Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Microreview [board game]: Mystic Vale from AEG

A Card Crafting Gem

Mystic Vale is a card crafting game that generated a lot of buzz this summer at both Origins and Gen Con.  This title from Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) is not only stunning on the table, it is a game that will leave you wanting to immediately reshuffle and play as soon as the game is over.

In the game you assume the role of a druid who is attempting to heal the suffering lands of the Valley of Life.  While playing the game you are calling on various powers and allies to help you save the forest.  I would agree with other reviews that have complained the theme feels a bit tacked on, but that is a minor complaint in one of the most mechanically solid games I have ever played.  In addition it allows for some of the most stunning cards that have ever graced my table.

When I first saw the clear cards and the term card crafting, I was sure this was going to be simply a gimmick.  After playing the game for the first time I knew that designer John D. Clair had stumbled upon something brilliant that will be used in many different games in the near future.  Similar to what Dominion did for deck building, Mystic Vale will likely do for card crafting.

In Mystic Vale, players start with identical decks of cards.  These cards are all sleeved, and throughout the game you will purchase new cards, or enhancements, that you sleeve into your starter deck.  These enhancement cards are printed on a clear plastic base that allows them to sleeve into your starter card and modify its effect the next time it is in play.  There are many combinations of enhancements that you can craft and by not adding to your deck size you are able to reap the rewards of your new purchases much quicker than a deck builder. Whether you want an efficient deck that turns over more frequently, you want to earn spirit symbols to buy Vale cards, or you want to increase your spending, the way you craft your cards is up to you.  In addition, each turn has a push your luck element that really builds tension and adds another layer of strategy to an already exciting game.  When you are drawing your starting hand, you can always attempt to gain one more card, but if you reveal a card with decay then you "spoil" and you lose your turn.

Once the pile of victory points has vanished and the final tally is calculated, a victor is crowned and you will immediately think about how you could have crafted a card slightly different and what combinations would work really well together.  It is rare to play a game with a mechanic that you have never experienced before, but one that is so intuitive and familiar.

AEG has also just released an expansion to Mystic Vale, Vale of Magic, which adds cards that provide greater rewards at a greater risk.  Powerful cards that add to the decay and can increase your chances of spoiling on your turn.  It is a great addition that adds a lot of really interesting cards.

The Math

Baseline Assessment: 8/10

Bonuses: +1 for an amazingly intuitive and new mechanic, +1 for high quality components with stunning artwork.

Penalties: -1 for a theme that feels a little tacked on, -1 for a box that is too big for the game's britches (although more expansions are always welcome!).

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10 (well worth your time and attention)

POSTED BY MIKE N. aka Victor Domashev -- comic guy, proudly raising nerdy kids, and Nerds of a Feather contributor since 2012.