**New Game! is a piece I do once a month. They may not be the newest games, but they are the ones I’ve tried recently and find most interesting.
I thoroughly enjoyed the holiday weekends by playing a bunch of board games. One of my new favorites was Mystic Vale by Alderac Entertainment Group, a board game company that makes Smash Up and Love Letter. Mystic Vale is a press-your-luck deck builder where you play as a druid trying to cleanse the land of corruption by an evil curse. While games like King of Tokyo (by Iello) have made the press-your-luck style popular, I had yet to see this aspect applied to a deck builder.
In Mystic Vale, you have a hand of cards that have “spoil” and “mana”. You can press your luck by drawing an extra card, and if you have four or more spoil on the board, you have to essentially scrap your turn. In compensation, you get a mana to spend whenever you want. You buy cards with mana and those cards enhance the cards in your deck. Each card is sleeved to allow you to update each card multiple times so long is nothing is covering what was on the card before. The way you win is through getting the most points; some points are on the advancement cards, some are on Vale Cards which have different effects.
I have heard many arguments for and against the “random” aspect in deck builders as well as other styles of board games. I have spoken with many fellow nerds who fell in love with the static pool system in Dominion and who feel that the more random aspects in other games reduce the chance for strategizing. Many times those nerds will point to games like Ascension with its rotating center deck and say that the player who gets the right card at the right time can win the game. While I do agree that there needs to be more of a balance for some cards in the game, I don’t agree with the premise on that it completely negates the strategy as there are many different avenues to victory in Ascension. For example you can decide to gain points by using “fight” or by purchasing cards with points on them.
While Mystic Vale seemed to have really great balance in card effect versus card cost, I fell behind in the game when I pressed my luck and lost once or twice. Without more mana, I was unable to buy more cards, which meant that I didn’t have as many options on my turns, which made me fall behind on getting Vale cards, which would have given me more options, etc. The mana point I got for scrapping my turn didn’t seem to make up the difference for being able to have a reusable point in the future. However, I found out later that keeping track of what cards were in my discard pile versus what cards were out in play (essentially card counting) mitigated the risk.
While I think some of the mechanics could use some fine-tuning, it was really fun to customize my deck and choose my path to collecting points. For example, there were some cards that gave you more points in combination with symbols on the cards. I chose the mechanic with “helmets”, which allows you to get more points based on how many you have in play. Finally, as a nerd who for the last couple of years has gotten into accessorizing my board games, being able to sleeve your purchased cards was a really fun aspect to the game.
I recommend this game for nerds who love deck building and press-your-luck games.