GTM #205 - Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic
Reviewed by John Kaufeld

The druids of Gaia face untold challenges, dangers, and opportunities in Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic, the first expansion for AEG’s Mystic Vale. Mystic Vale is the first game built around AEG’s new “Card Crafting System,” which puts a fascinating twist on the deck-builder mechanic used in games such as Dominion (Rio Grande Games) and Clank! (Renegade Game Studios).

In a typical deck-builder, players buy new cards throughout the course of a game and slowly build the power of their decks by adding more and more cards. By contrast, the number of cards in a Mystic Vale deck stays constant, while the powers and abilities of the cards themselves change as players customize them by “crafting.”

During their turns, players purchase Advancements that add new game text to cards in their decks. Advancements are printed on transparent plastic stock either at the top, center, or bottom of the card face. After buying an Advancement, the player slides it into the sleeve of one of their cards in play so it fills an available open space (top, middle, or bottom).

Using the powers on their cards, players can also acquire Vale cards, which represent the magical locations throughout the mystical Valley of Life. Vale cards typically provide some combination of victory points toward winning the game and special abilities which give their owning player a benefit of some kind. They don’t go into the deck, though — Vale cards stand on their own and do their thing.

~ More Cards! More Cards! ~

Vale of Magic adds 54 advancement cards (18 Level 1, 21 Level 2, 15 Level 3) and 18 Vale cards (9 each Level 1 and Level 2) to the base game. All of the cards are new to Mystic Vale (none of them replace existing cards in your base game), so you can simply shuffle the expansion cards straight into your decks. Best of all, the combined set of cards from the base game and the expansion still fit easily into the original box, making storage simple.

~ Two New Abilities ~

The expansion adds two new types of special abilities to the game: 'Discard' and 'When Bought'. Both are “one and done” abilities that give players a specific benefit once during the game.

To use a ‘Discard’ ability, the owning player announces what they’re doing and then takes the card completely out of play by returning it to the box. If the card had any victory point value in addition to the game text, the victory points are lost.

Similarly, the ‘When Bought’ ability is a one-shot benefit that triggers immediately as the card is purchased and is ignored for the rest of the game. For example, the ‘Amberwood Vale’ card lets you flip your mana token face-up if it isn’t already. The ‘Fauna Hollow Vale’ card grants a two mana bonus to spend on Advancements that turn.

~ Watch Your Timing ~

Several new cards in this expansion force you to pay close attention to the timing of when special abilities trigger. For example, the ‘When Bought’ ability is immediate — you can’t buy the card, pause to do something else, and then come back. This adds some extra tension as you plan the Harvest Phase of your turn, since that’s when you buy cards. Although most timing issues are self-explanatory, the expansion’s rulebook includes details and examples covering how a number of the new cards work. Keep the book handy the first few times you play the game.

~ Once They’re In, They’re In ~

For some reason, AEG didn’t mark the expansion cards with any sort of set symbol or other simple method of delineating the difference between the new cards from the originals. That means once the cards are in your game decks, they aren’t coming back out easily. If you really, desperately want to separate the expansion cards from your base game, you can download an expansion card list from the Mystic Vale: Vale of Magic page on BoardGameGeek.com. Taking your trusty list in hand, you have to go card-by-card through the decks, checking each one to see if it’s an expansion or base card. Not recommended.

~ The Verdict ~

Because each game you play uses a subset of the Level 1 Advancement deck, but all of the Level 2 and 3 cards, including Vale of Magic in your game is like adding seasoning to a meal — it adds some distinct extra flavor without taking over. If you enjoy playing the original Mystic Vale, then the Vale of Magic expansion is an easy purchase decision. It adds fun, new facets to the game without burdening it with bunch of extra rules or breaking the game’s elegant flow. Give the expansion a try and explore new areas of the game’s world, meet new creatures, and do your part to restore the fertile Valley of Life.

Good luck, fellow druid!

Fast Facts:

  • Age range: 14 and up
  • Set-up/Play time: 5 to set up, 40-60 to play
  • # of Players: 2-4
  • Price point: $29.99
John Kaufeld often frets over whether the word "meeple" has a proper plural form. You can find him writing about board games, parenting, and other stuff on Twitter at @johnkaufeld and in his newspaper column, The Dad Game (http://dadga.me/column).