Game Buzz: Mystic Vale

At the various conventions throughout the year, BoardGameGeek will run a system called GeekBuzz, which is a kind of real-time rating system to help people figure out what the popular games are at the con.  At Origins, the #1 game was one that wasn’t even on my radar until it came up, called

image by BGG user AEGTodd
image by BGG user AEGTodd

Mystic Vale is a game by designer John D. Clair that is being published by AEG.  It’s for 2-4 players and lasts between 45-60 minutes.  Here’s the setup as published on BGG:

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. It will require courage and also caution, as the curse can overwhelm the careless who wield too much power.

You are druidic clans trying to cleanse the curse.  Mystic Vale bills itself as a card crafting game, where you will actually be building the cards in your deck rather than just building a deck.  This is done through the use of transparent cards that stack on top of each other to form a larger picture.

images from alderac.com
starting cards – images from alderac.com

The game comes with 80 starting cards, 96 advancements, 18 Fertile Soil advancements, 36 Vale cards, 44 1-VP tokens, 10 5-point VP tokens, 4 mana tokens, and 100 card sleeves.  Before the first game, all of the starting cards are placed in sleeves (there are 20 extras in case something happens).  Each player gets a deck of 20 starting cards, consisting of 9 Cursed Lands, 3 Fertile Soils, and 8 blank cards.  Nine advancements are revealed (3 each of Level 1-3), and eight Vale cards are revealed (four each of Level 1-2).  23-33 VP tokens are placed in a pile.  Shuffle your deck and reveal cards until you have two Cursed Lands face up in your Field (play area) and one Cursed Land on-deck (on top of your deck).

Mystic Vale is turn-based, and each player will follow the same sequence of phases every turn – Planting, Harvest, Discard, and Prep.

PLANTING PHASE: You can choose to Pass or Push.  To push, take the on-deck card and place on the right side of your field, resolving any “When Played” abilities.  Draw a new on-deck card and determine if you have Spoiled (if there are four more decay symbols showing, causing you to skip the Harvest Phase and move on to Discard).  If you haven’t Spoiled, you decide whether to Pass or Push again.  You continue until you Spoil or Pass.

HARVEST PHASE: If you have not Spoiled, count up all of your Mana and Spirit symbols, then resolve any Harvest abilities in your field.  Any card in your field with the VP shield scores VPs.  Then you’ll be able to buy Vale and Advancement cards.  Spirit symbols are used to purchase Vale cards, which are kept face up in your play area and provide benefits throughout the game.  You can buy up to two Vale cards per game.

Mana is used to buy Advancement cards.  You can buy up to two Advancements, including the Fertile Soil and any of the nine Advancements available.  These cards are set aside for now.

DISCARD PHASE: If you bought any Advancements during the Harvest phase, you now must sleeve them.  Choose a card in your field and slide the Advancement in.  Level 1 Advancements will be visible on the top of the card, Level 2 in the middle, and Level 3 on the bottom.  You cannot cover up a previously sleeved Advancement – if a card already has a Level 1, you can’t add a new one.  You then discard all cards in your field (not the on-deck card) and replace any purchased Vale or Advancement cards from the appropriate deck.

PREP PHASE: This can be done while the next player begins their turn.  Play your on-deck card to the field (resolving any When Played abilities).  Keep playing cards until you have three Decay symbols showing (usually two in the field and one on-deck).  If you get up to four Decay symbols.

The game ends when the pile of VP tokens runs out.  Finish the current round so that everyone has had the same number of turns.  The player with the most points wins.

image from icv2.com
image from icv2.com

This is a game that thematically seems to fall into that generic fantasy realm.  Beautiful art to be sure, but I don’t think anyone will be coming to the game for the theme.  What they’ll be coming for is this card crafting mechanism.  The use of transparent cards to build combos is not new – Gloom did it back in 2005 (though I suspect/hope this is a better game).  What is new, I think, is the way it’s done.  Rather than adding modifiers, as in Gloom, you’re adding abilities and symbols to make cards more powerful.  It’s sort of like a deckbuilder, though you’re never going to add more cards, only add to the 20 cards you start with.  For that, I think this is a game worth checking out.  It’s due to be released in July.

Thanks for reading!

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4 comments

  1. I was excited to play this, and the idea is really clever, but the game play really fell flat for me. In the one game I played (so I don’t have extensive knowledge), there were several turns in which I, and other players, ended up stuck (spoiled) and couldn’t do anything with our turn being skipped. The turns can go quickly, but a game in which roughly 1/3 of my turns was spent doing nothing, is not a game I need to play again. If there are expansions that maybe change the card distribution, I would retry it, but probably not until then.

    • Interesting perspective, thanks for sharing. I’m sure that part of that ill also improve with experience, but that’s definitely something to look out for.

    • I haven’t seen a bunch of reviews for it, but I know Tom Vasel and Dan King liked it. I think it’s just going to be a try-first kind of deal. AEG often will use the first edition of something to work out the kinks in a system, then with expansions will vastly improve the game (i.e. Thunderstone). So we’ll see if that happens here.

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