Vast: The Crystal Caverns is an asymmetrical game for 1 to 5 players. When I think asymmetrical, I think of a game with different pieces, different actions, variable player powers or different win conditions. Vast has all of these things and then takes it one step further. Every role in the game will be unique down to its core game mechanics.
Overview: A Truly Asymmetrical Game
The Knight plays like your typical dungeon crawler; you explore the cave flipping over face down tiles and random events will occur. She has a set number of action cubes to spend each turn to accomplish her task. As she progresses around the Cave, she will accumulate Grit which acts as an experience point track. Hitting milestones on this track with provide her with more action cubes to spend. When she is finally strong enough, she can hunt down the dragon and win the game.
The Dragon will play with a hand of cards which dictates the actions he can take each turn. He starts the game asleep and must accomplish tasks in order to wake up. After countless years of slumber, the dragon starts out weakened. However, as the game goes on, he regains some of his strength which is reflected by the number of cards he gets to draw each turn. When he is finally wakes up, he will be completely vulnerable to attacks and will have to make his way to the entrance of the cave to win.
The Goblins have a sort of micromanagement role, controlling the three goblin tribes. Each turn, they will draw War Plan cards dependent on the amount of Rage they currently have. The card will add population to one or more tribes, provide monster cards or provide secret cards. Increase the population of your tribes so that they are strong enough to fight the Knight. However, be mindful when populating as overpopulation will cause the tribe to fight amongst itself. With the help of the monster and secret cards, guide the Goblins to catch and kill the Knight to win the game.
The Thief uses a pick up and delivery mechanic. Similarly to the Knight, he has a set number of actions per turn. He is not as durable as the Knight though and will have to move more carefully around the Cave. Spend your actions to quickly move from point to point, or allocate them to stealth to avoid confrontation with the other players. Navigate the Cave in search for treasures but don’t get too greedy as they will weigh you down and make you more susceptible to attacks. Successfully bring 6 pieces of loot to the entrance of the Cave and win the game.
The Cave expands itself by playing a tile laying game. Its role is to build the board for the rest of the players. The backside of the tile will determine where the goblins can spawn while the front determines the event that the knight will face when she goes there. It will also have to mange its supply of treasure. Hide your treasures to grow your strength, or give them to players who are falling behind. Strategically manage your pieces prevent the other players from accomplishing their goals. Deplete your stacks of tiles to start the collapse of the Cave. Destroy 5 crystals to win the game.
5 Roles, 5 Games
First thing to note here is that Vast provides a vast amount of replayability. With each role playing differently from another, you could literally get 5 different experiences from the game. Number of players as well as their selected roles provides immense amount of variability to the game. The claims are that every possible combination would would, including solo variants for each role.
With asymmetrical games, I am generally concerned about the balance of the game. With what is essentially a bunch of different games mashed into one, I was uncertain about Vast. But despite having (up to) five mini games running at once, Vast is surprisingly balanced. The players will keep their opponents in check simply by pursuing their own goals.
Individually, each role is simple enough to learn and play. However, it does become a bit of a challenge when you consider the game as a whole. As the roles are completely different, you would have to dedicate some time to each new player to teach them their role. Everyone just wants to get into the game and having a bunch of rules thrown at you is no fun. Now imagine sitting through a bunch of rules that doesn’t even concern you.
With all the pieces in the game so finely, there is a fine balance between the different players. However, if one does not pull their weight in the game, the game may end up being skewed for the other players. To illustrate, this problem has somewhat hurt my first impression of the game. Due to a bad start, the Knight ended up falling behind. It only took us a few turns to understand the game but the damage was done. The Knight, with the help of the Cave, was focused on staying alive. The Dragon and the Goblins, on the other hand, had an easy game as one could do whatever he likes and the other had an easy target. In hindsight, I (Dragon) could have done a better job keeping the Goblins down. Again, an issue with playing the game for the first time.
Vast is definitely a game unlike any other. My issues with Vast are minor ones and should not deter anyone from trying it out. Leder Games decided to balance the game around player interaction and in doing so, came up with an amazing game. Even though the game I played ended up lopsided, it was still an interesting experience. I’m sure a game with equally experienced players would lead to an extremely close game.