For the unitiated, Mystic Vale is a popular tabletop collectible card/deck building game, recently translated into the digital realm by Nomad Games. Although it is a faithful translation, the lack of a patient and comprehensible tutorial makes a relatively straightforward game into something more opaque than it really is.
The premise of Mystic Vale is a refreshing one, as it eschews so many of the more tired tropes of the genre. Instead of hulking orcs and skeleton demons, it’s a game about druids fighting to purify a cursed land, so the imagery is nature-based and focused on the power of plants, enchanted animals and earth spirits. The illustrations on the cards themselves reflect this and are based on the physical deck. The cards remind me of a nature-based Tarot or divination oracle deck, and early every card has a subtle animation that helps bring it to life and the movement of cards around the board is fluid.
Mystic Vale’s ruleset and gameplay are interesting and surprisingly deep but ultimately might be reduced to something akin to that of many collectible card games or deck builders, mainly each round consisting of playing some fundamental cards (here called the planting phase), infused with various stat enhancing or modifying secondary cards (in the harvest phase). Veterans of the tabletop game will be immediately at home with the one-to-one correspondence, but novices might be put off by the game’s bare-bones tutorial which introduces the game’s specific jargon with almost no explanation. Happily, there are quite a number of online resources and YouTube tutorials that do a much better job of explaining the game. For instance, it isn’t even immediately clear what the opposing player is doing or what the game’s core strategy is.
As noted, Mystic Vale looks lovely and is accompanied by a gentle soundtrack that neither intrudes or distinguishes itself but is soothing and fits the chill nature of the gameplay. Just out of early release, the game is relatively bare-bones, with expansions promised down the line. Although it can be played against up to three AI opponents, this is really a game that shines with several human players competing together. Although there is a lot of information on the screen and until the mechanics are understood, the UI can seem bewildering.
Mystic Vale desperately needs a step-by-step, Hearthstone-level tutorial that assumes no prior knowledge of either the game or the genre, because a very attractive and interesting game is hidden behind a pretty steep wall. Additional modes and cards are coming but for now, Mystic Vale will be most attractive to fans of the physical game, who will find it faithful to the original and a lot of fun, especially with human opponents.