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Mystic Vale

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC
Genre: Strategy
Developer: Nomad Games
Release Date: Feb. 27, 2020


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Switch Review - 'Mystic Vale'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on April 29, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Based on the Origins award-winning board game from AEG, get ready for an all-new deck-building experience in Mystic Vale.

Mystic Vale is based on a card game of the same name. The land has been poisoned and stripped bare, and four groups of Druids are trying to replenish it. Rather than doing this by blowing up one another, they compete to return life to the ravaged land, and whoever is most effective at turning dust into diamonds will be the winner.

The game supports two to four players and requires no deck building beforehand. You start with a deck that contains cards that are largely empty, except for a few cursed lands. The game is divided into three phases: planting, harvest and discard. Your overall goal is not to attack or hurt your opponents but to revive the land and make it as healthy as possible. The winner is the one who does this the best, rather than who has the best combat abilities.

You begin with the planting phase, where you play cards until you use three cards with the "decay" icon on them. (By default, these are your cursed lands.) Once that happens, you have the choice to "push" and play another card or move on to the next phase. Pushing your card can increase your range of options, but if you go over the set decay limit, your deck will "spoil," and you'll lose your turn. As you can imagine, this is often not worth the risk early on, but it can be essential to maximizing your abilities later.

The second phase is the harvest phase. As mentioned before, the majority of your cards are blank. Each blank card is divided into three spaces: top, middle, and bottom. Using mana, you can purchase cards from a community bank shared by all the players and then use them to build cards. Each card has a specific slot it can occupy, so you need to carefully consider where you put things. Slapping down cards with a strategy can lead to negative consequences, such as a lack of mana, poor decay control, or accidentally putting two (or more) decay on a single card, which has the potential to instantly end your turn before it begins. After you finish the harvest phase comes the discard phase, where the current selection of cards is shuffled back into your deck and you prepare for the next turn.

Building up your cards is the central part of Mystic Vale. Some cards give you more mana to build up your cards faster, or they may nullify or remove decay so your initial decks are bigger. Other cards have special abilities that you can use when they are played, such as discard cards or gaining additional mana. Each card is unique based on what you decide to build. You can make a powerful clean card that has tons of mana or focus on reducing the effect of decay in your deck, or you can choose cards that work together to increase the bonuses and benefits. The fact that you purchase cards from a shared pool is also part of the competitive nature of the game, as you can spend your mana to take a precious card that you know another player was hoping to get.

In addition to mana, you have another resource that's also earned by placing cards. There are various colors of druidic magic that can be used to purchase special Vale cards, which often grant extremely strong special abilities or large numbers of victory points. Vale cards are incredibly powerful resources that are central to winning the game, but the energy to purchase them is relatively rare and can often be on cards with downsides or difficult play conditions. You absolutely want to go for Vale cards but not at the expense of building a strong deck, and it can be a tough balancing act.

Your end goal is to collect victory points, which are also a shared resource among players. Many of the cards in the game offer VP in either a blue or grey variety. Grey points are easier to collect, but the game doesn't end until the entire pool of VP is chosen. Then whoever has the greatest combined total of grey and blue points is the winner. The amount of available blue points depends on the number of players in the game, but they are a shared resource, so you are competing against other players to create an optimal deck.

This offers a lot of options. You can play a slower behemoth play style that focuses on building up as many grey points as it can, drawing out the game for as long as possible to get an insurmountable advantage. You can play a deck focused on grabbing all of the blue tokens as quickly as possible, trusting in your blue advantage to overcome the enemy's grey. Since the gameplay isn't combative, it isn't about screwing over other players but rather about figuring out the most efficient and effective ways to achieve your goals.

There are also optional expansion packs, but the majority were not provided to us for the purpose of this review. Expansion packs can include things like leaders (special cards that grant passive powers and can be upgraded), amulets that alter how your mana and spoil effects work, and eclipse cards that can be placed in occupied spots. If you're looking for more of the game, expansion packs might be a good option, but they seem far from necessary since the core gameplay stands well on its own.

Mystic Vale is just a fun game that takes a different approach. Your goal is to make the most efficient and least-vulnerable deck you can, and that naturally leads to victory. It changes some of the considerations of how you play while maintaining the fun of building a perfect deck.

Mystic Vale has a standard set of bare-bones options. You can play competitively against AI opponents with customizable difficulty, or you can play against other players online. There's no story mode and only a basic tutorial that did a poor job of explaining the seemingly complex mechanics compared to actually playing the game. This is a simulator for the card game and not much else, but it is good at that job. It just has very few frills beyond that.

All in all, Mystic Vale is a fun, no-frills card game. I am extremely fond of the fact that it's built around shared creation instead of blowing up one another. It's a well-designed card game that translates well into the video game medium. Based on the number of cards that are shuffled in every turn, I suspect the digital version is more fun than the physical version. If you like card games and deck-builders, Mystic Vale is absolutely worth a shot.

Score: 8.0/10

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