Vast: The Mysterious Manor Review
Spooky is a great word. It conjures up images of ghosts, ghouls, monsters and horror, but does it through the lens of something safe and fun. It’s kid-friendly, it’s all things Scooby-Doo, and it’s one of my favourite feelings. Vast: The Mysterious Manor aims to recreate that feeling in the poster child for all things spooky – a haunted mansion.
Vast: The Mysterious Manor is Leder Games’ follow-up to 2016’s Vast: The Crystal Caverns. It follows in the same vein of being an asymmetric adventure for between one and five players, but does so with a few big tweaks. Gone is the sprawling crawl through the caves. Instead it’s a lock-in at Spooksville central – the mysterious manor.
Maybe it comes as no surprise to find that a Leder Games’ title is an asymmetric game, after all, they’ve got form. The first Vast game, Root (review here), Oath – as far as I’m concerned it’s Leder and GMT who are the masters of balanced asymmetry. The Mysterious Manor has a very different feel to something like Root, and it comes from the wildly differing goals each role has.
The paladin, macho bugger that he is, wants to kill the giant spider. The spider, however, wants to raise the terror level and then escape, leaving everyone else shaking in their boots. Then we’ve got the skeletons, tunnelling in from the manor’s grounds, raiding the armouries, and trying to take out the paladin. Then, there’s a mysterious warlock who can move through walls, and looks to curse and dominate the various treasures and poltergeists. Finally, you can play as the manor itself, through its manifestation, the wraith. If the manor performs enough rituals, it wins.
Root has different ways to play and gain VPs, but the players are all racing along the same track to win. In Vast: The Mysterious Manor, the wildly different goals really make it feel like you’re playing as your characters, not just trying to be the first to a number. I found it adds to the immersion and experience, and gives the game a really tense, exciting feel.
Forewarned is forearmed
The biggest problem with The Mysterious Manor is the same one that’s evident in every asymmetric game I’ve played: It’s very difficult to play well if you aren’t familiar with all of the other characters in your game. There’s nothing that can be done about it, it’s the price to pay if you want a game in that style with any level of depth to it. This is a bit of a non-issue after your first game, but it’s worth bearing in mind for your first game, if you’re playing with people who’ve no idea about it.
Each player gets a great player aid, and I love the player boards. Each role’s turns are explained really clearly on each one, and it means if you don’t play for a while, you can play again without needing to re-read the rules. It’s great for playing an unfamiliar character too.
Understanding the rock-paper-scissors interaction of the roles makes for a really tight game. In true “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” style, you’ll find yourself racing to help others when it looks like a player is close to winning. Is the paladin one hit away from finishing off the spider? No worries, the manor can rearrange the tiles on the board. This kind of interaction means that I’ve not played a single game yet where one player has raced away with the win.
Something for everyone
The different characters in Vast: The Mysterious Manor do something really clever. Each plays so differently, and some are more complicated than others to play effectively. If you play a game of Root with less-experienced board game player, you’d probably give them the Cats, as they’re the most intuitive to understand. In the same way, in The Mysterious Manor, they’ll probably play as the Paladin first, for the same reason.
While Root feels like a war game though, this game doesn’t. If you’ve got a member of your group who doesn’t like games where players attack one another, teach them how to play as the Manor. The Manor’s goal is basically a series of spatial puzzles, which has them moving tiles and trying to create polyomino shapes, more reminiscent of games like Patchwork and Silver & Gold.
I love how this game still plays really well with differing player counts. It’s undeniably best with four or five players, but a two-player stand-off between the paladin and spider is still great fun. There are some combinations of roles that just don’t work with smaller play counts, but the rule book explains which combinations do.
Vast: The Mysterious Manor’s biggest problems are always going to be Root and Oath. They’re both incredible games, but that fanfare leaves Vast like the last kid to get picked for a team in P.E. It’s a real shame too, because The Mysterious Manor is a brilliant game. I think I might even prefer it to Root.
It does some really wonderful things. The enclosed manor board really makes it feel like you’re stuck in a haunted house. The theme permeates everything in the game too. The way the giant spider can split into several spiderlings and scatter, then reform at any of those new locations is great. The Warlock can ignore walls and float about at his leisure, and the army of skeletons lay the house under siege and sneak in for weapons and attacks. You’ll initially feel like the paladin is the hero of the game, the main protagonist, but you quickly feel like everyone else has their own good reason to win too.
Your first few games will feel clunky, but just ploughing on rewards you with a terrific game, laced with fleeting alliances and tons of ‘Oh wow!’ moments, when someone’s turn flips the game on its head. I urge you not to assume Vast: The Mysterious Manor as Root’s poorer sibling. It’s so much fun, and so well balanced. There’s a ton of life and replay in the box, and it deserves more love. Get your spooky on, and venture into the haunted house, you won’t regret it.
Review copy kindly provided by Leder Games. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Vast: The Mysterious Manor (2019)
Designer: Patrick Leder
Publisher: Leder Games
Art: Kyle Ferrin
Playing time: 60-120 mins