Games attempt asymmetry in a variety of ways. Some games give each player different characters to control, each with their own move sets and abilities. Collectible card games provide players with an expansive array of options so that each can make their own unique deck. Vast: The Mysterious Manor does something vastly different (no I will not apologize for that one).
Vast: The Mysterious Manor is the second game in the Vast series which provides asymmetry through the rules themselves. Whether you are a valiant paladin, a creepy spider, or a horde of skeletons, you will have a different objective from everyone else and different rules for how your character is controlled. This helps create an atmosphere where everyone other than you feels truly alien, as their movements and actions differ so wildly from yours.
Vast: The Mysterious Manor gives you access to one of five characters to play: the spider, the paladin, the skeletons, the manor, and the warlock. Each character has its own unique goal. The spider wants to instill fear and escape. The paladin wants to kill the spider and the skeletons want to kill the paladin. The manor just wants to trap everybody inside and the warlock wants to dominate cursed objects.
In most basic games, you will play with the spider, paladin, and skeletons. The paladin is the most straightforward unit. He spends hero cubes to move through the manor and to prepare his attack and defense. Over time, he also accumulates grit which increases the number of cubes he may hold and grants him access to different cards.
The spider is a little more complex. The spider can switch between three forms at the beginning of its turn with each form giving it access to different ways of casting spells. For instance, the spiderlings all cast a spell on their own space while the sorceress can cast spells up to two spaces away. The spider generally obtains terror through placing eggs, collecting blood, and weaving webs.
Where the spider spends a lot of its time running and laying traps, the skeletons spend their time attempting to surround and murder the paladin. Skeletons obtain stability points which can be spent to perform attacks or spawn more skeletons. While skeletons do not permanently die when hit, killing a skeleton disrupts the skeleton’s turn order. As skeletons gain damage for each skeleton surrounding its opponent, you usually want your best skeleton to attack last.
The manor and the warlock are in less direct competition than the others. The manor can move rooms and rotate them in order to cast rituals. Meanwhile, the warlock can place cursed items in the paths of others to obtain more curses and dominate more objects.
Generally, your strategy will change depending on your character. The spider’s strategy is to stay far away from the paladin while using its abilities to increase the terror on the board. As the spider, your two major concerns are safety and terror accumulation. This leads to a lot of risk v. reward gameplay where you have to decide whether it’s worth going near the paladin in order to obtain a lot of terror.
The paladin, while the most straightforward, has some of the more difficult decisions to make. The paladin is generally slower than the spider unless he spends most of his hero cubes to chase the spider down. But if the paladin spends all of his hero cubes on movement, he will not have any left over to spend on building his defenses which can allow the skeletons an easy attack. So the paladin often has to balance his desire to murder the spider with his desire to stay alive.
The strategy of the skeletons comes down to one word: optimization. The skeletons have no concern for their own safety as no skeleton can be permanently killed. Instead, as the skeletons you need to figure out how to optimize each skeleton’s move so that the final skeleton can pull off a killing blow.
The manor has two main goals – cast rituals and keep anyone else from winning. The second goal is shared by everybody, but it’s at its most potent with the manor. By moving, swapping, and rotating tiles, the manor is able to trap a player, move a spider out of its relative safety, or drop a skeleton into a lit location. The kingmaking abilities of the manor often make it one of the most fun characters to play in this game.
The warlock’s goal of obtaining curses is a little less nuanced. You have moves for draining curses from the other characters and for placing curses on items. The only real concern of the warlock’s is staying out of other people’s way, as he can lose a substantial number of curses if an opponent steps into the same space as him.
Despite who you play as, you mostly balance a few goals: winning, not losing, and not letting anybody else win. While this sounds obvious, each of these has its own gameplay surrounding it. You have to balance the risks you take to win with the possibilities of other characters murdering you. And sometimes you have to balance your own needs with making sure someone else doesn’t get there’s. If the paladin is almost dead, the spider may want to weaken some of the skeletons to ensure that the paladin doesn’t die before the spider can win.
Vast has a very light and minimalist design. There is something decidedly adorable about the way the characters are designed, from the silly expressions of the skeletons to the absurd eyes of the warlock. Everything about the design is consistent with the type of game Vast is. It’s not a game a brutal war game or a battle of wits, but more of a lighthearted showdown between completely different characters.
The pieces are fairly sturdy and the tiles for the board are very well designed. My only design issues come from some of the pop-out pieces which are subsequently removed in the expansion which replaces them with physical tokens. All in all, Vast is a pretty game that is very easy to view and understand at a distance.
Each character’s boards are also very unique and give a solid impression of that character’s gameplay. I especially enjoyed the dials for the skeletons, spider, and paladin which clearly depicted their current stats.
Haunted Hallways, the expansion to Vast: The Mysterious Manor, adds a few quality of life improvements, a few new characters, and a whole lot of added minis. Poltergeists now have their own figures, making them feel like more of a presence on the board. My favorite added miniature is the force walls which have awesome creepy faces and give the impression of a hefty blockade.
In terms of new characters, the armored knight and the shadow paladin offer interesting twists on the paladin and spider respectively. While the armored knight was a little less interesting, the shadow paladin is very amusing to play. The shadow paladin gains ruin cubes by isolating rooms in the manner and can explore rooms in a way that blocks any entrances. This leads to amusing scenarios where the shadow paladin is constantly creating walls and blocking rooms while the armored knight or paladin have to keep breaking them down.
The other interesting addition is the new cast of skeletons. Four new skeletons were added in the expansion, each with their own corresponding equipment cards and gameplay modifiers. This gives the player of the skeletons the ability to select 5 out of 9 skeletons before the game, making the skeleton force a little more customizable.
Vast: The Mysterious Manor is a fun and light asymmetric game. The overarching theme of opposed objectives is done in a way that still feels less serious than many other competitive games on the market. This is partially helped by the variety of gameplay styles making each character its own mini-game that the other players often don’t fully understand.
If I have any issues with the game, it is the difficulty in understanding the other characters. Until you have played the game a few times, you won’t have enough knowledge to determine what your opponents are capable of or what moves they are even allowed to do. If you’ve ever played a game where someone has inadvertently broken a rule, imagine that while not understanding that player’s rules in the first place.
As a side note, I don’t feel like the warlock adds much to the game. Aside from giving the other characters one more person to look out for, his actions don’t impact any of the other players or their turns that much. This means that when he wins, it feels a little anti-climatic and when he loses, it is easy to forget he was in the game in the first place.
Overall, if you’re looking for a fun competitive game that you can play in a few hours, Vast: The Mysterious Manner will provide a fresh and unique experience.