It's been a while since I did a review, so I'll ease back in with a shortish look at Mystic Vale. As this is BGG I'm sure you'll all know the publisher and such gubbins, so straight onto the meat of the game!
Players buy cards to empower their decks (Advancements) or provide powerful boosts (Vales) aiming to have the most points when the central VP pile runs dry.
The number of cards in your deck remains constant. Instead of adding new cards to your deck count, you instead craft the cards themselves, using the new Infusing the Inserts into it (ItIii) mechanic (or Card Crafting System as AEG have called it. What do they know?)
The Advancement cards are all transparent, made from plastic, with art and game effects printed in one of four locations (top, centre, bottom, side). Your deck (with clear sleeves holding everything together) receive these inserts as play progresses, infusing them with new powers.
As is common with deck builders, each player starts with a deck of identical cards. However, rather than drawing a hand at the start of each turn, the players have a starting field of cards where the size is governed Decay. Before the game begins, and at the end of each round, you draw and display cards from your deck into your play area until three Decay symbols are revealed, with the final card, the third decay symbol, sitting face up on your deck (not in play, hands off).
At the start of your next turn you can play with what you have, using the total available Mana provided by the cards in play to purchase Advancements, or the Spirit symbols in play to purchase Vales, using any relevant text ability. In this case, you simply use what you have, buying up to two of each card type (Advancements and Vales) and placing your purchases and field back in your discard pile, dealing a new field until three decay cards show, shuffling your discard to become your deck as needed, then smiling like a Green Man in spring time.
If you don't have enough Mana or Spirit to get what you want, or if you are looking for a particular card you feel must be close to the top of your deck, or maybe you want to get through your deck quicker to get at the juicy purchases you infused last turn, you can push your luck and draw again; place the visible card on your deck into play, and reveal the next card. If it doesn't add a fourth decay symbol you can then use the full field and take your go with the benefit of that extra card.
Not good enough yet? You can push your luck again, and add the top card to your field, only able to use it if the next card down has no decay, and so on. If a fourth decay shows up, that's it. Kaboosh. You're bust and your turn ends. No Advancements or Vales for you. This is nice; it fits the theme (cursed lands causing you problems) and gives a classic twist or stick mechanic to a deck builder. You even get a little bonus Mana if you bust, but that is no compensation for losing what may have been a great hand.
And so the game goes on, with each player purchasing Advancements from one of four sections (basic vales that infuse one Mana to a card, and three zones of increasingly powerful and expensive power ups). As you play you will earn VP's collected from the central pile of tokens, bank powerful end game points, and use the various abilities of the cards, ideally with Druid-tastic combo laden Mysticness, to trounce your opponents clans and claim victory. That's the challenge, to place your new Advancements to give you the best advantage. Once inserted, they cannot be removed or overlayed, so a degree of cunningness is required.
So that sums up how I works – is it any good?
Yes. It is. Mystic Vale is a very good deck builder that is easy to learn. The game looks attractive, the card text is clear and there aren't so many symbols that you spend the entire game looking up what they mean. Its “Card Crafting System” offers something new to the format which definitely adds to its appeal, but it does not depend on this to be a good game (I'm sure you could have created something similar using standard cards).
Time to play: 30 to 45 minutes per game (tested with two and three players)
Goes well with: Large rocks from Wales.
Components: 8/10 – Strongly themed artwork on the cards, clear symbols and rules text and an interesting tactile element to the game make it very nice to play. The plastic cards come with a protective sheet, and additional card sleeves are provided to replace any that get damaged, which is a nice touch. I'm sure this is inevitable, as the addition of plastic cards to the sleeves happens continuously through the game, and everything needs to be removed to start afresh.
Mechanics: 8/10 – I'm a fan of the push your luck element when creating your play field, it creates some good tension. The difference between the Vale cards and Advancements are also done well, and the balance seems to be there as we have won using a variety of tactics, focusing on Vales, Advancements or a mix of the two. Not everything here is original; Gloom gave us clear cards, VP chips are handled in a Race for the Galaxy type way, Advancements are drawn Splendor style, with three increasingly valuable draw piles....but, hats off for the ItIii Card Crafting System. It definitely feels new, giving new tactics to explore, but also feels a natural part of the game rather than grafted on.
Replay value: 7/10 – While there is enough going to keep my attention for some time yet, eventually it will need those promised expansions. To be honest, it's a game made for them. For example, the the influence you have on other players at the moment is minimal. This would be so easy to change with an expansion, introducing a whole new feel to the game.
Theme: 7/10 – A solid theme, with Druidic clans lifting a curse from a fantastical land, but it's not very original. The decay mechanic really ties the idea of a curse to the game play though, so although the theme doesn't feel original, it works well for me.
7.5/10 – A solid oak that will benefit from more mistletoe
Thanks for reading.
Just to add that we included the first expansion, Vale of Magic, on a play last weekend and it was a good boost to the base game. The variety of cards had noticeably improved, there were no stand out unbalancing cards, and at last the Guardians became useful, where before we found it was very hard to make use of with without a good dose of luck. This combination of cards seems to have sorted that out.