Mystic Vale

Design by John D. Clair
Published by AEG
2 – 4 Players, 45 minutes – 1 hour
Review by Greg J. Schloesser

I appreciate originality in game design.  Most games will use existing mechanisms and combine them in various fashions in order to produce a game that hopefully feels somewhat fresh. Sometimes, a designer will tinker with an existing mechanism, giving it a new twist or facet that can also make the overall game feel a bit different from its predecessors.  It is a true rarity when a designer invents something brand new, as this is usually a breath of fresh air. Of course, this new mechanism cannot stand on its own; it must be surrounded by a fun and entertaining game.

Fortunately, that is the case with John D. Clair’s Mystic Vale.

So what is this clever new mechanism?  It is known as the “Card Crafting System” and allows cards to be physically changed by adding new features and advancements to them.  It is a dramatic addition to the familiar deck building genre.

In Mystic Vale, the tall cards are inserted into card sleeves.  The basic cards have their powers printed on one-third of the card (top, middle or bottom).  Card advancements are printed cards of the same size, but these new cards have a transparent background.  As with the basic starting cards, a small portion of this transparent card depicts the advancement, which is also depicted on only one-third of the card.  These advancement cards are inserted into the card sleeves over the basic card.  However, any previous advancement—including those on the basic card—cannot be obscured.  In this fashion, a card can be upgraded two times (three if originally empty) if cards are acquired that have the advancements printed in the proper places.  With nearly one hundred different advancement cards available—more with expansions—this makes for a seemingly infinite number of ways to construct a card. Brilliant.

Before describing the game, a word about the theme is in order.  As one could surmise from the name, the game has a fantasy setting wherein players assume the roles of “druidic clans attempting to restore the cursed lands to their former vitality.”  Card advancements represent new life and vitality for the land, which is helpful in the restoration process. The goal is to acquire and properly assemble these advancements, with the acquisition of even more powerful “Vale” cards adding to the restoration.

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ヒクトルーン (Hiktorune)

Designer: たきざわ まさかず(Masakazu Takizawa)
Artist: 井上 磨(Osamu Inoue)
Publisher: こぐま工房(Koguma Koubou)
Players: 1-5
Ages: 9+
Playing Time: 10-45 minutes
Times Played: 7 with a friend’s purchased copy.
Availability: The copy I have I bought from  At the time of this review, copies are available (or should be soon) from Big Cat Games in the US.

Here’s something: it’s an anatomical structure from a carp.  A sort of growth off of a vertebrae that connects the swim bladder to the, uh, inner ear.  But here’s what it does. The fish gets to use the swim bladder as an echo chamber. It amplifies what the fish can “hear” through the water. It doesn’t do much good to hear things in your swim bladder, but luckily this “Weberian Apparatus” makes a shortcut to the ear.

By David Starr Jordan – Jordan, David Starr (1907) Fishes, New York City, NY: Henry Holt and Company, Public Domain,

That’s not the thing Ernst Heinrich Weber was known to me for.  He wasn’t known to me at all until I started reading about the Weber-Fechner Law to prepare for this review.  I only knew about what the law relates to, and that’s how we’re getting to Hikotrune shortly: just noticeable difference.

It’s one of those terms that tells you what it means.  If I turn up the volume on some music, shrink your ice cream pint, crank down the AC (whichever direction that is), when will you notice?  What is the smallest amount of change before you notice? It’s the just noticeable difference.

Hiktorune turns haptic just noticeable difference into a fantasy quest.

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Dale Yu: Review of Fertility


  • Designer: Cyrille Leroy
  • Publisher: Catch Up Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Times played: 3, with review copy provided by Catch Up Games / Blackrock Distribution

In Fertility, players are each a Nomarch (i.e. mayor) of an Egyptian city – trying to improve their own metropolis into being the best by having the best shops and erecting the most statues on the board.  The board itself is comprised of a number of different sections, filled mostly with empty squares but with a number of lakes and wheat fields scattered amongst the empty spaces. A start tile is placed on the most central eligible location.

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Dale Yu – Review of Fuji


  • Designer: Wolfgang Warsch
  • Publisher: Feuerland Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Times played: 5, with review copy provided by Feuerland

Fuji is one of the new games from Wolfgang Warsch – you know the guy who was nominated for just about every major boardgame award except for the Kinderspiel des Jahres last year.  Though he is new to boardgame world, he has already amazed me with the breadth of his game designs. Fuji represents yet another type of game – this being a dice rolling cooperative game.  Though I’m normally not one for cooperative games, the track record of Herr Warsch was enough to make me take a look at this one.

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Dale Yu: Review of Res Arcana

Res Arcana

  • Designer: Tom Lehmann
  • Publisher: Sand Castle Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Times played: 11, with review copy provided by Asmodee NA

Tom Lehmann has always been one of my favorite designers.  He is a joy to game with, and he is one of the most enthusiastic gamers that I’ve ever played with.  It’s amazing to watch him work on games at conventions such as the Gathering of Friends where you can see his ingenuity at work as he is able to come up with revised versions of games literally overnight based on feedback from other people.  One recent design of his that I loved was Jump Drive, a game that compresses the idea of deck building down into a 15 to 20 minute game. In Res Arcana, players take on the role of mages, as they try to use the essences (Life, Death Elan, Calm) as well as Gold to take control of Places of Power and to control Dragons and Creatures.   This engine building game is also supposed to play in a short amount of time, and I was super excited about it once I first read about it.

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Dale Yu: First Impressions of A Pleasant Journey to Neko

A Pleasant Journey to Neko

  • Designer: Citie Lo
  • Publisher: The Wood Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 12+
  • Time: 90 minutes
  • Times played: 2, with review copy provided by The Wood Games

A Pleasant Journey to Neko was a game that I first heard about via Twitter pretty much on the day that I was leaving for Essen 2018.  I saw a picture online and was immediately interested; the art looked great, and the blurb about the game – a dice placement game about seeing penguins – was enough for me… Both a theme and a mechanism that I was interested in! In APJtN, you are trying to supply and execute an expedition to the Antarctic port of Neko, trying to see the most penguins along the way.

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 9)

Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2019 (Part 9)

I have it on some authority that Meat Pies are consumed in mass quantities during Patricio’s game nights

Games I’ve played 5 or more times already in 2019 include:

  • Gloomhaven
  • Duel In The Dark (as featured last time)
  • Hanabi
  • Magic: The Gathering (my padawan wanted to test his decks; he learned many lessons)
  • 1989: Dawn Of Freedom (democracy is usually kept at bay in these parts, which led to further play until it eventually won out)
  • Root (I’m still enjoying exploring the asymmetry)

At the other end of the spectrum, new games to me over the last week or so included:

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Brandon Kempf: Three Games – Three Games I Don’t Like

I have a lot of games. A lot of games that are on my shelves, or on my table being played, that I have told myself that I want to review at some point. For one reason or another, this doesn’t always happen. My goal here on The Opinionated Gamers is that I want to get about one review out per week, but I’d like to write about more games. So I’m taking a page out of Patrick Brennan’s playbook, and we’re going to start writing about games in threes, in snapshot form. This should be a good way for readers to get to know me and my gaming tastes a bit better, and also another way for me to talk about games that I maybe don’t really want to dedicate two thousand words to. Welcome to Three Games.

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Cabo (Game Review by Chris Wray)

  • Designers: Mandy Henning, Melissa Limes
  • Publisher: Bezier Games
  • Players: 2 – 4
  • Ages: 8 and Up
  • Time: 45 Minutes
  • Times Played: > 5

Cabo is a fast-playing card game designed by Mandy Henning and Melissa Limes.  A second version of the game was recently released by Bezier Games, and it is a remake of original version from 2010.  The game is hand management and set collection game.     

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10 Great Games by Reiner Knizia (Article by Chris Wray)

Reiner Knizia is one of the most prolific and accomplished game designers of the modern era.  Many of his designs have achieved commercial success and critical acclaim, and he has several titles that are doubtlessly modern classics.

He’s also a favorite of game award juries each year.  He has won the Deutscher Spiele Preis a record-setting four times and the International Gamers Awards twice.  He is also a favorite of the Spiel des Jahres jury, receiving countless nominations and winning for Keltis in 2008.  

But what are his 10 best games?  

Today’s article is the second in our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists.

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