Solo Buzz: Vast – The Crystal Caverns

Lately, I’ve been trying out some of my soloable games that I haven’t really tried out before. I haven’t really gotten an opportunity to play my copy of Vast: The Crystal Caverns since I got it, but in the absence of having several players to play with me, I pulled it out recently, and tried the solo variants for each of the five roles in the game (well, not the Cave – you can’t play that one solo). I wanted to go over some of my thoughts a bit here.

image by BGG user GreenM

I’m not going to go in great detail about the rules of Vast – you can check out the overview I did back in 2016 when the game first came out. In general, Vast is an asymmetric dungeon crawl game where each role has its own play style and victory condition. The Knight is trying to kill the Dragon. The Goblins are trying to kill the Knight. The Dragon is trying to escape. The Thief is trying to get all the loot. And the Cave is trying to kill everyone.

For solo play, some roles take on an alternate victory condition, and everything has some changes in how they play.

 

image from Clay Capra’s Mindful Games Blog

In the main game of Vast, the Knight is trying to find and slay the Dragon. But when the Dragon is not in the game, as with solo play, the Knight’s goal instead is to smash five crystals. The way you play the Knight is that you have some action cubes to assign to different stats, such as Movement, Perception, and Strength. There are also some specialized actions to assign cubes to, and you may get new equipment as the game progresses that requires an action cube to use. You begin the game with two cubes, and get more as you gain Grit, which is basically experience points. So you move around the map, revealing dark tiles, and trying to find those crystals (there are a total of nine possible mixed into all map tiles).

In the main game, the Cave adds tiles to the map, but this has to be controlled by an AI mechanism in solo play. In the case of the Knight, you add tiles either equal to the number of revealed Crystal tiles, or equal to the number of action cubes you have access to. There’s also an AI for Goblin ambushes, which are periodically revealed when you reveal a dark tile – you simply have to have enough strength to defeat them based on the level of difficulty you choose. If you win, nothing happens. If you lose, you lose a health. If you tie, you have to roll the Dragon die to determine if you win or lose. If you run out of health, or the cave collapses (five crystal tiles are removed after all tiles have been placed on the map), you lose. But, if you smash five crystals and escape.

I’m not super crazy about this solo variant. It’s basically just wandering around looking for crystals, and I don’t really feel any stakes to what I’m doing. It’s pretty easy to level up quickly, especially since many of the treasures are worthless to you in a solo game, and discarding them gets you five Grit. Difficulty increase the strength of attacking Goblins, but all this really means is you have to dedicate more cubes to strength each turn. There’s a bit of push-your-luck if you really need to dedicate cubes to other things, but overall, it mostly feels like wandering and hoping you stumble on those crystals (which, by the way, you need three Strength to smash).

image from the rules

The Goblins have a goal to kill the Knight, but in the Knight’s absence, their goal is the same as the Knight’s – smash five crystals (though you do not have to escape). The Goblins have three factions – Bone, Fang, and Eye. At the start of each round, you draw a War card that populates each tribe, and possibly adds Monsters and Secrets (though Secrets are pretty useless in a solo game). Then each tribe can do an action. At first, that action is just to reveal on the board, but there are more options if a tribe was already revealed at the start of a round – attack a crystal, plunder a treasure to increase your Rage, explore by adding a new tile, or hide to get a tribe off the board and maybe pop up somewhere else later. Tiles are added at the end of the round based on the number of revealed crystals or the population of the largest tribe (these can’t get bigger than 4 – overpopulation causes them to scatter).

Goblins can move as much as they want, but moving through two lit tiles loses one population every time. And Goblins can’t naturally reveal tiles, so a variant is introduced in this solo game called the flare that each tribe can use. This involves choosing a space and rolling the dragon die to determine which dark tiles get revealed. Two Goblin tribes of strength 3+ are required to smash a crystal, and smashing causes them to scatter. If the cave collapses before five crystals are smashed, the Goblins lose, but they win by smashing five crystals.

I really like this variant. The Goblins are constantly moving on and off the board due to the various ways they scatter, and there’s a lot of strategy in determining how you want to place them so they can do the most damage. There is a lot of luck to be sure, but I really like how the Goblins interact with things. As opposed to the Knight, who just seemed liked she was just cruising through and smashing things, this feels like there are some bigger stakes involved. I don’t know exactly why the Goblins are smashing crystals, but getting them in position can be complicated.

image from More Games Please

Unlike the Goblins and the Knight, the Dragon’s solo objective is the same as in the main game – wake up and escape. The Dragon has a wakefulness track that must be filled with sloth cubes. These are acquired by doing different tasks – plundering treasure, revealing an event tile, placing a dragon gem while others are on the map, not moving for the turn, or eating Goblins (although there are no Goblins in solo play). The Dragon plays by drawing power cards, which are then played to do various actions. Many of the actions affect other players, so you’ll mostly be concentrating on the ones that let you move, reveal tiles, and move sloth cubes to other actions (which is necessary to get access to those cubes you would normally get for eating Goblins).

Once the Dragon’s wakefulness hits a certain level (11), he wakes up. Then he has to end a turn on a crystal tile to surface. Then he has to make it to the entrance tile to escape before the cave collapses to win.

I’m kind of mixed on this one right now. Granted, I’ve only played it on easy mode, but it did seem a little too easy. The levels of difficulty give you a little bit of a head start, with cubes from your hunger track seeding the wakefulness track. You’re also fairly limited in the actions that are helpful. But I can definitely see it being more interesting with the higher difficulty levels. Also, you’re hunting for treasures and events rather than crystals, so it’s got some differences. I do want to play this one again at a greater difficulty.

image from the rules

The Thief also has the same objective as in the main game – collect and stash six treasure tokens. He has three stats (Movement, Stealth, and Thievery) that you assign numbers to at the start of your turn (2-4 at first). Then, you can start acting. Movement, of course, is how many spaces you can move. Thievery determines how many action cubes you can use. And Stealth helps you avoid attacks from other players, which is a dump stat in the solo game because there are no other players.

Anyway, you’ll move around. You can move into dark tiles, but have no action to reveal them. You can reveal them if you’ve ended your movement for the turn, or if you use the Flare, which also appeared in the Goblins game. Other actions you can use are to loot treasure, open a vault to get treasure, or move through a wall. There’s really nothing else – other possible actions for multiplayer include Pickpocket, Backstab, and Hide Loot, which is pointless in solo because there’s no way to die.

Once you have a Treasure token, you can carry it around with you, or move back to the entrance to stash it. Carrying it reduces your Stealth, but stashing it allows you to upgrade different actions or stats. Also, you need to stash six treasures before the cave collapses to win.

This was my least favorite solo variant. I thought the Knight had no stakes – this one was ridiculously easy to win. Part of that was that three treasure tiles happened to be adjacent to the entrance in the beginning, but part of it is that there’s no threat to you. In the main game, other players can attack you, and you can die (you also respawn a lot). Here, there’s nothing. It would have been nice if ambush tiles had Goblins come after you as in the Knight’s game, or anything other than just wandering around an empty dungeon picking up treasure. It was just boring. In the main game, the Thief serves as a really effective distraction to all the other players because, left unhindered, he will run away with the game. Here, he’s unhindered. And there’s no way to scale the difficulty. This one was just a disappointment.


So, what do I think of Vast as a solo game? Enh…Vast is a really great concept, and makes for a really fun asymmetric game with the different factions bouncing off of each other. With the solo experience, you lose that interaction, and having the characters play mostly like they do with other players is not great. There needs to be some kind of AI or automa created for the different characters to really make the solo game worth it.

That said, I wasn’t completely miserable playing the solo game. If anything, it was a good chance to get the game off the shelf and refamiliarize myself with the different roles. While I don’t particularly want to play the Knight or Thief solo again, I’d be happy to play the Goblins game, and do want to try the Dragon again at a tougher difficulty. I wish there was something for the Cave, which is my favorite role in the game, but there would have to be significant changes there since that one is pure interaction.

If nothing else, now I want to play Vast with other people again. But that’s it for today. Stay safe out there, and thanks for reading!

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