Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Mystic Vale (Alderac Entertainment Group)

Deck-building games are easy enough to play because they all are more or less the same. Everyone starts with ten cards, plays five per turn, and is playing to get the most points at the end of the game. Because there are so many deck-building games out there, the trick to making a successful one is to improve upon the mechanic; add a new wrinkle to it! Mystic Vale has done just such a thing with what they call their "Card Crafting System." With this system, you not only build your own deck, but you build individual cards in your deck. Mystic Vale is a game for 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $45. Its expansion, Vale of Magic, retails for $30.
Game Setup
1. Before the first game, place each of the starting cards (4 identical decks of 20 cards each) into a clear plastic sleeve. Then given each player their starting deck.
2. Arrange the area known as The Commons by taking out the Fertile Soil advancements and putting them in a separate deck. Then, separate all the other advancements into decks by their level symbols.
3. Separate the Vale Cards into a level one and level two deck and turn over the first four cards of each deck.
4. Place a specific number of Victory Point tokens in a pool based on the number of players.
Game Play
You will only ever have 20 cards, and they will always be in one of four places - your Deck, your Field, your Discard Pile, and one card On-Deck,
1. Shuffle your deck and place it face-down in front of you.
2. Turn over your top card and place it on top of your deck. This is your On-Deck card.
3. Place your On-Deck card in your Field, and then turn over a new On-Deck card.
4. Repeat the third step until you have two Cursed Lands in your Field and one On-Deck.
5. Now you must decide whether you will Pass or Push.
6a. If you Pass, count up the mana and spirit symbols on the cards in your Field, score any Victory Points, and buy new vale cards and/or advancements. (Note: Vale cards just give you Victory Points.) Advancements are then sleeved into a card in your field, thus making the card more powerful.
6b. If you Push, you can keep repeating the third step until you choose to Pass or you Spoil (have four Decay symbols on the cards in your Field and the one On-Deck). If you Spoil, your turn ends immediately and you can't buy anything.
7. The game ends when the pool of Victory Point tokens is depleted. Add up your tokens and the points on your vale and advancement cards and the one with the most points wins.
Review
I admit that I was a bit skeptical of this game based on the description. "A curse has been placed on the Valley of Life. Hearing the spirits of nature cry out for aid, clans of druids have arrived, determined to use their blessings to heal the land and rescue the spirits." The theme is a bit of a turn-off for me, with druids and all this other pagan religion. However, the theme isn't very strong in this game. Yes, you use mana to build your cards and accumulate your points, but I never felt like I was immersed in the theme. It was more just artwork painted on, and I must admit it is visually stunning artwork.

The real reason for playing this game is the mechanics. With only 20 cards in your deck at all times, you must carefully craft your path to victory. You decide how much mana you want on your cards, how much decay, and how many points. Will you take bigger rewards that have bigger risks, or will you go a slow and steady route? There is also a press-your-luck element in drawing your cards. You can get so far in your turn risk-free, but once that third spoil card is revealed, you'll have to examine the available cards to build. Will you play it safe and buy a lesser card you didn't really want? Or will you gamble and draw one more card in the hopes of buying that expensive card you really wanted?

The expansion adds more vale and advancement cards to add to your game without changing the game play at all. I like it when expansions add just cards without over-complicating matters with new tricks to learn. Unfortunately for the expansion, the name is pretty uninspiring and is a bit overpriced for what you get. I have mixed feelings for this game at the moment, so I want to see where the game goes with the second expansion.

This game was provided to me for free by Alderac Entertainment Group in exchange for an honest review.