A Vast Solo Adventure
If you’ve ever played Vast: the Mysterious Manor, you know the undertaking you’re committing to when you do it. From the physical constraint of needing a generously sized surface to lay all pieces on, to the intimidating task of explaining the rules of each of the 5 remarkably asymmetric characters, the Vast fan community often shares their difficulty in getting the game on the table.
Lucky for us, the Mysterious Manor can be enjoyed in solo as well, and it addresses a lot of the issues that make the game tough to get going in a group. Off the bat, only the Paladin and the Skeletons are present, so you can make this work in a cosier setting. Complexity is severely reduced, as you’re looking at 2 characters out of 5, and they are already arguably the most straightforward two to begin with, with the Skeletons being even easier to control in their bot form. But most importantly, it is actually quite fun.
If you’ve never played Vast before, here are some formal introductions: this is an extremely ambitious game by the makers of Root, and a new iteration of their 2016 game, Vast: the Crystal Caverns. Like its predecessor, you can choose one of 5 characters to play as, with some ability to even swap some of them around between the two games, as the tropes they represent are interchangeable. For example, there is a monster in each of them: the Dragon in Crystal Caverns and the Spider in the Mysterious Manor. Likewise, there are minion factions in both of them, so where you had the Goblins now you have the Skeletons.
The board here is a manor whose space you will be populating with tiles that figures can then move to and interact with. Those tiles can have treasure, blood, enemies, among others, and each character interacts with them in their own way. Characters also have unique decks and components no other character will use and their winning conditions are entirely different, ranging from defeating a specific opponent to terrorizing the manor and escaping it.
Someone Needs To Be The Good Guy
In the solo mode of Vast: The Mysterious Manor, named The Paladin’s Journey, your role has been assigned for you: you’re the Paladin. This is an appropriate introduction to the game, as the Paladin has very black and white conditions for victory and defeat in the multiplayer version and really plays like an RPG character. You want to kill the monsters, you die if you’re out of health, you gain experience – named grit in the game - and level up your stats. No form swapping to worry about (hey, Spider!) and none of the space puzzle solving you’re tackling as the Manor or the Warlock. Hit bad guys, don’t get hit, you win.
The most significant change from the Paladin gameplay in a multiplayer game is the fact that the Spider isn’t present. Seeing as killing her is exactly how the Paladin wins the game, what is the catch then? In a solo mode, he wins once he’s defeated a certain number of poltergeists, which are Manor residents that get in the way of almost all characters of the game. That’s not to say the Spider’s existence is completely unnoticed, after all blood tiles – her favorite – will be revealed regularly. The way this affects the game is that, when you’re playing by yourself, you will be controlling all three dials that come with the game: your grit, which is how you level up, the terror dial, which goes up once per turn and every time a blood tile is revealed and down whenever a blood token is removed, and the stability dial, which goes up when you reveal a pit and down when you reveal an armory. Terror in this mode will control the defence of poltergeists and make you discard favor cards or treasures at specific thresholds, while stability will determine the Skeletons’ movement, strength and how often they respawn.
The Skeleton themselves are in the manor with you, and they remain as invested in attacking you as they always have, although the variety of things they can do in their turn is slashed. You’re basically simulating a player who focuses exclusively on aggression. They don’t interact with tiles and cannot gear up, they will instead always attack when they can or move closer to and surround the Paladin when they cannot. Each time they successfully hit you, you lose 1 health point. If your health falls to 0, it’s game over as usual, but another huge threat here is the terror: your second lose condition is when it gets up to a certain level, depending on the difficulty you’re playing in.
How Holy Is This Crusade?
Once you’ve memorized what happens when you reveal a tile of each type, a solo game of Vast plays surprisingly quickly. You’ll be crusading a lot, which is the action of moving into a tile to reveal it and resolve it – possibly with a battle. Your pursuers are brainless piles of bones, so the variables are very limited, but there is a real rush and sense of danger because it’s likely you’ll get close to reaching your poltergeist quota at around the same time as the terror is nearing its maximum, which would cause you to lose immediately. You will usually be able to keep the Skeletons at bay if you’re doing some minimally responsible use of your Prepare action, which, by increasing your Defence temporarily, will force them to surround you heavily before they can hit, so at least you’re not losing more than 1 health per turn.
As a gaming experience, especially for someone’s initial steps in Vast, the simple fact of not having the Spider on the board makes the complexity plummet. Her gameplay is very dense in rules, and they shift just enough between each of her three forms that any distraction will cause you to miss something, so being able to set her aside makes the game more easily playable. Which really is something, because the designers recommend certain combinations of characters depending on the number of players you have, and the solo mode is the only one in which the Spider isn’t mandatory. Varying difficulty levels to choose from are a welcome addition too, as you want the game to remain challenging ever after you’ve become good at it.
Is It Better Than The Multiplayer Mode?
No. And yes. Vast is extraordinary if played by 4 or 5 people. You need enough players to at least get the Manor in there, because they bring a level of chaos and unpredictability to the board that no other character can. And their power to swap and move tiles can also lengthen the game, but in an excellent way. They really excel when monitoring player progress and making sure no one wins too quickly. But at 2 and 3 players, it’s significantly less fun. Still operational, but not as rich. With the solo mode, the cat and mouse play between the Paladin and the Skeletons works really smoothly, the setup is drastically reduced and you can get a game going and completed in a perfectly viable amount of time.
Replayability is enforced by the nature of how you populate this manor: as you’ll never be drawing the same tiles in any given game, you will interact with your surroundings differently each time. It would be phenomenal if they had come up with a way to play solo as the other characters as well, since they each really do play so uniquely, but alas, if that’s what you want, start convincing your friends.