It's all well and good to want to save and enrich the environment, but is gardening really good fodder for a deck-building card game? Most such games we've experienced are about legendary battles between blade and magick, not cultivating plum trees. But keep an open mind and you'll find plenty to enjoy in the digital version of John D. Clair's Mystic Vale.
An inherent problem with digital card games is that an impersonal tutorial naturally lacks the ability to answer your questions in the same manner as, you know, chatting with a physical, extant human being. So your first pass through Mystic Vale's tutorial may find you glazing over at the onslaught of information. That's not to say it's a particularly complex game, but the way it teaches you how to play is non-ideal. While the presentation of the game area is fundamentally well done once you know what everything means, it'll take you a few games and re-reads of the rules to properly understand how everything fits together. Once you do, though, there's a lot of fun to be had.
In an interesting twist, this is a deck-building game where not only must you build said deck, but you'll also piece together your cards in thirds, each "slot" on each card potentially conferring you bonuses in each phase of the game. You'll begin by drawing cards in the "Planting" phase, being careful not to draw too many and reveal too many Decay symbols – that'll cost you your turn. Following this – in the "Harvest" phase – you'll purchase Advancements to slot into your hand, with the ultimate aim of acquiring Victory points by crafting desirable cards from the selection of Advancements. You'll also gain Spirit Symbols that you can spend to acquire Vale cards which grant longer-term bonuses to help turn the tide in your favour. As your cards are shuffled back into the deck and come back around, you'll be able to bolt more and more Advancements on them until they're truly formidable. After the pool of Victory Points have all been distributed to the players, the game is over. The Points are totted up and whoever holds the most, naturally, is the victor.
Clearly, it's not the easiest game to describe, yet once it clicks with you it's pretty simple. The important part here is how well it works on the Switch, and on that front it's good news. As well as the expected (and easy to set up) hot seat and local multiplayer, Mystic Vale supports online play with iOS, Android and Steam players, which is an excellent feature. It works excellently on Switch both docked and undocked, with the UI easy to navigate so you'll never find the controls get in the way of your strategy. As well as traditional controls, you can also play with the touchscreen, which works brilliantly and ended up being our preferred means of input.
Mystic Vale looks as good as it needs to, with no clutter to speak of and all the information you need to inform your decisions only ever a swipe away. It's not a complex game but it is an involved one in which you'll make a lot of choices and take a lot of gambles. We'd say that the biggest compliment we can give Mystic Vale is that after just a few games we were looking online for the physical version to get our friends involved. It's a quick play (games generally won't stretch past 20-30 minutes) and it's a lot of fun to spend time with. A polished, playable way to spend any allotment of time.