Board Game Gumbo: Sagan Says Mystic Vale Harmony
Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another new review from Sagan Ezell, fellow game group member. Sagan is an omni-gamer from Lafayette, Louisiana, and helps run the Southern Board Game Festival. AEG was kind enough to provide a review copy to us of the new Mystic Vale Expansion, Harmony. Here are his thoughts on the game. You can reach him on Twitter @SaganEzell
The druids have been calling out to you. It’s time to head into the forest and figure out how to become one with nature. Time to learn about the growth and decay that come to all living things. Time to be a steward of all the natural cycles that govern the animals and plants in this mysterious place. And how might a great game represent these noble pursuits? Through the use of a WHOLE LOT OF PLASTIC, THAT’S HOW!
For a game that loves trees, it loves plastic WAAAY more.
Will we ever escape this plastic prison?
If you’re not familiar with the base game of Mystic Vale, check out THIS LINK RIGHT HERE.
So as the very quick refresher on Mystic Vale, it’s from John D. Clair and AEG, and it uses what has been dubbed the “Card Crafting System.” In most deck builders, you add and remove cards from your personal deck as the game progresses, tailoring it to your specific strategy. Most games have certain cards that combo well together, and part of the trick is to set your deck up in a way that increases your chances of drawing those cards into the same hand.
With Card Crafting, you can build the combos together onto a single card. By using transparent plastic cards, players can stack different “advancements” together into a single sleeve, ensuring that those specific combos will come up every time that card is drawn.
Mystic Vale Math lets you put together some insane combos with the way certain cards interact.
Because of the way you can build out a single card, there are some very interesting strategic choices that you can make during the game that don’t really come up very often with more traditional deck builders. Take this very interesting core, throw in a dash of push your luck and a few other ideas and BOOM, you’ve got Mystic Vale.
Again, if you want a bit more detail about specific game mechanisms, check out the review of the Twilight Garden expansion, which goes more in depth about the base game. Be warned, this review will be referencing specific game terms and concepts a fair bit, so if you aren’t familiar with the game at least a little bit, some of this will probably be gibberish to you.
Okay, now that you’re all caught up, let’s get into Harmony.
What’s new in Harmony?
Let me just spoil the rest of this review by saying I like Harmony a lot, and consider it probably my favorite single expansion for the game, but the reason why is a bit strange. So what’s new here? The answer is pretty simple...Nothing.
Harmony is a small expansion consisting of 105 Advancement cards, 36 Vale card, 8 new Leaders, and 8 Amulets, and among these components, you won’t find any game changing new mechanisms. From the base set, Mystic Vale has been pretty sparse with adding new concepts to the game.
Not counting the event kits, this is expansion number six for Mystic Vale. Across those six expansions, there have been only a handful changes to the base gameplay formula. Leaders, Totems, and Amulets gave players a bit of asymmetry to start the game (plus variable player powers are always fun), new card effects like Eclipse, double-sized Legendary Advancements, and “when bought” effect timings changed the way cards could be built, and curse tokens added a bit more risk-reward trade offs into certain cards. That sentence mentions every single new mechanism that the game has added since its 2016 release.
Before we go any further, I want to point out that I think Mystic Vale is a great game, and that the expansions have all been solid. There is nothing wrong with adding sparingly to a system that already works well and provided a good amount of replayability and variability between games. Not every deck builder has to add between 2 and 400 new keywords every single expansion (looking at you Legendary.)
Here’s the trick though.
If you are a Mystic Vale fan with a few other expansions and you want something brand new to be added to the experience, Harmony isn’t it. If you are a Mystic Vale fan who just wants MORE Mystic Vale, Harmony definitely IS it.
To me Harmony feels a bit like the first expansion, Vale of Magic, retooled for the current iteration of the game. Vale of Magic didn’t add a lot of “new”, it added a lot of “more”, and more stuff was what the game needed at that time, to increase the options from one play to the next.
Harmony adds more of just about every expansion mechanism that has come out since the base game (except curses). More Leaders, more Amulets, more Eclipses, more Legendary Advancements. From the first expansion, it has been recommended to just throw all the cards in together.
Each set is designed to be played together in every single game, even down to the fact that there are no distinguishing marks on a card to differentiate one set from another. Conclave walked that idea back a little bit, and gave players the idea of “themed” groupings of cards to set any given game up with, but in practice the idea is a bit clunky because sorting out all the transparent plastic cards tends to be a bit annoying, and more often than not gets put off and forgotten about, at least in my house. I tend to be a “throw it all in and see how it goes” type of a player anyway, and I am happy to say that I can’t see any reason whatsoever why someone would choose NOT to play with the Harmony expansion added.
From the first advancement level you can expect to see Advancements that let you manipulate your deck, take-that Advancements that you can force other people to use, Advancements that make heavy use of the Guardians, and even Advancements that can be sleeved OVER Cursed Lands. You’ll find lots of Advancements with Growth, Advancements that let you cancel Decay, and Advancements that send things to and from the bottom of your deck. You might even get some Advancements that let you pay to remove entire cards from the game, which can be extremely powerful when used the right way. While many of the Vale cards are just end game points, there are a handful with some really interesting effects, like banking Advancements on the side to be sleeved later, and partial protection from all Spoiling. Harmony really does have just about everything that a Mystic Vale player could want.
After playing several games with just the Harmony set, the only facet of the game that i found a bit lacking was the point generation. Not really a huge issue, but games seemed to be running longer than usual at all player counts when playing with just the new cards, which seems like it comes down to the set having relatively few Advancements that let you gain VP tokens, with a few of even those pulling points straight from the box instead of the VP pool that serves as the game-end timer. Hilariously, one Advancement even exacerbates this issue further by adding more tokens INTO the VP pool. Especially when played mixed in this other sets, this becomes trivial, but by itself you might be in for a long game if you don’t get some lucky cards out to get those points early.
So as for what I was saying earlier, Harmony is one of my favorites because it has a little of everything. It doesn’t rock the boat, it doesn’t bring in some crazy changes, it just takes the best bits from everything that came before it, and refines.
Honestly, if you are just getting into the game and looking for a first expansion, Harmony might be the best one available because it has a sampling of nearly every new idea that the game has added over the last 3 years. True to its name, Harmony takes all the pieces we’ve seen so far and brings them together nicely into this one box. I know that this lack of originality and newness will put some people off, so I have to give the warning again here. If you want something new, look elsewhere. For everyone else who enjoys the game, I can easily recommend Harmony.
Mystic Vale: Harmony At A Glance
The perfect expansion for people who don’t already feel like they have too much Mystic Vale stuff.
Everything is good
This set brings in a bit of everything that came before it
All the individual additions feel balanced, and enhance the game
The quality bar is already pretty high for this system, and this set exceeds it
Nothing is new
This set ONLY deals with things that came before it
The only bad thing I can think of is that it’s just more of the same but I really wanted 3 bullet points here GOSH
-- You can reach him on Twitter @SaganEzell