Chris did a half-arse…
“Father, forgive me for I have sinned against board game reviewing. This is my first confession”.
I feel like this is somewhat of a momentous occasion for me. I don’t admit to doing half a job very often, or at least not in writing anyway, but I thought it only fair to mention it today. For I hope that exposing my flaws, will bring me closer to you, dear reader… Ewww. I went a bit Dear Deidre for a minute there. I should really remedy that.
What am I waffling on about this time? Well, as a rule, I like to play a game at least a couple of times before I review it for the pleasure of your eyeballs. It ensures that I’ve not judged a book by its cover and misled you all with a bad opinion. However, with Vast (the crystal caverns) I’ve not been able to do so. This is a one and done review, so please bear that in mind while you’re reading. It’s not that it’s so bad that I could only play it once, but I wanted to do it justice by playing with a full count and because of that, it took aaaaaages to get it to the table.
Vast by name, Vast by Nature
Vast is quite an eloquent title as the game is Vast in name and in nature. It is a asymmetric game in which up to 5 players compete in who’s going to mess with another faction first. The 5 players all control different factions within the game: The Knight, The Goblins, The Dragon (oh yes, you can be a dragon), The Cave (I’m just going to let that one sink in for a minute), and The Thief.
It is the aim of the knight to kill the dragon (of course). It’s the aim of the goblins to kill the knight (never ever trust a goblin). It’s the aim of the dragon to wake up from its slumber and leave the cave for good to eat villagers and hoard treasure I guess; whatever it is that dragons do. It’s the aim of the thief to steal everything which isn’t nailed down and escape and last, but by no means least; it’s the job of the cave to expand as much as possible before collapsing and killing everyone inside. Go cave!
From this point of view, Vast is literally 5 games in one. Every faction in the cave has a different style of play and rules governing them. It’s definitely not a game which you can whip out of the box and get straight on with, but does that detract from Vast being a good game?
Vast “cheat sheets”….
Whilst I wouldn’t usually go too much into how the game is setup and played, Vast makes it more necessary than normal because of it being so varied. So here’s a quick overview of how to play as each faction:
The knight has a board which starts off with 2 action cubes. These cubes can be spent on additional actions. Each turn the knight has 1 movement, 1 perception and 1 strength. Whilst the strength and movement are pretty self-explanatory, the perception stat is used for dealing with encounters when you turn a tile over. One perception will deal with all encounters on the tile, no matter how many there are. The additional action cubes can be added to increase any of these statistics and increase your options. They can also (once you collect some) be used for activating treasure cards which give you a vast number of different effects. As you earn more “grit” through completing side quests and normal actions, you get more cubes to use.
The Goblins have 3 different tribes to use, all with different attributes. Like any goblins, they skulk around in the dark waiting to prey on an unsuspecting knight or dragon. They get to place one of their tribes on the tile which matches their symbol and can lie in ambush waiting on an unsuspecting victim. Since their win condition is to kill of the knight, most time will be spent doing this, but trying not to get eaten by the dragon is second place. Goblins can also rope in the use of monsters to help in their cause which can modify their effects too.
The dragon has a set amount of actions per turn that help it overcome its lethargy. Most specifically, it has a wakefulness track and once this has been surmounted, the dragon is awake and starts trying to leave the cave. The dragon needs to eat goblins to survive, but doesn’t feel the need to kill anyone else – unless it does so out of spite of course.
The Cave is (obviously?) the backbone of Vast. It is the cave’s job to lay out tiles on all exposed surfaces to make the cave expand. As mentioned, it is the cave’s win condition to expand as far as it can and then start collapsing. However, the cave also gets the decision about where treasure is placed and after some time can start to move the cave tiles around to help or hinder the other players. They also get the grand decision of which event cards and treasure cards to give the players.
Lastly, the thief has to get to treasure, and steal it. Simple as that. Oh, the thief also has to put up with being surreptitiously and frequently murdered by everybody but that goes with the territory I suppose. The thief has to get 6 treasures and then leave the cave to win. Should they be murdered (and it is very likely) they will drop treasure for the other players and then return to the start tile to begin their plundering again.
Each of the players has a set amount of actions that they can complete on a turn governed by different things. Honestly, it’s virtually impossible to explain in a measly few hundred words, and to be honest I expect that your eyes would glaze over and rigor mortis would set in way before you understood how to play. As such, here’s my second cop out of the review and a link to a “how to play” from the designer of the game should you wish to do some research. Be warned though, each video is around 20 minutes or so, so it can be a slog.
Mind blowing or Mind Numbing
So that is the barest bones of what Vast is about. But is it a good game?
Vast is one of the most unique games that I have played in some time. One of the biggest things that I have found with my preferences of board games recently is that they have to be social; I’m not as interested in gaming solo in a group as I once was. Considering that Vast consists of 5 players all with different rule sets, doing different things and with different aims, it is actually quite a social game.
Whilst you’re working towards your goal with whichever character you have, you need to be aware of what the other players are up to at all times. You could be aiming for a win and your plans could be scuppered in very short order if you’re not paying attention. It does mean that there’s a lot of communication between players normally, but this also opens up a fantastic opportunity for trash talking and in some cases outright begging to get your way (mostly aimed at the cave).
My first impression when playing Vast was that the cave was overpowered. Seriously overpowered. However, after the first half an hour or so, I realised that this wasn’t the case. Whilst the cave does have a tremendous opportunity to “king-make” it is also the great equaliser. It can help someone by showing a little bit of favour and then pull the rug out from underneath them by messing with them and reshaping the cave in another players favour or playing an event which is useless. This in my book makes Vast’s use of the cave really clever. Not only that, when you try and explain Vast to someone, and tell them that they can play as the cave, most people instantly want to do so which is an interesting thing the game has going for it.
Party of five?
I was told before playing Vast that you need 5 players to play it, but I don’t agree. The game comes with several different variants of play so that you can play with less. For example, you can play with just the knight and the dragon to reduce the player count and still have fun.
Is Vast built to last?
Are there any downsides to Vast I hear you ask?
To be able to fully appreciate everything that Vast has to offer, you need to play at least 10 times. You’ll need to play as each player class once to get the hang of how to play, and again to be able to enjoy it without scratching your head about whether you’re playing correctly. After this, you can probably decide on your favourite and aim for your this faction when you play again. However, when we were all learning our classes, the game stretched well over the 2 hour mark and it was only won because the cave literally gave the win to someone. That’s a lot of time to get to grips with a game.
However, this same flaw with Vast could be one of the plus points too, because I found myself wanting to go back and try the other factions. I’ve played as the knight once and I really want another go now that I understand what is going on, but would also love to have a go at the others since they all play so differently. I got stiffed quite frequently by the Goblins and it would be cool to put the show on the other foot next time I play.
My level of excitement is a pretty good indication about whether a game is worthwhile or not, for me at least. Truly, I’d have loved to have played Vast a little more before reviewing it, but because it took a really long time to get it to the table it just wasn’t possible – unless I reviewed it for it’s 5th anniversary or something.
There is no denying that Vast is a complicated game. You can’t just take it out of the box and get on and play it like you can some other games. For some that’s going to be a big turn off, but, it’s a worthwhile learning curve as it has the makings of a brilliant game. The jury is still a little out for me having only had one play with one character but I think Vast is going to have plenty of replay value and given the right crowd of people will likely see some considerable table time.
Because of the sheer scale of difference between all of the factions you can play in Vast, this would have earned a thumbs up from me on its own merit, but given the fact that I am so eager to go back and try out everything it has to offer it deserves some recognition of that fact.
Overall, I give vast a Goblin hating, dungeon delving, grit gaining 8 out of 10.
If you have enjoyed this review, then why not check out our Youtube Channel which has video reviews of all your favourite new games? Follow the link, and give us a like and subscribe while you’re there. In return, we’ll send you a hug completely free of charge.
The following two tabs change content below.
I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.