Card games come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, from the traditional games played for centuries throughout Europe to the modern card collecting, card drafting and deck building games. It is the modern deck building games that I want to focus on in this review. In Mystic Vale by Alderac Entertainment Group you don’t just build your deck in the traditional sense, where you simple buy new cards to improve what you have. Instead you have a fixed deck where every card can be added to, meaning that you literally customize every card. That creates a very interesting mechanism not seen in other games.
Your starting deck consists of the same twenty cards as every other player’s. The cards are all sleeved, allowing you slide in other cards, which are see through in some places, and have a card ability in another. There are three sections for every card, and any abilities you buy fit into one of these three slots. Once a slot is filled, you can’t slide anything on top, so you do you have to choose wisely and look at the cards available in the pool to try and predict what slots you want to keep free for future purchases.
Already there is your first puzzle. Do you buy a card now, because it fits nicely into an empty slot, but spend all your money, or do you buy a couple of lower value cards now to slowly build up your deck. After all, like in most deck building games, you start with a relatively weak deck and add to it to improve its purchasing power, as well as its ability to generate victory points. Sometimes you don’t have get the choice. You may really want to buy a specific ability from the pool of cards, but unfortunately you don’t have the relevant slot free on any of your cards currently in play.
You also need to keep an eye out on what other players are doing. There are different strategies to win Mystic Vale, so you have some influence on what other players can do. You all buy from the same common pool of cards, so if you know that someone really benefits from a specific card, you may want to buy it yourself, even if it doesn’t benefit you in the same way. However, overall player interaction is very low. I would say it is basically a multiplayer solitaire game really, so will suit those people who love building the best deck they can. You can’t steal points from others or otherwise affect other player’s card abilities, so your only choice is try to buy the cards from the pool to slow other players down.
Card abilities that you can add to your deck often affect the whole card, or even the cards you play. There are many chain reactions that you can create, but you can never be sure if the cards you need will actually ever come it in the game. So you can go down a certain strategy only to find that you stall when the cards you need either never appear or are bought by your opponents.
The game plays really quickly, the illustrations are beautiful, and there are a number of expansions that really add to the base game and are well worth a look. I would say it’s almost a gateway game, because there isn’t a lot you need to learn to start playing.