Right!!.... We can’t go on any further until we have addressed that very large elephant in the room. The name, Vindication… it just doesn’t fit and it really grates. What was the publisher Orange Nebula thinking? ‘Redemption’ would have been a stronger title and, dare I say, a more sensible choice. Anyway, the game... The story is that you and the other players are wretched guilt-ridden scumbags on a ship! As a result of your betrayal of crew members, you have been thrown overboard by the rest of the crew and you end up on a harsh unfriendly mystical island. But fate has given you a second chance. With the help of the companion who found you washed ashore, you can explore this ancient magical island, redeem yourself and seek the most honour. You do this by hiring more companions, fighting monsters, getting skills and traits – basically ‘levelling up’ your character and gaining more honour points. Yes, you’ve guessed it, the person at the end with the most honour is the winner!
It can feel slightly daunting at the start being bombarded by various colours, iconography, cards, coins dotted around a board, cubes and a pair of dice with strange symbols around it. Fear not because, in Vindication, Marc Neidlinger has designed what might be simply described as a Euro cube pushing/cube management game. Although by no means is your cube management a simple task because choices are plentiful and trying to discern the optimal path to victory will be your constant challenge as the game progresses.
Each player has a Power Board which shows three main pools: your Potential, your Influence and your Conviction. All your cubes are divided up into these three circles and throughout the game you will have opportunities to augment cubes by moving them from the left to the right. Your Potential pool is completely useless to you until you augment it into your Influence pool to maximise your options. Also when all cubes are moved out of your Potential you have the chance to become Vindicated… (ie: you level up). Your Influence pool is your primary currency in the game and just about everything requires it. Your last pool, Conviction, has two main uses: to gain control of a hex tile or to make an ‘empowered’ draw, which basically mean you can take three extra cards and choose between the three drawn and the one already face up to make your selection rather than just taking the face up card or making a blind draw of the top facedown card.
Vindication is a game where three is definitely the magic number. Players on their turn must make three mandatory actions consisting of movement, activating a companion or yourself and visiting a location or resting; all must be taken but they can be done in any order. There are a number of free actions that can also be taken around the compulsory three, such as controlling a region, converting the Heroic Attributes, Vindicating yourself or triggering the game end. There are three common traits: Strength, Knowledge and Inspiration and three rare traits: Wisdom, Vision and Courage, which you get by manipulating the three common traits – which is basically moving your coloured cubes around the board.
The board is modular and made up of hexes that start off face down. You'll be moving between the vertices of these hexes, flipping them over any hex tiles at your location that were previously unrevealed. Visiting a hex location is likely to be your main objective each turn as you gain the benefit from that visit, whether it’s to fight monsters, gain new companions, gain new traits or acquire new artefacts. Just about everything gains you more honour points. Two players cannot visit the same location at the same time and they cannot occupy the same space at the end of their movement but otherwise the board is free to explore. Although if another player has taken over a hex tile you are visiting, they gain honour for your visit.
Even though you are spoilt for choice on turns and have much to do, it comes as a welcome surprise to find that rounds don’t feel particularly long. There are multiple game end triggers and the game ends when these are met.
Orange Nebula have done an incredible job with the production of this game, from the lovely inserts and game trays to the quality of the dice – and the artwork from Noah Adelman, Brett Carville, Emiliano Cordoba, Bartek Fedyczak, Noemi Konkoly and Phu Thieu is exceptional! The game comes with several expansions which can change the gameplay every time and you can choose to play with however many of them you want. I will admit though that some are better than others and even though the production of the minis included in the game is really nice, they don’t actually serve any purpose to the game itself and could be argued as being merely the icing on the cake..
The actual gameplay in Vindication is just so satisfying that you'll be happy to ignore the confused and flimsy theme. The game scales well for 2-5 players, and you'll never feel time dragging even when, with five players, games run to more than two hours. That's because, in the main, you'll be able to plan your next move while others are taking their turns. Tho' you're likely to be competing for control of the hexes, there isn’t otherwise a huge amount of interaction between players, but that’s OK as you will all be concentrating on doing your own thing, whether going for traits or relics or fighting lots of monsters. At the start, you all take a secret objective and these can turn out to be similar to those of another player, making the game highly interesting. A house rule that I have always played with is that two players must meet two of the endgame triggers to end the game. This gives the game just about the right length for players not to feel cheated by not having enough time, as the game can end fairly fast in the later stages.
I have played Vindications multiple times and have loved every game – with or without the expansions there is still plenty of scope for replayability and many different ways to change your strategy. It is a fun, fast midweight game which just happens to have a misleading title. I still relish every chance to get this game to the table!
(Review by Andy Solanky)