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Review: Vast: The Crystal Caverns, A Great Asymmetric Game

Mar 24, 2017
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Leder Games was kind enough to provide me with a review copy of Vast: The Crystal Caverns, a completely asymmetric dungeon delve game. There are five roles, dragon, knight, cave, goblins and thief, and they are all completely unique. While there are a lot of rules to learn, because each role has completely different mechanics, it is definitely worth it to play this incredibly fun and inventive game.

Like I mentioned before, Vast: The Crystal Caverns has five different roles to pick from, and you can combine any roles for any player count (1-5). If you have a four player game, I’d suggest you play with the dragon, the cave, the goblins and the knight.

The Knight

The plucky young knight is venturing into the caverns to kill the fearsome dragon. That is her win condition. As she explores the cave, she’ll come across treasures and gain grit (which is like experience). When you gain grit, you’ll collect more hero cubes, which are used to fuel your abilities like movement, perception and strength.

As you can imagine, the amount of movement you allocate lets you move that many number of tiles. Your perception is how many encounters you can have. And your strength lets you attack and defend.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns

 

You can only move to adjacent tiles. If the tile is “dark” aka not flipped over to the revealed side, you can choose to reveal the tile. Once revealed, you will be able to possibly attack, smash a crystal, or pick up treasure depending on what’s on the tile. All of these actions, as long as they are on the same tile, only costs one encounter point.

Treasure cards are awesome, you’ll definitely want those, because they could give you better equipment, which will help you fight the dragon. Interestingly enough, the cave player actually draws two treasure cards and then decides what to give you. The cave wants to help the knight to a certain point, but not too much.

The Cave

The cave is one of my favorite roles, because it’s just so awesome to play a malevolent cave that wants to crush everyone inside of it! The cave’s goal is to fully expand, aka place all of their cave tiles, and then collapse the cave and trap everyone inside.

To be fully collapsed means that the cave must destroy 5 crystal tiles. When you’re collapsing the cave, you can only start destroying tiles from the edges. You have to remove tiles that only touch one other tile first, only then can you start removing tiles that touch two other tiles, and so forth.

This makes the placement of your tiles critical to winning the game. You want to place as many crystal tiles as far out as possible so that they will be easier to destroy later in the second phase of the cave’s game.

The first part of the cave’s game is all about placing those cave tiles and about trying to build up the number of omen tokens that you draw in order to activate cool abilities.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns

The number of omen tokens you draw is equal to the amount of treasure plus the amount of crystal tokens on the map. The cave starts with a hand of 3 cave tiles and will always draw at least one omen token. The omen tokens will be drawn from a bag and will have symbols on them.

Once you’ve drawn your omen tokens, you can use them to activate your powers. Past Plunder lets you place a treasure token (which will then increase the amount of omen tokens you draw next turn), Soporific Spores lets you attack other players, Hatred lets you place another cave tile, and so on.

You’ll definitely need to place cave tiles as quickly as you can, but it’s also important to place those treasure tokens to build up a lot of omen tokens as well. It’s definitely a balancing game to try to win as the cave.

When you place a tile, it will always be facedown. Besides placing a tile when you activate Hatred, you will also get to place a tile when another player reveals a “dark” or unexplored tile. Since you can only place treasure tokens on dark tiles, this gives some nice incentive to the knight to come explore your tile. Which will also then let you place more tiles.

When the knight picks up treasure, the cave player actually draws two treasure cards and gives the knight one of the cards. You do want to help the knight, because you want to have the game continue long enough for you to collapse the cave and win. But you don’t want to help them too much, or they may grow too powerful and kill the dragon.

The Dragon

As for the dragon, its ultimate goal is to fully wake up and escape the cave. The way to do this is by removing the sloth cubes from three different tracks and placing them on the wakefulness track.

The dragon starts the game as half awake and underground. This protects the dragon from most of the knight’s attacks initially. While underground you can move through dark tiles, walls, and tiles that have other players on them, since you are actually below all of them.

The dragon starts with three power cards, which can be used to activate their powers on their board. The powers let you do things like reveal dark tiles, scatter and eat a goblin tribe, or move other players around.

When you eat goblins, you increase your Eaten Goblins track by the population of the tribe you killed or scattered. It takes two eaten goblins to help you move a sloth cube from the hunger track and place it onto the wakefulness track.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns

There are two other sloth tracks, Greed and Pride. In order to move one from greed, you simply have to pick up a treasure token and move it back to the cave’s supply. As for Pride, you have to either reveal an event tile, don’t move for a whole turn, or place a Dragon Gem. Placing a Dragon Gem will also help you use your powers, as it provides you with that symbol for you to spend.

Once you have moved 11 cubes on your Wakefulness track, you wake up and surface. In order to surface, you must end your turn on crystal tile. Now, you have to confine your movement to only revealed tiles, and you cannot move through walls. Also, if you enter a tile with another player, you have to resolve attacks.

If the dragon is able to make it to the entrance tile, the game ends and the dragon wins!

The Goblins

As for the goblins, their ultimate goal is to kill the knight. The way the goblins work is that they have three different tribes, the fangs tribe, the bones tribe and the eye tribe. You start with 1 Rage, and for the rest of the game will draw war cards equal to your rage.

The war cards will show you which tribes to populate with more goblins. The strength of each tribe is their population, which will determine if the tribe can even move into a tile with another player.

Once you’ve populated your tribes, you’ll draw however many monster cards as indicated on the war card you played. You can then assign monsters to the different tribes.

Monsters have special powers and can help a tribe by adding strength, which is represented by a red disc. Each tribe has their own special abilities. The fangs tribe starts with +1 strength, and as a special action can increase the rage track. The bones tribe  holds an extra monster card, and as a special action they can draw and place 1 monster. The eye tribe has more powerful secrets, and as a special action they can draw a secrets card.

You draw a number of secrets cards equal to the number on the war card as well. You can have five secrets cards total, and you can play them at any time during your turn. Secrets cards do useful things like make you stronger or cause a cave-in.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns

Once you’ve done all of that, you can then do one action out of these options: move, attack, plunder, explore, reveal or hide. Goblins can move as many dark tiles as they want, but if they move through a lit tile, they lose a population for every 2 lit tiles the travel through.

They can attack a knight, dragon, thief, or smash a crystal. In order to enter a tile with the knight or dragon, the tribe’s strength has to be greater than the knight’s strength or the dragon’s armor.

Plunder simply means that the tribe takes a treasure token or a dragon gem. Taking a treasure token increases your rage by one. The more rage you have, the more war cards you draw, which helps populate your tribes. If you pick up a dragon gem, they have to roll the dragon die. Most of the time it will increase your rage by one, but there is a chance the roll will force the tribe to scatter.

Scattering means you place the tribe back on your player board and reduce its population by  two. You also have to discard the tribe’s monster card.

If you choose to explore, the tribe is forcing the cave to place another dark tile on the board. The tribe then gets to move to that tile.

The reveal action is how you get your tribes onto the map and off your player board. To reveal a hidden tribe, you simply take the tribe off your board and place it on a dark tile with at matching symbol. Conversely, you can also choose to hid your tribe, which means you’ll take it off the map and place it back on your player board. This tribe can no longer be targeted by other players.

The Thief

The thief is a bit more removed from the rest of the characters. I do not recommend playing with this character if you’ve never played Vast: The Crystal Caverns before. The thief’s whole goal is to get and stash 6 dragon gems or treasure tokens.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns

They interact a bit with the other players, but mostly they really just want to creep about and grab all the loot they can. The other players get rewards for killing the thief, and in my experience if you don’t make sure to curtail them, the thief can often win.

I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about the thief, because like I said, I recommend you play with the other four first before attempting to add the thief.

Final Thoughts

I really love how well the four major roles play together. Each role is trying their best to stop another role. At the same time, they’re doing small things to kind of help out someone else.

I think the concept of the game is so well done. Each role has completely different mechanics, not just similar mechanics with different abilities. The mechanics are also perfectly thematic for each role. I love that the goblins are fueled by rage and that the dragon has to eat more goblins and collect more treasure to wake up.

The unique mechanics do have a bit of a downside. They’re all so well fleshed out, that if you want to teach the roles to everyone, you do have to spend a good bit of time delving into and understanding all the rules.

From Vast: The Crystal Caverns art and appearance, I definitely thought that I was jumping into a lighter game, but that is very much not the case. Each role has a myriad of things that they can do, abilities, cards, treasure, fighting, etc. It takes some thinking to try to make the best moves possible, and you’re competing against pretty much everyone at the table!

Like I hinted at before, out of the five roles, the thief is my least favorite role. It doesn’t fit quite as nicely into the mix as all of the other roles do. It feels like the thief is just kind of off to the side doing their own thing, while the rest of the roles are often heavily interacting with each other.

Don’t get me wrong, the thief is not a bad role. It definitely still works in the game, and can be fun to play. It’s just not as integrated as the other roles are with each other.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns

Another thing that I absolutely love about the game is that the knight is a woman. She’s front and center on the cover and she’s freaking awesome looking. Her armor and clothes are functional and not sexualized in the slightest. She’s just awesome. And the game doesn’t make a big deal about it. She just simply is a warrior.

I love being able to see myself in a game, it inspires me to kick butt and slay some dragons in my own life. The game itself helps me feel welcome and like I belong at the table, even if I am not playing the knight myself. Her mere existence just makes me happy.

I definitely recommend Vast: The Crystal Caverns. It’s fun, challenging, and has a ton of replay value. Not only can you try out different roles each time you play, but the map will be different every time. You will need to dedicate some time to learn the rules, but once you do, it definitely pays off in a deep and fun game.

Vast: The Crystal Caverns is for 1-5 players, takes about an hour to an hour and a half to play, and costs $60. As of the publication of this article, Leder Games is taking pre-orders for their second printing on BackerKit. There you can also add on things like minis, three different new roles (ghost, ghoul, and nightmare unicorn), and bonus cards. The second printing should arrive in August 2017.

Review Score: 8.5/10

Caylie is a writer and all around nerd. Board games have slowly become a passion and have taken over most of her shelves at this point. Some of her favorite games are Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Battlestar Galactica, and Mansions of Madness 2nd edition.

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