Even though you might not realise it, Vindication is actually a mid to heavyweight eurogame. I open with this line because if all you looked at was the box, the marketing material and some of the supporting collateral, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Vindication was something else entirely. Thematic eurogames are fairly rare, but we’ve covered a few before (like Archmage) and with Vindication generating a lot of heat at the moment, I was keen to see if this one lives up to the hype.
Firstly, Vindication has more physical mass than almost any game you’ll see this year. It arrives in a box that is of normal depth but perhaps a third longer than most eurogames, and shrink wrapped to the back of it you’ll find about five or six punch boards for the tokens and suchlike. Whilst ideas for how you could possibly fit all this back into the box once it’s punched will swirl through your mind, you need not worry, because the inside of the box contains an exceptionally well organised series of inserts from Game Trayz.
We’ve seen Game Trayz inserts before in games like Megaland and Grimm Forest, but I haven’t personally seen one used in such a large, complex game as Vindication. The good news is that once the initial setup of each individual box element is complete, the game is far easier to set up and pack away, making Vindication faster to setup than many similar games. Ease of access is a theme that will continue throughout this review, as is the quality of the components here, because even in the retail edition of Vindication, no expense has been spared.
There are too many components to practically list in Vindication, but to pick out a few of them; for starters, there is an individual organiser for each player’s individual components, and then one for the communal stash of tokens and similar. The board itself is a large hexagon shape that unfolds into something that is visually impressive and quite unusual. Each edge represents one of six different attributes such as Knowledge or Strength, and then the middle section provides a honeycomb grid onto which location tiles will be placed.
The players each receive their little organiser, and within it they will find a metal standee to represent them on the board, a card demonstrating their status (as either a “Guild-Ridden Scumbag or “The Vindicated”) and basic stats, as well as a number of coloured cubes. The communal organiser contains more tokens (some of which are metal) and then each board edge will also have a deck of the matching colour scheme placed on it. All artwork in Vindicated is attractive and detailed, bringing to life the sci-fantasy world in which the game takes place.
Whilst I’m talking about the concept of being vindicated, let’s discuss what the game is all about. Vindication, as I mentioned earlier, is a eurogame. The players will spend their time attempting to earn points, and this is the kind of game where almost everything you do will earn points, or at least set you on course to do so. Flipping your card from the Scumbag side to the Vindicated side is one way to do it, but it is not in itself the sole objective that players have.
Each player begins the game with two secret objective cards in hand and will choose one of them to keep. When achieved, these objectives will always score points and can sometimes trigger the end game, as can becoming vindicated (which is something that any player who is still considered a Scumbag can achieve in a specific way.) The game will begin with two randomly chosen end game triggers, and others can be added during the game. As soon as one of these triggers is achieved, the current round (plus one more) will play out, and then the player with the most victory points (called Honour in the game) will win.
There are many endgame triggers to draw from, including achieving vindication (which can otherwise be a bit anticlimactic) or hitting a certain amount of Honour. Other end game triggers can include those related to the content of the game — companions and pets (drawn up from the various decks) and those relating to the different locations on the board.
With their personal objectives in hand and the end game triggers on the table, each player begins with fifteen Honour and one companion (who will usually add at least two points of Honour.) The game then begins with the first player, who will take one of several large plastic miniatures that are included in the game, almost all of which are included for purely symbolic, blingy reasons.
One final important aspect of setup and gameplay is the players Power Board. There are three spaces on this board that will each hold a number of cubes, which in turn represent Potential, Influence and Conviction. Potential is a resource not yet earned, whilst influence can be used for various actions. Conviction is more powerful, and represents the unwavering determination of the players to get something important done. Whilst this is very nice and thematic, in eurogame terms, it’s a resource management board — but hey, I don’t want to spoil anyone’s fun!
On their turn, a player has several actions available to them, including moving on the board (up to the number of spaces on their current movement card,) activating (which means to either activate oneself for free, or to influence a companion to activate them, at a cost of one influence cube.) The final main action is to either visit a location adjacent to you or to rest, with the former meaning that the player can activate the effects of one location. Resting allows them to augment one power, meaning to take one from Potential and put it into Influence, or one from Influence to put into Conviction.
Once the player has done each of these main actions up to one time, they may then perform any number of bonus actions depending on their circumstances. Bonus actions include; converting Heroic Attributes (which means to swap two of the adjacent Common Attributes from the board into one of the Heroic Attributes that sits between them) or obtain a proficiency in any attribute. To gain proficiency, a player must swap three cubes from a single attribute for one proficiency token of the same kind. These tokens count towards end game scoring.
A player may also use a bonus action to claim a region, paying either one Conviction of the region is unoccupied, or two if another player is there (with the first Conviction being used to knock them out.) A player may not visit one region as their main action and then take control of another, so careful planning is required on turns where you intend to take over a specific location during your turn — it’s easy to move away and visit somewhere else, then realise that you had intended to control a specific region all along.
Players may also become Vindicated on their turn, assuming that they have reached 25 honour and have also already augmented all of their potential into Influence or Conviction (or if it otherwise in use on the board). Finally, players may also recover their Influence (moving it directly back to the Influence space). In doing so, that Influence will be lost from whatever it was doing, and in the case of companions, this means that they will leave you permanently and remove any associated honour benefits or similar.
Each game of Vindication can play wildly differently, which has earned it a reputation as something of a sandbox title. Personally, I am inclined to agree, and the way games play out is usually driven by those starting objectives and the number of players. The starting objectives are very varied and will often bring players into the same areas, making conflict for control quite frequent, although I’ve also seen games where at least one player sits off to one side and has a completely different way of winning.
Vindication also develops as players progress, with new endgame triggers appearing throughout. There are both good and bad sides to this, since a two or three player game can be over quickly, and in four and five player games some players can feel that they were barely up to speed when the game ends. I’m a big fan of house rules, so I simply state that for a longer game players must achieve say two or even three triggers before the final round is forced.
I should also mention that Vindication comes with several optional modules and even full expansions that the players can choose to use. The largest of these is probably the Myths and Wonders expansion, which adds an additional board so that the players can combat a huge beast called Ronak, and then survive until an NPC champion arrives to save them.
There’s also a Treachery expansion that adds several alternative companions, none of which score honour, but instead introduce negative effects for other players. A Monuments expansion adds yet further boards, but I haven’t played with that one at this point unfortunately. The best thing is that each of these expansion – large or small – is included in the box, so you can choose which ones to add or leave out as you wish. Many of the smaller ones are simple tiles (like Pets) and can be added in very easily.
With or without expansions, there’s a lot going on in Vindication. This is a huge game that takes up a ton of table and looks magnificent, however you play it. I have barely scratched the surface in describing the ways that players can seek out their road to fame, fortune and vindication, and this is honestly a game that you’ll need to play several times to make the most from.
Overall, I find it hard to fault Vindication. This is a huge, attractive game that has been produced to a very high standard and which has clearly been designed as a very accessible and flexible experience. It’s rare to find a game that has as much depth as Vindication does, that can be setup and taught as rapidly, or which can play in less than an hour in certain circumstances. This is a superb design, and it makes me excited about what debutant publisher Orange Nebula will come up with next.
You can purchase Vindication through 365games.