In “Reaping the Rewards,” I take a look at the finished product from a crowdfunding campaign. Vindication was funded on Kickstarter in the summer 2017, to the tune of $211k (after an initial attempt that was canceled and relaunched). The game was delivered to backers in the fall of 2018, a little later than planned but with a lot more content than was present in the prototype version I reviewed. This post is an updated (and greatly expanded) version of my original Kickstarter Tabletop Alert, showing final components and rules. Note: the game was originally titled Epoch: The Awakening, but was rebranded as Vindication.
What Is Vindication?
Vindication is a game from Orange Nebula Games for 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, and takes about 15–30 minutes per player. (Closer to 30 minutes when you’re learning, but it gets much faster with experience.) The game retails for $99, but unfortunately is currently sold out; you may be able to find it elsewhere but expect to pay a premium. The good news, though, is that Orange Nebula just launched their Kickstarter campaign for the Leaders & Alliances expansion, so you can now pledge for the expansion ($29), base game ($79), or the base game with expansion ($99)—note that the prices are lower than what you’ll pay if you wait for it to hit retail. (I wasn’t able to get my hands on a prototype of the expansion before the campaign launch, but if I get a chance to play it I’ll report back with more!)
The theme does include some war and monsters (as well as the fact that you’re a “wretched scumbag” seeking to vindicate yourself, but a lot of it is fairly abstracted. I think the gameplay could work for somewhat younger players as long as they have some gaming experience, but I probably wouldn’t go much younger than 10 myself simply because of the complexity and length of the game.
As you can see from the photo above, there’s a whole lot included in this game. There’s the base game itself, as well as several “modules” that can be mixed into the game as mini-expansions. There’s so much to look at, so I have a lot of photos to show you.
Here are the base game components:
- Art book
- Game board
- 5 Player Dashboards
- 5 Player Medallions
- 5 Scoring discs
- 5 Wretched / Vindicated Tiles
- 4 End-Game Trigger tokens
- Monster die
- Attribute die
- 5 player aids
- Cloth bag (the “scumbag”)
- 117 Wooden Blocks (in 5 player colors + black)
- 6 Mastery tiles
- 24 Proficiency tiles
- 10 Speed tiles
- 19 Core Region tiles
- 60 Companion cards
- 16 Relic cards
- 16 Monster cards
- 16 Trait cards
- 16 Secret Quest cards
- 12 Journey cards
- 12 End Game Trigger cards
The base game box now also includes additional content from stretch goals:
- 5 Monuments boards
- 5 Guild Favor tokens
- Ronak, Earth Trembler plastic miniature
- Sestra, Lorekeeper plastic miniature
- Myths & Wonders board
- 12 Loot cards
- Ronak tile
- 5 Guild Favor tokens
- 5 Monument boards
- Pet Menagerie tile
- 25 Pet cards
- Jewelcrafter tile
- 2 Crystal Mine tiles
- 20 Crystal tokens
- 6 Infused Crystal cards
- Well of Wishes tile
- 15 Attribute tokens
- 2 Sacred Stones tiles
- 5 Teleport tokens
- 6 Building Site Region tiles
- 15 Treachery cards
And aside from the game components themselves, there’s excellent custom storage designed by GameTrayz (and you all know how much I love those). There’s a large tray in the base of the box to store the player boards, hex tiles, and all of the cards (with icons that match the cards so you know where everything goes). The base tray also includes several spaces for extra miniatures, which I believe were an add-on in the Kickstarter. Alas, my review copy doesn’t have those, so it feels a bit naked, (and it means extra space in the box), but the miniatures are mostly just for show and aren’t actually used in gameplay itself.
There’s a larger tray that holds various tiles and cardboard components, along with the dice, the black cubes (used for the Treachery module), and the metal end game trigger coins. The lid for the box actually has some spaces to display the six large mastery tiles during the game, as you’ll see in the setup photos below; I don’t know that that’s entirely necessary, but it’s there if you need it.
The five small trays hold the player-specific components, all held in place with a lid. It’s nice for setup because you can just hand each player a tray and all of their stuff is in it.
The one thing that surprised me a little is that the trays don’t stack tightly in the box. There’s room for everything to fit nicely, but they kind of look like they’re just stacked on top of the base tray, rather than nesting into place the way I’ve seen them in other games. Still, the trays make for easy setup, and everything has its place.
One final bit about the storage: the cardboard punch-outs are actually shrink-wrapped on the outside of the box when you first get it. It solves that problem where you punch out a bunch of cardboard and then the plastic insert is no longer flush with the top of the box, which then allows components inside to slide around. I’ve seen a few solutions to that (like having you put the cardboard frames back underneath the plastic insert) but this is one of my favorite options—it means that the box itself prioritizes game storage over retail shelf display.
The game components themselves look gorgeous. The board has a dark, weathered look to it, and each player has a guild icon that appears on various components. The player pieces are square metal medallions (with a colored plastic base), and the end game trigger tokens are also metal coins, just because. The cards are large squares, but they have cut-outs on the side—it doesn’t change the gameplay at all, but adds to the extravagance of it all. The board is even double-sided: one side removes all the text and outlines for card decks, so that if you’re familiar with the game you can play with this side for a cleaner look that shows off the artwork a bit more.
Vindication uses the color wheel to represent the heroic attributes, with the primary colors combining to make secondary colors. The icons for the various attributes and the card types are all nicely done. The one difficulty is that because the game uses all the primary and secondary colors in the resources, it’s harder to choose player colors that won’t get confusing. The player colors are blue, purple, orange, green, and grey—all in a more pastel version, but it’s unavoidable that there’s some overlap between player colors and attribute colors.
There are two plastic miniatures included in the game—though to call them “miniatures” may be doing them a disservice. Ronak’s base is the size of the hex tiles for the board and stands about 70mm tall; Sestra is 55mm tall. Pretty impressive! They’re only used in the Myths & Wonders mini-expansion, but you can have them stand guard nearby when you play the base game, too.
The add-on miniatures (not pictured) match the five monument boards, used in the Guilds & Monuments mini-expansion. They’re never placed on the board or anything, so I think they’re just there to show off your achievement in building your monument. All of the player boards are large, sturdy cardboard tiles.
The dice (like everything else about this game) are also huge: at 22mm, they’re bigger than standard six-sided dice, and they’re etched and painted. The attribute die has some flecks in it so it looks a little like white marble, and the black one has some pearlescent swirls in it.
One thing about Vindication is that, despite the fact that the artwork and components look like they belong to a Very Serious Game, there’s still a bit of humor in the details, both on the cards and in the rulebook. For instance, there’s a monster called the Crazed Butterfly-Smasher who is, indeed, a giant ogre swinging wildly at a kaleidoscope of butterflies. Some companions also have entertaining names, too. The descriptions of the various mounts (determining how fast you can travel) includes things like “Longer legs are faster than shorter legs, it would seem. Imagine that.” I personally like the humor, but your mileage may vary.
You’ll see plenty more photos through the rest of this post, but that’s enough to show you the quality of the components and the style of illustration. It’s also a bit of a table hog—the board itself is quite large and players will accumulate cards that are placed on the table near their dashboards, and if you throw in some of the expansions, you’ll have even more boards and cards and tokens surrounding it.
How to Play Vindication – Base Game
You can download the rulebook here.
The object of the game is to have the most honor (points) by the time the game ends, which occurs based on the variable end-game triggers.
To set up, each player gets a player board and their kit of components. Each player also gets dealt a Journey card, which has a setup aid on it, and also determines which color companion they start with, and where they’ll start on the edge of the main board. Your scoring marker goes at the “15” space along the outside edge of the main board (because you can lose honor). You start with 8 potential, 8 influence, and 2 conviction on your player board, plus you put one block each in inspiration (yellow), knowledge (blue), and strength (red) on the main board.
Each player also receives two Secret Quest cards and chooses one to keep, returning the other to the deck. These will award bonus points at the end of the game if completed.
To finish setup, shuffle each deck of cards (Relics, Monsters, Traits, and 3 colors of Companions) and place them on the various deck spaces around the board, flipping the top card over into its space. The proficiency tokens are also placed on the board matching the various attributes. Mastery tokens are set aside (on the tray lid if you like), and the region hexes are placed into the bag and mixed up. The four trigger tokens are placed at the 30, 45, 60, and 75 spots on the scoring track. Finally, two Trigger cards are drawn and placed face-up near the board.
First, a note about your resources, which are marked with your colored blocks: Potential cannot be used until you augment it into influence. Influence is spent on various things: you activate companions with it, charge relics, and some other things. Whenever you gain attributes, your influence is placed into the corresponding spheres on the main board, and when you spend those attributes, your blocks come back to the influence sphere. Conviction is used to take control of regions, to prevent companions from dying in a monster attack, or to allow you to draw more cards to choose from when you take cards. Conviction is returned to the influence sphere when spent.
On your turn, you do these three things in any order: Activate a Character, Travel, or Visit a Region/Rest. There are also some free actions, like Heroic Conversion and Gain Proficiency.
Activate a Character: You may activate either one of your companions or yourself (represented by your Wretched/Vindicated tile). Activating a companion costs you one influence (placed on the companion card), usually gains you two of a particular primary attribute, and also puts that companion’s special ability into effect for your turn. Activating yourself is free, and gains you one primary attribute of your choice while you’re still a wretched, guilt-ridden scumbag or 2 if you’ve become vindicated (see below).
Travel: This one’s pretty simple. Move a number of spaces up to your speed; movement is done on the triangular openings between hexes. You start with a base speed of 2—on foot—but you will be able to upgrade your mount at a Command Post, which increases your speed and also gives you honor. You may pass through other players but may not end your turn on the same space. Once you stop moving, draw region hexes from the bag to fill in any empty spaces around you. You must always move at least 1 space during your turn.
Visit a Region/Rest: You may either visit a region, or rest. Resting allows you to augment one of your blocks, moving it from potential to influence or from influence to conviction.
Visiting a region includes using a tile’s ability and taking control of it. You must be adjacent to a region to visit it. There are various regions that will let you gain attributes or spend them to take particular actions, like upgrading your mount, upgrading blocks, retrieving influence from your companions, or recruiting new companions. There are multiple copies of many of the regions.
You may also optionally take control of a region. It costs 1 conviction (placed on the bubble on the tile) if it’s currently empty, or 2 conviction (1 on the bubble, one returned to your influence) to take over control from another player. You gain 2 honor when you take control of a region, and also every time an opponent visits that region.
There are a few other types of regions: three of them are unique and are tied to the heroic attributes (the secondary colors): you spend courage at the Gaping Maw to battle monsters, vision at the Arcane Tower to acquire relics, and wisdom at the Ancient Tomb to acquire traits.
At the Inn, you can spend common attributes to hire companions of that color. At the Academy, you get to roll the attribute die, gaining an attribute of that color. If you didn’t already have any of that attribute, you get one more roll (limit one additional roll per turn).
All of the cards award you points immediately when you acquire them, and then have additional effects. Companions are used as stated above when you activate a character. Relics can be charged by putting influence on them when you acquire them (or recharging them at the Arcane Tower), and then you can spend that influence to use the relic’s power.
Traits give you ongoing abilities—some are active abilities, and some are passive. For instance, a trait card may give you bonus points every time you use conviction, or give you an extra attribute whenever you activate a companion.
Monsters are worth points and also give you some additional end-game points based on some other criteria. When you fight a monster, you also roll both dice. The white die awards you an attribute, and the black die shows the effects of fighting the monster. The circle icon indicates a long, grueling fight that causes fatigue, and you must add 2 influence to your champion—the companion with the lowest initiative number. The skull icon means your champion has died: remove it from the game, retrieving any influence cubes that were on it, and lose the honor points for that companion. You may spend 1 conviction to prevent a companion from dying. The blank means that the monster missed you, and nothing else happens. Either way, if you spend the 2 courage at the Gaping Maw, you kill the monster.
Heroic Conversion: The three common attributes (with primary colors) tend to be easier to obtain, via certain regions or characters. The heroic attributes (with secondary colors) are usually obtained through heroic conversion, which can be done at any time for free. You may convert two primary attributes into one secondary attribute, retrieving the extra influence back to your dashboard. For instance, knowledge (blue) and inspiration (yellow) combine to make wisdom (green). However, you may not split a secondary attribute into two primary attributes.
Gain Proficiency: Once per turn, you may gain a proficiency tile (if available) by spending 3 of an attribute to take the corresponding tile. The tile is not worth honor itself, but represents 2 of that attribute card at the end of the game when calculating mastery bonuses, and then frees up your influence cubes to be spent elsewhere. You may discard a proficiency tile to gain that attribute, but you only get 2 back, and the tile is removed from the game.
Recover Influence: At any time on your turn, you may recover blocks from anywhere in the game (except your potential) and put them back onto your influence sphere. However, if you use this action to recover influence from a companion, that companion leaves you—all of your influence on that companion is returned, you lose their honor value, and the card is removed from the game.
Vindicate Yourself: If you reach 25 honor and have augmented all of your potential (so the potential sphere on your dashboard is empty), then you can become vindicated: flip over your character tile and gain 5 points. Now, when you activate yourself, you will gain 2 of a primary attribute instead of one.
The game end is determined by the triggers. There are two in place at the beginning of the game, but others may be added or removed during the course of the game. When a player reaches a trigger token on the scoring track, they take it and another trigger card is put into play. If the requirements of a trigger card are met, then you finish the round and play one more full round, and then the game ends.
At the end of the game, players will score bonus points for mastery of the attributes. Whoever has the most of a particular attribute—cards of that color, proficiency tiles, and any other mastery bonuses from cards—gains the mastery token for that attribute, which is worth honor. If there is a tie, nobody gets the mastery token. You also score bonus points for monsters if you’ve met the criteria, as well as your secret quest. Finally, you score 2 points for every region you control.
The highest score wins.
How to Play the Vindication Expansion Modules
As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of additional content added through stretch goals in the original campaign, so there are a whole lot of extras that you can mix and match.
If you want a bit more “take that” in the game, you can mix in the optional Treachery cards at the start of the game. The card backs match the companions, relics, and trait decks, but the faces have black borders instead of colored borders (which also means they don’t count toward mastery bonuses). Treachery cards typically cost you honor, either when you claim them or when you use them, but then have negative effects on your opponents.
There are several regions that can be mixed into the game—the rulebook explains which region tiles you should remove from the bag depending on how many expansion regions you’re adding.
The Jewelcrafter region also comes with two Crystal Mine regions. When you visit a Crystal Mine, you take a crystal token (plus an additional for each mine you control). Crystals may be spent (returned to the supply) to retrieve 2 influence from a companion, to gain honor at the Jewelcrafter region, or to create infused crystals (pictured above). When you create an infused crystal, you also spend 3 attributes of the matching type. The crystal acts like a discount—once per turn, when you would spend that attribute, you may use the crystal’s ability instead.
Exotic Pet Menagerie
If you add the Menagerie region, then you also set up 3 pet cards face-up as a market. When you visit the Menagerie, you y spend one of each common attribute to take a pet, which is then attached to one of your companions. Pets give you additional abilities—some passive, some active—linked to those companions, and there are some additional rules about how you can move pets among your companions or what happens if your companion leaves.
The two Sacred Stone regions allow you to teleport to any space adjacent to either of the Sacred Stones instead of your movement. If you control a Sacred Stone, you may also take your normal movement in addition to teleporting. And if you control both of them, you can use them to teleport anywhere.
If you add the Temple Ruins region, you may visit it to draw 2 additional Secret Quest cards and keep 1 of them. You may have any number of quests, and there’s no penalty for incomplete quests.
Well of Wishes
The Well of Wishes region always has three wish tokens on it, randomly chosen from the pool of tokens. When you visit it, you choose a token and gain whatever is on it, and then replace the token with a new one from the pool. The tokens include attributes (both common and heroic) and honor.
This is a way to make the expansion regions a little less randomized. Instead of mixing the expansion tiles you want to use into the bag, you place them face-up on the table, and instead put building site tiles into the bag. When a building site is drawn, you place that on the board. It costs 1 conviction to choose an expansion region and build it onto a building site, and gives you control of that region immediately. If you don’t build on the site when it is first placed, any player may visit that region to build on it.
Guilds & Monuments Expansion
During the setup, give each player a monument board as well as the triangular guild favor token.
On your turn, you have a 4th action: move your guild favor token. You may not leave it in the same place two turns in a row, and you may not place it where another player already has one. Here are the ways you can use your guild favor:
- Fortify a region: Place your token on a region that you control and then flip the region tile over to the side that has 3 spheres. The region may no longer be controlled by another player, even after your guild favor token is removed.
- Diplomacy: Place your token on a region another player controls; when you or another player visit this region, you split the honor earned with the controlling player (1 each).
- Barricade: Place your token on an open triangle space on the board; gain 2 honor whenever an opponent passes through or lands on this space.
- Leadership: Place your token on one of the two triangles on your dashboard, and augment one block in that location. While your token is there, you’re protected from treachery effects that would move a block back across that same location.
- Allegiance: Place your token on one of your companions; when you activate that companion, you take an influence back from them instead of spending one.
- Empowerment: Place your token on one of your relics; you may add a charge to the relic when you use it instead of removing one.
- Commendation: Place your token on one of your traits; gain 1 honor every time it is used or triggered.
- Destiny’s Fate: Place your token on one of your defeated monsters; if you need to roll a die for any reason, roll it twice and choose one of the two results.
- Monument Reconstruction: Place your token on your monument board. You may add any number of required items to the board: 1 of each attribute, 1 conviction, and two different proficiency tiles. When the monument board is filled, you score 15 honor and then return all assets back to their locations (so attributes are returned to the main board). You may not recover any of these blocks until the monument is complete.
Myths & Wonders Expansion
Here’s where Ronak, the Earth Trembler, comes into play. The center of the board starts with the Ronak tile, surrounded by 6 black treachery blocks. Whenever you end your movement on a space with a block, move it onto the Ronak tile. When the last block is moved, Ronak shows up—place the Ronak miniature on the tile. Everyone may augment up to 3 influence to conviction at this time.
Then there’s an extended battle, where instead of a normal turn, players will take turns fighting Ronak. You still activate a companion as usual, but you do not move or visit a region. Then you can contribute an attribute or conviction to the Myth & Wonders board, which will gain you a bonus depending on where you place it. And then you roll the dice as if you were fighting a monster, which will let you gain one attribute and may kill off your champion.
The goal is to finish off Ronak (by filling in all the spaces on the Myths & Wonders board) before all of the champions are killed. If you do, then the Ronak tile is flipped over to show Tuuk-Tuuk, the Guardian of the Ancients, and then the game resumes as normal—players may visit Tuuk-Tuuk to gain 1 attribute they don’t already have. If Ronak kills all of the champions, the event resets, everyone gets their blocks back from the Myths & Wonders board, and the black treachery blocks are reset. With 4 or 5 players, you also get Loot cards after Ronak is defeated.
The rest of the game still plays out as usual.
Why You Should Play Vindication
I’ve played a few iterations of Vindication since I first met Marc Neidlinger at GameStorm a few years ago, and it’s been cool to see the game develop and evolve. Your character in the game also develops and evolves as you play, but how it grows is up to you: you might seek out companions to aid you, or you might build up your courage to face monsters. Do you want to upgrade your mount so you can fly across the island, or huddle down and take control of regions to earn honor?
When you first begin, you’re fairly limited: you move slowly, you only have one companion, and you have a small amount of influence to spend. Your approach may depend on the regions you find nearby. Since you only get to activate one companion and visit one region each turn, you have to decide how to maximize the benefits you get from them.
Once you start gaining cards, however, your path becomes more clear: if you slay a monster, you may want to pursue the bonus honor it rewards. If you gain a trait, that may nudge you toward a particular course of action. I’ve seen players upgrade all of their potential so they had a lot of influence to spread around, so they didn’t need to spend actions retrieving them from their companions; but I’ve also seen players who didn’t upgrade any at all, and just repeatedly gained and spent attributes, cycling the same small set of influence cubes.
The trigger cards are an interesting way of making the ending a little unpredictable—each time you play, you may get a different combination of trigger cards, not to mention those that may be added or removed during play. Racing ahead to a trigger token (which will add yet another trigger card) always has the possibility of ending the game sooner, but if you don’t think you’ll earn points for mastery tiles then you might want to be careful. What that means, though, is that it can be hard to predict the length of a game of Vindication; the game end may come sooner if the particular region tiles that are discovered line up to help somebody reach an end game trigger.
I was intrigued with an old version of the rules in which the player with the lowest honor got to decide whether to add a new trigger card when a token was passed—that turns it into something of a catch-up mechanic, where the player in last can try to prolong the game in order to score more points before it’s all over. But I’m a catch-up mechanic sort of guy, and it sounds like Neidlinger prefers the game to accelerate toward the end, with the possibility of surprise game-ending moves. With the trigger cards, it is possible to end the game very quickly if you focus on fulfilling those criteria, but reaching those criteria doesn’t necessarily mean you have the highest score, so there’s a balance between scoring points and ending the game while you’re ahead.
I’ve enjoyed Vindication, but I admit that it has gotten a mixed reception from the people I’ve played with. Some people have enjoyed it, and some didn’t feel it was quite exciting enough or that it was a little confusing. I think it’s more about managing and manipulating resources (in this case, attributes), and that there are aspects that feel a bit abstracted. Perhaps the most abstracted is fighting monsters: you just spend 2 courage, and you defeat the monster. You may incur some sort of penalty, but you’re guaranteed to defeat it if you spend the courage. Gamers looking for more complex or engaging battle mechanics may be disappointed in that aspect. It also takes new players a little bit of time to get used to the idea of potential, influence, and conviction, and the fact that your cubes on the board in the attribute spheres are your resources to be spent.
The game has a nice mix of exploration, power combinations, and resource management. I think what I enjoy the most about Vindication is the way that you can choose your own path to regain honor—the game does not lock you into a particular path. You can find certain combinations of traits, companions, relics, and monsters that work well together, but you also can’t discount the importance of gaining mastery of attributes because there’s a lot of honor at stake there, too. As you become familiar with the cards, you might search for particular cards rather than just taking whatever is available, and you can choose a strategy more proactively rather than reactively.
The Kickstarter for Vindication blew through so many stretch goals that the game grew significantly from the prototype I reviewed (which was already pretty hefty), and I like the fact that there are so many different modules you can mix and match to change the feel of the game. I haven’t gotten to all of them yet, but I’ve tried several. Orange Nebula didn’t just create a game with their campaign—they really started a passionate community with their enthusiastic video updates, and they’ve just launched a new podcast, The Outpost, which will pull back the curtain even more on the way they run a board game company. It’s no wonder that their current campaign for the Leaders & Alliances expansion has already raised $130k on its first day.
Vindication is a little hard to categorize, because I can’t just say “it’s like X, but with Y” and sum it up easily. That’s a good thing, in my opinion: it means that it’s doing something new and doesn’t just feel like a retread of games I’ve already played. It does rely on card combinations, but the attributes and influence aren’t quite like most resource management games. If you’re looking for something a bit out of the ordinary with a great table presence, you might enjoy Vindication. For now, the best way to get a copy is to back the Leaders & Alliances Kickstarter campaign!
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.