Radio Review #119 – Vast: The Crystal Caverns

 

cover_vast

(2016 – Leder Games)

 

“I know the shame in your defeat….”

 

Back in 2013, I reviewed a small, Halloween-themed card game revolved around a worker placement mechanic entitled, Trick or Treat. It’s one that I’ve enjoyed playing and is still in my collection. It was Patrick Leder’s first released game design, and his company Leder Games first publication. The game included some clever mechanics in which you played a kid on Halloween night, moving from location to location in hopes of collecting various sets of treats that you could then turn in for Victory Points. Each location had a unique action that the player could take when going there. And while the game was light, it provided a fun combination of theme and art. I was interested then when I first heard of Leder Games’ next title, Trove: the Crystal Caverns, co-designed by David Somerville and Patrick Leder. In early rumblings of the game, Leder promised an asymmetrical game in which players would have different winning conditions and gameplay. I’ve always been a huge fan of asymmetrical games (War of the Ring and Imperial Settlers being two of my all-time favorite games), so I was interested in checking this on out when it released, but expected the game to be more along the lines of Trick or Treat, a nice, little card game with some unique takes on proven mechanics. When the game finally made it to Kickstarter (now renamed Vast: the Crystal Caverns), I thought to myself, what in the world is this??! Well…..what is this, you ask? Let’s take a look see.

In Vast: the Crystal Caverns, each player takes on the role of either the adventurous Knight, the native cave-dwelling Goblin tribes, the slumbering Dragon within, the cursed Thief, or the living, breathing Cave itself. Each of these roles contain a completely different ruleset of mechanics, components, and victory conditions. No two roles play anything alike. The Knight’s goal is to slay the Dragon. The Goblin’s goal is to kill the Knight. The Dragon’s goal is to wake up after hundreds of years of slumber and escape the cave. The Thief’s goal is to collect a number of treasure in order to provide them to the warlock that cursed him, lifting the curse itself. And the Cave’s goal is to collapse the cave, killing everyone inside. Each player takes a turn, using their unique player board to complete various actions in order to help them reach their goal. Vast is not only an asymmetrical game, it may be the most ambitious asymmetrical game to date. Since there’s basically five different games within the game (and I’ll attempt to go over how each one plays), this will be quite an overview. So sit back, plan for some breaks in between, and let’s take a look at Vast: the Crystal Caverns!

 

 

 

Components:

 

 

The Knight

 

– Knight player board

 

– Knight pawn (w/ alternate token)

 

– Health, Hero, and Grit cubes

 

– Bomb tokens

 

– Sidequest cards

 

– Knight Difficulty cards

 

 

 

The Goblins

– Goblins player board

 

– Fangs, Bone, and Eye tribe pawns (w/ alternate tokens)

 

– Strength bonus and Population discs

 

– Rage and Monster tokens

 

– War Cards

 

– Monster cards

 

– Secrets Cards

 

– Goblin Difficulty cards

 

 

 

The Dragon

– Dragon player board

 

– Sleeping Dragon and Surfaced Dragon pawns (w/ alternate tokens)

 

– Sloth, Health and Eaten Goblins cubes

 

– Power cards

 

– Dragon Die

 

– Dragon Gems, Shriek and Flame Wall tokens (w/ alternate token)

 

– Dragon Difficulty cards

 

 

 

The Cave

– Cave player board

 

– Cave tiles

 

– Event cards

 

– Treasure Cards

 

– Event tokens

 

– Treasure tokens (w/ alternate tokens)

 

– Crystal tokens (w/ alternate tokens)

 

– Omen tokens and Cloth bag

 

– Rockslide tokens (w/ alternate tokens)

 

– Cave Grows card

 

– Cave Difficulty cards

 

 

 

The Thief

– Thief player board

 

– Thief pawn (w/ alternate token)

 

– Stat and Loot Drop tokens

 

– Vault tokens (w/ alternate tokens)

 

– Action cubes and Action die

 

– Thief Difficulty cards

 

 

 

Other Components

– Variant terrain tiles

 

– Variant cards

 

 

 

Setup:

This review will be a bit different from my normal format, as each role in the game is almost a game within itself. Each role contains a different winning condition, different gameplay mechanics, and different turn structure. Because of this, I think the best way to teach the game is to focus on each individual role separately, incorporating them as we go along. There are variant rules included in the game for how to play when there aren’t a full number of 5 players (and these rules are very streamlined and work well), but I’ll be taking a look at the game from a 5-player standpoint. Once all players have selected a role, they’ll receive their set of corresponding components, as seen above.

The player’s spot in turn order is dependent upon their selected role, resolved in the following order; Knight, Goblins, Dragon, Cave, and Thief. At the beginning of the game, the Cave Entrance tile is placed in the center of the table. The Cave player will then set aside 9 of his Cave tiles containing “crystal” icons, and 6 tiles containing “vault” icons. He’ll then randomly shuffle the remaining tiles into a draw stack with the dark, unlit side of the tiles face-up (side containing the goblin tribe icons). Next, he’ll place the top 4 tiles next to the 4 spaces adjacent to the Cave Entrance. While the goblin icons are face-up, the area on the tiles are considered dark and are not revealed until this space of the cave has been explored.

Finally, the Cave player will divide the remaining draw stack into three smaller, equal stacks. He’ll then add 3 crystal tiles and 2 vault tiles to each stack, shuffling each stack individually, then placing them on top of one another to create a single draw stack again. This is to ensure that there are no crystals or vaults located on the first 4 cave tiles at the beginning of the game, while spreading them throughout the remaining draw stack. The Cave player will then draw the top 3 tiles from the stack and add them to his hand. Now that initial setup is complete, let’s take a look at each role and how they work, revolving in turn order:

 

 

 

 

I. The Knight:

The Knight always begins the game on the Cave Entrance tile and is the only character pawn in play at the beginning of the game. The Knight’s goal is to slay the dragon, and doing so before any other player completes their goal, wins her the game. At the beginning of the game, the Knight starts with 2 Hero cubes. These cubes can be used to increase the player’s movement, perception, and strength during a turn. The Knight always has 1 point available in each of these stats per turn by default, without needing to add Hero cubes.

Below her stat area is the Knight’s health meter, of which she begins the game with 7 points of health. There’s also special equipment the Knight can use by placing a Hero cube on the spaces at the center of the player board. These consist of setting off bombs, firing her bow, using her ancient map to find secret passageways through walls, and protecting herself with a shield.

In order to gain more Hero cubes, the Knight will need to accumulate grit (basically, experience). At the beginning of the game, the Knight’s grit level starts at 0 (what a noob), represented by the red cube on the right side of the player board. There are preset spaces on the grid track where a number of Hero cubes are placed. As the Knight’s grit increases and moves onto or past these spaces, the Hero cube on that space is removed and immediately added to her inventory to use for the rest of the game. There are however, many ways that the Knight can lose grit. If losing grit forces the red cube to be moved back onto or over one of these preset spaces, a Hero cube is added back to that space of the grit track.

There are various ways that the Knight can earn grit, but one of the most efficient ways is by completing sidequests. At the beginning of the game, the Knight player will shuffle her Sidequest cards, drawing 3 of them. These are kept hidden from other players, and each card contains an objective and a grit value. Once the Knight completes one of these objectives, she’ll remove the card from the game, increase her grit level by the value listed on the card, and draw a new Side Quest. For instance, once the Knight has attacked a Goblin tribe containing a population of 3 or more, she can turn in the Stalwart quest card (seen left) for 5 grit. Facing three encounters on a single turn enables the Knight to turn in the Adventurous quest card (seen right) for 6 grit.

 

 

Knight’s Gameplay:

The Knight’s goal is to kill the Dragon, but she’ll need to be wary of the Goblins (who are trying to kill her), the Thief (who is trying to steal from her), and the Cave (which is trying to expand, then collapse on her). The Knight’s turn is made up of two simple steps. The first step is to collect all previously placed Hero cubes from her player board. These do not include the cubes that are still on the grit track, only the two she started the game with and any she’s unlocked from earning grit since then. Next, the Knight can move and resolve encounters. The number of spaces she can move is tied to her Movement stat, while the number of encounters the Knight can resolve is tied to her Perception stat. If you’ll remember, the Knight always has 1 Movement point and 1 Perception point available to her at the beginning of each turn (without Hero cube placement), therefore she’ll always be able to move and resolve at least one encounter per turn.

It’s important to note that the Knight is only allowed to spend movement if she has an available Perception point. Even if the player still has Movement points left over, she can’t move if she’s expended all of her Perception. This is something that new players tend to miss on their first play. The reasoning behind this rule is that it prevents the Knight player from resolving encounters, then using remaining movement to return back to center of the cave. This can cause issues and imbalance both in regards to the Dragon’s goal of escaping the cave, and the Cave’s ability to expand the cave area. When the Knight moves onto a dark tile, the tile is flipped over to reveal a new section of the cave. The Knight can then orient the new tile how she wishes, as long as a pathway on the new tile connects legally to the tile she’s moved from. The Knight also gains 1 grit when revealing a tile she is on.

After orienting the new tile, the Cave player will need to place out new sections of the cave, placing new dark tiles adjacent to the newly revealed tile, on any sides that contain an open pathway (not a walled border). It’s important for the Cave player to place tiles out in a certain way, as it can help him reach his end-game goal faster. But I’ll explain that in a bit, when discussing the Cave player’s gameplay. For now, let’s focus on the Knight.

For instance, at the beginning of the Knight’s turn, she has 1 Movement point and 1 Perception point by default. She decides to move 1 space to the right onto a previously unlit area of the cave and reveals the tile. After she’s oriented the tile to her liking, we can see that there are now two open spaces that don’t contain a wall. Therefore, the Cave player will need to place a tile, draw back up to 3 tiles in hand, place a 2nd tile, then draw back up to 3 tiles again.

 

Anything the Knight encounters on a single tile when revealing it, counts as one single encounter. So if three different things happen when revealing a tile, the Knight only uses 1 point of Perception to resolve all three of them. However, there’s a certain order to how encounters resolve.The revealing of the tile, the placement of new surrounding tiles, and resolving the current tile’s icon are all done first. Then, the Knight can choose to attack any characters on the tile. After all attacks are resolved (or if there were no attacks), the Knight can choose to collect any treasures or dragon gems present. There are 5 different icons that can appear on a cave tile, and only a few may immediately affect the Knight:

 

 

 

A. Revealing and Resolving Tiles:

 

Event – When the Knight reveals a tile with an Event icon, the Cave player will draw the top 3 cards from his Event deck, choose one to play, then place the other two at the bottom of the draw deck. The event listed on the card is then resolved.

For instance,the Deep and Dark event card allows the Cave player to draw two Omen tokens from their draw bag. Omen tokens are currency that the Cave player will spend to perform actions on his turn. On the other hand, giving her the Fresh Water event card will allow the Knight a way to gain some health back. It can be in the best interest of the Cave to make sure the Knight is protected from being killed by the Goblins, at least long enough for the Cave to collapse on her, itself. Mmmmmmwuahahaha!

 

There are times in the game that a tile may be revealed without the Knight’s involvement. If the revealed tile contains an Event icon on it, an Event token is placed on the tile to remind the Knight player that this event has not been resolved yet. By moving on the tile later in the game, the Knight will immediately trigger it to resolve (which will cost a Perception point).

 

 

Treasure – When the Knight reveals a tile with a Treasure icon, the Cave player will place a Treasure token on the tile. After all other encounters have been resolved on the tile (icons and attacks), the Knight player can choose to collect it, placing it near her player board. In doing so, the Cave player will draw the top 2 cards from his Treasure deck, choose one to give to the Knight player, placing the other at the bottom of the draw deck. The Knight player can then decide to either accept the new treasure, or decline it. If she accepts it, it’s placed near her player board and will provide some type of additional bonus.

For instance, the Pixie Lantern allows the player to place a Hero cube on it in order to gain +1 Movement and +1 Perception (normally the player would need to place a separate cube on each of these stat tracks to increase them). However, if the Knight instead chooses to decline the Treasure card, she’ll receive 5 grit.

 

 

 

Ambush – When the Knight reveals a tile with an Ambush icon, the Goblin player can choose to attack with one of their tribes, as long as that tribe is still on their player board. As we’ll see in a bit, the Goblin player can choose to place a tribe on dark tiles of the cave (a revealed tribe), or keep them on their player board (a hidden tribe). If the Goblin player has a hidden tribe when an ambush tile is revealed, he can attack with them if that tribe’s strength exceeds the Knight’s strength.

The strength of a Goblin tribe is equal to its population amount (number of discs beneath its pawn), plus or minus any modifiers. The Knight’s strength is listed below the Movement and Perception spaces on her player board. The Knight always has 1 point of Strength by default, but may add more of her Hero cubes there to increase it. When an ambush occurs, the Knight can choose to immediately add more cubes to her Strength track to boost it. If she can’t boost it high enough, or simply chooses not to, and the Goblin tribe’s strength is higher than the Knight’s, the ambush is successful and the Knight loses 1 point of health. I’ll discuss further in detail what happens to the Goblins after an ambush attack during the Goblin gameplay section.

For instance, the Knight decides to move and reveals a new section of the cave. This tile contains an ambush icon. The Goblin player has already placed the Fangs and Eye tribes out on dark spaces in the cave, however the Bones tribe still remains hidden on their player board, with a population of 3 (3 discs underneath the Bones tribe’s pawn).

 

In order to keep this ambush from occurring, the Knight player needs a total of 3 Strength. Since she only has 1 Strength by default, so she would need to place 2 Hero cubes on the Strength track of her player board in order to increase her Strength to 3. As she has no more Hero cubes available to her, she’s unable to do this, and the Bones tribe successfully attacks her for 1 point of damage, decreasing her Health level by 1.

 

 

 

Crystal – When the Knight reveals a tile containing a crystal icon, the Cave player will place one of the Crystal tokens on the space. If the Knight has a Strength of 3+, he can choose to smash the Crystal, collecting the token and gaining 2 grit.

While smashing crystals aren’t part of the Knight’s main goal in a 5-player game, crystals that remain in play when it’s the Cave player’s turn increase the amount of Omens he’ll receive. These Omen tokens allow the Cave player to expand the cave even faster and perform various other acts to wreck havoc on the other characters in the game.

 

 

Vaults – When the Knight reveals a tile containing a vault icon, the Thief player places a Vault token on it. Vaults only effect the Thief player. On his turn, the Thief player can attempt to pick the lock on these vault tiles, gaining the treasure within. I’ll explain more about these Vaults during the Thief’s gameplay section.

 

 

 

B. Attacking:

Remember that her ultimate goal is to slay the Dragon. The Dragon however, begins the game in slumber, beneath the cave area. It’s not until the Dragon awakens and surfaces that she’ll appear in the same cave area as the other characters. Because of this, the only way to attack the Dragon while she’s asleep is to throw bombs at her from above. To do so, the Knight will need to place a Hero cube on the Bomb equipment space of her player board, and must be on the same cave space as the sleeping Dragon (although the Dragon is considered directly below her, sleeping). It’s important to note that while the dragon is asleep, the Knight can only attack her once per turn, however once she has awoken and surfaced, she can attack her multiple times per turn (spending a perception point for each attack).

As we’ll see when discussing the Dragon’s gameplay, the Dragon will have an amount of armor that increases as the game goes on. When throwing a bomb, if the Knight’s strength is more than the Dragon’s strength, the Dragon automatically takes a hit and loses 1 health. If the Knight’s strength is only equal to the Dragon’s, she’ll need to roll the Dragon die to determine if the hit is successful or not. Unlike a normal 6-sided numerical die, the Dragon die contains a range of highlighted spaces in relation to the current player’s space (the center space of each die side). If the rolled facing contains a highlighted space at the center, the hit is successful. This die is used for other purposes when the Dragon takes certain actions, but this is how it is used when the Knight attacks it.

For instance, the Knight has moved onto a dark cave tile, containing the slumbering Dragon below. The tile is first revealed (the Knight gains 1 grit), and contains a Treasure icon. After the Cave player adds more tiles adjacent to this newly revealed tile, the Cave player places a Treasure token on the tile. The Knight then has a choice of whether to encounter the sleeping Dragon.

 

The Knight places a Hero cube on her bomb space and checks her strength track. Since it is currently at 2, so she’ll need to add 1 more cube in order to attempt a bomb attack (the Dragon’s current armor is 3), or she can add 2 cubes to her strength in order to automatically hit the Dragon. Since she only has one more Hero cube available, she’ll need to place it on her strength track and roll the Dragon die.

 

When rolling the die, the result shows the central square as highlighted. This means that the bomb attack has been successful, and the Dragon takes 1 damage to his health. In the future, if the Cave player has begun the collapse of the cave and the Dragon is still asleep, the Knight can attack him without needing to use a bomb attack. She’ll simply compare her strength to the Dragon’s current armor. Once the Dragon has awoken and surfaced, the Knight can only enter the same space of the Dragon if her strength is at least equal to the Dragon’s armor. But the Knight can attack a surfaced Dragon multiple times on her turn (for one perception point each).

 

While attacking the Dragon may be her primary goal, the Goblin tribes and Thief shouldn’t be ignored. Successfully attacking Goblins will remove the tribe from the cave and keep its population in check, making it harder for them to attack and do damage to the Knight on future turns (their primary goal). Attacking the Thief will actually kill the Thief, forcing him to drop all collected treasures and dragon gems (collecting 6 is his winning condition) and starting his next turn on the Cave Entrance tile.

 

 

 

C. Collecting:

After resolving attacks (if there were any), the Knight can choose to collect any Treasures or Dragon Gems on the tile. Using the previous example above, after resolving the attack, the Knight chooses to collect the Treasure token, removing it from the tile. The Cave player draws 2 cards from his Treasure card draw deck and gives her the Potion Kit. The Knight can use this card in order to regain health. However, the Knight chooses instead to discard the card and gains another 5 grit.

The Dragon player has three Dragon Gems available to him to place out on tiles in the cave. As long as these gems are active, he’ll have additional icons he can spend to perform actions. The Knight can choose to take these gems. Doing so carefully will earn the Knight 5 grit. However, as any professional cave-dweller knows, being sloppy nancy with a Dragon Gem can cause it to explode in your face. This will lose the Knight 2 grit. To determine this, when the Knight attempts to collect a gem, she’ll roll the Dragon die. A hit (highlighted center square) will lose the Knight 2 grit, a miss (un-highlighted center square) will gain the Knight 5 grit. Either way the Dragon Gem is returned to the Dragon player.

 

 

 

 

II. The Goblins:

The Goblin horde are natives of the cave and are made up of three main tribes; the Fangs tribe, the Bones tribe, and the Eye tribe. Irritated with the Knight’s recent appearance in their lair and her disturbance of the slumbering Dragon (of whom feasts on them while awake), the Goblin tribes want nothing more than to rid the Knight of her pulse. The problem is, as cave dwellers, they aren’t the most functional in open light. While residing on the Goblin player’s player board, the tribes are considered hidden. However, they can appear on the dark tiles of the cave, and move through the darkness, attempting to ambush the Knight when the opportunity presents itself. While the Knight player uses a mixture of dungeon crawling and worker placement mechanics, the Goblin player will focus on elements of resource allocation/management, card abilities, and timing.

There are three different types of cards that the Goblin player will be using during the game. War cards represent the amassing of Goblin forces amongst the three tribes each turn. Monster cards consist of specialized units and well….monsters that the Goblin have taken under their control, to use for their malevolent bidding. Finally, Secret cards contain various special abilities and hidden tactics, know only to the Goblin tribes and passed down from generation to generation. At the beginning of the game, these cards are separated into their corresponding decks and shuffled.

The number of War cards the Goblin player draws each turn is dependent upon the amount of Rage the tribes have built up. The angrier they are, the more willing they are to work together (insert joke about American politics). At the beginning of the game, the Goblin’s rage starts at 1. This can increase or decrease during their own turn, as well as during other players turns.

Each of the tribes have their own pawn. At the beginning of the game, these are placed on the spaces of the Goblin board that contains the names of each tribe. Again, while they remain on this board, the tribes are considered hidden, and cannot be attacked or directly affected by anything that goes on in the cave (other than the cave collapsing of course). When a War card is used by the Goblin player, it will usually add population to the various tribes. Each point of population is represented by a green disc, which is placed underneath the tribe’s pawn. Each of these discs also represent 1 point of strength. At the beginning of the game, all tribe’s start with a population of 0. Although, the Fangs tribe always receives a bonus of +1 strength to his population. So to mark this, one of the red discs is kept underneath the Fang tribe’s pawn at all times, as long as there’s at least 1 population.

 

 

 

Goblin’s Gameplay:

 

A. War Cards:

After the Knight has completed her turn, the Goblins are next in turn order. The Goblin’s turn is comprised of a number of steps, which are completed in order. First, the Goblin player will draw a number of War cards based on his current Rage amount, then choose to play one of these War cards, discarding any others. If the Goblins begin their turn with 0 Rage, they’ll always increase their Rage back to 1 before drawing a War card. Each War card contains information on how the various tribes are populated this turn, and if any monsters or secrets are gathered. If there’s a number on the card beside a tribe’s icon, that means the player will add that many Population discs (green) beneath that tribe’s pawn. If you’ll remember, a tribe’s strength is equal to it’s population number. So if a tribe has 3 population, it also has a strength of 3.

For instance, on their first turn of the game the Goblin player chooses to keep the following War card, “Desolation”. This allows him to add 1 population to the Fangs tribe, 2 population to the Bones tribe, and 2 population to the Eye tribe. The Fangs tribe now has a strength of 2 (1 population plus their bonus +1), the Bones tribe has a strength of 2, and the Eye tribe has a strength of 2.

 

The Goblin player will need to manage the amount of population in each tribe. If a tribe’s population increases to more than 4, overpopulation and infighting occur, which causes a tribe to scatter. The player can keep a tribe from scattering by decreasing his Rage by 1 for every disc that would cause this overpopulation. Note that while decreasing Rage will mean the player draws less War cards at the beginning of the next turn, decreasing it all the way to 0 will put all Goblin tribes in a state of “malaise”, which means their strength is decreased by -1 for the rest of the turn. Even if the player decreases his Rage to keep a tribe from scattering, the disc is not added to the tribe. The maximum amount of green discs that can be under a tribe’s pawn at any time is 4.

When Goblins are forced to scatter due to overpopulation, it won’t necessarily be the tribe that caused it. First, the Goblin player will check to see if he has any revealed tribes in the cave. If so, he’ll need to choose one of these tribes to scatter. If there are no revealed tribes and all tribes are still hidden on his player board, he can choose which of these to scatter. When scattering, the tribe loses two population discs, is returned to the player board (if scattering a revealed tribe), and discards a monster they’ve collected. As we’ll see next, the Bones tribe is the only one that can have 2 attached monsters, so if they have both when scattering, they can choose which one to discard.

After population has been added to the various tribes, the bottom left corner of the War card will list the number of Monster cards drawn. Taking a look back at the Desolation card, we see that the Goblin player would draw 1 Monster card. The Fangs and Eye tribes each have 1 slot that can hold an attached monster, however the Bones tribe can hold 2. The total number of monsters that can be active at any one time amongst all tribes directly correlates to the amount of population in the Bones tribe. So if the Bones tribe only has a population of 1 and there’s already a monster in the Eye tribe, another monster can’t be added to the Bones or Fangs tribe until the Bones population increases. When a Goblin tribe attacks, any attached monsters to it will give it some sort of boost or bonus. Let’s take a look at a couple of these:

 

– While the goblins move, they can move amongst dark tiles without any issue. However, they’ll eventually need to come into the light to attack the Knight on lit tiles. When moving on lit tiles, they’ll need to adhere to normal movement rules, which means they are normally blocked by exiting or entering a tile if it contains a wall. However, the Golem will allow the tribe to burst through these walls.

– The Ogre provides an additional strength to the tribe, without increasing population. To show this, a red disc is added beneath the tribe’s pawn. In this way, population is totaled using the green discs, while strength is totaled using the combination of green and red discs.

 

 

Finally, the Goblin player draws a number of Secrets according to the number listed on the bottom right corner of the War card. According to the Desolation card, the player would draw 1 Secrets card. Secrets are nasty schemes and tactics that have been past down from generation to generation. The Goblin player can never hold more than 5 of these cards at a time, but they can be played at any time during the Goblin’s turn. For instance, if the player uses Fire-Bomber, he can choose to boost a tribe’s strength by 2 this turn. However, once it attacks, the goblin’s explode and the tribe’s population decreases to 0. If playing a Hex, the Goblins will choose another player to place the hex on. The effect of the Hex is different depending on which character was chosen, and is as powerful as the amount of population in the Eye tribe. So if the Eye tribe had a population of 3, and the Goblin player played a Hex on the Knight, the Knight would lose 3 grit.

 

 

B. Activating Tribes:

After the War card has been resolved, it is shuffled back into the War draw deck along with any that were discarded. Next, each Goblin tribe can be activated once in order to first move it, then perform one action with it. A Goblin tribe must complete its movement before performing an action. When moving, the tribe can move any number of spaces among the dark tiles. However, when moving among lit tiles, it will lose a population disc for every 2 lit tiles it exits. Let’s take a look at these different actions and what they can do:

 

Reveal – A hidden tribe can take an action in order to reveal itself within the cave. Tribes that are hidden are those still on a player’s board, therefore they won’t be able to move before taking this action. However, once in the cave, it will be able to move on future turns. Each dark side of the cave tiles consist of one of the three goblin tribe icons (fangs, bones, or an eye). When the Goblin player decides to reveal a tribe, he’ll remove the tribe’s pawn and discs beneath it and place it onto one of the dark tiles that matches that tribe’s icon.

For instance, the Goblin player decides to reveal the Fangs tribe within the cave. He removes the Fangs tribe’s pawn and the 4 discs beneath it (3 green and 1 red) from his player board, and places them on the dark tile north of the cave that contains a “fang” icon. On future turns, he’ll be able to move this tribe around the cave before taking his next action with them.

 

 

Special Action – Each tribe has a unique action that it can use, as long as the tribe has been revealed. The Fangs tribe can use an action to increase the Goblin’s Rage by 1 point. The Bones tribe can draw a new Monster card and assign it to a tribe (if permitted by the Bones tribe’s population amount). The Eye tribe can draw a new Secrets card.

 

 

Explore – There may be times when the Goblin player wants to move a tribe around the dark tiles of the board, but there’s not a direct connection between areas. In this case, he can take an explore action, which allows him to select an adjacent vacant area next to the dark tile he’s on, and have the Cave player place a new dark tile there. Once that occurs, he can then place the tribe on that new tile. This could also help the Goblins maneuvering to a better position to attack the Knight in a future turn. Exploring however does help the Cave grow at a faster rate, so it should really only be used when necessary. Again, note that because actions are taken after movement, a goblin tribe that performs the explore action won’t be able to move from the newly placed tile until his next turn.

 

 

Plunder – If you’ll remember when discussing the Knight, treasures present in the cave at the beginning of the Cave player’s turn will award him Omen tokens. Dragon Gems present at the beginning of the Dragon player’s turn will allow him to potentially perform more powerful actions on his turn. Therefore, the Goblins are given a way to rid the cave of these treasures and gems by plundering them.

By taking the Plunder action, the Goblin can remove a treasure that’s located on their tile, and in doing so increases their Rage by 1. If a Dragon Gem is located on their tile, they can attempt to plunder it by rolling the Dragon die. If the rolled facing includes a highlighted square at the center, the plunder is a success and the Goblin‘s Rage increases by 1. Otherwise the tribe must scatter and Rage is not increased.

 

 

Attack – In a 5-player game, the Goblins can attack the Knight and Thief, as well as smash crystals in the cave (they try their little behinds as far away from the Dragon as possible). In order to move onto a space with the Knight, the tribe must have a strength that is higher than the Knight’s. If so, they can move onto the tile and automatically attack the Knight for 1 damage. Anytime a Goblin tribe attacks the Knight, they immediately scatter and their Rage is reduced by 1 point. I guess their rage has been calmed by the sweet taste of vengeance.

For instance, using the example from before, on his next turn the Goblin player decides to activate his Fangs tribe. His movement consists of three spaces along the dark tiles to the south, then one more lit space to the south, and one lit space to the east containing the Knight. Normally, he couldn’t move between these two lit tiles, as there is a wall between. However, the Fangs tribe has a Golem attached to them, which allows them to plow through walls when moving.

 

Since the tribe only exited one lit space during his movement, they won’t lose population. Their current strength is 4 (3 green discs and 1 red), compared to the Knight’s strength of 2 (1 default strength plus 1 Hero cube on her strength track). Therefore they attack and cause the Knight to lose 1 health.

After the Fangs tribe’s attack is resolved, the Goblin’s overall Rage is reduced by 1, and the Fangs tribe scatters. The tribe returns the player board (and is now considered hidden again), two population discs are removed from underneath their tribe’s pawn, and the Golem monster card is discarded.

 

Attacking the Thief works a bit differently. Unlike with the Knight, the Goblins can always enter the same tile as the Thief. Whether they can attack him or not is dependent on whether they’re aware of him. In order to see him, the Goblin’s perception must be greater than the Thief’s current Stealth. The Goblin’s perception is always their level of Strength, +1 (it’s easier for the Goblins to see him than the Knight, as they live in the darkness). Whenever the Thief is attacked, he is immediately killed (don’t worry Thief player, a warlock has been placed an undying curse on him which will bring him back to life the next day….for real), and the Goblins decrease their Rage by 1. However, unlike with the Knight, the Goblins do not scatter as a result of attacking the Thief. Instead, they are awarded a bonus depending on the Thief’s loot drop level. I’ll discuss this later when covering the Thief’s gameplay.

Although it’s not easy for them to do, Goblins do have the option of smashing crystals in order to keep the Cave player at bay. In order to smash a crystal on a tile, two different revealed tribes with a strength of 3+ must use an attack action on the same turn, on the same tile with the crystal. As with attacking the Knight, smashing a crystal causes the tribe (in this case, both tribes) to scatter, and the Rage is lowered by 1.

 

 

Hide – Finally, the player can use an action on a tribe in order to hide them. The player will simply remove the tribe from the cave space they are on and return them to their player board. The Goblin player may want to do this in order to keep at least one tribe hidden during the Knight’s turn. If the Knight encounters a tile with an Ambush icon on it and there are no tribes hidden, they can not perform an ambush on the Knight.

While hidden, if the Knight does encounter an Ambush, the Goblin player can attack the Knight if one of his hidden tribes has a higher strength than the Knight. This is something the Knight player will need to stay aware of when allocating cubes to their stat tracks. For instance, if the Goblin player has a hidden tribe on her turn, and that tribe has a population of 3, it may be in her best interest to add two cubes to her Strength track. Of course this will keep her from allocating them to other spaces on her board. If a hidden tribe attacks the Knight through an Ambush, the Knight loses 1 health, the tribe scatters back to their player board (loses 2 population), and their Rage is decreased by 1.

If it seems like a lot of things result in decreasing the Goblin’s Rage, don’t worry. There are many things that will increase it, usually at the expense of the Goblin player. Being attacked by the Knight, Dragon, and Thief, along with being effected by the Cave’s sopoforic spores, all cause the Goblins Rage to increase by 1. Mad as wet, cave-dwelling hornets.

 

 

 

 

III. The Dragon

The Dragon has been asleep for a hundreds of years. Her mass amounts of collected treasure glitter and glow throughout the cave, and rumors of this wealth have spurred the interest of one brave Knight (and a warlock-cursed Thief). In order for the Dragon to win, she’ll need to wake herself up and escape the cave before the Knight kills her or the Cave itself collapses.

The Dragon’s player board consists of a group of Sloth tracks and a Wakefulness track. At the beginning of the game, the Dragon player will place her Sloth cubes on each of the spaces of the Sloth tracks. In order for the Dragon to wake up, she’ll need to remove 11 of the these cubes from her various Sloth tracks and place them in the spaces of her Wakefulness track. One of these Sloth tracks accounts for digested goblins (Hunger). For every two goblins the Dragon digests, she can remove a Sloth cube from this track and add it to her Wakefulness track. In order to track the amount of goblins eaten, there is also an Eaten Goblin track. At the beginning of the game, the Eaten Goblins cube is placed on the “0” space of this track.

During the game, the Dragon player will be able to play Power cards from her hand that contain various symbols on them. She can use these symbols in order to perform certain actions, listed on her player board. At the beginning of the game, these Power cards are shuffled into a draw deck and then she draws 3 of them. The Dragon also starts with 5 health, listed on a track on her player board.

 

 

 

Dragon Gameplay:

After the Goblin player has resolved his turn, the Dragon player is next in turn order. On her first turn of the game, she’ll place her Dragon pawn on the same space as the Knight’s current tile. While the Dragon is attempting to wake up from her slumber, she is considered underground. She won’t be allowed to surface until she’s fully awake. Therefore, even though the Dragon and Knight are on the same space, the Dragon is considered to be in the caverns directly below the Knight. The main phase of the Dragon’s turn consist of moving and using her powers. Then depending on the tile the Dragon ends her turn on, she can pick up a Treasure located there and/or place one of her Dragon Gems there.

 

 

A.) Movement and Powers:

While some of the Dragon’s powers (actions) allow her to move, the Dragon can always move 1-2 spaces in a straight line on her turn, without the use of her powers. This movement can be done before or after using her powers and the Dragon is allowed to move to and from dark tiles, as well as between tiles with walls, since technically she’s underground.

While the Dragon begins her first turn with 3 Power cards, the amount of Power cards she’ll have in hand on future turns is determined by her current Spirit level. As you can see, each set of Sloth cubes placed on her Wakefulness track can possibly increase her Spirit level, along with her Armor level. If you’ll remember, the Knight can not attack the Dragon if her armor is less than the Knight’s strength, and the Knight must roll the Dragon die if they are equal.

Each Power card contains either a Claw, a Flame, or a Wing. These cards can be spent in order to perform the various actions listed on the Dragon’s player board. For instance, playing a Wing allows the Dragon to perform another movement of 1-2 spaces in a straight line, while playing 2 Claws allows the Dragon to perform a “Hiss”. The Hiss action forces a revealed goblin tribe in the cave to hide (they are placed back on the Goblin’s player board), and lose 1 population of which the Dragon eats. Because the Dragon has eaten a goblin, she will increase the cube on the Eaten Goblins track. Once she’s eaten enough Goblins, she can start to remove Sloth cubes from her Hunger track (digesting the goblins) and add these cubes to her Wakefulness track.

There are three different types of Sloth tracks; Greed, Hunger, and Pride. The Dragon can remove 1 cube from each of these track types, once per turn. She can remove a cube from the Greed track by gathering a Treasure. After the Dragon has ended her movement and resolved her powers, if she’s on a tile with a Treasure, she can collect it. Her love of gold and her surrounding treasure troves begins to perk her up a bit, like a warm cup of Folgers. She can remove a cube from the Greed track by digesting 2 Goblins that she’s previously eaten. She’ll need to decrease the cube on her Eaten Goblins track by 2 in order to remove this Hunger cube. Finally her Pride track has a couple different ways in which she can remove a Sloth cube. She can either reveal an Event tile, place a Dragon Gem out on the board while there’s already another one in the cave, or choose not to move at all during her turn.

Let’s take a look at a few of her powers. Spending a Flame icon will allow her to perform a Flame action (seen left). She will roll her Dragon die, and the highlighted spaces on the result will show which spaces on the map are affected (with her current location representing the center of the die). If a highlighted space matches a space on the board with a dark tile, these tiles are revealed. This power can help the Dragon remove a Sloth cube from her Pride track, but can also help her find more of her treasure if the revealed tiles contain Treasure icons. She can also perform Scorch by spending 2 Flame icons. Scorch (seen center) will allow her to reveal all 8 surrounding dark tiles to her current location (no die needed). Burn (seen right) will allow her to reveal any one dark tile of her choosing in the cave. She must be careful however. Using Flame, Scorch, or Burn allows the cave to grow faster, thus allowing the collapse to occur sooner as well.

Spending a Claw icon will allow the Dragon to perform a Claw attack (seen left). She will roll the Dragon die to determine which tiles are affected. If it affects the Knight, the Dragon can move the Knight to an adjacent space. If it affects the Thief, he’s immediately killed (hilarious). If it affects a Goblin tribe, the tribe scatters and the Dragon eats the number of population that was lost from the scatter. Scratch (seen right) on the other hand is a bit more powerful. In order to perform a Scratch attack, the Dragon will need to be on the same tile as the character. If it’s the Knight, the Knight loses 5 grit. If it’s the Thief, the Thief is immediately killed (it never gets old). And if it is a Goblin tribe, the tribe is completely demolished and all goblins of that revealed tribe are eaten. The tribe’s pawn is returned to the player board with a 0 population.

Sometimes the Dragon player may find that one of her Sloth tracks has run out of cubes, In this case, the Dragon can perform a Slither action by playing Power cards with a Claw and a Flame. This allows her to remove a Sloth cube from one track type and place it on an empty space of another track type. For instance, if she had eaten 2 Goblins on a previous turn, but had no more Sloth cubes on her Hunger track, she could use Slither to remove a cube from her Pride track to place there. Then she could decrease her Eaten Goblins cube by 2 in order to remove the Sloth cube from the Hunger track, adding it on her Wakefulness track. These are just a few examples of the many powers available to the Dragon when using her Power cards.

Once the Dragon has placed 11 Sloth cubes onto her Wakefulness track, she is considered awake. But though she’s awake, she’ll still need to surface the caverns below before being able to exit the cave through the Cave Entrance tile. In order to surface, the Dragon will need to find a tile containing a Crystal icon and end her turn on it. She’ll then replace the Sleeping Dragon pawn with the Surfaced Dragon pawn and is now considered surfaced. If she can move onto the Cave Entrance tile while surfaced before the Knight kills her or the cave collapses, she wins the game.

 

 

B.) Treasure and Dragon Gems:

I’ve already discussed collecting a Treasure token on a tile that the Dragon ends her turn on. But the Dragon also has a set of Dragon Gems that she can place, at the end of her turn, on that tile as well. Each Dragon Gem represents one of the three icons on her Power cards (claw, flame, and wing). If at the beginning of her turn, any of these Dragon Gems remain in the cave, she can use the icon on them when performing her Power actions. She’ll simply flip the gem over to show that she’s used that icon (or icons if there are multiple gems), then flip them back once her turn is over. Many of the other characters have ways to remove these gems from the cave on their turn, which are then returned to the Dragon player.

 

 

C.) Spirit:

At the end of her turn, the Dragon will discard any remaining Power cards in her hand, then check her current Wakefulness track. Her current level of Wakefulness is adjacent to the highest numbered space that’s been covered by a Sloth cube.

So for instance, if the Dragon player had added 7 Sloth cubes to her Wakefulness track, her current Armor would be 2 and her current Spirit would be at 5. This means that she would draw a total of 5 Power cards back into her hand. She always does this as the last step of her turn, as some of the other character’s effects may cause her to discard Power cards from her hand before her next turn.

 

 

 

 

IV. The Cave

Rumors have spread that while the slumbering Dragon and native Goblin tribes within are to be feared, the cave itself has become alive itself (in a somewhat unhealthy way). Unexplainable events have been linked to a sense that the cave may have tired of housing such commotions. The Cave player’s goal is to place all of the Cave tiles onto the board, then begin removing tiles from the board causing the cave to quickly collapse. Once the Cave player has removed 5 tiles containing crystals, the cave collapses on all of the characters within, and the Cave player wins.

The Cave player will need to shape the cave in a way that’s not only advantageous to him, but also in a way that protects all other players from each other. In a way, the cave helps to provide a false sense of security. The Cave player will want to protect the Knight from being killed by the Goblins, the Dragon from being killed by the Knight, keep the Dragon from escaping, and the Thief from stashing enough treasure and gems to win. Keeping these from happening extends the game, and extending the game is what allows the Cave to succeed, eventually smashing down on everyone. Because of this, players don’t have time to linger around. They need to complete their goal in an efficient and reasonable amount of time, or the Cave will collapse.

Setup for the Cave player is fairly minimal, as most of his gameplay is spent placing tiles out as the game moves along. As previously mentioned, the initial four tiles are placed around the Cave Entrance tile, then the Cave player will shuffle in the tiles containing crystals and vaults in order to create his draw stack. The Cave player starts the game by drawing 3 tiles into his hand and receives a cloth bag containing a number of Omen tokens. During his turn, the Cave will draw a number of these tokens depending on how many Treasures and Crystals are present in the Cave. The only way for players to minimize the Cave’s omens is to attempt to remove these Treasures and Crystals from the cave. In a 5-player game, 12 Treasures are placed on the Cave’s player board at the beginning of the game, along with the Crystal tokens.

The Cave player will be in charge of dealing Treasure cards and Event cards to the Knight, when the Knight encounters these items. At the beginning of the game, he’ll shuffle these card decks and place them near his player board. All remaining Rockslide and Event tokens are placed near his game board as well.

 

 

 

The Cave Gameplay:

As mentioned before, there are many times that the Cave player will act when it’s not his current turn. Mainly this occurs during the Knight’s turn, when the Knight reveals new tiles, or encounters an Event or Treasure. However, other effects such as the Dragon’s Flame action, or the Goblin’s Explore action can reveal new tiles in the cave. When placing tiles from his hand during other player’s turns, the Cave can place any tile from his hand. When placing tiles during his own turn, the Cave must always place a tile containing a crystal, if he has one. This helps to make sure that he’s not sandbagging crystal tiles until the very end of the game (which can assist in collapsing the cave more quickly). If he has to place multiple tiles, he’ll place a tile, draw a new tile, then place another tile.

After the Dragon has resolved his turn, the Cave player is next in turn order. The Cave is probably the most straightforward of all roles as far as gameplay mechanics are concerned, however the Cave player needs to understand all of the roles and what they can do in order to be successful. The first thing the Cave will do on his turn is draw a number of Omen tokens from the bag. Omens are used as currency in order for the Cave to perform the various actions on his player board. These tokens are drawn in the following way:

 

 

– If there are no Treasures or Crystals in the cave, the Cave player draws 1 Omen token.
– If there’s only 1 Treasure or Crystal in the cave, the Cave player draws 2 Omen tokens.
– If there are 2-3 Treasures and Crystals in the cave, the Cave player draws 3 Omen tokens.
– If there are 4-6 Treasures and Crystals in the cave, the Cave player draws 4 Omen tokens.
– If there are 7-10 Treasures and Crystals in the cave, the Cave player draws 5 Omen tokens.
– If there are 11 or more Treasures and Crystals in the cave, the Cave player draws 6 Omen tokens.

 

These Omens are collected by the Cave and can be used to perform actions on the Cave player’s turn. Each action on the Cave’s player board list the types of Omens that can be turned in to perform that action. The same action can be performed multiple times on the Cave’s turn as long as the Cave has the Omens to pay for it. When Omens are spent, they are placed back into the cloth bag. The Cave player is allowed to keep any Omen tokens he didn’t spend for use on future turns. Let’s take a look at each of the six actions available to the Cave player, and what they entail:

 

 

– Giant Bats: By spending one of the listed Omens, the player can target a Treasure token, the Knight, or a Goblin tribe and move it 3 spaces in the cave. In this way, the Cave can protect its Treasures so that he can draw more Omen tokens in future turns and help to protect the Knight from being killed by the Goblins by distancing them in the cave. Of course, “protecting” the Knight is a fancy term for “prolonging her death by smashing rocks”.

– Rockslide: By spending two of the listed Omens (the player is allowed to spend two of the same Omen if he wishes), the Cave can create a rockslide by placing one of his Rockslide tokens between two accessible lit tiles in the cave. This essentially creates a wall that characters can not move through by normal means. This can help to block characters from attacking each other, as well as from collecting Treasures and smashing Crystals. It can also impede the Dragon from escaping the Cave through an easier route.

– Past Plunder: Performing the Past Plunder action will cost more, the more times it’s used during a single turn. The first time it’s used, only 1 Omen is required. The second time it’s used, 2 Omens must be spent, and the third time requires 3 Omens. By performing this action, the Cave player can place a Treasure token on a dark tile that does not contain another character or Treasure token. As Treasure tokens help the Cave in drawing more Omens each turn, this can help him get additional Treasures out in the cave. Of course, placement of these Treasures are key. Placing them near a sleeping Dragon, the Knight, or the Thief could help these players attain their goals more quickly.

 

 

– Soporific Spores: By spending three of the Omens listed, the Cave can essentially attack a character with exploding poison mushrooms. The effect is different depending on which character in the cave he chooses to target. If he targets the Knight, she loses 5 grit. If he targets a revealed Goblin tribe, its population is reduced by 1. If he targets the Dragon, she is forced to remove one of the collected Sloth cubes on her Wakefulness track and return it back to one of her Sloth tracks. If he targets the Thief, he loses one of his upgrades (I’ll explain more about how the Thief’s upgrade system works in a bit). Although the most expensive action, Soporific Spores is usually the best way to control a character that is nearing his/her win condition.

– Hatred: Hatred is probably one of the most used actions amongst those available to the Cave, and its cost works similar to Past Plunder, in which the cost increases each time it’s performed on a turn. When Omens are spent to perform Hatred, the Cave will place a new tile on the board. Remember, that when the Cave places a tile during his turn, he must place a tile containing a Crystal, if he has one in hand. If the Cave player has no tiles to place (meaning that the cave has started to collapse), he’ll remove a tile when performing Hatred instead.

– Crystal Curse: By spending one of the listed Omens, the Cave can perform the Crystal Curse action, which gives him a few options to choose from. He can either rotate a lit tile to face a different direction. He can place one of his Event tokens on a tile containing an Event icon, if there’s not one there. Or he can move the top 3 cards from the Event deck to the bottom of the deck. In a way, this action is a jack-of-all-trades. The significance of the result from the action is fairly situational, but performing one of these three actions at the right time could be crucial.

For instance, the Cave player could spend 1 Omen to perform a Crystal Curse to re-orientate a tile that the surfaced Dragon is on, in order to make it so that there’s a wall between her and the exit. This saves him from needing to spend 2 Omens for a Rockslide that would have the same result. Alternatively, since the Cave player can always view the top 3 cards of his Event deck at any time, he may see that the next set of Events to choose from could be too helpful to the Knight (or harmful). Therefore, using this action to filter the Event deck could assist in his goal of extending the game.

Once the Cave has performed all the actions he chooses to do, the last two steps he’ll perform is to place a tile in the cave, and then place a Treasure. No matter what actions he performs, even if they include Hatred (place a tile) and/or Past Plunder (place a treasure), he’ll always end his turn by placing a tile, then a Treasure. Once all Cave tiles have been placed on the board, the collapse of the cave will begin on the Cave player’s next turn. When the cave starts to collapse, the Cave player will perform his actions as normal, but when he takes the Hatred action, instead of placing a tile, he’ll remove a tile from the cave. Then, at the end of his turn, he’ll remove 3 tiles from the cave.

When removing tiles, the Cave must adhere to a few rules. The Cave player must remove any tiles that are adjacent to other tiles by only one edge, first. Then he can begin removing tiles that are adjacent on two edges, and so on. If the Cave player has multiple options to choose from, and one of those options is to remove a lit tile with a Crystal icon, he must remove that one as a priority. Once the Cave has removed 5 tiles containing Crystal icons, the cave collapses on everyone and he wins the game.

The Cave player can always look at dark tiles to remember where he’s placed certain tiles. It’s important for the Cave player to place tiles in a way which will be most advantageous to him during the collapse. For instance, having 3 or so tiles containing Crystals at the outskirts of the map with only 1 connecting edge will mean that he’ll be able to remove these quickly once the collapse begins.

 

 

 

 

V. The Thief

I refer to the Thief as Bill Murray. Bill Murray has unfortunately been bedeviled with an undying curse by an evil warlock, who lives near the entrance of the cave. This particular warlock desires the Dragon’s treasure and gems over all. He’ll only break the curse when Bill Murray delivers the Dragon’s treasure trove within, to him. Whenever Bill Murray is killed while on his quest, he’ll reappear at the cave entrance, just like brand new the next day. But unfortunately, without any of the goods he was carrying. If Bill Murray is able to collect a combination of 6 Treasures and Dragon Gems, and stash them away at the cave entrance for the warlock, his curse is broken and he wins the game.

Setup for the Thief is pretty basic, as most of his components will be used during his turn. At the beginning of the game, the Thief player receives a set of Action cubes and an Action die, along with a set of Vault tokens, numbered Stat tokens, and a Loot Drop token. The only token placed on his player board at the start of the game is the Loot Drop token, which is placed on the 3rd space of his Loot Drop level track. All other tokens and his pawn are placed nearby.

 

 

 

Thief Gameplay:

Most of the Thief’s mechanics are revolved around stealth maneuvers and actions. The Thief has the ability to attack the Knight, Goblin tribes, and the Dragon, however he’ll most likely want to keep himself hidden and away from everyone else. This is mainly due to the fact that the Thief is void of a health meter altogether. In fact, any time that the Thief is attacked for damage, he’s immediately killed and loses any Treasure or Dragon Gems he was carrying at the time (luckily, any Treasures or Dragon Gems he’s stashed are not lost). The left side of the Thief’s player board consist of three different statistics; movement, stealth, and thievery. At the beginning of his turn, the Thief will place one of his Stat tokens in each of the three statistics. The amount placed in Movement equals the number of spaces he can move on his turn. The number placed in Stealth represents how well the other characters can see him (using their Perception stat). And the number placed in Thievery represents the number of actions he’ll be able to perform on his turn.

For instance, at the beginning of his turn, Bill has placed the #4 Stat token on his Movement, the #2 token on his Stealth, and the #3 token on his Thievery. This means that he’ll be able to move up to 4 spaces on his turn, his stealth amount is 2, and he’ll receive 3 Action cubes to use for actions on his turn. As Bill acquires upgrades during the game, the amount on each of these Stat tokens can increase.

 

 

Movement & Actions:

On his 1st turn of the game, the Thief starts on the Cave Entrance tile. On his turn, he can spend his movement and actions points in any order he wishes, and is allowed to move onto and off of dark and lit tiles. He can’t move through a tile edge containing a wall, however he does have an action that will allow him to climb over it. Once the Thief has ended his movement, if he’s on a dark tile he can secretly look at it and choose to reveal it if he desires. This can be beneficial if the tile contains a Vault or a Treasure, as the Thief can still perform actions on these tiles before ending his turn (if he still has Action cubes available).

For instance, Bill has ended his movement on the dark tile seen above. He secretly takes a look at it and discovers that it contains a Treasure icon, therefore he reveals it. Since there is an open edge, the Cave player will immediately add a dark tile to the map, and a Treasure token to the revealed tile.

 

Bill still has 2 unused Action cubes. By spending 1 cube, he can pick up the Treasure, placing it on the Unstashed space of his player board. Each Treasure and/or Dragon Gem being carried by Bill reduces his Stealth level by 1. Since he has no more movement, but still has 1 Action cube, Bill decides to use it to lower his Loot Drop level by 1. If Bill were to be killed by another player, they would receive a number of rewards based on his current Loot Drop level. So lowering this makes killing him less desirable.

 

When the Thief is killed by the Knight, the Knight earns an amount of grit equal to the Thief’s current Loot Drop level. So for instance, if his level was 2, the Knight would earn 2 grit. When the Thief is killed by a Goblin tribe, the Goblin tribe can either draw a number of Secret cards or increase their Rage amount, equal to the Thief’s Loot Drop level. When the Thief is killed by the Dragon, the Dragon can draw a number of Power cards equal to the Thief’s Loot Drop level. Note that the Knight and Goblin tribes can only attack the Thief if their perception stat is higher than the Thief’s stealth. The Dragon can always attack the Thief, as nothing gets past a Dragon.

When the Thief is killed, he’ll drop all unstashed Treasures and Dragon Gems on the tile and return his pawn to the player board. On his next turn, he’ll begin on the Cave Entrance tile again. The Treasures and gems will remain on the old tile until either he or someone else goes there to collect them.

When performing actions, many actions require multiple Action cubes to perform. Others may allow the Thief to pay extra cubes in order to have a better result from the action. When stashing Treasure at the Cave Entrance, the Thief will place these Treasure tokens on one of the action spaces on his board and reset his Loot Drop level to 3. This allows an action to be upgraded, by placing the Treasure token on one of the upgrade boxes on his player board. The Thief can also upgrade his Stat tokens in this way. If the Thief stashes a Dragon Gem, the gem token itself is returned to the Dragon player, but the Cave player will give the Thief one of his Treasure tokens as a replacement to be placed on his board. The Cave’s Soporific Spores omen allows the Cave to remove one of these upgrades, however the Treasure token is still kept by the Thief as part of his winning condition, it’s just removed from his player board. Let’s take a look at each action available to the Thief, how they can be used, and the possible upgrade for each:

 

 

– Loot: For 1 Action cube, the Thief can collect 1 Treasure token or Dragon Gem from the tile he’s on. If it’s a Dragon Gem, he’ll need to roll the Dragon die. If the roll results in a highlighted center-square, the Dragon Gem explodes and the Thief immediately dies. The Thief can instead choose to spend 2 Action cubes to collect a Dragon Gem, free of possible explosion.

– Climb: For 2 Action cubes, the Thief can climb a wall. This action does not count as an extra movement. So simply moving from one tile to another (spending 2 Action cubes to climb the wall in between) still only counts as one movement point. By placing a stashed Treasure on the upgrade space of Climb area, the Thief has upgraded to Climbing Gear. This allows him to climb a wall for 1 cube instead of 2.

– Pickpocket: In order to use the pickpocket ability on another character, the Thief must be on the same space as that character, and his Stealth stat must be higher than their Perception (Knight or Goblin tribe) or Armor (Dragon). The number of cubes spent during a pickpocket will increase the chance of its success. If only 1 cube is used, the Thief rolls his Action die and succeeds on a result of 4+. If 2 cubes are used, the Action die is rolled and succeeds on a result of 2+. If 3 cubes are used, the pickpocket is an automatic success.

Successfully pickpocketing gains you a Treasure, but it also affects the other character directly. When the Knight is pickpocketed, the Thief can remove a Treasure card from her and place it back on the bottom of the draw deck. When a Goblin tribe is pickpocketed, the Thief can remove one of their Secret cards. If the Dragon is pickpocketed, the Dragon must remove a Sloth cube from its Wakefulness track and place it back on her Greed track (one of her listed Sloth tracks). If the Pickpocket action is upgraded, the Thief gains “Sticky Fingers”. This allows him a free reroll of the Action die when taking a Pickpocket action.

 

 

– Backstab: Rather than pickpocketing a character on his space, the Thief can attack them with his dagger by performing a Backstab. The same rules apply as far as the Thief needing a higher amount of Stealth than the other character’s Perception/Armor to perform it. However, note that if the Thief pickpockets a character, he can’t also backstab them on the same turn (and vice versa). The amount of damage a backstab does is equal to the number of Action cubes spent, and the effect is dependent on the character being backstabbed. For instance, when performing a backstab on the Knight, the Knight will lose 1, 2, or 3 grit depending on how many action cubes were spent. The Goblin tribe will lose 1, 2, or 3 population. And the Dragon will discard 1, 2, or 3 Power cards from her hand. If the Backstab ability is upgraded, the Thief acquires a “Hand Crossbow”. He can use this bow when performing a Backstab action to attack a character from 3 spaces away.

For instance, Bill is currently on the same space as the Knight. His current Stealth is 3, while the Knight’s Perception is at 2. This means he’s hidden. By spending 2 Action cubes, Bill performs a Backstab which causes the Knight to lose 2 grit. When lowering her grit by 2, her grit level decreases from 27 to 25. Since it was moved back over one of the preset grit spaces, she has to return one of her Hero cubes back to this space of the track. In order to get it back, she’ll need to gain 1 more grit.

 

 

 

– Pick a Lock: When a cave tile is revealed containing a Vault icon, a Vault token is placed on the tile. Vaults can only be used by the Thief, and the Thief can attempt to open each vault once per turn. When attempting to open a vault, the Thief will roll a die to determine his success.

By spending 1 Action cube, a result of 4+ is a success. Spending 2 Action cubes will result in a roll of 2+ being a success. If the Thief spends 3 cubes, he automatically succeeds in opening the vault. Once opened, the Vault token is removed from the tile and the Cave player will award a Treasure token to the Thief from his supply. By upgrading this action, the Thief will be able to use his “Lock Picking Kit”. This allows him to spend 1 less Action cube when attempting to open a vault.

 

– Hide Loot: As mentioned before, the Thief can spend any number of Action cubes in order to decrease his Loot Drop level by 1 for each cube spent. This can help keep other characters from earning great rewards from killing you, thus making you less attractive to spend their time on. The Thief can stash a Treasure token to upgrade to “Unnatural Evasion”. Once this is unlocked, anytime the Thief is attacked on another player’s turn, he can roll his Action die. One a result of 4+, Bill will evade the attack and can immediately move 1 space.

 

 

Stat Upgrades:

While stashed Treasure can be used to upgrade certain actions, the Thief can also choose to upgrade his Stats. This can be done in two different ways. First, the Thief can choose to boost the three different stats with a permanent +1 by placing a stashed Treasure in the box next to the stat. So if he upgraded his Stealth stat, whenever he placed the #3 Stat token on Stealth, his Stealth would be 4 instead.

The Thief can upgrade his individual Stat tokens as well. Both the #2 and #3 Stat tokens have an increased number on their alternate side. When he stashes a Treasure in the leftmost box, he’ll flip the #2 token, which now converts to a #3. When he stashes a Treasure in the middle box, he’ll flip the #3 token, which now converts to a 4. Finally, by stashing a Treasure in all 3 boxes, all Stat tokens are now considered 4’s. Therefore, for the rest of the game, the Thief will have 4 movement, 4 points of Stealth, and 4 Action cubes to use each turn (potentially 5 points in each of these if he also has the +1 upgrades).

 

 

 

End-Game Conditions:

The game ends as soon as one of the following events occur:

 

– The Knight kills the Dragon (the Knight wins).
– The Goblins kill the Knight (the Goblins win).
– The Dragon escapes the Cave (the Dragon wins).
– The Cave removes 5 tiles containing crystals, thus collapsing (the Cave wins).
– The Thief stashes his 6th Treasure/Dragon Gem (the Thief wins).

 

 

 

Thoughts:

Vast: the Crystal Caverns is quite an impressive undertaking. The amount of balance and play-testing that must have gone into designing the game is something to be commended. Crafting both sides of a two-player asymmetrical game so that they integrate well with one another is hard enough. Doing so with five completely different roles and gameplay mechanics is exemplary. Even more, the game includes over 20+ variations in which the game can be played between 1-5 players. And each of these role combinations have unique tweaks to the rule-set that are included in the design of the game. Many of the cards tell you what happens if a particular character isn’t being used in your session of the game, and what to do in that situation. There’s also a set of Difficulty cards for each role that players can use to help balance the game between more experienced players and less experienced ones. Teaching the game to all new people who haven’t played Vast before? Use the hard or expert mode on yourself while letting them play on an easier mode.

All of this aside, the most captivating element of Vast is the unique mechanics that each role provides. This not only helps to interest a wide range of gamers, but also gives the game some legs as far as replayability is concerned. If you’ve tired of the card-driven gameplay of the Goblins, switch to the resource management style of the Dragon, or focus on tile-laying and managing the livelihood (and ultimate communal death) of the other characters, with the role of the Cave. While it may seem as if Vast is a massive combative game in which every player is out for themselves and their own goal, the game can be quite cooperative at times. Every role can, in some way, restrict to the goal of another role. Therefore if there seems that a player is close to achieving their victory condition, you’ll find that the opponents start to work together to make sure that doesn’t happen. In a way, this helps the game self-regulate and balance itself as the session plays out.

It’s quite clever how the gameplay mechanics of each role help to invoke the theme revolved around playing that character. The Knight is an adventurer and dungeon-delver, therefore with her there’s a lot of focus on exploring and encountering. The native Goblin tribes hide in the shadows, attempting to position themselves at the right time to attack the Knight efficiently. Therefore their mechanics revolve around managing their given cards and resources amongst the 3 different tribes, and planning when to reveal themselves and when to hold back. The Dragon’s attempting to wake up and escape before he can be killed or before the cave collapses. Therefore he’s not able to do too much at the beginning of the game, but as time moves on, he becomes more powerful, drawing more Power cards each turn, increasing his Armor, and ultimately becomes a destructive force when he surfaces. The Cave is attempting to expand the cave as fast as he can so that he can collapse on everyone. His mechanics are focused on being an annoyance to everyone, but not to the point that he’ll allowed them to be killed by another player, or let them complete their goal. His job is to place tiles in a way that are most advantageous to himself, so that when the cave collapses, he can end it quickly. And finally, there’s Billy Murray, the Thief. Bill wants nothing more than for everyone else to leave him alone and let him gather the treasures he needs to win. Therefore his gameplay is focused on hiding, staying out of the way for the most part, moving through the cave in ways that most characters can’t. Stashing treasures quickly and quietly.

As you may notice though, one obstacle with the game can be its ease of entry. Because all of the roles act in a way to counteract each other, and because gameplay varies so much between roles, Vast is not a game you’re going to master in a few plays. I’d even go so far as to say you truly won’t master its elegance and various strategies until you’ve become comfortable with playing each role. Knowing all the options available to a particular role is the best way to counteract its goal when playing as a different role. Knowing what options are available to you for countering each other role is just as important. This all comes with multiple plays, but the game can be so rewarding when everyone has had experience with it.

The production quality is also notable. Kyle Ferrin’s artwork is so wonderful to explore, and I’m always impressed with games that include unique artwork for each and every card and component. But for those than don’t prefer the pawns and stands, the game also includes wooden components for each of the characters that you can switch out. The 2nd edition for Vast will be on pre-order soon and includes some upgrades including an acrylic Dragon die, higher quality linen finish cardstock, and more streamlined rules and player boards for each role. But even if you’re able to find the 1st edition, it’s apparent that a lot of thought went into the quality of the game, the artwork, and its overall thematic detail.

It’s incredible that players can sit around a table and in a way, play the same game five different ways. Yet all of these ways work to balance and counteract the gameplay and goals of the other players. Vast: the Crystal Caverns is unlike anything your likely to experience in board gaming. As far as asymmetrical gameplay is concerned, I can’t think of any other game currently on the market that comes close to being able to provide what this game does. And it looks like the design team behind this game aren’t done. According to designer Patrick Leder, he’d be interested in developing Vast into a series of games. Possibly placing different themes with a set of new, unique roles. Either way, this initial release into the Vast series is an incredible experience.

 

 

Preorders will begin soon for the 2nd edition of Vast: The Crystal Caverns at Ledergames.com.

 

And if you’re near the Wilmington, NC area, feel free to check this game out and more at our community’s FLGS, Cape Fear Games.

 

 

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