You’ve been invited to a Vast, (the) Mysterious Manor up on the hill outside of town! Your secretive, magical Uncle has passed away and his will is being read today. To your surprise each of those gathered has been given an odd task to perform to prove worthiness – and if you succeed in your task before anyone else you will be awarded the riches of the Mysterious Manor!
1-5 Players | 1-2 Hours | Designed by Patrick Leder
Vast: The Mysterious Manor is a sequel of sorts to Leder Games’ original publication, Vast: The Crystal Caverns. It is a highly asymmetric game (a ‘trademark’ of Leder now) that is fantastically illustrated by Kyle Ferrin. Originally published via a highly successful Kickstarter campaign which delivered late 2019, the game and expansion are now available at retail. One of the more interesting things about Vast: TMM is that even though it is a standalone game, you can (using provided instructions) mix content from this game with Vast: TCC to create even more unique experiences!
How does it work?
Vast: The Mysterious Manor is a highly asymmetric game that contains so many mechanics I can’t sum them up in a sentence or two. The shared features of all factions within the game are exploration of the house, and moving around it, but that’s about where it stops. I’ll give a quick summary of the roles and how they can win the game, but it’s helpful to keep in mind each role approaches the game with a totally unique win condition and set of actions at their disposal to fulfil that condition. The winner is whoever fulfils their condition first.
The Paladin has been tasked with pest control – they want to kill the Spider. The Paladin has a number of action cubes that can be assigned to spots on their board that allow them to move and ‘crusade’ (explore and attack). Early game they want to level up quickly by killing Poltergeists so they can become powerful enough to start taking out the Spider.
The Skeletons have been tasked with .. Paladin control – they want to kill the Paladin. Skeletons have multiple figures (they start with 2) that can each move and perform an action (gain gear, attack, etc). Each skeleton also has a unique ability that builds thoughout the game as they also acquire gear. Skeletons have strength in numbers so they seek to boost their numbers early and then go after the Paladin.
The Spider wants to become terrifying (gain 12 terror) and then leave the house (presumably to terrorise the local village). The Spider can take on three forms that each specialise in different things – laying eggs, swarming, and tending to eggs. Using their action cards the Spider player wants to set up a stronghold of webs to protect and tend to their eggs – when eggs hatch they boost terror levels.
The Manor just wants to be friends – seal everyone else inside for eternity. The Manor has the power to reveal, shift and swap the rooms of the house around. It is trying to arrange rooms in certain shapes to perform rituals that will increase its power and eventually lead to it sealing all the other players inside for a victory.
Finally, the Warlock wants a private collection of Poltergeists and treasure. The Warlock sneaks around the map quietly cursing treasure and Poltergeists. Once they reach certain thresholds they can claim pieces for themselves, further increasing their power. They also make use of interesting spell cards that increase their ability.
In a push-pull tug of war, players try to fulfil their goals whilst also keeping in check their competitors. when one player satisfies their goal they instantly win, so keeping an eye on other players is just as important as playing your own.
What do I think?
I’ve played Vast: TMM 5 times so far (with 3, 4 and 5 players). It might be worth noting I’ve never played it’s predecessor Vast: The Crystal Caverns so whatever I say here is not based on a contrast with that game. I did use the additional minis from The Haunted Hallways expansion for the games I played, but didn’t try the extra roles that come with the expansion yet.
The Good Stuff
- Vast: The Mysterious Manor once again gives us a thematic world that is really well brought together. Kyle Ferrin’s illustrations are matched with fantastic graphic design and theming that gives every part of the game character. It all comes together as extremely charming.
- A lot of thought has gone into streamlining player turns. Each player board is essentially a list of steps to perform on your turn, which you can move through, stopping to make decisions. The board gives pretty much all the info for how to perform your actions and detail what to do based on outcomes.
- While teaching may take a little while due to the amount of information that needs to be provided (each player needs to essentially be taught separately), with each faction being just one page of rules and well supported by player boards and aids, it’s not too onerous to do this. A group of seasoned gamers could probably jump into this game after each independently reviewing their faction information and the overview section of the rulebook. A tip I would have is that make sure everyone vocalises what they are doing while playing. It’s easy to lose track of how someone did some crazy thing, and it also helps when you play again and everyone is a different faction.
- Building on the above point, all the rules material (the rulebook, the faction boards and player aids) are all extremely well produced. Everything is succinctly communicated in a logical way, and it’s clear to see that a lot of effort went into both streamlining the game’s design as well as polishing the rules down to a fine edge.
- It’s great that the game provides varied roles that can allow a group to play and enjoy a game together even with varied preferences. Players who don’t enjoy conflict can take up the Manor or Warlock roles, and players who really like turtling can play as the Spider. The player aid sheets even include a brief summary of what each role is like to help with selecting at the beginning of the game (e.g. You would enjoy playing as The Manor if you like solving spatial puzzles).
- It feels really fun having everyone in the game doing a completely different thing, all trying to fulfil their own goal. You can get lost in your own world/strategy but very often you are yanked out when someone does something to disrupt your plans (maybe incidentally, maybe not) or you realise that you need to do something to hinder another player’s progress so you will have enough time to win yourself.
- The question of ‘who will take care of who’ in terms of hindering progress is very interesting and promotes a lot of table talk. In some cases a player may be able to show their palms and disavow themselves as they can do literally nothing to interfere, and often someone will need to be persuaded: ‘I know as the Spider it’s not your goal to kill the Skeletons but if you don’t stop them killing me they will win!’ (says the heavily wounded Paladin, whose explicit goal is to kill the Spider).
- The element of exploring and building the house is quite fun. I like how much players can influence the layout and configuration of the map.
- It’s fun to ‘surprise’ other players with niche special abilities. Thinking you are safe from the Paladin but then seeing him punch through 3 walls to get to you and attack is pretty crazy. Watching a group of Skeletons pop up all around you to co-ordinate an attack is also fun.
- The fact that you can be the actual Manor is something I find hilarious and really cool. What other game can boast that one player is the board itself? I think the Manor role is really clever in so many ways. The fact that they can so extensively reconfigure the board is really fun, especially because most of the time they are doing so for their own gain and screwing up everyone else’s plans is just collateral. I also love how they are required to dish out treasure and can also be heavily involved in hindering progress near the end of the game.
The Bad Stuff
- While Vast is pretty easy to set up and play, and additionally easy to know what they need to do on your turn via your board, there are so many edge cases that you can run into. Players are constantly wondering ‘can I do this’ and you need to look these things up fairly frequently in the rulebook. Often you can do things because nothing says you can’t, but it feels wrong (e.g. the Spider being able to go on dark tiles is not explicitly explained anywhere I could find), and this causes a lot of confusion. After a game or two this feeling wears off.
- While there are some ways to mitigate ‘map randomness’ it can have a pretty big effect on the game. For example in one game I played the Spider player was lucky enough to reveal 4-5 blood tiles within their first few turns, which significantly boosted their early game power and led to somewhat of a snowball victory.
- Whether your win objective is easy or hard can depend on the person you are ‘up against’, and their play style. This is more true for some roles than others, the Paladin and Skeletons each have a goal to kill another player. For example, it is possible that your target may play so conservatively in order to avoid you that they end up making either of you winning impossible.
- The game suffers with less than 5 players. I think 4 players still works well (omitting the Warlock) but the game truly shines at 5 players as everything is pushing and pulling equally against all players. I played the game a few times with just 3 players and while it was still fun it just wasn’t as tense and interesting as with 5.
- Players are very frequently inquiring into the abilities of others (e.g. “and what’s your defence right now?”). Because each faction works so differently in a first or second game players don’t have much incentive to learn how to determine information about another faction since they aren’t playing as them. It’s easy to ask and so this happens a lot, and it can really slow down the game.
- This is a small gripe but I’m not a fan of the shiny finish on the board and tiles. It feels ‘sticky’ to me – I much prefer the more standard matte+linen finish.
- When using the Haunted Hallways additional minis there can be some confusion over whether webs/chests are figures or tokens, so make sure to clarify that when you are playing!
- Information overload can really slow players down. For a new player it’s hard to know what you can safely ignore and what is important to you, especially regarding what other players are up to.
- I found the Warlock role a little bit weak in ‘fun’ factor. It’s a finely balanced and mechanically interesting role but the idea that you can’t really interact much with other players, get scared away all the time and are fighting a constant uphill battle to keep your curses on the board just didn’t really appeal to me.
- I know this is a thing that doesn’t make sense to say … but it irks me that not all the player boards are the same size. Like… I understand but also … I hate it.
I wasn’t sure if I would enjoy Vast: The Mysterious Manor, but after thinking the same thing about Root and being pleasantly surprised at how much fun I had being taken out of my comfort zone I thought I would give it a go. I am really impressed with how asymmetric the game really is. While Root was certainly asymmetric, the factions mostly shared some common mechanics, but this game each faction truly operates in a completely different manner. The fact that it can feel like you are playing a different game to the person who is sitting next to you is not only amazing, but it allows players to pick roles that they will have the most fun playing, and caters for diverse tastes. I’m excited to play it more in the future, and if you think it sounds like your sort of game, keep an eye out at your local game shop or you can get it on the Leder Games website.
The copy of Vast: The Mysterious Manor used for this review was provided to The Boardgame Detective by Leder Games