Quick Look: Vindication
Designer: Marc Neidlinger
Artists: Noah Adelman, Brett Carville, Emiliano Cordoba, Bartek Fedyczak,Noemi Konkoly & Phu Thieu
Publisher: Orange Nebula, LLC
Year Published: 2018
Thrown overboard for a life of wretchedness, you wash ashore a hostile island ruins — completely alone with nothing except the breath in your lungs and an undaunted spirit.
Through your advanced resource management, area control tactics, and freeform action selection, you’ll add companions to your party, acquire bizarre relics, attain potent character traits, and defeat a host of unusual monsters in the ultimate goal of mastering heroic attributes — and regaining honor.
You may perform 3 actions on each turn in the order you feel is most advantageous that turn: activate a companion, travel to a new location, and interact with a map tile. Many actions require the the use of your influence to gain attributes in a one-of-a-kind heroic attribute alchemy system, which is leveraged to gain the game’s most powerful rewards. For example, you can meditate at a spire to gain inspiration. You can train at a fort to gain strength. But then you can combine your inspiration and strength to gain the courage (inspired strength) which allows you to perform a bounty hunt.
There are distinctive end-game triggers that can be affected through game play, over 72 unique card abilities that can be merged in unusual ways for potent combinations, and fresh tile placement each game for high replayability.
I will be among the first to admit that I am not much of an aficionado of aesthetics and superficiality ; I appreciate something that does its job well and just plain works, even within the context of board gaming.
So I was somewhat at a loss when seeing the first image of Orange Nebula’s Vindication hit the ‘net a few years ago. The game looked beautiful, and the thought that “I simply must own this on the basis of looks alone” was one that frequently entered my mind until I finally could resist no longer and pulled the trigger for Vindication’s Swanky Edition pledge.
The premise of the game is as captivating as the art — having lived a life of villainy, you and your companions are tossed overboard from a ship after your reputation catches up to you. You wash ashore onto a mysterious and magical island, resuscitated and befriended by one of the natives of the land. Having been now made more accurately aware of the consequences your behavior has had on others, you are faced with a moral dilemma; do you continue along your path of wretchedness, or do you change? The choice is yours.
Vindication plays as a competitive game for 2-5 players that is designed to take approximately 15 minutes per player. While some may be keen to call this game a euro, it incorporates enough elements from other distinct game styles to sit nicely in a niche of its own, while still retaining the basic qualities that define the genre.
The game consists of blending resource management, strategic movement, and acquisition as you traverse various locales in pursuit of knowing more about this strange, new land. While each of your rival players wash up at separate locations initially knowing very little about your surroundings, as you move about the hexagonal board, you will gradually reveal more about your environs by randomly drawing location tiles from an appropriately named “scumbag”.
During your quest to achieve “Vindication” (not revenge per se, but rather a more archaic usage of the word more akin to “redemption”) , you can chose a variety of paths to win the game — and there can only be one winner in this quest for personal salvation. You can gain points from fighting monsters, obtaining ancient relics that grant you powerful abilities ; using influence to gain allies, and more; during our play throughs, we found that there was practically no situation that denied a plausibility for scoring. In fact, the choices are so abundant that deciding upon a course of victory may be daunting — there are indeed that many potential paths to victory!
A brief synopsis of some of the conditions that could lead to you scoring would be gaining mastery in 6 specialized areas such as “Strength”, “Courage” or “Wisdom” (by accomplishing various in-game tasks associated with these traits); upgrading your steed/mount for a greater mobility during your turn ; allying yourself with NPC heroes who aid you in your quest with unique abilities; fighting in an arena; and last, but certainly not least, obtaining the ultimate prize of a “Vindicated” status, which also lends you a more powerful ability to convert resources for your usage.
So, what did we think of the game? We have played the game for almost a year now, and firstly let it be said that this game will ALWAYS have great shelf presence, and will be something that you will want to show off for looks alone. The components themselves are mostly top-notch, especially the board itself , as are the custom player trays and metal standee tokens. The map tiles are glamorously thick and detailed, and despite the fact that the cubes that you use as your primary resource are a mere wooden design, the rest of the game is so aesthetically pleasing that you really never notice the relative mundaneness of the cubes.
The gameplay itself has some strong points that make it a great entry-level contender for euro style games and considerations. It is easy to pick up, play, and explain once you are familiar with the rules ; you will never really be denied an opportunity to do something of value on your turn ; and there is a large variety of cards, abilities and companion heroes to uncover on your journey, leading to great replay value in content.
Coupled with the fact that you have a large number of variant gameplay modes that are included along with the basic setup (courtesy of extra map tiles that allow for different modes of play), you are guaranteed to have a lot of plays before scratching the surface on all that be accomplished within the confines of the base game.
With that being said, there are a few criticisms / areas for improvement that we noted in our play throughs.
If you are generally adverse to euro styles, you may not find anything in this game that changes your attitudes towards them, particularly if you disdain the idea and feeling of simply moving cubes from one place to another on a board. The added component of movement and exploration can certainly level up the feel compared to other board games, but whether or not you find this is enough to make you like the twist that this game has to offer on the genre is probably best left up to the individual.
If you also find that you like games that have a high amount of player interaction, this may also not be a best fit for you or your game group.
The game itself can also be short to the point that you do not find yourself becoming attached to your journey, avatar , and hero companions , which is a shame considering the wonderful job Orange Nebula did at setting up the story and theme.
The instruction manual could be organized in a more intuitive manner, as the rules, while easy once you come to know the game, seem to jump around the book a little too much to digest in one (or even multiple) readings.
We also find that (sadly for us) that the gameplay itself could not quite itself match the beautiful production quality of the actual game board and cards. Vindication certainly aspires for greatness on a mechanical level, and is by no means whatsoever bad — it just happens to fall a wee bit short in visual comparison to the board and components.
Another ironic (though still thematically humorous) moot point is that you can win the game without actually becoming Vindicated. Once a scumbag, always a scumbag, so it would seem…
The original printings of Vindication came with a scumbag that was too small to contain all of the map tiles, an issue which has since been rectified if you buy the more recent Leaders and Alliances expansion, which includes a much bigger bag.
What is perhaps most worthy of note if you are still on the fence about getting this game is that Orange Nebula launched a new Kickstarter , Vindication : Chronicles , that promises to address some of the concerns I had about the base game , including a narrative form that allows you to discover how you meet and intimately come to know the heroes and surroundings in Vindication. This is definitely something on my radar.
It should be also noted that while one could say that Vindication wasn’t exactly Orange Nebula’s first rodeo—it actually was their first rodeo, being their first foray into the board game world.
I can imagine that entering the vast ocean of board game design can feel akin to a minnow looking down the gullet of a trout while trying to survive its life cycle into a frog. It is certainly a fear that I have experienced in designing and putting forth my own musical projects , so I would have no criticisms whatsoever if small , independent game developers got cold feet and ran away just prior to launching their first game.
With that being said, if they are willing to take the plunge, a great many things may happen; but as a much as the much-dreaded failure can drown the would-be creator, perhaps the greater fear would be to wonder how in the world to cope with the realization that you might just be more successful than you could have possibly imagined. Vindication has certainly been a success.
In such a case, this warrants new games, and given that Orange Nebula has successfully launched both Unsettled and now the newer Vindication: Chronicles expansion, it may just be possible that the best is yet to come…
Great job !
Components / Presentation : 10
Story / Theme (If applicable) : 8
Gameplay : 8
Replay ability : 8
Fun : 8
Final Score : 8.3
Jazz Paladin- Reviewer