The Cardboard Hoard: Initial Thoughts on Vast - The Mysterious Manor
Let’s start with a few quick caveats: I played one game of Vast: The Mysterious Manor at Origins, while designer Patrick Leder was balance testing it, and I've never played Vast: The Crystal Caverns. So, for better or worse, I can't compare the two. Due to the nature of how Vast works, I only really have a good handle on the character I played -- The Manor -- after my one play. Also of note is that the version I played was not a finished product, although the artwork is complete and it is in late stage testing, so I doubt there will be any major changes going forward.
So, with that all said, this will not be a detailed review with a full rules breakdown and overview of how each character plays, it’s just a quick look at my one experience playing the game as the Manor. Anyway, it would be unfair of me to give any critical analysis of the rules, as the designer was there to teach the game and answer questions, and I never even glanced at the rule book.
We played a five-player game, which meant the Paladin, Skeletons, Giant Spider, Manor, and Enchanter were all in play. Patrick Leder’s explanation of each character was brief, as each characters’ actions were fairly straightforward, but having to teach every character independently, and then having to show how they interact with one another, was a formidable task for the teacher, and I was glad to learn this one from its designer.
The five player game made for some downtime, especially as the game got nearer to the end, as players had more abilities and options unlocked through the course of the game, and, hence, more to think about. However, it wasn’t unbearable, as most of the time I was busy trying to figure out how I wanted to tackle my next turn.
As the Manor, my goal was to take my ghost and fly it through open rooms of the manor in certain patterns, dictated by rune cards I drew. Successfully haunting the Manor in this way would earn me points, and if I reached 15 points I would win. The other players had their own unique goals -- e.g. the Paladin had to kill the Giant Spider -- and methods to accomplish them. While I understood each of their big picture objectives, I didn’t absorb the minute details and in-game levers they were using to pursue them, as I was occupied with learning my own character’s player board.
Despite my lack of understanding of the inner workings of the other characters, I was still able to competently pursue my win condition. Although the interconnected nature of the game was on full display, my specific role was one of the less interactive ones. My main interaction in the beginning of the game was to reveal tiles on the board, while later in the game it was to push other characters away from the spaces I needed to haunt.
Other than using my own abilities to haunt the manor, my favorite moments were created when the Enchanter would use an action that created an auction for the other players. Whichever player won would get bonuses that would help them on their turn, but would have to draw tokens equal to their bid in the auction from a bag, some of which were cursed tokens. Whichever player has the most cursed tokens cannot win the game, even if they meet their win condition, which created an interesting push-your-luck element to the auction, as players push to get the bonuses but are wary of drawing too many curses.
Our play took just over two hours, and was won by the Paladin, although I believe with another turn I could have reached my win condition, as I was at 12 points of the 15 needed for my goal.
Thematically, the Mysterious Manor really did seem to come alive during our play, with each of us manipulating it in our own very unique ways. The game's theme was accentuated nicely by Kyle Ferrin's artwork. His very distinctive style, which was neither too cartoonish nor too graphic, fit the game perfectly.
I enjoyed my experience playing the game, and would love to play it again -- either to further explore the Manor or try out a different character. But lacking a group that plays longer, heavier games, I couldn’t justify adding it to my collection -- it just wouldn’t see the table enough.
While I do not think Vast: The Mysterious Manor is going to be for everyone, due to its complexity in being a completely asymmetrical experience, I do think it is a game everyone should try at least once. It is a unique and interesting experience, and its asymmetry pushes the boundaries of board game design, which is something that can be appreciated and celebrated even by those that may not end up loving it.