Mystic Vale Review
Stats at a glance
Move over deck-building. There’s a new kid in town. It’s called card-crafting. Like deck-building, just on crack.
Today, we’re diving into an in-depth Mystic Vale review, covering everything this inventive card-crafting system has to offer.
Brief Overview of Mystic Vale
Mystic Vale is a push-your-luck card game for two-to-four players that features an innovative card-crafting mechanic.
Using cards from a 20-card deck, opponents play cards to grow their field and unlock resources. However, they must be careful not to be too greedy or they’ll ruin their crop.
They can then harvest those resources to buy upgrades to their available cards and unlock the Vale powers. It all works smoothly using clear plastic cards and sleeves, allowing players to easily enhance the cards in the deck.
Unboxing Mystic Vale
I was super excited to get inside Mystic Vale and find out all about its card crafting system. In the box, you’re provided with:
- 80 Starting cards, divided into four decks (Beastbrothers, Dawnseekers, Lifewardens, Waveguards)
- 96 advancement cards
- 18 Fertile Soil cards
- 36 Vale cards
- 4 Reference cards
- 54 VP tokens
- 4 Mana tokens
- 100 card sleeves
- 1 rulebook
One of the main pulls of Mystic Vale is its card crafting system, in which players add upgrades to their cards. This mechanic will really only work if the components allow it to. After all, the novelty will start to wear off pretty quickly if it’s a pain in the arse to do.
Luckily, Mystic Vale gets this just right. The base cards come in clear plastic sleeves that you slot upgrade cards into, and they provide a load of extra ones just in case you need them. The upgrade cards themselves – called ‘advancements’ – are printed on clear plastic, so when slotted in you can still see the base card.
This works brilliantly. You can clearly see all the information on the cards, even with two advancements in there. And everything lines up nicely, too, to look like one card.
Aside from the card crafting, the artwork is, perhaps, a bit half-hearted, vaguely fantasy art. Admittedly, a lot of the cards are just fields. But even the Vales, where there’s an opportunity to spice things up a bit, the imagery still doesn’t exactly make an effort to catch the eye. Instead, it all just feels a little bland.
But who cares? The clear cards are cool.
How to Play Mystic Vale
To begin, each player builds and shuffles their starting deck, made up of 9 Cursed Land, 3 Fertile Soil, and 8 blank cards.
You also create an area known as The Commons in the middle of the play area that is home to the advancements available for players to buy. This is made up of nine advancement cards, ranked level one to level three (three of each). And a Fertile Soil deck.
Then, lay out four level one and four level two Vale cards in individual lines, and place the remainder of the cards in a deck next to each.
Before starting each turn, players need to set up their starting field. To do so, flip over cards from the top of your deck and lay them in your play area next to each other until you have flipped over three ‘decay’ symbols. Keep the third face-up on top of your deck. This is your ‘on-deck’ card.
Turns are made up of four phases. Once a player has completed all four phases, play moves on to the next player. The phases are as follows:
This is the push-your-luck element of the game. After reviewing your current field, you choose to either pass and move on to the Harvest phase, or ‘push’. If you push, you add your on-deck card to the right of your field cards and flip over the card on the top of the deck to become your next on-deck card.
The cards you play will all have different values and can be used to purchase advancement cards in the Harvest phase. Some will have actions you can use, too.
You continue playing cards until you either choose to pass or you ‘spoil’ (go bust). You spoil when you have four decay symbols showing – either in your field or on your on-deck card. If this happens, you lose your chance to harvest and skip immediately to the discard phase.
Some cards will also have growth symbols, which cancel out one decay symbol each.
- Harvest Phase
If you make it through the Planting phase without spoiling, you can now cash in the resources to upgrade your cards or use special abilities on the cards in your field (these can only be used once, but reset at the end of the turn).
Buying advancements is the cool part. This is when you add the clear advancement cards into the sleeves of your starting deck to boost its value or powers. You could choose one, for example, that cancels out a spoil symbol on the card. Or one that improves its victory point total.
Just note that the cards are split into three sections and you cannot add it to a card if it covers up an existing feature.
You will also need to buy advancements in order to acquire spirit symbols, which you must own to get Vale cards – I’ll explain these more below.
Some cards will grant you instant victory point tokens, too. Once these have been used up, the game ends.
- Discard phase
Now, discard all your field cards – these will come back into play later, once your starting deck is depleted. Also, restock the advancement and Vale cards in the Commons.
The next player then takes their turn, starting each go with three decay symbols already showing.
It will take a few goes before you can consider buying any Vale cards, as you need your deck to have advancement cards included to get the symbols. However, they provide some really useful special abilities that can be used any time, so are worth waiting for.
The Ancient Liferoots card, for example, counts as one growth symbol, dramatically decreasing your chances of spoiling each time you turn over a card. Or the Azure Lake, which grants you one extra mana.
Ending the game
Players continue alternating turns, enhancing their deck using the advancement cards, and acquiring Vale cards. Once all the victory point tokens have been used up, the game ends and final scoring takes place.
Alongside the victory tokens you collected, you will be granted points for most of the Vale cards and advancement cards you have in your deck, too. Whoever has the highest total, wins!
Your First Game of Mystic Vale
Mystic Vale is a straightforward enough game to get your head around in the first try. Where it might get a bit more confusing is keeping on top of how you’ve allocated your different resources during the Harvest phase. Especially once you’ve added some advancements to your deck.
A good way to manage this is to rotate your cards by 90 degrees (tap) when you’ve used them, so you can clearly see which ones have been spent and which ones you have left to use. Then, in the discard phase, you can turn them back.
The other advice I’d give is to use your early turns to your advantage, considering there’s much less at risk. The first few turns can be a little slow in terms of progress, because the cards are all very weak. So, don’t be afraid to push your luck at this stage. Especially considering that this is where your mana token is most useful, which is bonus mana you receive if you spoiled on your previous turn.
Versions & Expansions
There are loads of expansions to Mystic Vale that jazz up the base game. Some top picks include:
Mystic Vale: Vale of the Wild
Vale of the Wild includes a host of new Vale cards and advancements, giving you new ways to craft your cards, create powerful combos, and earn victory points.
It also adds in Leader cards, which grant you a bunch of special powers that will mean you have to approach the game in an entirely new way.Mystic Vale: Vale of The Wild
Mystic Vale: Mana Storm
Alongside even more Vale, advancement, and Leader cards, Mana Storm introduces Amulets. These replace the mana tokens, granting you special abilities should you have spoiled on your last turn.Mystic Vale: Mana Storm
Mystic Vale: Conclave
Conclave is a big-box edition of Mystic Vale that decides to shake things up a little. For one, it adds in two more starter decks, meaning you can now have six-player games, and includes a new game mechanic designed for larger groups. Also, it introduces new starter cards so that you can customize starting decks.Mystic Vale: Conclave
The size of the box means you can store all your other expansions in there, too.
Pros & Cons
- Innovative card crafting system
- Really quick to pick up
- Very reliant on luck
- Little player interaction
- Weak theme
Mystic Vale’s card crafting system was one of the first of its kind when it was released and it’s a fantastic concept. It takes the idea of deck-building one step further, allowing you to beef up individual cards. As a result, you can create some really powerful combos, making it especially exciting when they finally come out of the deck.
I especially liked how the game gradually accelerates. You start out with a very basic deck of cards where you can’t actually do much. But as time goes on it builds up and up, and you will eventually have a very multifaceted deck of cards that you developed yourself.
Card crafting that works
The production and how everything just works are worth another mention, too. There was a lot of potential for the crafting system to be really fiddly or prone to breaking. But the clear plastic cards and sleeves slide together just as you’d want them to.
It allows for a very smooth and speedy game-playing experience. The push-your-luck rules are super simple, allowing anyone to pick it up and play almost straight away. There’s also only a very limited amount of different symbols and rules to follow. It means the game turns progress quickly and you’ll be neck-deep before you know it.
The strategy could be deeper
Where the game didn’t quite hit the mark for me was the depth of the strategy, which does limit its replayability. I usually quite like push-your-luck games and find they can be incredibly exciting. However, I know they can split gamers.
In the case of Mystic Vale, if you ask me it relies too much on luck. Unlike other push-your-luck installments, there is very little that you can do to spin the odds in your favor. Yes, there are a couple of card abilities that can change things, but ultimately your fate comes down to how the deck was shuffled.
No table talk
I would have preferred it, too, if there was more interaction between opponents. It can be very exciting racing to rack up the points, but the actions your opponent takes actually have very little effect on you, other than them perhaps nicking an advancement card you were after. This is hit home by the fact you’re advised in the instructions to set up your next turn while the other player is taking theirs. It makes for a speedy game, sure, but not necessarily a social one.
Finally, I’d note that there’s not a great deal of theme in this game. There’s some pretty artwork, but that’s about the extent of it. Otherwise, the gameplay and mechanics have little relevance to the druid theme. This didn’t affect my overall experience – it is often a struggle for a lot of lighter card games – but it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity considering the card crafting mechanic.
Mystic Vale Review (TL;DR)
Mystic Vale is a two-to-four-player card game that works a lot like a deck-builder. In this version, though, it’s the cards you’re building, using a mechanic called card-crafting.
It’s a great system and gameplay experience. Both easy to learn and with some brilliant components, even those new to the game will quickly be able to fire through a few rounds.
So, while the push-your-luck element and isolated gameplay limits it somewhat, Mystic Vale is definitely worth checking out. Even just to try crafting some cards.
Mystic Vale’s awesome card crafting system alone makes it worth a purchase, especially if you’re already a fan of deck-building games. There’s something particularly novel about pulling cards from a deck that you’ve crafted yourself. And, with the cards evolving all the time, it keeps the game exciting as it evolves and the stakes become higher.
What’s more, the quality of the components means the system isn’t clunky or frustrating to use, which I was initially worried about being the case.
On the flip side, there are a few elements to it that I, personally, find a little less enticing. The extent of the push-your-luck mechanic, for example, or that players have very little interaction, does limit its lifetime for me. However, this won’t be a concern for a lot of people and it’s nothing an expansion can’t fix.
Altogether, Mystic Vale boils down into a really simple yet quite unique pick-up-and-play card game.
Have you tried Mystic Vale? What did you think about the card-crafting system? Drop a comment below! We’d love to hear from you.
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