Game Review: Vast – The Crystal Caverns


A kingdom is being plagued by the looming threat of the dragon in the crystal cavern awakening and terrorizing the village. The special thing about this cavern is that it is filled with treasure, which has lured in many adventurers only never to be seen again. Many suspect that the dragon is responsible for these disappearances, but there are also many goblin tribes that call this cave home  that could be to blame. The situation has grown dire and is the perfect job for the kingdom’s bravest knight to go into the cave to slay the dragon and finally bring peace to the kingdom. Little does she know that her quest into the depths of the cave will awaken everything that slumbers in the shadows…

In Vast: The Crystal Caverns, players can take on the role of the Knight, Goblin tribes, Dragon, Thief, or Cave to see if they can complete their goal before other players!

Designer: Patrick Leder & David Somerville
Artist: Kyle Ferrin
Leder Games
Genre: Variable Player Powers
Players: 1-5
Play Time: 75 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 7 (1-Knight, 2-Knight vs Goblins, 1-Dragon vs Thief, 1-Dragon, 1-Goblins, 1-Goblins vs Dragon)

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Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview


Vast: The Crystal Caverns is an asymmetric dungeon-crawling game that allows players to take on one of the five roles competing to fulfill their win condition first. Each of the roles has its own set of rules, and plays differently than one another. The five roles and their win condition are:

  • Knight – Must slay the dragon
  • Goblin Tribes – Must kill the Knight
  • Dragon – Must awaken from a deep slumber and escape the cave
  • Thief – Must collect six treasures from within the cave and successfully escape the cave with all six treasures in stash
  • Cave – Must collapse the cave before any other player completes goal

At the beginning of the game, each player will receive a player board and components. The cave entrance tile is placed at the center of the table and dark tiles are placed on all four sides of the tile. Play will always proceed in the following order: Knight – Goblin – Dragon – Cave – Thief.

The cave will always have a different layout every game as players explore the cave and reveal new areas of it. Refer to the rule book’s variant section when playing with less than five players for additional rules that may be required for specific combinations of roles. The first player to achieve their goal will be the winner of the game!

Game Play

On a player’s turn, they will perform the actions for his/her specific role. The actions for each role is listed below:

The Knightimg_1681

The player who chooses the brave knight will be entering the cave with the goal of eliminating the dragon. She comes prepared with bombs, a bow, ancient map, and a shield to aid her in her quest. Once she eliminates the dragon, she must return back to the entrance of the cave to escape the collapsing cave.

The Knight’s turn includes two phases:

  1. Return any used hero cubes back to the unused pool: Hero cubes are used to activate items, abilities, or to increase attributes of his/her choice for the rest of the round. These cubes can be placed at anytime on the his/her turn, which allows the knight to react based on the tiles they encounter. The number of cubes that the knight has access to is based on grit.
  2. Move and act: Knight will move onto “dark” tiles (face down) and reveal them. As they reveal more tiles, dark tiles will be added for the knight to explore. There are five different types of tiles that can be revealed when the knight explores a tile:
    • Event: Cave player draws three event cards and chooses one for the Knight to encounter. If there is no Cave player, than the Knight draws the first card.
    • Ambush: A hidden goblin tribe strikes from the shadows!
    • Treasure Room:Loot! The tile spawns a treasure token that the knight can pick up.
    • Crystal:The prized possession. A crystal token is placed on the tile and can be smashed by the knight if their strength is three or higher.
    • Vault:This tile gets a vault token placed on it that will be required for the Thief’s win condition. If there is no thief then these tiles are removed from the game.

The Goblins


Three Goblin tribes call this cave home, and work to defend their home from new threats. If the Goblins kill the Knight, they will win the game. A tribe’s strength is based on their population, but they must be careful because if any of the tribes get too big, it’ll be too hard to control. The Goblin player must manage how they utilize each of their three tribes because each one has its own strengths and weaknesses. Goblin’s start off hidden in the cave and only come out onto the board when the “Reveal” action is taken.

img_1667The Goblin’s turn includes the following phases:

  1. Choose a War Card: draw a number of war cards equal to the amount of rage they currently have. These war cards tell you which tribes get more goblins and monsters that can be added to a tribe, and how many secret cards you get to draw.
  2. Increase the Population of the Tribes: Increase based on the the number indicated on the war card. A tribe’s population cannot exceed four, but if it does they are considered “Overpopulated,” which causes that tribe to scatter.
  3. Recruit a Monster to a Tribe: Any monsters that are drawn from the war card can be assigned to any of the tribes. Each tribe can only have one monster assisting them except for the bones tribe.
  4. Draw Secrets: Secrets are action cards that the goblins can play on their turn. These cards are one time use cards that  allows the goblin player to do special actions.
  5. Tribe Actions: Each tribe can perform a move action, a reveal or hide action, and one of the following actions:
    • Attack: The Goblin tribe can attack the Knight/Dragon if their strength is greater than the Knight’s strength/Dragon’s armor.
    • Plunder: The Goblin tribe takes a treasure token or dragon gem to increase their rage by one.
    • Explore: A Goblin tribe on a dark tile can use this action to have the Cave player add a tile to an adjacent spot that doesn’t have a tile there.

The last important thing about the tribes is the “Scatter” effect. When a tribe scatters they are returned back to your player board, lose two population, and discard any monsters that were assisting them.

The Dragon


For years the dragon has been in a deep slumber in the depths of the cave, but it senses  impending doom heading it’s way. The dragon must awaken from it’s deep slumber and escape the cave before it collapses and crushes it while also avoiding the Knight attempting to slay it. The dragon starts off “underground” and can move freely through the cave. Once the dragon successfully moves 11 of its sloth cubes to the Wakefulness track, it can rise up to the surface of the cave and attempt to make it to the entrance of the cave to escape.

The dragon has three different sloth tracks that can be used to fulfill the required Wakefulness amount.

  • Greed: Move a cube to the Wakefulness track if you pick up a treasure token.
  • Hunger: Move a cube to the Wakefulness track for every two goblins eaten.
  • Pride: Move a cube to the Wakefulness track for revealing an event tile, or not moving on your turn, or placing a dragon gem.

img_1665The dragon’s turn includes the following phases:

  1. Move and Use Powers: The dragon can move one to two spaces in a straight line.
  2. Pick Up Treasure: If you’re on a tile with a treasure token, you can pick it up to remove a sloth cube from the Greed track.
  3. Place Dragon Gem: The dragon can place a gem on the map. By exposing the gem on a cave tile, it allows the knight, goblins, or thief to plunder it.
  4. Replace Hand: Discard any cards left in your hand, shuffle the entire power deck, and draw cards equal to your spirit.

The Cave


The Cave has a mind of its own as it forms the lay of the land as the other players explore it. The Cave’s goal is to ensure no one escapes by collapsing itself, leaving all other players trapped inside of it. The Cave is one of the more difficult roles to play, as you need to balance the game out based on who’s doing well and who needs help. If the Cave misjudges a situation, it could lead to a quick victory for the Knight, Dragon, Goblin, or Thief. The Cave player will always have a hand of three cave tiles to select from when placing tiles. The Cave must successfully collapse five crystal tiles and successfully trapped all the other players to win.

img_1663The Cave player’s turn includes the following phases:

  1. Collect Omen Tokens: Receive an amount of omen tokens based on how many treasure and crystal tokens currently on the board. These can be spent to activate omens that are on the player board to allow the Cave to manipulate other players and objects on cave tiles.
  2. Shape the Cave: Place one of the three cave tiles from your hand onto the board next to any tile. Crystal tokens always have to be placed first during this phase. During the “Collapse” phase, the player will remove three tiles from the board.
  3. Place Treasure: Place a treasure token onto a “dark” tile that doesn’t contain any other components on it. If there are no tiles that meet this requirement then a treasure token does not get placed.

Once the cave player no longer has any tiles left to place, the “Collapse” phase begins.

The Thief


The Thief has been cursed by a witch that causes him to relive the same day over and over until he successfully steals six treasures from within the cave. When the Thief is killed, he is removed from the board and will start on the entrance tile at the beginning of the next turn. The Thief has a similar role as the Cave in that they are able to swing situations in favor of certain roles. But he is a valuable target for the other roles because killing the Thief will yield additional resources when his loot is dropped. The Thief must successfully stashes six treasure to break the curse and win the game.

img_1663The Thief’s turn includes the following phases:

  1. Assign Stat Tokens:  Tokens can be allocated to movement, stealth (used to defend against attacks), or thievery attributes (available action cubes this turn).
  2. Move and Take Actions: Move between revealed and dark tiles without any consequences, but the Thief must follow normal movement rules. The actions the thief can use their cubes for are:
    • Loot: Pick up treasure tokens or dragon gems.
    • Climb: Move through walls or unpassable terrain
    • Pickpocket: Attempt to pickpocket the Knight, Goblins, or Dragon. The pickpocket effect will slow down the player they pickpocket.
    • Pick Lock: Pick the lock on a vault token. If successful, this turns the vault token into a treasure token to bring back to the stash.
    • Backstab: Attempt to backstab the Knight, Goblins, or Dragon. The Thief can do a light, moderate, or heavy stab that will cause the other player to lose grit, population, or power cards.
    • Hide Loot: Reduce the rewards a player would gain from killing you.

The more loot the Thief carries, the more vulnerable he is to being attacked. Each piece of loot that the thief is carrying reduces his stealth attribute by one for each item. To successfully stash an item, the Thief must return to the entrance of the cave to throw his loot into his secret hiding spot. Each piece of loot the thief stashes allows him to permanently upgrade the strength of an ability of his choice.

He Said

I’ve always really enjoyed asymmetric games because it differentiates you from other players and adds quite a bit of replayability to a game. When I first heard about Vast: The Crystal Caverns and it’s five unique roles, I was a little skeptical about how well it would work. How could a game with five unique roles all on the board at once work? Are the roles going to be really that unique from each other? After a good amount of plays, I’m glad to say that Vast: The Crystal Caverns pulls off asymmetric roles really well.


High Five
After playing as every role – except the Cave – in either a solo game or a two player game, I was pretty surprised to find out that each role is very unique each with its own mechanisms and win conditions. This creates quite a bit of replayability. Also the roles are relatively easy to learn once you understand how the Knight works. Trying to play them well is still a work in progress.

My first time playing as the Goblins against the Knight, came down to the last round when the Knight was able to smash her last crystal and escape the cave for the win. I thought about all the different points of that game that I could have done something different, which made me want to play the game again immediately after to see if I could do better. I don’t get that urge too often with many games, but Vast: The Crystal Cavern had me coming back to explore different strategies for each of the roles. It could also be because I lost and just wanted to get a win when playing against Mandee.

Each of our games took about 45 minutes, which is the sweet spot for allowing us to fit in multiple games in one sitting. I imagine that the playtime goes up quite a bit as more players get added to the game because there are so many more decisions that need to be made in a round.

All By Myself
I ended up playing this game solo a good amount to try out the roles, and each game felt unique as I tried to achieve the solo goals. The Knight provided the best solo experience because every symbol on the tiles mattered and had an effect that needed to be resolved. All of her abilities were able to be utilized when exploring the cave whereas playing as the Goblins and Dragon didn’t produce the same results.


With the Goblins, there were a couple monster cards and secret cards that didn’t have any use because the Knight wasn’t in play and there are a couple Dragon powers that aren’t applicable without the Knight in play. It was still enjoyable to play each role solo though, but I’d probably only want to play as the Knight in a solo game.

Laws of the Cave
The roles aren’t too complex, but I did find that the process of teaching each role to be a little difficult. With a two player game, it wasn’t too bad because I only needed to explain one role to one person, but in a five player game I think it would be a bit more challenging because each player would need their own explanation of their role. They also may want to know how the other roles work since they’ll likely be affected during the game. So it’d be a pretty long process when playing with multiple new players.

Without having visual examples to look at, it can be hard to fully understand what some of the rules reference. The first time I read through the rules, I was a little confused and had to watch Patrick Leder’s role overview videos on YouTube to clarify some of the rules. The videos do an excellent job in explaining each of the roles and I highly recommend that you watch them if you have any questions on how a role works.

img_1917Balancing Act
We tried three different combinations of two player variants and found that the Knight vs Goblins and the Goblins vs Dragon were pretty  balanced, but the Thief vs the Dragon felt lopsided.

In the Dragon vs Thief game, I felt like there wasn’t a whole lot I could do against the Dragon as it flew around the cave trying to awaken from its slumber. I felt like all I could do was slow her down with the occasional backstab. Every time I’d collect treasure for my goal, she’d just fly over and kill me before I could make it back to the entrance to stash it. It felt like I had to sacrifice going for my goal if I wanted to slow her down enough for it to matter. This could be that I just didn’t have enough experience to know how to properly play as the Thief. Out of all the combinations we tried, it seemed like the combinations that involved the Knight or Goblins were the most enjoyable ones.


After trying out the Thief and reading the rules for the Cave, it seemed like one of their main roles is maintaining the balance of the game and ensuring no one was going to achieve their goal too quickly. So playing as one of these roles requires a good amount of knowledge of the game to know when it’s the right time to help/hinder certain roles.

The game also comes with five difficulty level cards for each role (easiest, easy, standard, hard, and expert) that a player can select, which makes their win condition easier/harder. I thought this was a really cool feature because it helps to level the playing field and still makes it challenging for more experienced players.

I tried playing with the hard difficulty card as the Dragon in a solo game and regretted it. I got so close and would have won if I was playing with the standard difficulty. It may not seem like much to increase a requirement by one, but most games we’ve played have come down to one attack away from winning.

Final Thoughts
Overall, I’ve enjoyed playing Vast: The Crystal Caverns and experimenting with how different combinations of roles play together. Each of the roles felt unique and played differently from one another. Wanting to try out all the roles was probably why this is one of the few games that I’ve played solo multiple times.

I’d recommend this game for someone that’s looking for a different take on a dungeon crawl and enjoys asymmetric games. The roles aren’t too complex, but learning all the little rules for each one of them could take some time. If you’re introducing this game to new players, I’d recommend that you let them play as the Knight or Dragon since they’re easier to learn than the other roles.

We’ve only played the game with two players so far, but it would probably be even better when playing with a full complement of players, which I look forward to doing sometime soon. It’s one of the most unique games I’ve played since I got into the hobby two years ago, and, for $65, you get a ton of content that’ll keep you playing for a long time.

She Said

There’s nothing I love more in a game than a strong theme, and Vast: The Crystal Caverns delivers. To provide a little background, we’ve played this game a few times (all two-player games for me), and I’ve played as the Knight, the Dragon, and the Goblins. I would have liked to play a few more roles before writing this, but I think I can give a pretty good review of this game as is.

img_1929The Great Adventure
As I said before, the theme in this game is incredibly strong. When you play as a role, you are fully engrossed in the actions of that character and it all makes sense with the overall theme.

Having played as the Knight multiple times, one of my favorite parts about this role is that the game designers made the Knight a woman. I’ve read that they did this because the designers themselves have daughters, and wanted them to feel a part of the game. As Calvin and I also have a daughter that I am adamant about raising as a feminist, I really appreciate this aspect of the game. Bonus points for not having the Knight be half-clothed.

Separate, but Equal
In an asymmetrical game, the goals of each player differ, but there is still plenty of player interaction. When I played as the Knight, my goal both times was simply to crush five crystals (if the Dragon was in the game, my goal would have been to kill it). And there was enough of player interaction to keep the game interesting. Even though all players are working toward a separate goal, the player interaction helps balance out the game.

img_1909For example, when we played Knights vs. Goblins, the game came down to the last turn. I was pretty convinced I was going to lose as I was only at one health, and was having no luck finding the crystal tiles. Then my luck turned, and I managed to boost my health and find more crystals to crush. and that is what makes this game great – everyone has an equal chance of winning.

The well-balanced aspect of this game provides great replayability. In addition, each role also has variants that keep the game fresh and interesting.

Learning Curve
Although this game is incredibly fun, there is a pretty steep learning curve. Some of the roles are more simple, like the Knight, while some are much more complicated, like the Cave.


This makes explaining the rules, and also playing this game for the first time a little complicated. Each game we played took under an hour, but that’s because neither Calvin or I have analysis paralysis when playing games. Some other players definitely have that issue, so I could see it being a problem in other games.

The More the Merrier
The one negative aspect of this game is that it doesn’t always play great at the two-player count. This matters to us quite a bit because we mostly just play games with the two of us, and occasionally play at higher player counts.

Some roles play great together with two players (i.e. Knight vs. Goblins), while others do not. One of the games we played was the Dragon vs. Thief, and that did not play very well together. I played the Dragon and ended up killing Calvin frequently to force him to drop his treasure so then I could pick it up and give it back to the cave. These two roles play at a cross-purpose so they don’t mesh well together.

Admittedly, this combo is not a recommended one from the game designers. But I’d expect a game that lists being able to play 1-5 players, to be able to play well with just two-players with more than just a few role combos.

In addition to some roles not playing well together, some roles have cards and abilities that only apply when a certain role is in the game. I found this somewhat frustrating because occasionally there was an alternative option if that role was not in the game, but that wasn’t always the case. When I played as the Goblins, many of the Secret and Monster cards I drew applied only when the Knight was in the game. There should be an option to remove those cards and replace them with more relevant cards.


Final Thoughts
In general, I really enjoy this game. The asymmetry in this game is at a level I’ve never seen in any other game. Each role is well-balanced and has an equal chance at winning. The only downside is when you mix roles together that do not necessarily combo well together. The well-balanced nature of the game goes out the window when you mix these together.

However, every time we play, I want to play again as a different role just to try them all out. And I also can’t wait to play this game at higher player counts (something we will hopefully do soon).

Pros and Cons


  • High replayability with many different role combinations to try
  • Difficulty level cards to even out player skill levels
  • Asymmetric roles create a different experience with every role
  • The solo variants plays pretty well
  • Strong theme
  • Great player interaction


  • Difficult to teach because every role has its own set of rules
  • Not all combinations play well with each other when playing with 2 players
  • Some roles have a high learning curve
  • Doesn’t account for roles that are not in the game (i.e., keeping certain cards in the game that only apply to a certain role).

The Verdict

He gives this game 8 grit out of 10.

She gives this game 7 crushed crystals out of 10.

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