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Vast: The Mysterious Manor


From asymmetric game authority, Leder Games, the creators of the acclaimed Root and Vast: The Crystal Caverns, Vast: The Mysterious Manor is a competitive game in which you play as one of five severely different characters, each not only with their own mechanics, but their unique winning and losing conditions, in an attempt to come out with a much hard-earned victory. While this isn’t meant to explain how to play the game thoroughly, I’ll be going over each character briefly to give you an idea of the breadth of what this game has to offer.

The Premise

Four of the selectable characters, namely the Paladin, the Spider, the Skeletons and the Warlock, are in the title manor and trying to accomplish something, whether it is to escape it, to kill an enemy or to dominate the place. The fifth playable character is the Manor itself, which is personified in its own player token that can move around the board. The way the board works is there is an enclosed grid-like space that is the manor itself, surrounded by grounds, one door that it the only way out and, at the start of the game, mostly empty spaces called crypts. As you progress through the game, you will be filling those empty spaces with tiles, at which point they stop being crypts. This is how you slowly populate the board, and most characters can only walk through tiles, not crypts, so the playable space increases as time goes by. A tile also has two sides, an unlit and a lit side. Character movement is one of the things directly affected by whether a tile is lit on unlit, but other things are impacted by it as well.

Every time a tile is lit – or revealed – you will see any of its four sides can have an opening. For any side that does so, you’re prompted to retrieve another tile from the box and place it unlit side up adjacent to that open pathway. That’s how you uncover new rooms and ways to navigate the manor. The tiles can be of a handful of different types as well: there are blood tiles, treasure tiles, poltergeists, armouries, pits, and more. They each cause a different effect and not all of them are significant to all characters. There aren’t too many types, so that won’t overwhelm the players too much.

Poltergeists are inhabitants of the manor. No one can play as them, they mostly serve as obstacles, preventing movement and forcing battle. They are particularly disruptive to whoever is playing as the Manor, since the Manor has no way of removing poltergeist but does require free spaces to reach its objectives. The concept of battle is important to the Paladin, Spider and Skeletons. Combat happens when one player token moves into a tile that has another player or poltergeist in it. At that point, the attacking player must have an attack power greater than the defence of the defending player. If they do, the attack is successful. Otherwise, the attack fails, and the attacking player moves back to the tile they were in just before initiating the confrontation. Attack is usually mandatory whenever these encounters happen, but in Vast, every single rule has exceptions.

The straight-forward characters

No character is necessarily easy to play as, but the Paladin and Skeletons are straight-forward enough, as they’re combat oriented. The Paladin wins the game if it kills the Spider, whereas the Skeletons secure victory by killing the Paladin. Their game is one of cat and mouse. The Paladin plays very much like an RPG character, buffing up his attack and defence, gaining power ups and trying to become strong enough to kill his enemy while defending himself from those bags of bones. The Skeletons are essentially weak, but there are five of them and the player will be controlling all in each of their turn. Whenever defeated, a Skeleton will simply respawn, so they are relentless. They are also the only faction that can walk in the grounds around the manor, which makes them more mobile than other characters.

The Beast

The Spide is arguably the most difficult character to grasp. In a game with five characters with such distinct set of rules each, the Spider herself has three forms, and they’re considerably different from one another. She can be the Giant Spider, the Sorceress or the Spiderlings. Each form moves, casts spells and attacks in a particular way, so it can be very challenging to strategize properly with her, because other players will likely have come out the other side of their learning curve before the Spider player does. Her goal is to raise terror in the manor and escape. She raises terror by spreading blood, web and egg tokens around the board and, as the terror rises, she becomes more resilient and resourceful.

The weird ones

The Warlock and the Manor cannot engage in combat, either as attackers or defenders, so they’re great choices for players who are less combative (kind of like the Vagabond or the Otters in Root). The Manor is trying to trap all players inside it, and it does so by completing Seal rituals. These are basically patterns of movement it needs to be able to trace on the tiles as long as they have no obstacles on them. This is why, as the poltergeist population increases, the Manor becomes so crippled. It is a very fun character to play as, because while it can’t be offensive, it can hinder other players by swapping tiles around, rotating them, moving them, raising walls, etc. It is the agent of chaos in the game.

The Warlock is also a very sneaky character. Non-combatant, he runs away when anyone even passes by the tile he’s on. He wants nothing to do with any of the action happening around him, he only cares about dominating poltergeists and treasures in the manor (I suppose that’s the way to world domination?). Once he’s dominated enough of them, he wins. He is the most prolific character in spawning poltergeists and treasures, which serves him well, and that is what makes him and the Manor arch nemesis of each other, as one wants the manor as busy as possible, while the other wants its halls free and available to move around.

The Verdict

I adore heavy complex games, but I believe there is such a thing as too complex. Having played Vast: TMM enough times, I get the feeling that it walks so that Root can run. I’ve read arguments that, despite Root being considered the current standard for asymmetric games by many, it isn’t that asymmetric, because all characters share the same deck, most scoring methods and win the same way. However, while that isn’t the case for Vast: TMM, I’m not convinced that is a good thing. In order to extract real value from the game, you have to have played it enough times with the same group of people to enable everyone to confidently know what they’re doing. The rule book is so full of errors and oversights, that the official errata online end up being more of an authority on it than the book shipped with the game itself, and, 5 years since launch, there are still discussions active on certain corner cases. It is an enjoyable game, it is very fun once you get the hang of it, but for me it is overly ambitious and, hard as it is to play, it’s even harder to get it on the table, as most people find it a chore. And while it claims to be playable by 1-5 players, it really only starts to shine at 4, when you get the Manor or Warlock going, so unless you have a hardcore group of gamer friends, you may face the same difficulty I do with this one.