Family Games: Deck-builders that break the mold!

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Deck-building games are easy enough to play because they all are more or less the same. Everyone starts with ten cards, plays five per turn, and is playing to get the most points at the end of the game. Because there are so many deck-building games out there, the trick to making a successful one is to improve upon the mechanic; add a new wrinkle to it!

Mystic Vale has done just such a thing with what they call their “Card Crafting System.” With this system, you not only build your own deck, but you build individual cards in your deck. Mystic Vale is a game for 2-4 players, ages 14+. It takes approximately 45 minutes to play and retails for $45. Its expansion, Vale of Magic, retails for $30.

Review

I admit that I was a bit skeptical of this game based on the description. “A curse has been placed on the Valley of Life. Hearing the spirits of nature cry out for aid, clans of druids have arrived, determined to use their blessings to heal the land and rescue the spirits.” The theme is a bit of a turn-off for me, with druids and all this other pagan religion. However, the theme isn’t very strong in this game. Yes, you use mana to build your cards and accumulate your points, but I never felt like I was immersed in the theme. It was more just artwork painted on, and I must admit it is visually stunning artwork.

The real reason for playing this game is the mechanics. With only 20 cards in your deck at all times, you must carefully craft your path to victory. You decide how much mana you want on your cards, how much decay, and how many points. Will you take bigger rewards that have bigger risks, or will you go a slow and steady route? There is also a press-your-luck element in drawing your cards. You can get so far in your turn risk-free, but once that third spoil card is revealed, you’ll have to examine the available cards to build. Will you play it safe and buy a lesser card you didn’t really want? Or will you gamble and draw one more card in the hopes of buying that expensive card you really wanted?

The expansion adds more vale and advancement cards to add to your game without changing the game play at all. I like it when expansions add just cards without over-complicating matters with new tricks to learn. Unfortunately for the expansion, the name is pretty uninspiring and is a bit overpriced for what you get. I have mixed feelings for this game at the moment, so I want to see where the game goes with the second expansion.

Learn more about how to set up and play the game.

The Harry Potter series is the greatest epic of my generation. Not only is the story well-researched and compelling, it also is responsible for so many other series (Twilight and The Hunger Games) being published. Due to the great success of this series, both in the books and the movies, other media channels have licensed Rowling’s work to try and generate some level of the same success. The board game industry has given us Potter version of Uno, Clue, and Trivial Pursuit. All three of the games are fine and what you’d expect from those types of game, but the serious gamer has always wanted more. Well, wait no more! USAopoly recently released Harry Potter: Hogwarts BattleHarry Potter: Hogwarts Battle is a cooperative deck-building game for 2-4 witches and wizards, ages 11+. It retails for $50.

Review

Since this game is actually seven games into one, I will try to remain as spoiler-free as possible. The first thing I would like to discuss is the components and what you get in the box. The components in the box are very nice with sturdy game boards, thick cardboard, and loads of cards. The nicest components are the Villain Control tokens, which are of a nice solid metal. As for the graphics/artwork, the theme is just oozing from this game. The game box is a luggage chest, much like Harry used. The back of the game board is the Marauder’s Map. The turn-order card is the Hogwarts Express and the back of that card is your ticket!

The game play is very much like your traditional deck-builder in that you start with ten cards and draw five per turn. However, that is where the similarities stop. Unlike other deck-builders, this one is not competitive, but cooperative. There is also a life-track that you must keep an eye on and not let drop to zero. You won’t die, but you’ll be stunned and lose cards and more control of the locations. You are also trying to defeat villains, not trying to just gain a lot of cards worth points. You will want good cards in your deck, but you’ll also want to perhaps tailor your deck a little, like giving Hermione more spells and Ron more allies.

As for the negatives, there aren’t many, but there seems to be a few discrepancies in terms of order of events. Hermione, for example, starts with Crookshanks in her starting deck, but she didn’t actually have that cat until the third book. Also, you defeat Professor Quirrell in the first game, but you have to keep defeating him every game. Since he died in the first book, he should be removed from the game. There are a few other little minor things, like in Game Two, they used young Tom Riddle from the sixth movie and not the second movie. All of these are minor complaints, that as a Potter fan you will either overlook or let drive you mad.

$50 seems like a steep-price for many families for a game. To that I offer two pieces of advice: 1. You will most likely find this game on sale. 2. This game has seven games inside of it, so even if you are amazing at the game and beat each one on the first try, that still averages out to $7 a game, which is hard to beat!

Overall, I found the game very enjoyable. It is not without its flaws, but it is still a fun game, with solid components, and great theme. Best of all, my wife enjoys it, so that is an instant win in my book.

Learn more about how to set up and play the game.

This week I am wrapping up my review of new deck-builders with one of the hottest games of 2016 – Clank! Clank! is one of the many amazing games Renegade Game Studios released in 2016. (Seriously, some game companies have hits and misses, it seemed like everything they touched last year was gold.) More than a deck-building game, it is described as a “deck-building adventure,” and that doesn’t even begin to describe the fun this game will bring. It plays 2-4 players, ages 13+. The playing time is 60 minutes, and it retails for $60.

Review

What I can say about this game other than WOW! This is a deck-builder on steroids. However, it is more than a deck-builder, it is also a dungeon delve. Your starting deck of ten cards is twenty percent useless and harmful to you, so you must use the other eighty percent to buy better cards, move around, and defeat monsters. While doing this you will make a lot of noise or clank, so you must and that is going to disturb the dragon. Thus, your opponents are the other players and the dragon, but you don’t have to outrun the dragon you just have to outrun your slowest opponent. That means the game is also a race and an interesting study in risk and reward.

How far down in the dungeon do you want to go? Do you want to go for the highest point artifact and accumulate a lot of other points along the way? Or do you want to get the cheapest artifact you can, so you can get out quickly and speed up the game for the other players? The same strategy won’t work for every game, because the Major and Minor Secrets are randomized, the cards available to buy each game are randomized, and every player will play differently too. The only negative I have about this game is the initial setup. As you can see from above, there are a lot of little steps that go into setting up the game. This may intimidate newer players, but after the first couple of times, it becomes second nature.

What I like best about this game is the replay value. There are many paths of victory to explore, and just when you think you have the game figured out, you can flip over the board and there is a more difficult challenge on the back. I also like that you can still win the game if you die. If you make it above ground but die, they’ll drag you out and you’ll be a hero…a dead hero, but a hero nonetheless. This game is super-hot, and it is obvious why. Renegade Game Studios is super smart, and to capitalize on the hotness of this game, they are releasing an expansion called Clank! Sunken Treasures. This will add another game board, more cards, more tokens, and a new monster. I’m excited to see how big this game will grow into, because it has a great deal of potential to get even better and better. It has not only raised the bar for all deck-building games, it has obliterated it!

Learn more about how to set up and play the game.

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See all the Favorite Games for Family Game Nights reviews here.

Copyright 2017 Stuart Dunn

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About Author

Stuart Dunn was born and raised in Mobile, AL and received a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Master of Business Administration from the University of South Alabama. Stuart primarily does accounting and logistics at the Port of Mobile. He met his wife, Mary Katherine, in 2004 but didn’t start dating her until 2010. They were married in 2011 and welcomed their first child into the world in 2013. Stuart is a top 1000 Amazon reviewer and reviews all things Catholic including adult books, children’s books, Bible Study series, Catholic Courses, CDs, and DVDs at his blog Stuart’s Study at http://stuartsstudy.blogspot.com

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