Review – The Vale of Eternity

tvoebox

 

Designer Eric Hong

Artist Jiahui Eva Gao, Gautier Maia, Stefano Martinuz, Erica Tormen

Publisher Renegade Game Studios

Category Card Game, Strategy Game

Length 30-60 minutes

Release Date March 2024

Player Count 2-4

Price $35 MSRP

If you’ve read my past reviews, you know that I’m a card-combo gamer through and through. My favorite games include things like Race for the Galaxy, Dominion, and Res Arcana. It looks like The Vale of Eternity promises even more combo-y goodness, with players “snake drafting” cards with special powers. Is it as good as it sounds? Let’s take a look!

There is quite a lot to like about The Vale of Eternity. The components are quite nice: elegant and simple, functional. They look pretty and get the job done without getting in the way. I wish there was a better way to keep track of how many slots you have (some kind of “unlocking player board”), but the low price is worth the lack of extras. Getting a “full game experience” rather than a “filler game” for $35 MSRP is a steal in the current economy. I guess if I had one other comment, the font is way too small on the cards, making four-player games difficult to see what everyone is doing.

The game system is rather clean and smart. Each round, players “snake draft” (1-2-3-4, 4-3-2-1, in player order) two cards per player. Different families (colors) of cards have different amount of currency associated with them, and for each card, you can sell it for the currency or keep the card to play later (at a cost). The currency only comes in denominations of 1, 3, and 6, and here’s the kicker: you can only ever have four pieces of money on hand at any one time. So quite a bit of the card effects work around managing this weird economy. It’s a fun subsystem, but it’s also very “introverted” and non-interactive. The interaction primarily comes from the snake draft; there are some cards that can attack, but it’s often better to blow your own cards up to make room for more. That’s right: you can only have as many creatures summoned as the current round number, so there’s a natural escalation to the game. You can also dismiss cards from your tableau, but that gets more expensive as time goes on.

All of these ideas work together to make a game that, on the surface, looks amazing. So I could not figure out why I found the game only mildly enjoyable. After about ten plays of it, and lengthy discussions with many of the other players, I finally figured it out. It’s not about the system at all; the system is brilliant. It’s about the effects on the cards. It seems that the most natural way to win The Vale of Eternity is to have some instant, one-time effects that generate gobs of points (20 or more, when the goal is to be the first to get 60). This means that while the game masquerades as an engine builder, the engine building you see (once-per-round effects) are miniscule in comparison to the instant effects. 

This has further consequences than “I like engine building but it doesn’t matter here.” In a deckbuilding game like Star Realms, when you flip something bad for your opponent, it takes several turns between them buying it and them drawing it, giving you time to potentially pivot your strategy, or at least giving you some time to forget about it and reduce the “feels bad” vibes. In The Vale of Eternity, a brand new pile of cards is shown each draft, and if the player going first is fed an insane instant-effect card, they just immediately get it and play it, and it could potentially just end the game right there when it would have gone on otherwise. I absolutely hate it when people complain about “luck of the draw” in card games; most of the time you are actually making your own luck, but in this game it feels like you’re truly at the whim of the deck and draft order.

That said, the game still has a very enjoyable vibe, a great art style, and I would play it if asked. I vastly prefer it to its most likely comparison, Seasons, but I’ve also seen some comparisons to Res Arcana and I don’t find those two similar at all. (This game also doesn’t hold a candle to Res Arcana.) For the price, it’s a relatively safe bet to check out, and for players who enjoy the insanity of combos more than feeling like a game has depth, this would be a great recommendation. 

The Bottom Line

A lot of cool card combos and a great price, but lacking in depth.

 

6.5

Derek Thompson