Mystic Vale is a deck building card game from AEG which made a pretty big splash back in 2017. It gained a lot of hype after winning an Origins award for best traditional card game, and because the cards are partially see through. If there's something that tabletop gamers tend to love, it's a wow factor.
Mystic Vale has since made the leap to digital and is now available on Steam, thanks to Nomad Games, a company with a fair bit of experience of turning tabletop classics into digital editions. As they did with Talisman, Nomad has managed to take the core essence of what made Mystic Vale great and translated it faithfully into a computer game.
When I say that the adaptation is faithful I really mean it, for better or for worse. What Mystic Vale on Steam actually is, is just what you get with the physical card game but with the added bonus of being able to play without gathering up a group of friends first. There are a few other minor bonuses too, such as online play, a tutorial instead of a rule book, and not needing to get dressed to play it.
As with many games, the tutorial of Mystic Vale is probably where you're going to want to start. The inclusion of a tutorial is a positive factor in the game's favor, but overall it's more than a little lackluster. It basically reads the rule book out to you then at the end of each tutorial gets you to perform a single action. Normally the beauty of a digital tabletop game is that you can have a hybrid of learning through play and tutorials, but this seems to have been a missed opportunity this time around.
Regardless of its shortcomings the tutorial does a good enough job, and honestly if you need any clarifications you can always download the PDF of the rules for the main game online. The basic premise, which you learn in the tutorial, is that you're trying to re-grow the land after it has started to wither and die. You play as one of four factions, each trying to promote as much life and growth in their segment of the land as possible. The mechanics may seem complex at first but they're actually pretty simple to grasp.
The huge draw of Mystic Vale, other than it's classical fantasy setting, is the interesting card mechanics. Most cards are printed on plastic rather than card stock, and have certain areas which are transparent. As you play the game you buy advancements which you place on the cards in your deck, upgrading them as the game progresses. As you take more and more turns your old cards, now upgraded, come back into play and things ramp up until you're invoking all powerful nature deities to do your green-fingered bidding.
Mystic Vale isn't the first game to have attempted transparent, upgradeable cards, but it certainly the most well received. The primary reason behind this game's success is the fact that the cards are kept simple and easy to understand. The cards are almost entirely devoid of text, even those with special abilities have to be moused-over before they display their text. This makes the game stunningly simple to play once you've grasped the core mechanics.
The digital version of Mystic Vale does have one drawback however, although how seriously you take it will vary person to person. Basically the whole 'transparent cards' thing is much, much less impressive in the digital version of the game. Obviously that doesn't change the mechanics or make it less fun, but it is something of a drawback from an aesthetic standpoint.
That isn't to say the Mystic Vale doesn't come with some aesthetic advantages of its own on PC. There are a number of animations and flashy effects that you obviously wouldn't get playing the normal version, unless you do so under the influence of hallucinogens. In general the digital version is much easier to just pick up, play a round or two then put back down again, without the fuss of bother of either getting friends together or setting up the table. On that note the game is probably best with 2 or 3 players. At 4 players things can take so long to happen that you spend far quite a bit of time waiting around, and games of only 2 players can be over a bit quickly.
The multiplayer is another good point as well. If you get bored of facing off against the same 4 levels of AI difficulty you can jump online and face off against your friends or complete strangers. It's a pretty simple match making system, you can either create a private room and invite friends or just jump into a game with anyone whose currently available. It's not necessarily the most played online game out there, but you can usually find a match if you're willing to try for a good 15 minutes or so.
The Bottom Line:The digital version of Mystic Vale might not pull of the same sense of awe that the physical editions of the game have, but what it does so is present the player with an easy to pickup format to play a few rounds of the game without the hassles necessary to play the physical version. The animations are a nice touch and the online mode means that even if you get fed up of playing against computer players you should be able to find at least one other person willing to go a found rounds of 'extreme fantasy gardener' with you.
Get this game if:You wanted to get Mystic Vale but don't have enough money/friends
You enjoy a simple to grasp, but surprisingly deep, card game
You really like nature
Avoid this game if:You want to be wow'ed by flashy components
You want a good way of learning the main game
The copy of Mystic Vale used for this review was provided by Nomad Games.
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