A card game set in the steampunk world, where the goal is to assemble a crack team of vault breakers and try to collect enough wealth to become the richest crime lord in the city sounds like something that should have already existed. A concept so succinct and on point that it should be taken as a complete and utter failure of society that it didn’t exist previously. We’re all to blame on this one. Luckily, the folks over at Four Hogs are seeking to remedy that with their Kickstarted game VAULTS.
The core of the game is action management. Playing cards, gathering cards, cracking open safes, assembling or reorganizing your teams; all of these are choices that players can make that use up one or most of a set of actions that each players receives per turn. Players start each turn with 3 actions to use on the aforementioned choices of building up a team, trying to crack a vault, or gathering more cards to find the perfect team member or piece of equipment for the next job.
The game scales for 2-4 players with the victory condition (loot threshold) depending on the number of crime lords.
There more than a bit of Smash-Up! in Vaults, which is by no means a bad thing. Players compete to unlock vaults that are played in public, and have vary degrees of difficulty which will reap you varying degrees of rewards (so long as they aren’t trapped). The game moves crisply though at times it felt like a game that should have been over in about 20-30 minutes was dragging on as we struggled to meet the loot threshold. Thankfully the game isn’t too stern about the suggested play duration, and dropping down the loot threshold to suit your play-style, and time constraints does little to unbalance the game or reduce the fun.
Card games with action management and a building concept aren’t exactly novel. Here, instead of building a deck (Dominion, Ascension, etc) you’re building the perfect teams of safe-crackers. Yet, what’s most compelling to me about the game is the living breathing universe on top of which the card stock rests. Character art is detailed and intricate and there’s a vibrancy to it, even without the aid of full-color. Each of the crime bosses comes with a story, but it’s not hard to presume an entire world of Vaults behind the simple mechanics. With a Kickstarter game, that might be just as important as solid mechanics or decent economics. The potential that you might only be scratching the surface of a great concept.
Speaking of scratching the surface, the process of building and outfitting a crew is probably the most unique aspect of the game. Since you aren’t starting with a static deck from game to game, your team of safe crackers and their specialties are entirely up to you. You can even have multiple teams, which not only creates tension as opponents compete for cards, but opens up some interesting tactical questions. We haven’t played enough to know if the strategy of a super diverse and optimized team is preferable over several teams each with a specialty, but the desire to play more and find out is very strong.
The Kickstarter still has a few weeks to go and the $29 price point for the game and all stretch rewards is a nice discount off of what a game like this would be found for at a local gaming store.