Kickstarter Tabletop Alert: ‘Trove: The Crystal Caverns’

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Trove: The Crystal Caverns

Deep below the mysterious cavern, a dragon sleeps–and today a knight ventures into the caves to slay the dragon. But other forces are at work: tribes of goblins sneak around in the shadows, striking at the knight from the darkness. The dragon has been awakened and is shaking off its hundred-year nap. And the cave itself seems to be alive …

UPDATE: Since the Kickstarter campaign, the game has been renamed Vast: The Crystal Caverns.

At a glance: Trove: The Crystal Caverns is a game for 2 to 4 players, ages 10 and up, and takes 60-90 minutes to play. It’s on Kickstarter now, with a pledge level of $45 for a copy of the game. I’ve played the prototype with my 8-year-old and I think experienced kids will be able to handle it, but there’s a bit of a learning curve right at the beginning. Each player plays a completely different role with different victory conditions: the Knight, the Goblins, the Dragon, and the Cave.

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Components:

Note: This is based on the prototype, and exact components are subject to change. For instance, I know the Goblins rules are undergoing some revisions and it’s likely that the number of Goblin cubes will be decreased significantly.

Each role has its own set of components.

Knight components

Knight components:

  • Player board
  • 1 Knight piece
  • 1 Entrance tile
  • 6 Sidequest cards
  • 7 Hero cubes
  • 1 Wound cube
  • 1 Entrance piece

Goblins-components

Goblins components:

  • Player board
  • 3 Goblin pieces
  • 10 War cards
  • 10 Monster cards
  • 10 Secrecy cards
  • 60 Goblin cubes
  • 3 Goblin Ambush tokens

Dragon-components

Dragon components:

  • Player board
  • 2 Dragon pieces
  • 18 Dragon cards
  • 14 Sloth cubes
  • 1 Wound cube
  • 3 Gem tokens
  • 1 Shriek token
  • 1 Flamewall token
  • 1 Dragon die

Cave-components

Cave components:

  • Player board
  • 6 Treasure cards
  • 18 Event cards
  • 45 Cave tiles
  • 9 Crystal tokens
  • 36 Omen tokens
  • 15 Treasure Trove tokens
  • 10 Event tokens
  • 3 Cave-in tokens

I really like the illustrations on everything, done by Kyle Ferrin. They are sort of cartoony but not silly. As the father of three daughters, I also appreciated that the knight is female-and so did my kids. Each player board is different because of the different rules that everyone has, and I think they did a good job fitting all the essential rules onto the player boards.

All of the various cards have a small banner with flavor text at the bottom, and they’re really fun. The Goblins have quotes that remind me a little of Gollum or the goblins in the Pathfinder comic books–it’s English-ish, with lots of sneaking around and being vicious. The Dragon’s cards (Claw, Wing, and Flame) are all just sound effects: roars and crackling fires. My daughter house-ruled that when the Dragon plays cards, the player has to read the flavor text out loud.

Trove 3-player setup
Starting setup for a 3-player game with the Knight, Goblins, and Dragon. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

How to Play

The current rules are available as a PDF, and you can even download a Print and Play if you want to try the game out (though you’ll need to provide a bunch of cubes).

Depending on the number of players, you’ll use different roles. You always have the Knight and Goblins. For a 3-player game, you’ll use the Cave or the Dragon. Each role has a different victory condition:

  • Knight: Kill the Dragon (or smash 5 crystals if there is no Dragon player).
  • Goblins: Kill the Knight.
  • Dragon: Wake up fully and escape the Cave.
  • Cave: Fully expand and then collapse on everyone.

Each role has its own rule sets, with some slight variants depending on whether you’ve got a full 4-player game. I won’t go through the entire rulebook but I’ll give an overview of how each one functions, in the order that the roles play out during the game.

Knight player
The Knight player board. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Knight

The Knight starts on the Cave Entrance tile, with four cave tiles adjacent to her, face down. She starts with 2 hero tokens (cubes), full health (marked on the sheet), and 3 randomly drawn Sidequests in her hand, secret from other players. The Knight board has various places to assign the hero tokens–movement, strength, and various equipment like a Torch or Bomb or Bow. The default is 1 movement point, 1 strength, and 1 encounter.

  • Shield: other players may not move the Knight.
  • Bomb: the Knight may attack the Dragon while it’s still underground, once this turn.
  • Bow: the Knight may attack Goblins in your line of sight, once this turn.
  • Ancient Map: the Knight may walk through one wall per token, up to 3.
  • Torch: the Knight may have one additional encounter per token, up to 3.

In addition, as the Knight collects treasure, she may acquire equipment that will require hero tokens to use.

An encounter encompasses everything that happens on a single cave tile: revealing a dark tile, fighting the Dragon or Goblins, resolving events, and collecting things are all collectively a single encounter if it’s on one tile. The Knight can earn more hero tokens in a few ways: fulfilling Sidequests, acquiring Dragon Gems or Goblin Rubies, or by collecting a Treasure Trove and declining the Treasure Card found there.

To attack the Dragon, the Knight must have strength equal to or greater than the Dragon’s armor. If it’s equal, the Dragon gets a chance to roll to deflect the attack; otherwise, it takes one wound.

The Knight wins if she kills the Dragon.

Goblin player
The Goblin player board. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Goblins

There are three Goblin tribes: Claw, Bones, and Eye, each with its own strength rating and associated ability. You start with some Goblin cubes already assigned to some of the tribes. The Claw tribe has +1 strength, the Bones tribe will let you draw Monster cards that help the Goblins, and the Eye tribe lets you draw Secrecy cards–basically action cards that can be used for various effects.

First, you have a Rage phase–you draw cards from the War deck, which will let you assign more Goblins to the tribes, but may also have negative effects. There’s also a penalty for overpopulation. The Rage phase is a mini press-your-luck game. Then, you draw Monster cards and Secrecy cards if applicable.

Then there’s a Move/Attack phase. If your Goblin tribes are on the board, they can move around and either pick up items (Treasure Troves and Dragon Gems) or attack the Dragon or Knight. Moving through lit tiles hurts the Goblins, so generally they move around in the dark spaces when possible. Whenever you attack, your strength needs to match or exceed the target’s strength/armor. Attacking the Knight causes a wound, and attacking the Dragon gains you a Dragon Gem. Whenever you attack or pick up something, you will go into hiding. In addition, attacking (or being attacked) causes you to take a loss–lose half your Goblins of that tribe.

Finally, there’s a Hide/Reveal phase. You can hide or reveal Goblin tribes–though you can’t hide and reveal a tribe on the same turn. To hide, just pull the piece out of the cave and put it back on your board. To reveal, place the Goblin tribe on a matching dark cave tile; the cave tiles all have one of the three Goblin tribe symbols on the back, and you can appear on one of those.

You win if you kill the Knight.

Dragon player board
The Dragon player board. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Dragon

The dragon is very sleepy and starts off with 14 cubes in the Sloth section of the player board, which is divided into Pride, Greed, and Hunger. As you meet certain requirements, you move cubes from those areas into the Wakefulness section, which also increases your Armor and Spirit. You start with 1 Armor and 1 Spirit. When you start the game, you are below the cave and use the sleeping Dragon piece–you can move freely under walls and in both dark and light tiles.

On your turn, you draw cards equal to your Spirit level, plus bonus cards for Dragon Gems that are on the map. There are three types of cards: Claw, Wing, and Flame. These can be spent in various combinations to activate your powers. For instance, a single Wing can be used to move two spaces. Flame can be used to reveal tiles, and Claw can attack Goblins and the Knight. Using combinations gives you more powerful effects. Many of the abilities requires rolling the Dragon die, which shows a pattern of symbols indicating which tiles are affected. You may also move up to 2 spaces during your turn for free.

You may remove 1 cube per Sloth category per turn, by doing the following:

  • Greed: Collect a Treasure Trove or a Goblin Ruby.
  • Hunger: Eat 6 Goblins.
  • Pride: Don’t move for a turn, reveal an Event tile, or place a Dragon Gem on the board when there’s already at least one on the map.

At the end of the turn, you may optionally place one of your Dragon Gems on your space–two of them are actual gems, and the third is a trap that will wound whoever picks it up.

If you reach 11 Wakefulness, you’re awake enough to start escaping the cave. You have to get into the cave through a Crystal tile, and then reach the entrance tile to escape and win.

Cave player board
The Cave player board. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Cave

The Cave gets a hand of 3 cave tiles. Each turn the cave gets to collect Omens, place a Treasure Trove, and shape the cave. Omens are collected based on the number of Crystals and Treasure Troves currently on the map, and can be spent for various abilities, like Rockslides to block off passages or Giant Bats to move things around in the cave.

You must place one Treasure Trove on a dark tile, and if there are still cave tiles, you must place one adjacent to any spot on the map–if you have Crystal tiles in your hand, you must place one of those. Once all of the cave tiles have been played, you start collapsing the cave instead–you get to remove 3 tiles per turn, though you have to collapse edges first.

In addition, any time a map tile is revealed by any player, you fill in the adjacent spaces with dark tiles. When the Knight activates an Event tile, you get to draw the top 3 Events, choose one to play, and put the other two back at the bottom of the deck. When the Knight gets a Treasure Trove, you do the same thing with Treasure cards.

If you collapse 5 Crystal tiles, the whole cave collapses and you win.

Trove map
The Goblins are moving in on the Knight… (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The Verdict

Let me start with this: I like a lot of the Kickstarter games I review, I really do. But I have to admit that a lot of them don’t feel entirely new. Many of them are simply different takes on familiar-feeling genres, with one or two twists, and I like them for different reasons–they’re fun, or it’s a new theme, or it’s a new take on a familiar theme. Trove is the rare gem that feels like something truly original. Yes, many of the individual mechanics are familiar, but they’re put together in a way that I haven’t seen before, and I was delightfully surprised.

Now, let’s dig in.

I really love asymmetric powers in games, so I was very intrigued when I first heard about Trove. Not only are the powers asymmetric, but the gameplay is entirely different for all four players. The question I had was, does it work?

The asymmetric play does have a few disadvantages, so I’ll get to those first, but stick with me. The first is, it takes a little while to teach the game at first, because you’re sort of teaching four different games. That reminded me a little bit of playing Space Cadets for the first time–there are so many different stations, and each one has a different set of rules. Unless each player has a copy of the rulebook or watched a how-to-play video ahead of time, you’re stuck with one person explaining all the rules to all the players, even if they don’t apply. Fortunately, most of the rules are fairly easy, but in my rush I did mess up one important rule during my first 4-player game, which made the Goblins too powerful and gave the Dragon a crippling handicap. (One of Trove‘s earliest stretch goals–already reached–was to provide mini rulebooks for each player, so that should alleviate this problem.)

The other is that player turns don’t all take the same amount of time. Even if the Goblin isn’t moving around and attacking, its first phase can take a little longer, drawing cards from three different decks and (potentially) having to choose which cards to keep. If you have players who have a hard time making decisions, this is where it can get bogged down. The Dragon, meanwhile, may be limited because the cards they drew only allow for a particular set of powers. However, the Knight and Dragon both become more powerful as the game progresses, because the Dragon gets more cards as it wakes up, and the Knight will have more options as she collects more hero tokens or equipment. It does seem like turn lengths even out, but the Goblins do feel like they have more possibilities early, and the other three characters build up a little more slowly.

Trove
The Cave surrounded the Knight with events and dead ends, far from the Dragon. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

But beyond those quibbles, Trove really shines. I think each player does get abilities that are thematically rich, and there are some very cool interactions with the different victory conditions. For instance, the Cave needs to prevent anyone from winning before it has a chance to collapse, so the Cave player can side with one player or another when needed: if the Goblins seem to have the upper hand, the Cave can play beneficial Events. On the other hand, if the Knight is doing a lot of damage to the Dragon, the Cave can shift walls to block off routes and give the Dragon a chance to get stronger. Meanwhile, while the Dragon doesn’t necessarily want to protect the Knight, it does want to keep the Knight alive until it’s fully awake, so it can strike at the Goblins or force them into hiding. Alliances form and shift throughout the game depending on who seems to be in the lead.

And, come on, how many games have you played where somebody gets to be the cave?

Each role has a different dynamic at play. The Goblins have strength in numbers, but you have to worry about overpopulation, which can trigger a disaster. So at some point you just feel like you have to get out there and attack, because if you’re going to lose a bunch of population anyway, it might as well do some damage. So the Goblins will build up numbers, take a loss, and build back up again.

The Knight, on the other hand, starts off seeming fairly weak–only two hero cubes, and you’ll generally be using them for strength and movement at first. When you find treasure, you’ll have to make a hard choice between getting another hero cube or taking the valuable equipment. But at some point the stack of equipment dries up, and that decision is easier: every treasure gets you a cube (up to your maximum). And a Knight with 7 hero cubes and some extra gear can be a formidable force, traveling huge distances across the map and making multiple attacks in one turn.

It’s interesting that each of the roles has incentives to take actions that might actually help somebody else. The Cave gets to draw more omens if there are more Treasure Troves on the board–but of course those Treasure Troves are good for all the other players, too. The Knight and Dragon both have the ability to reveal tiles, which then leads to more tiles being placed, which is good for the Cave. The Dragon has an incentive to eat Goblins, which helps to protect the Knight. The interplay of roles is simply fascinating.

As I mentioned before, I really liked the artwork and the flavor text on the cards, which can help you get into character and immerse you in the world. I’m partial to tile-laying games where you build a map as you play, and Trove definitely has that exploration aspect to it. Mostly it’s the Knight and Dragon who are revealing tiles, and the Cave gets to guide the shape of the map, pushing the other players in particular directions.

Trove three player
A three-player game with the Knight, Goblins, and Cave. (Prototype shown) Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

After getting the Goblin rules figured out properly, I played another three-player game with the Knight, Goblins, and Cave. In this scenario, the Knight’s goal is to smash 5 of the Crystals that appear on the Crystal cave tiles, and then get to the exit. The Goblins seemed to have an advantage early on and did some damage to the Knight, but then the Cave used some events to heal the Knight (and strengthen itself). Near the end, the Knight made a clever move by walking through a wall (thanks to the Ancient Map) and finding a few more crystals in one area to smash. 5 down, and she just needed to escape. But the Cave only had three more Crystal Tiles to collapse and was able to trap the Knight with a few rockslides … allowing the Goblins to sneak in and finish off the Knight. Both the Cave and the Knight were one more turn away from their own victories, so it was as close a game as you could get. We all walked away from that one feeling exhilarated, and I’m eager to play it again.

My kids have also enjoyed playing Trove, but it’s one I’ve enjoyed with my adult gaming group, too. While I think it works well with 2 or 3 players, I really like it with all four roles in play–though you should expect the game to take a bit longer that way. And with the four different roles to play, you can have a new experience the next time you play just by switching roles.

Trove has about ten days left in its campaign and has already hit its goal. One of the stretch goals yet to be reached is adding in a 5th player, the Thief. I don’t know anything about how that character will work, but I hope that goal is reached because it would be great to accommodate another player if possible.

For more information, visit the Trove Kickstarter page.

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