What Is Vast: The Mysterious Manor?
Vast: The Mysterious Manor is a new stand-alone Vast game for 1 to 5 players, ages 13 and up, and takes 1–2 hours to play. It’s currently funding on Kickstarter, with a pledge level of $75 for a copy of the game, which will also include the Creepy Corridors expansion. While the original Vast: The Crystal Caverns game is not required to play The Mysterious Manor, the two will be compatible, enabling you to swap out roles between the two sets. That said, it is also not just a rethemed version of The Crystal Caverns; the Paladin and the Knight are analogues and have some similarities, but they have different rules and play differently.
I’ll note that I played the original with my daughters when the younger one was 9, so it’s possible to play with younger kids, though it can be a little tricky to learn at first. There isn’t anything inappropriate for younger kids, though it does involve a haunted manor, giant spider, and living skeletons.
Note: My review is based on a prototype copy, and final components are still being determined. The prototype included standees for the characters, but the final game will include both miniatures and standees. The Kickstarter campaign has already hit several stretch goals that were not included in this prototype copy, so this is a rough list:
- Manor map board
- Paladin components:
- Paladin player board
- Sanctity cards
- Paladin miniature and standee
- Health tracker
- Grit tracker
- 4 Trials markers
- Devotion markers
- Breach tokens
- Skeleton components:
- Skeleton player board
- Skeleton cards
- Skeleton miniatures and standees
- Gear cards
- Pit tokens
- Dancing Light tokens
- Stability marker
- Spider components:
- Spider player board
- Giant Spider miniature and standee
- Spiderlings miniatures and standees
- Caster miniature and standee
- 3 Form cards (Giant Spider, Spiderlings, Caster)
- Web tokens
- Blood tokens
- Egg tokens
- Terror marker
- Power cards
- Manor components:
- Manor player board
- Wraith miniature and standee
- Poltergeist standees
- Omen markers
- Mold marker
- Treasure cards
- Rune cards
- Treasure tokens
- Wall tokens
- Manor tiles
- Enchanter components—the prototype did not include these, but this will be the fifth player option.
The prototype just used cardstock and I provided my own wooden cubes, but you can take a look at the finished version of Vast: The Crystal Caverns and the miniatures set for an idea of how the final product may turn out. Kyle Ferrin is back as the artist, and I love his drawings. The spider is a nice balance of cute and creepy, and the skeletons (who have names like Slashy, Stabby, and Screamy) are fantastic and filled with personality. I was really pleased with the way the original game turned out, so I expect this one will be comparable.
One important difference in this Vast set is that the plastic miniatures will be included right from the start; Crystal Caverns came with standees and wooden meeples included, with the miniatures sold as a separate product later, so the base price of Mysterious Manor is higher than the first set.
I have not played The Creepy Corridors expansion, but it will include some other characters that can be swapped in, like the armored knight, additional skeletons, and potentially another monster, as well as additional miniatures and standees, depending on which stretch goals are reached.
An Overview of Vast: The Mysterious Manor
Vast is a totally asymmetric game: each role is totally different from the others and has its own win condition, so it can be a little tricky to learn. The game is also still undergoing more development and playtesting; from what I saw of the first Vast, Patrick Leder (the designer and publisher) ran countless playtests and kept tweaking and improving right up until they hit “print.” I’ll give a quick rundown of how the various roles function, but won’t get into too many of the specific details.
The roles are always played in the same order: Paladin, Skeletons, Spider, Manor, and Enchanter.
The Manor board is seeded with four armory tiles (for the Skeletons), the abyss in the center (for the spider), surrounded by dark (face-down) tiles, and one more dark tile by the front door where the Paladin will enter. Whenever tiles are revealed, more dark tiles are added immediately to the adjacent spaces if there are doorways connecting to them.
The Paladin’s goal is to kill the Spider.
The Paladin’s role is somewhat similar to its Crystal Caverns analog, the Knight, in that he also uses hero cubes and earns Grit—experience points—to level up and gain access to more hero cubes. He has three stats: perception, movement, and strength, and can assign his available hero cubes to the various stats to allow him to take more actions, move further, and attack or defend. He earns Grit through various actions: revealing tiles, destroying Spider eggs and Poltergeists, and refusing treasures.
He also has access to two types of “devotion”—fire and light. Fire lets him break through walls and boost his attack strength (but not defense). Light lets him clear webs, place lamps that slow down the pursuing skeletons, and heal. He also has four tasks that can give him additional upgrades when achieved: reaching certain Grit levels, hitting the Spider twice in a single turn, and having 20 lit tiles on the board. Whenever a task is completed, the Paladin will earn a Sanctity card; some provide ongoing effects, and some are discarded when used.
There are treasures to be found in the manor, sometimes when a tile is revealed, and sometimes because the Manor player adds them to the board. When the Paladin collects a treasure, he gets an equipment card that provides a boost of some sort. If he turns down the treasure, he can earn Grit instead.
Ultimately, the Paladin’s focus is chasing down the Spider. His strength must be greater than the Spider’s defense to hit it, and every time he’s successful, he removes one of the Spiderling figures. When the last Spiderling is removed, the Paladin wins the game.
The Skeletons are after the Paladin, and win if they kill him.
While the Skeletons are the analogue of the Goblins from The Crystal Caverns, they do feel quite different. The primary similarity is that there are multiple skeletons who respawn when they’re defeated.
The skeletons are Stabby, Screamy, Casty, Slashy, and Shooty; the expansion also adds Singy and Smashy. You’ll only use five skeletons per game, though, and their order is randomized during setup. They start with only two skeletons, and then the others appear when the player hits certain thresholds on the stability tracker.
Every turn, the Skeletons gain 2 stability, and then respawn if needed in the pits on the border of the manor. The Skeletons always activate in marching order according to the board, and each Skeleton gets to move and take an action: they can pick up treasure to gain stability, get gear from an Armory, move to any other pit on the board, or spend stability to attack. The trick is that each Skeleton has a relatively weak attack, but they can distract the Paladin by being adjacent to him, increasing the value of the attack. Skeletons can move anywhere, but they have to spend extra movement to climb over walls, walk through spider webs, enter lit tiles, or extinguish lamps. (They have no eyelids, so they’re really sensitive to light, I suppose.)
Each of the Skeletons has a unique ability: Screamy can move other Skeletons; Casty can create dancing lights that help distract the Paladin; Shooty can attack from a distance; Slashy has a stronger base attack; Stabby can do a sneak attack that decreases the Paladin’s grit. The Skeletons are also the only players who can move through empty spaces that don’t have tiles on them. Each of the Skeletons also has access to three different gear cards, which you’ll find in the armory spaces.
To hit the Paladin, their attack must be stronger than the Paladin’s strength—if they hit him seven times, he perishes and they win. Typically, a Skeleton will scatter when it attacks, which means that the Skeletons must constantly respawn and regroup around the Paladin, who is chasing down the Spider.
The Spider’s goal is to build up enough terror, and then escape the manor.
The Spider is the analogue to the Dragon in the Crystal Caverns, with a similar goal, but she gains terror in different ways than the Dragon gains wakefulness, and has access to a different set of powers. Like the Dragon, the Spider starts with a low defense and spirit (which determines how many cards she draws), and these stats will increase as she builds up terror. She starts off with no terror, in Giant Spider form in the center of the board.
The Spider—like the Dragon—uses power cards that come in three types, in this case: eyes, webs, and fangs. The cards themselves don’t have powers on them, but instead, are used in various combinations to activate the powers listed on the Spider’s form cards.
There are three forms that the Spider can take: Giant Spider, Caster, or Spiderlings, and each has different rules for movement and powers. The Giant Spider can use any card as fangs, and its attacks tend to be stronger, removing Poltergeists and Skeletons from the board and reducing the Paladin’s Grit, while earning blood tokens for the Spider. The Caster, a humanoid form, can use any card as eyes, and although she is slower in this form and cannot climb over walls, she can use her abilities at a distance. Finally, there’s the Spiderlings: you start with five of them, and in this form, the Spider is fast and can split up and go in different directions, sort of like a creepy Voltron. The Spiderlings’ bite isn’t as strong, but they’re very good at spinning webs, which slow down the other characters.
The Spider builds up terror in various ways depending on her form: she might spend blood tokens, or use dread if there are enough webs on the board, or even lay and hatch eggs. (I’ll note that if you have any arachnophobes in your group, they might not appreciate all of the Spider’s cool powers quite as much.) The Spider also gains terror if she claims a treasure—though the Spiderlings are too small to pick up treasure. As the terror level increases, the Spider’s defense also increases, and she gets to draw more cards at the end of her turn.
At the end of her turn, the Spider chooses one of the three forms and places it face-down on her player board, and it only gets revealed at the beginning of her next turn.
If the Spider reaches 12 terror and then escapes through the front door of the manor, she wins.
The Manor’s goal is to build up 15 mold.
The Manor is the analogue to the Cave, and as with The Crystal Caverns, it is intriguing to have a player controlling the setting itself. Unlike the Cave, though, the Manor’s victory condition isn’t just about slowing down the other players for an inevitable countdown clock to victory, but requires more proactive involvement. Like the Cave, the Manor is responsible for filling in dark tiles on the board as necessary, and also for choosing event cards and treasure cards if the Paladin triggers them. Unlike the Cave, the Manor doesn’t get to look at the dark tiles, and doesn’t draw cards automatically unless it spends omens to do so.
The Manor uses omens—currently wooden cubes—to activate the various abilities on its player board. The cubes are assigned to various spaces, and then the abilities are triggered in order: swap tiles, shift a tile, reveal tiles, place walls. Then the Manor may play rune cards, and then draw more rune cards and place treasure tokens. Finally, the Manor gains omens for the next turn.
The more omens that are spent on a power, the stronger it becomes: you can swap tiles that are farther apart, shift a tile further away, reveal more tiles, and build more walls. The reason you do this, besides making things harder for the other players to achieve their aims, is to set up paths that match your rune cards. The Manor has a wraith miniature that can walk around the board to clear out tiles, scattering Skeletons and dissipating Poltergeists and so on. If you can clear a lit path (with no walls) for the Wraith to fly through, it increases your mold level and then adds another Poltergeist. You can also play rune cards for extra walking, or as the events listed at the top of the card.
After the walk/fly/event phase, the Manor draws cards based on the omens assigned there, and also places treasure tokens if needed. Finally, the Manor gains omens for the next turn based on the number of Poltergeists on the board. The Poltergeists don’t move around—they just sit there, making it harder for the Paladin to enter rooms.
If the Manor reaches 15 mold, it wins.
The Enchanter wasn’t included in my prototype, so I only have a vague sense of how it works, but you have the ability to influence the other characters, ultimately trying to enchant them and take over them. It’s the analogue of the Thief role from Crystal Caverns, but I can tell even just from the description that it’s going to behave quite differently.
As with the original Vast, there will be rules included for anywhere from 1 to 5 players. The original allowed for any combination of roles except for a solo mode for the Cave alone. There were also difficulty level cards, so that you could tweak the goals for each player individually, tuning the game based on experience to put everyone at about the same level.
Why You Should Play Vast: The Mysterious Manor
If you’ve been following my game reviews for a while, you know that I’m an unapologetic Vast fanboy, so I admit that I was biased toward this game from the start. Vast: The Crystal Caverns is still one of my favorite games, largely because I love the way that all these seemingly disparate rulesets fit together. Not everyone likes the concept, and I’ve heard complaints that it feels a little too experimental, but I find it fascinating, and my kids and I always have a great time when we play it.
So why another Vast? Well, when Patrick Leder first told me a while back that he was working on this concept of another base set, I was intrigued. I liked the idea of new roles, similar in their win conditions but with different rules and play styles than the Knight, Goblins, Dragon, Cave, and Thief. And with the promise that the roles will be interchangeable—send the Paladin into the Cave to slay the Dragon! Set the Goblins loose in the Manor!—this new set promises to exponentially expand the possibilities for those who already own the first set.
Leder has stated that he was trying to make The Mysterious Manor easier to teach. One of the biggest barriers to playing Vast is learning the game, because you’re essentially learning one game per player. Want to play all five roles? Well, get ready to learn five games at once, because it’s not only important to know what your role does, but also what the other players are capable of. For some gamers, that’s just too much work, and it has taken me a lot of practice to be able to teach it quickly without having people lose interest when they’re waiting to learn about their own roles.
I did find that, for the most part, The Mysterious Manor seems easier to learn. Some of that may be due to the fact that I’m already familiar with the base game, but also because some of the roles are less complex.
The Paladin is fairly similar to the Knight, which was one of the most straightforward roles in the original. He no longer has gear on his board (the Bomb, Shield, etc.) and instead has the multipurpose fire and light options. Although he starts off fairly weak, he can become quite powerful once he builds up Grit, accomplishes tasks, and finds some treasure cards.
The Skeletons, although there are more of them than Goblin tribes, seem a little easier to use. The movement is pretty straightforward, and there’s a pretty simple economy: you get a little stability each turn and when you gain treasure, and you spend it to do anything else, like getting gear, using abilities, or attacking. The marching order can change throughout the game, so a lot of the tactics are about figuring out how to set up Skeletons to distract the Paladin so the last one can run in and take a shot. And I love the thematic feel of that, too: just a bunch of living skeletons rattling their bones or pounding on walls in an unnerving way.
I like the Spider a lot, both thematically and mechanically. To some extent, it feels like the Dragon: you get a certain amount of movement for free, you have three types of cards that you use in different combinations to do things, and your goal is to get to a certain level and then escape. But beyond that, the different forms are a lot of fun to use. When the Caster or Giant Spider get hit, the player has the option of transforming into the Spiderlings to get away—which brings to mind that horrifying image of hitting a spider and have it break into a bunch of smaller spiders. (Uh, don’t click that link if you dislike spiders.) It’s definitely a lot of fun to play, and gives you a lot of different options for getting around the board, slowing down your opponents with webs, knocking them around with fangs, and so on.
To me, the Manor feels quite different from the Cave in several aspects, though it still feels like a novelty to be able to play as the actual environment of a game. In The Crystal Caverns, the Cave served a role that was a little like a DM, and a little like a timer: the Cave was able to keep players apart from each other, slowing down their progress or giving a little assistance here and there, because if nobody else reached their goal, the Cave would inevitably win. Not so with the Manor. This time, the Manor is still responsible for filling in tiles and selecting events and treasures for the Paladin, and it still has some abilities to manipulate the map.
But in order to win, the Manor must actively pursue its goal of 15 mold. It’s not enough just to keep everyone apart—you also have to play this sort of puzzle game of clearing out rooms and arranging them so you can fly through the patterns. While the rules for the Manor are not more complex than those for the Cave (and may actually be simpler), winning has become a little more difficult, though it is also dependent on what the other players are doing. If the other players leave a lot of open space in the center of the board, the Wraith can fly several patterns in a row and build up mold levels really quickly.
Thematically, the “mold” level is a little strange, and I don’t know if the final version will be tweaked or not. I know the original game had flavor text on every card in the game, and this one had a lot of spaces with flavor text yet to be filled in. It’s fun to get a little more theme through silly quotes on the cards.
The Mysterious Manor definitely feels different enough from the original Vast, and isn’t just a retread of the same ideas. I’m eager to play more, and—once the variant rules are in place—start combining the sets. As with the first, we’ve found that most of the games have been very close; when one player wins, there have often been one or two other players that were one turn away from victory.
So, should you back Vast: The Mysterious Manor? At $75, I know it’s not a cheap game, though I can appreciate that it’s a little cheaper than the equivalent cost for The Crystal Caverns (game + miniatures + expansion). If you don’t already own Vast, I do think this version is a little easier to get started with—though with the caveat that it still does require learning a set of rules per role, so expect the first few plays to involve a lot of rules-checking. If you’re a fan of Vast, it depends on whether you feel like you want the variety. I have one friend who likes Vast but admits that he hasn’t played through all the Fearsome Foes expansion characters yet, so there’s still a lot of content in the original set that he hasn’t explored yet, and so he’s thinking of waiting for now. And I’ve got friends who immediately backed this on launch day, because they loved the first one so much and can’t wait to mix and match the two sets to see all the different possibilities.
The good news is that you’ve got a little bit of time to decide. Take a look at the Vast: The Mysterious Manor Kickstarter page, check out the stretch goals, and take a gander at those cool miniatures!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.