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Mystic Vale – Gen Con 2016

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What is it? A deckbuilder, where you change your cards instead of adding and removing them

The deets: 2-4 players, 45-60min

Designer: John D. Clair

Publisher: AEG

Ever since Dominion came out about four hundred years ago in 2008, deckbuilding has been all the rage. From a slew of new takes on the genre to ride the hype wave, to ripoffs trying to cash in on a generic formula, to different games incorporating deckbuilding as a mechanism, deckbuilding seems like one of the hottest buzzwords in the industry.

Mystical Vale takes a stab at the style by creating a new way of building your deck. Instead of buying new cards to make your deck more awesome, you start with a junky deck filled with blank cards, and buy new abilities to modify those cards directly.

Look at my cooool cards
Look at my cooool cards

Each card has three “slots” that abilities can be added to, and each card addition you buy is a transparent card in which one of the slots has printed art and icons. You slide this transparent card into a sleeve, and up to three of them can be seen. You’re not allowed to add a new ability that overlaps an old one. But, you can try to plan ahead and mix and match your fancy new abilities to maximize your card strength. You can also try to spread the abilities more thinly so you always get at least something, but you probably want to save at least a few empty cards for the good stuff you get later on.

Like most deckbuilding games, you’ve got your basic currency, and some special abilities. Some of the cards are worth points, or give you point tokens every time you play them. And some of them have special icons that you can spend to purchase from a different set of cards that provides a permanent face-up ability.

Care for an upgrade, sir or madame?
Care for an upgrade, sir or madame?

These cards also have Curse icons, which are involved in the unique turn structure. Rather than having a set number of cards to draw each turn, you draw until you reveal 3 curses. Then, you can choose to push your luck and draw additional cards as many times as you wish, but as soon as you reveal a 4th curse, you bust. If you bust you lose out on your turn entirely. Many of the card upgrades you can get don’t have curses on them, so you have potential for some sweet turns with low risk of busting. But, some of them do – especially the ones with the most desirable bonuses – so you’ve got to keep an eye on that.

There is some concern about the fiddlyness of sliding cards in and out of the sleeves, especially when it’s time to put the game away.

These are the fancy permanent cards. The "vale" cards, I think.
These are the fancy permanent cards. The “vale” cards, I think.

I don’t think it’ll catch on as much as Dominion did, but there is a certain charm to creating your own cards over the course of the game. It gives you a chance to discover new combinations and refine your skills (I definitely put some bad combinations together in my demo. But, I also landed some pretty sweet ones, so there’s that), and your cards will be completely different than the other players’.

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You’ll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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