Mystic Vale Conclave

I’m a fan of Mystic Vale. It’s a deck-crafting game. Unlike a deck-building game, in which you add cards to a starting deck as you play the game, in a deck-crafting game you modify the cards themselves. In Mystic Vale this is done by inserting mostly-transparent cards into the plastic sleeves of the cards of your deck.

I bought all the Mystic Vale expansions as they were released: Vale of Magic, Vale of the Wild, Mana Storm. The latest expansion is Mystic Vale Conclave.

While being a completist is joy unto itself (“You have Mystic Vale? I have Mystic Vale and all its expansions!”), it can pose a problem if you want to carry all of them around. The traditional solution for many games and gamers is to fit all the expansions in a single box. But after three expansions, it was getting harder to get all the extra cards and pieces into the original Mystic Vale box. Mystic Vale Conclave solves that problem, in that it comes in a much bigger box.

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It’s a bit hard to tell from my picture, but the new box (on the left) has a volume that looks to be about four times bigger than the original box.

Even with all the new game materials included with Mystic Vale Conclave, it looks like a determined gamer could still fit all the expansions including Conclave into the original box. When I packed the game and all the expansions into the Conclave box, it didn’t take up more than a quarter of the available space. I speculated before I got this expansion that it might be last game in the Mystic Vale series. It’s clear that the publisher, AEG, intends to release many more expansions, if for no other reason than to fill up that box.

Mystic Vale is a four-player game. This is a bit of a disadvantage with my gaming group, since we often have five or six players looking to play at once. Mystic Vale Conclave includes extra decks and other materials so that up to six can play at once.

In our experience, Mystic Vale has very little “downtime” (the time you spend waiting for everyone else to take their turn). Typically there’s enough for you to do when it’s not your turn (shuffling your deck, prepping for your next turn) that sometimes everyone else will have played out their turns before you’re ready to take your next one. Nevertheless, Mystic Vale Conclave includes additional rules to make a five- or six-player game move faster, by allowing two players on opposite sides of the table to play at once.

For more experienced players, Conclave adds Totem cards. These are selected at the beginning of the game and add permanent effects for a player. As I looked through each one for the first time, I kept going “Oooh… Ahhh… I want that one!” And I haven’t even played the game yet! Once you become familiar with Mystic Vale, you’ll definitely want to play with the Totems.

The meat of the new expansion is the Conclave. This is a grouping of cards from previous expansions. Here’s an example:

To create the Upwelling Conclave, you have to sort through all 90 of your Vale cards and 252 of your advancement cards and pull out the ones that match what’s on the Conclave card. There are 14 Conclaves, so this took me about three hours.

This is not a criticism. I was in anal-retentive heaven.

Unfortunately it turned into anal-retentive hell. I discovered that I was missing three advancement cards out of the 252. It’s a not a game-breaking loss, but it made my first-world gamer soul ache a bit. Somewhere, those three cards are lurking under a piece of furniture in someone’s house, waiting to return home.

A more practical issue is that the list on the Conclave card is organized by expansion. This was a mistake on the part of whoever designed the cards. Unlike other card games with expansions, the Mystic Vale cards have no icon or other marking to indicate which expansion they’re from, so organizing a list of cards by expansion isn’t helpful. Simply listing them in alphabetical order would have made searching the Conclave card’s list against a particular card go faster.

You don’t have spend three hours between each game of Mystic Vale Conclave to re-sort the cards. The idea is that you pick a set of Conclaves (there are some recommendations in the rules) and blend them together. Afterwards you keep those cards as a single set; you can either build a new set later using a different group of Conclaves or play with a set you like. You only have to rebuild the Conclaves if you decide you don’t like a set for some reason.

Clearly, Mystic Vale Conclave is targeted at gamers who are Mystic Vale completists. If you don’t have all the expansions, you won’t be able to create all the Conclaves, and you probably aren’t having problems storing what you have in the original box. The exception is if you really want to have the five- and six-player part of the expansion, but at $50 (the base game is $45) it’s a bit pricey just for that feature.

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