Thank you for checking review #53 by Cardboard Clash. My aim is to focus on reviewing board games and how they play for two people and, on occasion, how they play for one person. Because my wife is my primary gaming partner, a lot of consideration goes into finding those games that play well with 2 players, and we typically prefer to find those games that do not require a variant (official or otherwise) in order to play it with just the two of us.
**Note: a review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review. I thought to review this one from the solo aspect when I had a hard time finding anything on BGG relating to the solo experience. There are plenty of reviews praising this game at 4-5 players to where I don’t need to retread that ground. It is great at that player count and super-unique.
An Overview of Vast: The Crystal Caverns
Vast: The Crystal Caverns is a game designed by Patrick Leder and David Somerville and was published by Leder Games. The box states that it can play 1-5 players and has a 75 minute play time and a BGG weight rating of 3.42.
The dragon has been asleep for many long years. In that time, the cave under which it slumbered has changed greatly…Goblins and strange monsters have filled its gloomy depths and there are whispers that the cave itself has begun thinking, shifting, and growing evermore dangerous.
Still, stories of peril rarely overshadow the rumors of riches. And riches there may be… For where a dragon slumbers, there also lies a fiercely guarded treasure. Fortunately for the slumbering beast, malevolent crystals fill the cave’s rooms with spectral light, hiding the entrance to the immeasurable treasure trove. Many have given their lives to the search and over the years the rumors have faded to legend.
But the most courageous adventurers will not be discouraged by bloodshed. On this day, a knight steps into the darkness, her gloved hand gripping the hilt of her sword. Her years of quests–all of the victories and defeats–have led to this one final adventure. Knowing the kingdom can never truly be at peace with the dragon beneath the cave, she has come to make a final stand. Little does she know that she will awake everything that slumbers in the shadows… and begin the final battle in the darkness.
Enter the world of Vast: The Crystal Caverns!
Vast takes you and your friends into the torch light of a classic cave-crawling adventure, built on the concept of total asymmetry. Gone are days of the merry band of travelers fighting off evil. In Vast, you will become part of a new legend… Any part you wish!
Play as the classic, daring Knight, the chaotic Goblin horde, the colossal, greedy Dragon, or even the Cave itself — powerful, brooding, and intent on crushing the living things that dare to disturb its gloomy depths. Each role has its own powers, pieces, and paths to victory…and there can be only one winner.
As the ultimate asymmetric board game, Vast: The Crystal Caverns provides a limitless adventure, playable again and again as you and your friends explore the four different roles in different combinations. Play one-on-one in a race to the death between the Knight and the Goblins, or add in the Dragon and the Cave for deeper and more epic experiences, different every time.
Setup and gameplay for 1 Player
Honestly, this one varies for each role and that will take far too much time to cover in this review format. Rather, here are the objectives for each role.
Knight – Find and smash crystals.
Goblins – Find and smash crystals.
Cave – Not playable in a solo game.
Dragon – Wake up and escape.
Thief – Find treasure and escape.
Each role in the game retains its unique flavor when playing as them in the solo mode. Even when objectives are the same from game-to-game, how you can get those accomplished will change drastically based on which role you’re playing as. This is that very asymmetry that provides the appeal for this game in the first place, and it was nice to find that it retains that when going into solo mode.
If you have things organized by role in the box, setup on this can go fairly quickly. That is always an important factor for solo gaming, which helps make a game like this hit the table far more often than a game like Mage Knight (playtime differences aside – if I could set up the latter in 5 minutes it might actually get played more!). The longest part of setup is reading what the role you’re playing as can do, which should only take a lot of time the first time you use them. After that, a quick refresher by skimming the player board should get you going.
The solo mode is an ideal place to familiarize yourself with how the role operates. You have a timer set by the cave tiles, but beyond that there is little interfering with your plans so you can test out how they function in a low-stress environment. You won’t be able to get the full grasp of their powers, as there will be cards/powers that don’t really function without another player. But half of the battle is learning how to operate the role (especially the goblins), and this is a great way to do that.
The difficulty on this scales pretty well, as there are several difficulty cards for each role. This allows you to grow your skill level and provide a greater challenge – do more things which means you need to be faster. It isn’t necessarily the ideal way to scale a solo game, but it functions fine and it is great that you can work yourself up to a greater challenge.
This ties into the expansion box of miniatures, but those are really awesome. They make the board presence more impressive, and are far more fun to move around than a cardboard standee or a wooden meeple version of the character. I’d hesitate to say it is a must-have addition to the game, but it really adds to the enjoyment of the game and makes for far better photography. Especially that awake dragon!
It boils down to luck an awful lot in solo mode. You need to explore the right tile in order to find your objective, but you are limited in how many tiles you can flip before the cave begins to collapse. If you need to find, for instance, 6/9 crystal tiles then you might need a whole lot of luck. And what if three of them are on the very bottom of the tile stack? When one person does all the exploring, it can be rough. Add in the further randomized element of rolling that dragon die to reveal tiles (with some roles) and you have an even more challenging time. I lost with the goblins because I couldn’t reveal that last unflipped tile remaining as things were collapsing around the goblins. If it flipped, I won. That die roll didn’t flip it, and so I lost. Some people like that “stand up die roll” moment. Not me. Not in a solo game. If I lose, I want to feel like I could have improved and played differently. That roll just makes it feel like chance determined the game (even though there could have been moments, prior to that, where I could have improved. That isn’t the part that sticks in the crushing moments of defeat)
While you can get a feel for each role, they are lacking in some of what makes them fun. Many of the Goblin cards were referring to other factions, none of which were in play (as an example) so they were dead cards being drawn to my hand. It lets me see what is in the deck, so there is some merit, but I couldn’t really utilize them.
The solo system feels like there is so much potential to do more. I wrote my final thoughts first, so I came across this idea there originally, but this game feels like it needs an Automa for solo play. Imagine being able to always have five factions playing the game, regardless of player count! Suddenly those dead cards are usable. Suddenly the map might organically grow and/or be revealed to where you aren’t 100% dependent upon luck. Those crystal tiles, when revealed, might be destroyed if you aren’t quick enough to get to them. Those base game dynamics, clearly in play with 5, are able to be enjoyed regardless of player count. If there is a game that needs a good, functional Automa deck to make it shine, this would be the one.
The rules for tile placement are clear in quantity, but there is no general rule for where to place them. This is something a player could easily manipulate to their advantage, building on continuously near their current location, making it easier to find and smash those crystals. I personally tried to spread out into a rectangular shape, giving balance to the construction of the cave. I like the growth of number of tiles coming out, but I wish it provided at least some direction as to where the tiles should be placed.
This is a difficult game to review from a solo experience. Realistically, this is a game meant to be played with 5 players and anything below that is a sub-optimal situation. And it really shows. You lose that tug-of-war appeal where every role is vying for a victory condition that depends, in some part, on at least one of the other roles on the board. When looking at this for a solo game, it doesn’t lose balance but it definitely loses some of the interesting flare that makes this so unique.
However, that isn’t to say that the solo play on Vast: The Crystal Caverns is bad. Or that it lacks excitement. It becomes a puzzle that is part luck, part optimization, part leveling-up your comfort level with a particular role. Your objective, for most of them, is to simply find and smash X crystals in order to win the game. There is nothing wrong with that, as it can be a primary focus in a game with more players. And even with the shared objectives, how each role accomplishes that is unique enough to keep plays interesting across all roles.
I do wish there was a way for the Cave to be playable, but I have no ideas on how that could be implemented. It is that role which draws players in for a larger game, but without a solo mode there is little chance to refine your skill with that role. Honestly, this game is probably the perfect sort of game for an Automa system that has a deck of cards, and each card shows what the 5 roles do (you would just skip any not in the game). Not only would this make solo play a little more interesting and challenging, it would also allow someone to get a 5-player simulated experience even with 2-3 players at the table. Designing said solo system, especially to incorporate the expansion roles, might prove too large of a task for anyone. But it is the solo experience this game needs to propel it from good to great.
As it stands, I enjoy Vast. It is the game I’ll give serious consideration to pulling out if I have 4-5 players interested in a game. The asymmetry of the game is brilliant and makes it fun, even if it isn’t the best game on my shelf. It will almost always provide a good time to the players. It is unfortunate that the solo game is just good. I like that I can get familiar with how the Goblins operate, which will allow me to play them better in a group setting. I like how it can scale in difficulty to present greater challenges. But the game is far too luck dependent as a solo game to really excel as a game that can hit the table often for the solo gamer.
If you want a game that you can play and enjoy solo but is exponentially better for every player you add, then this is definitely one to consider for your collection. But if you almost always play it with 1-2 players, I’d have a hard time recommending this one because there are far better options at those player counts.
Hopefully you found this article to be a useful look at Vast: The Crystal Caverns. If you’re interested in providing support for Cardboard Clash so I can continue to improve what we offer, check out my page over on Patreon: http://www.patreon.com/CardboardClash.
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