused on the "innovative" card crafting (first done in games like Gloom). The crafting mechanism isn't new, but this is the first time it has been paired with a deck building mechanism and it works well. AEG missed the boat though on what MV's strongest mechanical innovation really is, namely how it pairs "press your luck" with hand management and to a lesser extent resource management and deck building. That's right. Mystic Vale is secretly a "press your luck" risk and resource management game, and that is what makes MV interesting and fun, NOT, I would argue, the card crafting. That said, because this is a press your luck game, it can be very frustrating for younger players who are more likely to be frustrated by such games.

4- This is a very easy game to teach. The rules can be taught in 5 minutes or so to a player familiar with the basics of deck building.

What are my criticisms of Mystic Vale?

1- The art on the crafting cards is forgettable because of a flaw in the game's layout design. I'm going to let you in on a secret. The gorgeous art on the improvements you add to your deck are all forgettable because they are tiny and completely disconnected from the game's mechanics. 5 minutes after finishing your first game, I doubt you'll remember the names or images of many of the improvements you add to your deck. Why? The game's layout design feels half baked and I would argue wasn't adequately tested by the gaming public. Each card has 3 different tiny little pictures on it that aren't really related to one another. It looks sloppy, and does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to evoke a sense that you are a druid healing the land. It feels disjointed and schizophrenic. What is frustrating IMHO is that this could have been avoided. Here is a brief description of how the design should have been set up: Give each card a SINGLE image with space for 3 separate stat additions and or ability add ons. What is even more frustrating, is that this is EXACTLY what is done in the game Gloom. The developers tried to reinvent the wheel with regards to layout design, and I feel like it is a complete failure. I think it would have been soooo much cooler if I could have had bought a "base" card that was a weak animal/robot/spirit/ship/whatever and then purchased the plastic overlays to customize the base card. By doing it this way, the player would be FAR more likely to develop a sense of personal ownership over the individual cards. I could have been customizing my super cool space ship, but instead I get to tweak a tarot card's stats with a disjointed series of images that are unrelated.

Edit- I was thinking more about this earlier today and I think the reason the layout design annoys me so much, is that it completely fails to take advantage of what "card crafting" can be (ie a way for players to make a card their own). The card crafting in MV in most instances is all about turning a single card into three cards, it isn't really about making a cool single card. Yeah, if you buy up three separate parts to a card, it is usually more powerful then a blank card, but the three parts almost never work in harmony and are completely unrelated thematically. This is SO disappointing because it could have easily been set up like Gloom where the mechanics and theme were married to the card crafting.

2- The "card crafting" mechanic isn't explored in a particularly interesting way. I like it when deck builders try to do something new and different, but where MV seems innovative in the "card crafting" mechanisms, in practice, it feels like the same sort of resource engine building I've been playing since I bought Dominion. Almost ever modification you make in this game is designed to give you more resources (mana, VP, resources to buy Vale Cards, and guardian symbols). There are a minority that allow you to better game the "push your luck" elements, and there are virtually 0 special powers that let you do something cool. This stands in stark contrast to AEG's Valley of the Kings games where most cards do weird and wild things that you don't see in 99% of the other deck builders on the market. Honestly, the ways you can tweak your cards is boring and you'd get the same level of excitement just juggling resources in Ascension.

3- The theme is on par with Dominion's. That is to say that there is almost no effort to connect the game mechanics to the theme. This is of course hurt by the fact that most art assets are wasted as tiny images you need a magnifying glass to properly appreciate. I never feel like a druid healing the land. At best, I feel like I'm juggling game mechanisms and managing a press your luck engine.

Conclusion: Mystic Vale works. It is a satisfying but never exhilarating game. Is that really enough these days? For a game to be just good? This is a good game that will find a welcoming home with deck building fans. Ultimately though, I find that I could have had just as much fun playing AEG's beloved Valley of the Kings games and had a more polished experience. To me, this game feels like something that people will forget about in lieu of better designs that build on the ideas introduced in Mystic Vale. I will gladly keep my copy in my collection and encourage others to give it a play. I hope though that designers and developers can take some of these ideas and capitalize on what I believe is missed opportunities. Sorry fans of the traditional druidism.
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Stephen Sanders
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Thanks, I was asked to play this last week at DGM but passed. I just wasn't sure about the layering mechanic of the cards, after I watched a review on Tom Vassal's Dice Tower video. He seemesd to like it, but wasn't sold.
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Travis Morton
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More neurtal to slightly negative reviews are surfscing now that the Brick & Mortar launch has happened. My issue nere is that the majority of us who buy online are STILL waiting till Aug 8th for SHIPMENT to even begin. Meaning I will not see my copy to argue against you till mid August.

They push this game with banners everywhere but then you can onky buy it at, or near, MSRP in a physical store if you have a useful, one in your area; I do not. The ones near me suck for this portion of the hobby.

It has been said many times though that Mystic Vale is the test platform for the real game next year. The original one they were worried would bomb without this preface game. An interesting marketing idea, readying your public with a watered down version.

I will say though the people that will love it are ones like me. I would only get to play this a handful of times this year, versus the other reviewers with 4+ plays last week. If you go inmjnowing it is Dominion with card crafting, and are aware of some of these flaw, it can be enjoyed.

That said, I think all this feedback is gonna make the real Card Crafting Game with theme next year a top 3 pick for 'Game of the Year'. There is a luke-warm vibe in the review community, I am sure sales are decent. But this is how you address your game without needing a 2.0 or 2nd edition run later in the year; give us a disposable, unique, game that is barely related to your main stage release.

TL; DR-
I agree with your review. I am still gonna enjoy it as someone who does not game at the level you are at. And I hope you acquire the next release and it sinks 2017's competition.
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Chad Egbert
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I'll start saying I enjoy this game. I played it twice last week with my daughter and again with my daughter and wife. Since they both like it that is a huge plus, but I do as well.

I can see where some people may not like this game as there is not player interaction (as far as your cards affecting other players), so in that aspect it is like Dominion or many other deck builders. Who knows, maybe an expansion in the future will add to this game?

As for the art, while the advancement art is small I didn't have a problem seeing or enjoying it. Actually I like how your cards look once they are loaded up with 3 advancements.

Whether the card crafting is similar to previous games or not, is not important to me. I think the use of advancements is clever and allows for multiple ways to play the game. Do you try loading up single cards with 3 advancements or spread them out, filling up the blank starter cards. There is some strategy to this and allows for different ways of winning (trying to minimize the cursed lands or just getting more cards out), as well as going after mainly advancements that give you victory points every time they come into play or getting vale cards with spirit symbols. Pushing your luck (turning over more cards, hoping you don't get a 4th cursed land) can be a big part of the game, especially late in the game. When it works, it may give you enough to buy that one advancement you need or enough spirit symbols for a vale card with a lot of victory points or power. When it doesn't work, you don't get to buy anything and your opponents may pull ahead.

Theme is a tough one for me. With many deck builders, the theme could be anything and still work. I struggle with getting into the theme of games with just cards, so maybe it doesn't bother me as much. Don't get me wrong, I love games with theme but I usually can get them easier from games with other components as well (minis, terrain, etc.)

I don't really have a complaint about this game other than I'm not sure how long the sleeves will last. I have 2 that are split at the corners, maybe they were already split or they split when slipping in the advancements. I am really excited about the Edge of Darkness game that uses this card crafting mechanic.
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Mike Beiter
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I totally agree about the disjointed card structure.

It would have really helped with the theme if each of the 20 cards was a specific "thing" that you enhanced and customized over the course of the game.
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John R.
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I played it for the first time yesterday and enjoyed it but was not blown away by it. I'd play again but I personally won't buy it, mainly because I'm not a big fan of deck building in general unless it's as an adjunct to something else, e.g. A Study in Emerald.

The push-your-luck aspect was somewhat interesting but I found it was generally not worth pushing. The cards themselves ended up being mostly a mish-mash of icons, and the helmet icons (sorry, don't know the proper terms... Guardians?) are in a different place than most of the others so you have to look all over your cards to count up what you have. Then you have to subtract points if you have the tree icons....

I agree with the OP a better game would involve 'levelling up' specific cards; that said, that is not what this game is - it really is about 'turning a single card into three cards', as stated in the review. All in all, it's a novel approach to deck builders and, if you enjoy them and if you don't mind the weak theme and other minor irritants (card/icon layout, unsleeving the cards at the end of the game), then it's fairly good for what it is.
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Chris Schenck
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I strongly suspect that the purpose of this design was to provide an introductory experience to their card crafting lineup. They're obviously planning a range of products using this same concept, so they provided more "vanilla" powers and abilities in this one. It doesn't contain any complex interactions or mind-blowing combos, and I believe that was an intentional design decision.

The end result is an enjoyable game that promises some additional refinements and innovations as they continue to release content for this game and future games in the series.

I don't believe that too many people (especially those well-versed in deckbuilders) will play this game and get wide-eyed with astonishment and wonder. But the game does accomplish its goal of providing a very solid and enjoyable play experience that will be expanded in the near future.
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Buffy Leigh
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Played this this weekend, and I had exactly the same feeling. I'm hoping that AEG tries again with the same game mechanisms, but with a theme actually incorporated. The only art I actually remember are some sort of wolf and wanting to collect cards with paws on it. Would play if someone else really wanted to, but won't add to my collection or pick it out myself at the board game cafe.
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Martin Larouche
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I see where you have your problem with the card layout. However i think this card layout might make it easier for coherence with the inevitable future expansions they must already have planned. If all cards related to each other, it would have been harder to mix with newer cards (or it would have limited future designs by having too scrict of a canvas). Although i agree the visual appeal is not there and pictures pretty pointless as they are too small.

My personal problem with the game is different. The thing is, very few card advancements have to do with other parts of the cards. As such, there's not a lot of point to the card crafting system. Since you draw until you get to 3 decay symbols, and not simply a hand of say 5 cards like other deckbuilders, all the advancements could have been single cards by themselves, as all the abilities stack up wether they are alone or combined with other advancements in a single card.

Only a few advancements have things relating to other advancements on the same cards, which makes the card crafting not entirely pointless, but those are not numerous enough in my mind. However since this is AEG, a company that suffers from expansionitism with Thunderstone and Smash up (for example), i think this "problem" will be solved with future expansions.

What i don't think anyone pointed out so far in reviews is that this game trully is, at it's core, an hybrid between Dominion and... Splendor:
- You got your three level of advancements, like Splendor.
- Cards on row 3 give usually tons of points and only some on level 2 give any with level 1 being only mostly cards to help you start an economical engine, like Splendor.
- On average, you'll get to pick maybe 2 level 3 advancements during a game. Much like what happens in Splendor.
- when you get enough symbols, you get to buy Vale cards, which are reminescent in how to purchase them to Splendor's merchants. They sit there, besides the main purchasing area, to give special bonuses.
- the theme is... well... there's a theme, but it's pointless, again much like Splendor.
- you play until there are no more points in the pool. You'll soon discover however after a few games that usually the pool will be exhausted when a player has around... drum roll... 15 points. Guess what other game ends when a player reaches a similar amount of points?

So really, to me, Mystic Vale really is a souped-up version of Splendor, but that has a completely different way of players picking their resources available for a turn that comes straight from deckbuilders instead of Splendor's simply "pick what you want" system.

Overall, i'd much rather play this than Splendor. The setup time is about the same, the play-time is about 50% longer (but Splendor's pretty short)... the tear down time is definitely long however, as you have to dismantle all your cards...

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Chad Egbert
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For people that haven't played Mystic Vale, one thing that is different about it compared to other deck-builders is you start with 20 cards and do not gain or lose any throughout the game. Some of the starting cards are blank while others have cursed lands on them. So while there can be some comparisons to Dominion, your deck doesn't become huge and you can't thin it out. There is kind of a thinning mechanism, as you can buy advancements with green trees, which cancel a red tree (decay) allowing you to flip over more cards in a turn (avoiding spoiling longer).

Quote:
- On average, you'll get to pick maybe 2 level 3 advancements during a game. Much like what happens in Splendor.


Martin - How many people are you playing with when you get 2 level 3 advancements? I've played 4 games two player and 1 three player game and have gotten 3+ level 3 advancements every time I've played. It could be the turn of the cards, as some level 3's cost more than others.

Also, one thing I missed in the rules the first few times is once you go through the level 1 advancements you fill in that row with level 2's. This does give players more options to buy. (Same thing if you run out of level 2's. Not sure that will ever happen?).
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Mindy Basi
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I got a chance to play this for the first time last night. I really enjoy deckbuilders, so I was curious, but had seen the reviews that said it was not so stellar. We had two players. Given that, here are my impressions.

First thing, I broke a sleeve almost immediately...I felt really bad. What is the best way to shuffle so they don't split?

-- We were never, ever going to run out of cards in a two player game. I wanted the ability to sweep the row. It took so long to get enough mana to build an engine to get the higher cost cards when they weren't moving.

-- I found the push your luck thing to be slightly annoying. I didn't like "spoiling" and losing my turn in a two player game. I actually found that mechanic to be frustrating. I wanted to stop, but could not, had to flip that card and push the luck.

-- I got bored. Waiting for my partner to flip cards, decide what to buy, add up all the effects...zzzz. He's an experienced player, it just takes that long to do all the math once you get the engine going.

-- There wasn't enough variety in the cards. I can see why people say it won't hold up to multiple plays. I thought there should be more interesting symbol cards to buy, not just the same ones.

-- When shuffling, I could tell which cards were filled and which were not, which could set up for some deck stacking if you weren't ethical.

-- The set up and take down is ridiculous. I could live with out that.

In conclusion, it's fun for a filler and he artwork is gorgeous but I wish there was more game there.



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Ryan Morency
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Kwill2 wrote:
First thing, I broke a sleeve almost immediately...I felt really bad. What is the best way to shuffle so they don't split?

-- When shuffling, I could tell which cards were filled and which were not, which could set up for some deck stacking if you weren't ethical.


We deal the cards into 4 rows of 5 or 5 rows of 4 and then just stack the piles to shuffle.

I did notice that it's far too easy to feel which cards are full and I felt the same way, but then I realized life is too short to play with people I don't trust to play fair.

I went into this game expecting deck building with a fancy new gimmick and that's exactly what I got. My girlfriend and I were actually surprised at how much fun we were having.

I thought the push your luck aspect would bother me but it actually doesn't. I found that I enjoy seeing what I can buy and checking to see if I will be able to flip my token to the blue side before I decide to push my luck. Also, with only 20 draws before you reshuffle it's relatively easy to know how likely you are to draw a decay symbol.
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Xelto G
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cbs42 wrote:
I strongly suspect that the purpose of this design was to provide an introductory experience to their card crafting lineup. They're obviously planning a range of products using this same concept, so they provided more "vanilla" powers and abilities in this one. It doesn't contain any complex interactions or mind-blowing combos, and I believe that was an intentional design decision.

A number of people have compared it to Dominion, and there's a certain truth to that. Especially as virtually all the cards in the base game are on the bland side... just like Dominion. Hopefully, expansion cards will liven things up a bit... but damned if I can figure out how they'll do that. There doesn't seem to be a lot of extensive expansionability.

And for now, I'll join the group of "like it, but not blown away by it".
 
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Kelly Overholser
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Personally, while I like the game and will probably pick it up (I want family to give it a go first to make sure they like it too), I think the main missed opportunity here is that the cards don't interact with each other enough. The only ones I can think of are the few cards that give you a bonus based on how many helmet symbols are on the card, and one or two that let you ignore decay symbols on the card. Beyond that, there's little reason to decide which card to toss a new purchase into. More effects that care about what card they're put into would be nice.
 
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Martin Larouche
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Sethala wrote:
Personally, while I like the game and will probably pick it up (I want family to give it a go first to make sure they like it too), I think the main missed opportunity here is that the cards don't interact with each other enough. The only ones I can think of are the few cards that give you a bonus based on how many helmet symbols are on the card, and one or two that let you ignore decay symbols on the card. Beyond that, there's little reason to decide which card to toss a new purchase into. More effects that care about what card they're put into would be nice.


There's a bit more than that... But overall i agree.

The card that gives points for every symbol on the card for example.
Also, i find it's usually much better to put Vale symbols on the same cards, so that you can have more chance of getting them together to biy those expansive vale cards rather than get the symbols separately in different hands because you spread them on several cards.

So even if there's no direct abilities that relate to each other, there's still value to the system... In some instances.
 
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Chad Egbert
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deedob wrote:
Sethala wrote:
Personally, while I like the game and will probably pick it up (I want family to give it a go first to make sure they like it too), I think the main missed opportunity here is that the cards don't interact with each other enough. The only ones I can think of are the few cards that give you a bonus based on how many helmet symbols are on the card, and one or two that let you ignore decay symbols on the card. Beyond that, there's little reason to decide which card to toss a new purchase into. More effects that care about what card they're put into would be nice.


There's a bit more than that... But overall i agree.

The card that gives points for every symbol on the card for example.
Also, i find it's usually much better to put Vale symbols on the same cards, so that you can have more chance of getting them together to biy those expansive vale cards rather than get the symbols separately in different hands because you spread them on several cards.

So even if there's no direct abilities that relate to each other, there's still value to the system... In some instances.


The more I play the game the more strategy I find. Like blank cards, even though they don't hurt you by coming out you might as well put a few advancements on them so you are getting some kind of benefit when they come up. Even an advancement that allows you to discard would be helpful.

I also like to add advancements to cursed lands, even if they don't have a growth symbol (cancels a spoil) as it makes the spoiled land more valuable/useful when it comes up.
 
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Erwin Anciano
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I don't really agree with the disjointed card criticism. Euro games and deck builders have always been thin on theme and design and this is just another example of that.

The Splendor analogy is apt -- but a lot of euros are really just a race to a certain number of VPs. It does feel a lot like Dominion meets Splendor, but it also has a Push Spoiler mechanic similar to games like Incan Gold and Deadman's Draw. I can understand people not liking this mechanic because it's Alien to Euros and Deckbuilders and more a feature of Party Games, so I am not surprised a lot of people aren't liking that aspect.

My real issue with the game is mode om longevity.

Card crafting is a gimmick really and the game is really still just a deck builder, but the actual design of this game with the spoiling mechanism couldn't be done without card crafting.

But this design requires sleeves, and sleeves eventually break. They wear down faster than cards, and especially so here because you need to keep opening and putring things in and out of the sleeves, and overstuffing a sleeve as you would here is a sure recipe for breaking them. I feel it's a clumsy mechanism at best that's akin to forcing a square into a round hole.

While you can always replace them, finding these tarot-sized sleeves isn't exactly easy. Well, if card crafting becomes a big thing then maybe it'll work out.

I also hate the teardown of this game, it's a royal pain in the neck.

The strategy in this game is also ridiculously transparent. Just thin your deck with Bears, Lifeseeds and other ways to cancel your Red Trees and you can play your entire deck every turn. No other strategy compared to this.



Otherwise, the game is great but I'm not certain this is going to be the next big thing in gaming
 
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Martin Larouche
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Mochana wrote:
I don't really agree with the disjointed card criticism. Euro games and deck builders have always been thin on theme and design and this is just another example of that.

The Splendor analogy is apt -- but a lot of euros are really just a race to a certain number of VPs. It does feel a lot like Dominion meets Splendor, but it also has a Push Spoiler mechanic similar to games like Incan Gold and Deadman's Draw. I can understand people not liking this mechanic because it's Alien to Euros and Deckbuilders and more a feature of Party Games, so I am not surprised a lot of people aren't liking that aspect.

My real issue with the game is mode om longevity.

Card crafting is a gimmick really and the game is really still just a deck builder, but the actual design of this game with the spoiling mechanism couldn't be done without card crafting.

But this design requires sleeves, and sleeves eventually break. They wear down faster than cards, and especially so here because you need to keep opening and putring things in and out of the sleeves, and overstuffing a sleeve as you would here is a sure recipe for breaking them. I feel it's a clumsy mechanism at best that's akin to forcing a square into a round hole.

While you can always replace them, finding these tarot-sized sleeves isn't exactly easy. Well, if card crafting becomes a big thing then maybe it'll work out.

I also hate the teardown of this game, it's a royal pain in the neck.

The strategy in this game is also ridiculously transparent. Just thin your deck with Bears, Lifeseeds and other ways to cancel your Red Trees and you can play your entire deck every turn. No other strategy compared to this.



Otherwise, the game is great but I'm not certain this is going to be the next big thing in gaming


The game comes with 20 extra sleeves...
 
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Nick Gilbert
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honestly i kinda disagree... the card crafting mechanic is innovative imho and besides, they are gonna have a ton of expansions for this eventually i think. surprised nobody's ever tried this before. i personally like it and am glad to have it in my collection.
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