John D Clair's MYSTIC VALE is one of the deck building genre that has taken the European gaming community by storm over the last few years.
Most of the Deck-Builders have players using the cards they begin with to buy other cards from a number of card stacks and then placing all cards played into a discard pile that is shuffled and a new hand dealt from it once the original dealt card deck (usually 10 cards, 5 taken into hand, so that the first deal gives 2 hands of 5 cards each) has been exhausted. The bought cards therefore cannot come into play until at least the third hand is dealt.
Some Deck Builders allow you to begin with a set number of cards chosen from standard cards while other Deck Builders deal you a random hand from a specific deck. MYSTIC VALE works quite similarly to the basic mechanics of a Deck Builder with the exception that players begin with a deck of 20 cards, each with a same coloured back for identification, and never have more than 20 cards in their deck. This is because their 'cards' are held within clear plastic sleeves with the illustration and abilities of that picture in either the Top, Centre or Lower third of the card. As you collect more cards, each printed with one of the thirds illustrated, you slip them into the cards from your deck that are in your current display. Some of their 'abilities' are Blue Circles (Mana) which is what you use to purchase the cards you are building your deck with - instead of getting larger by number each deck gets larger in volume, possibly from 20 cards to 60 cards held within the 20 starter cards - very clever.
During play you can collect Victory Points, some cards give VPs immediately the cards are placed in the player's display, others are added up at the end of the game. Each game's length is determined by the number of VP tokens in the supply at the beginning of the game. Once the VPs are exhausted the game ends thus giving an indeterminate time length per game. MYSTIC VALE is an exceptionally fine game and we at GGO thoroughly enjoy playing it.
There has been already one expansion boxed set: VALE of the WILD which brought LEADERS into the game along with 54 new Advancement cards (these being the clear plastic cards that slide into the sleeves of the cards you already hold, as explained above) and 18 new VALE cards which are the cards that stay in play all the time once you have bought them and give extra VPs at the game end but also have additional abilities that can be used on your Turn. The illustrations on these are wonderful fantasy pictures.
The card art is as good as any MAGIC the GATHERING (c) or other High-Fantasy based card game art, Therefore I feel it is only fair to give out the names of those artists: Felicia Cano, Martin de Diego, Damien Mammoliti, Alberto Tavira Espinar, Andrew Gaia, John Moriarty, Alayna Lemmer Danner, Jeff Porter, Kiki Moch Rizky, Jessada Sutthi, Isuardi Therianto, Katarzyna Zielinska, Jess Alphonso, Jack Baker, Storn Cook, Amber Debelak, Krzysytof Hain, Yogesh Joshi, Heather Kreiter, Kezrek Laczin, Kiri Leonard and Matt Paquette.
TWILIGHT GARDEN is the second expansion for MYSTIC VALE and as such it also introduces something new, Curse Tokens, as well as 8 new Leaders, 96 new Advancements and 36 new VALE cards.
Unlike the first expansion TWILIGHT GARDEN is almost a stand-along game as it has everything required to be so with the exception of the Base cards from the original Boxed set; the Fertile Soil and Cursed Land cards and the four sets of 20 colour coded Deck cards, surprisingly neither of the 2 expansions have added a 5th or 5th & 6th player setup, I guess that may be in the next expansion ?
Until the TWILIGHT GARDEN expansion arrived we had already abandoned playing the MYSTIC VALE original game to playing it with the first expansion included every time we play. Once TWILIGHT GARDEN came onto the scene our first few games were indeed using TWILIGHT GARDEN in the aforementioned (stand-alone) format, leaving out all the VALE and Advancement cards from the original game and expansion one but including the necessary cards from the TWILIGHT GARDEN set. I cannot state that we didn't like it in that manner - it played as it should - but I can state that we didn't like it as much as playing either the original base set alone or as we have been playing for some long while now, the original base set with the VALE of the WILD cards included.
We may have been unlucky in all of our games but for us the Advancements didn't seem to work as well with each other as the earlier Advancement sets did. It's hard to put a finger on why we do not think it works as well, I suppose I could use a MtG analogy that might help. MtG brought out (and still bring out) different sets of cards to include into the base game. One such set was WEATHERLIGHT and another was ARABIAN NIGHTS. Of these the latter became very popular both to play with and to collect and/or sell whereas Weatherlight were virtually dismissed by MtG players and collectors. The cards in both sets were all well illustrated, the card effects were somewhat similar and yet you will hardly ever find anyone with a good word to say about Weatherlight or even use any cards from this set in their decks, weird isn't it? This is the closest analogy I can find to try to explain our feelings towards the TWILIGHT GARDEN boxed set and the other two sets - the cards are similar in looks, design and somewhat similar in abilities, but for us the set just doesn't quite gel on its own.
Now as part of the complete set, that's a different kettle of fish. In our opinion, the TWILIGHT GARDEN expansion is a very worthwhile acquisition to your MYSTIC VALE game when it is integrated with the original game and first expansion. The more we play the full set the more we like it and the more options there are the less obvious our strategies and tactics are and so the more enjoyment and entertainment we get from the game, in fact although we thought we played MYSTIC VALE quite often we now play it more. Also by intigrating the two expansions with the base set and keeping all the cards together in the box means that we don't have to spend one heck of a lot of time after each game sorting all the cards into sets; it takes enough time as it is to empty the Player sleeves and sort out the 1 Dot, 2 Dots and 3 Dots Advancement cards - if there is anything to complain about MYSTIC VALE this is about the only thing I can think of.
I like that each expansion adds to the base set but also introduces something different but not toom much. Unlike some TCGs/Deck Builders where you have to learn a whole new set of Rules, in MYSTIC VALE you only have to take in one major difference each time thus anyone who has played before can go straight into a game using the expansions without feeling apprehensive.
This final note is aimed at players who do not like to keep expansions in their own boxes but prefer to try to keep them together in the main game box. One way is to simply drop the plastic insert of the main, larger box, into the bin or you can do what I have done which works for the game plus two expansions and has room for another 2-3 expansions if they continue in a similar manner. I cut (I had to use a sharp craft knife as scissors wouldn't get through) the bottom off the plastic insert thus allowing the cards to sit on the box's floor while the 80 (4x20) Player decks and the Plus/Minus Tokens can sit neatly in the pre-molded plastic upper. Eventually I suppose I will have to remove the plastic insert altogether but for now this appears to be the perfect solution. As a PS I should say that I first placed each separate deck (except the Player's decks) into zip-loc bags right until we decided that sorting the cards into separate expansions and base sets wasn't necessary. This worked fine until then and is advisable if you do like to keep your sets isolated. If you don't like my idea about the box insert you might like to look for the MYSTIC VALE CONCLAVE boxed set which at around £65.00 plus can be accepted as another expansion as it contains the following: