...and no, we're not quoting Brooklyn 99 here! Vindication is a 2-5 player sandbox-style game from Orange Nebula. You are a wretched guilt-ridden scumbag (but only in the game, I'm sure). Having been thrown off your ship, you wash up on the shores of an unknown island. After a passing traveller revives you, your aim is to explore your new surroundings. You might even turn over a new leaf. Though, vindication isn't necessary if you'd prefer to waste your untapped potential.
The winner is the player who achieves the most honour, the main objective of the game. Players achieve this through controlling territories, hiring companions and accomplishing valourous feats.
Before we get into how to play, you should know about two of the main mechanisms in the game. The most important module in the game is your player board. You start with a limited amount of Influence cubes, your main currency in the game. Influence fuels many of the game's actions, such as hiring companions or gaining attributes. You also have an amount of dormant Potential that can be later converted into Influence. You can also augment Influence into Conviction, which allows you to take control of areas on the map. It also allows you to perform an Empowered draw. This allows you to select from several cards when taking an action rather than just one.
The second mechanical consideration is that of Attributes. There are six attributes in the game, each of which you gather by converting your influence. The three basic attributes (Inspiration, Strength and Knowledge) are most common. These tie into the most basic actions in game and are easily acquired. The heroic attributes (Wisdom, Vision and Courage) are a merge of two of these basic attributes. Management of attributes will dictate what companions you can hire. It will also dictate which methods of gaining honour points are available to you.
A turn in Vindication consists of three basic actions: Move, Activate, and Visit/Rest. Move allows you to explore the island, revealing new locations on your travels. Movement is the only mandatory action, as players must move at least one space per turn. Players use the triangular spaces between tiles to move, and only one player can occupy a space. Your movement distance is also capped by your mount tile. You can upgrade this during the game to increase the maximum distance you may move on a turn.
Next, a player may Activate either themselves or a Companion they own to gain attributes. Activating yourself costs nothing but yields less conversion of Influence into attributes. Activating a companion is more profitable, granting both attributes and powerful effects. However, you must place Influence on a companion to activate them, locking it there for the time being.
Finally, a player may Visit an adjacent location. Visiting locations can also give players attributes, or ways to spend them. For instance, visiting a Fort converts two Influence cubes into the Strength attribute. There are 19 locations in the base game, with several copies of the more important locations. You can also exchange some of these tiles for other location modules included in the box.
Outside of the three basic actions, players also have access to five bonus actions. Players may convert any two basic attributes into their respective heroic attribute. They may do this any number of times in a turn. Second, players may pay three cubes from one attribute to take a proficiency tile. These contribute to end game scoring. Third, players may spend a Conviction to take control of a region they have visited this turn. This grants honour when it's first acquired, and when another player visits the region. Players may only take control of one region per turn. Fourth, players may recover any number of Influence cubes from anywhere aside from their Potential. If a player recovers cubes from a companion, remove the companion from the game. That player also loses the honour associated with that companion.
Finally, if a player has 25 honour and no cubes left in their Potential, they may vindicate themselves. Flip your character tile over and receive five honour. Vindication is not required to win the game but does make your character more able to channel Influence into attributes.
Players continue sequentially until they meet one of two end-game conditions. After advancing to a trigger token on the score track, another end-game condition is added. After players meet one of the revealed conditions, they finish the current round and then play one final round. Players will then gain honour for these end-game bonuses;
- Two honour for every controlled region.
- Honour for their secret quest (A set of secret goals given at the start of the game).
- Honour for any end-game bonuses (i.e. Monster cards)
- Honour for any Mastery tiles acquired. Mastery tiles go to the player who has the most cards of each Attribute. Proficiency tiles count as two cards for the purposes of checking Mastery.
The winner is the player who has achieved the most honour after scoring the above.
Final Thoughts on Vindication
Vindication is a medium-weight Euro masquerading in the body of a fantasy adventure. However, I don't think that's a bad thing. From its idyllic art to the board layout, Vindication prides itself on its appearance. The game looks stunning whether you're playing the base game or including some of the extra bits. The game comes with enough to keep you entertained for many plays without any repetition.
Gameplay reminds me a lot of Western Legends. You wander around the island, picking up companions and accomplishing quests. Yet, there's no dead space on the island, everywhere you go there are useful things to do. Most movement spaces give you three potential regions to visit on any given turn. There is also a very 'points salad' approach here. Everything you do, from acquiring relics to defeating monsters, will net you points. Your Journey and Secret Quest cards give you potential directions as well. However, I felt I was happy doing my own thing if I wanted and still achieve a decent score. There are plenty of different companions, let alone the heroic attribute cards to discover.
Unfortunately, I do wonder whether the game does feel a bit bloated. Of the seven gorgeous minis in the game, only the first player marker is used with any regularity. The other six are relegated to specific modes of play, which is a bit of a shame. I also found the tile bag incredibly tight (though they have fixed this in the expansion). I also found that the card storage wells are not tall enough to stop the cards jump out of place if you store your games vertically.
But, for every piece of bloat there is a piece of ingenuity that supersedes it. The included GameTrayz keep most components secure and separated ready for use. I especially like the individual player trays. Each one holds everything a player needs in a compact and intricate design. I also found that I could introduce the smaller modules without much extra explanation. I wouldn't include everything at once but cherry-picking a few each time will keep the game fresh.
The game plays in about 30 minutes per player, which feels a little succinct to me. Sometimes it feels like the game is just ramping up before it abruptly ends. However, it's short enough with enough things to consider that I want to play again and again.
Vindication blends theme and form into a coherent package. The presentation is a splendid deviation from established Euro games. Play time makes it perfect for weekday game nights, and there are plenty of ways to diversify the experience. It is a bit of a table hog (especially when using the monuments), so be wary of the need for plenty of room. Heavier gamers may prefer a different experience. For me, the experience hits home in both flavour and mechanics. I have high hopes for this being my go-to Euro for years to come.