Vast: The Crystal Caverns: Review

Fairway’s probably too old for a man cave now. But maybe that’s why playing a man-cave in a game is so appealing. Today, Fairway takes a look at a relatively recent Kickstarter delivery from Leder Games: Vast: The Crystal Caverns. Find out if Fairway is as deep and dark as he thinks he is.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a one- to five- player, asymmetric, dungeon-crawling game. Although, to be fair, that’s only an apt description from one perspective. For reasons you’ll see, Vast is sort of five games in one. Which is a pretty remarkable feat.

Initial Impressions

  1. The components are quite exceptional. The tiles, cut outs, wood bits, and crystals add a great level of polish to this game.
  2. Love the family-friendly art and the use of a girl as the knight. Nice touch.
  3. The rules are intimidating. Trying to teach yourself the game is a herculean task as you’re faced with learning the intricacies of a different game objectives and mechanics. This might make it hard to teach to a larger group of players who’ve never played.
  4. The five roles (cave, knight, dragon, goblins and thief) all feel fairly balanced in their game play.
  5. It is also impressive that each role has its own game play mechanics and win conditions. This is not merely a game with variable starting conditions.
  6. We played games of mostly three and four roles and we found it taking at least an hour and probably closer to ninety minutes. Certain of the roles seem to take their turns faster than others.

Game play

I… I … I… really don’t want to write this section. I’ll probably not do the game justice.  So rather than rehash what others have likely already written, let me set up the game this way:

Players get one of five different roles: cave, knight, goblins, dragon and thief. What’s really interesting is that while all the roles are “connected,” you do not need someone to play them. The rules do a decent job explaining what happens when a role is not played by a player.  Each player takes their character board along with the bits and bobs that go along with the character and their own, individual rule sheet.

Now, each character has a different set of actions and a different win condition.

The Cave. The Cave’s goal is simple: place all the cave tiles and then collapse until all of the crystals have been destroyed.  The Cave’s basic mechanic is tile placement. It forms the board the others play on. It places the treasure and goodies other players seek out.

The Knight. The Knight’s goal is simple too: slay the dragon. The problem is that the dragon is hidden in a portion of the cave below the Knight for much of the game. As a result, the Knight has only limited ability to attack it until it awakens. Most of the game, the Knight’s turns consist of a role-playing game-like exploration of the cave and grinding out statistics by doing encounters and gathering treasure.

The Goblins. These pesky little guys are trying to take out the knight. They spend much of the game lurking in the shadows, ambushing the knight (and thief), stealing treasure and having genuine population-control issues. The player controls three different goblin tribes.

The Thief.  The thief’s goal is to break the curse that keeps it in the cave by gathering six treasure. Much of the time, the thief is trying really, really hard to avoid the other players who easily kill him.

The Dragon.  Finally, the dragon has the goal of waking up and then escaping the cave.  For much of the game, the dragon is “slumbering” in a chamber below the other players.  Using something like a deck-building mechanic, the dragon selects actions that help it gather treasure, eat goblins and slowly awaken.

The game itself is played over a series of turns with each player taking their turn in player order. The game is over when one of the players achieves their objective.

On the green

Nice components. It’s hard to play this game and not comment on how nice the components are. It feels great to play and looks great while you’re playing. Each player character has a really good amount of special bits. The character boards are very nicely done.

Good asymmetric game implementation. Vast is a great example of a well-implemented asymmetric game. While everyone is playing the same game, no one is playing it the same way or with the same objectives. How the roles are all interwoven is almost masterfully done.

Balance. It’s probably a good thing when each play it feels like some other role had an advantage, but its never the same role. That was our experience.  That said, understanding how to actually effectively play some roles (like the cave) took a bit of learning whereas there’s something far more obvious about the knight and thief roles.

Player rulesheets. The fact that the game includes role-specific rulesheets is a god-send. The confusion of trying to tease out how to play any individual role in a single rulebook would be painful. Players also regularly had to refer to the rulesheet throughout the game.  The rulesheets themselves were pretty well-organized, but it was only apparent after you actually learned the roles.

Where it comes up short

Teaching it. I’d say teaching this game to new players is not for the weak. There’s a lot going on. There’s a lot of nuance. If you’re teaching a bunch of new players, you’re teaching a bunch of different games and you’re doing it on an individual basis. It’s not easy.

Rules. We struggled learning the game. We had to play it a few times in various different roles before we actually understood what was going on. The rules were dense, but I frankly don’t know how to fix this point.

The other problem is that where player roles interacted, there was often questions about who does what when and what happens. The player rulesheets did a decent job of explaining this, but the rulebook wasn’t much help there.

In the hole

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a terrific asymmetric game which puts players in unusual roles in an intricately, interwoven game. It does a fantastic job aligning the multiple roles’s objectives and game play in a way that meshes so well together. While there’s a steep learning curve, it’s totally worth it!

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is in the hole for a Birdie!

2 thoughts on “Vast: The Crystal Caverns: Review”

Your turn. Share your thoughts: