2-5 players, Competitive, Wretched Vindicating Exploration
Designer: Marc Neidlinger
Artwork: Noah Adelman, Brett Carville, Emiliano Cordoba, Bartek Fedyczak, Noemi Konkoly, Phu Thieu
Release Year: 2018
I remember glimpsing this game during its first Kickstarter run awhile back but never really dug too deep into it and totally missed the second run with the expansion. Of course, after all that I started seeing the game pop up more and more from other reviewers and indeed, it piqued my interest. By chance I was perusing a local game store and happened upon a single copy and its expansion, which, I promptly purchased. Now that I’ve gotten a few plays under my belt with all of its included “modules” I’m ready to fully explore all the interesting mechanics and game play elements with you!
Overview of Gameplay
The gameplay is a bit deep but honestly, I picked it up pretty quickly. On your turn there are three main actions you can take in any order and a number of side actions that you can take as much as you want (for the most part). Then play will pass to the next player and this cycle will continue over and over until one of the end game triggers happens. One more round will be played and then players will count up a number of items to determine their final score. Whoever has the highest score wins!
Let’s discuss the main board a bit first. On this board there are six attribute spots circling the board each in a different color. Three of these are basic attributes and players can gain influence in each of these pretty easily just by activating themselves or their companions or even from visiting certain locations. The other three attributes are quite a bit more difficult to attain as they are a combination of each of the two bordering common attributes. Each attribute section houses cards focusing on that specific attribute. So, for example the three common attributes each have a deck of companion cards focusing on the specific attribute such as Strength, Knowledge and Inspiration. The three elite attributes are each a combo of the bordering two on each of their sides, SO, as an example let’s take a look at the Green attribute, Wisdom. Housed in the Wisdom section are the Trait cards, which, all give extra Honor points and extra exclusive abilities. But to gain such an elite trait you will need not only to visit a specific location on the board BUT spend two influence cubes FROM the Wisdom section on the main board. It’s tough but totally worth it.
Each player has their own small player board that houses a number of wooden cubes that you will manipulate throughout the course of the game to complete actions and gain points. There are three main spots on this board: Potential, Influence and Conviction. Players all start with eight cubes in each of the Potential and Influence spots and two cubes in the Conviction spot. I’ll explain how you spend from each of these sections coming up.
Let’s dig a tad bit deeper into these actions, shall we? The three main actions are: Move, Activate a person, Visit a location or Rest. You HAVE to move each turn at least one space up to whatever your movement is (starts at two). When you move you are moving this little metal guild emblem into these triangular spaces that are set in between larger octagonal spaces. Now when you move next to an open octagonal space, you will draw a new location tile from the “scumbag” that comes with the game. Over the course of the game you will be drawing and placing quite a few of these different locations.
The next action is to activate a person. This action basically gives you more “Influence” to place on the board to compete other actions. Starting out each player has a single companion card that can be activated to garner two influence in a specific color/attribute. Or alternatively you can activate your wretched self (speaking on that, everyone starts out as a “wretched” and over the course of the game may eventually “vindicate” themselves). When you activate a companion, you will place one of your influence cubes on their card and then two of your influence on the main board in the specific attribute spot that your companion excels in. Or you can activate yourself and gain a single influence cube in one of three attribute spots on the board. Now, this influence on the board is extremely important as you will use it for MANY different things which usually pop up in all those many sub-actions you can take which I will explain in a bit.
The last of the main actions is to either Visit a Location or Rest. Remember all those locations you have been drawing from the bag? Well now you have a whole plethora of actions that can potentially be taken based on your adjacency to these locations. I’m talking fighting monsters, gaining more companions, gaining more influence, gaining traits, gaining relics, increase your movement speed, remove influence from your companions and so many more. Luckily each tile has the action associated with it printed on the tile as iconography and even more lucky is that the iconography is easily learned. You can also Rest during your turn instead of visiting a location and this is your main way of moving your cubes from the Potential section to the Influence section or Influence to Conviction. You can only move a single cube so make the most of it. Over time once you have moved ALL the cubes from Potential and have over 25 Honor (Victory Points), then you can flip your player card from the “Wretched” side to the “Vindicated” side which not only gives you more Honor but also increased the Influence gain from activating your character.
Beyond those three main actions each player has a bunch of side actions that can be taken all willy nilly during their turn before or after any main action. The first of these side actions is to Convert Heroic Attributes. This is mainly how you gain influence cubes into those “Elite” attribute spaces on the main board I was discussing earlier. For example, to gain a cube of influence in the Wisdom attribute you will first need influence cubes in both of the bordering basic attribute spots. In this example that would be both the Inspiration and Knowledge spots. Then you remove one cube from each of those and place one cube in the Wisdom spot. You can do this as many times as you like during your turn. It’s a nice way of not only condensing down cubes for reuse later but also for gaining some pretty epic things in those elite spots.
Another side action Is to gain a Proficiency tile. You can only do this once a turn but if you ever spend three influence cubes from a single attribute spot then you can gain a proficiency tile from that attribute. These tiles act as extra points towards winning the exclusive “Mastery tiles” at the end of the game for extra points. You can also discard these tiles from the game to gain two influence of the matching color any time BUT you then forfeit the tile to count towards the mastery tile at the end.
Side action numero three is to gain control of a location. To do this you will need to also visit the location you are planning on controlling that turn. If the location is not controlled already just plop an influence cube from your CONVICTION spot to the location tile. You will gain two Honor and now anytime someone else visits that location you will gain two Honor! If the location is already controlled you can overthrow it for the price of TWO Conviction cubes. The last two side actions are to recover influence cubes from anywhere back to your Influence spot on your board EXCEPT from the Potential section. Also, if you remove influence from your companions in this way you WILL kill them, so beware. And the final side action is to Vindicate yourself! Once you have passed 25 Honor and moved all the cubes from the Potential pool you can flip your character card to gain increased attributes and Honor points. Phew!
Components/ Game Board
All the components in here are top notch quality. The tiles have a nice thickness to them and feel sturdy, the two oversized dice are custom and have a good heft. The cards are all die-cut to look unique and the player tokens are made of metal and have a very nice weight to them. The miniatures also look pretty good with unique sculpts although the detail isn’t the best. There are some metal tokens that go along the board that are nice, I mean, everything in here is nice…save for the “scumbag”. This is the cloth bag that all the location tiles go into and players will draw from as they move about the island. This thing is FAR too small to hold the 19 tiles AND fit your hand in to grab a random tile. Once those tiles are in, don’t expect to mix them up any as there simply isn’t space.
The game board itself is truly a wonder to behold. It’s got an octagonal shape to it and is double sided. One side has layout specs so you know where to place the decks and it has labels for the different attributes whereas the opposite side is completely devoid of any labels or layout designs. Other than that, both sides can be used with any game. I just love the way it looks setup on the table, every square inch is used in some fashion with the outer rim of the board holding the numbered score track. Other than the small tile bag, everything with this game is incredible.
Gametrayzzzzzz yusssssssssssssssssss. I go wild for a good storage solution as most of you probably know by now. Vindication hits all the right marks here. Each character has their own Gametrayz plastic holder which holds everything needed for them nice and neatly. There is another tray that holds most of the rest of the components as well. Heck even the lid of that tray doubles as a holder for the prized Mastery tiles for end game scoring. Inside the box the plastic storage solution is excellent having individual spaces for each different deck of cards and all the tiles. I mean the dice have a spot, the player boards have a spot, the bag has a spot. On top of all that, once you get everything in the box, it all holds in place if turned on its side! That was an impressive feat considering the way the cards are stored and I fully expected them to be all mixed up but NOPE!
Visual Appeal /Theme
Just looking at the game I could not get a proper sense of the theme. The title didn’t really help me in this sense and the box art also did little to really steer me towards understanding what the game was about. Now that I’m thinking about it, this is probably why I never really dug deeper into the game to begin with.
HOWEVER, this game is rife with theme! Just reading the little forward in the beginning of the manual and I was already hooked. You were thrown overboard from a ship because of treachery and washed up on the shore of this mysterious island. The first companion you start with was also the same person that found you on the shore and is helping you get your footing as you explore this island and try to vindicate yourself. Or, I mean you don’t HAVE to vindicate yourself if you don’t wanna. You can just sleaze around being all sneaky and shady and what have ya if you so choose.
The art work is excellent throughout and I mean the theme just shines through with the gameplay. I love how your personal board has your “potential” locked away, unusable until you rest and come to realize what you are capable of and the same for conviction. I love how you use your “influence” to gain stuff from the board like companions. It’s just so cool thinking about it now, for example to gain a relic card you will need to find the Arcane Tower location tile and visit it. Once there you will have to spend two of your influence in “Vision” which is a combo of Strength and Knowledge. Overall, I am SUPER impressed with the theme and art work and can see where the game gets its name from now.
The rulebook is pretty decent and I didn’t have any problems understanding the game from it. It’s on the smaller side but has a number of good picture examples and is laid out very nicely to easily explain the rules. There are specific sections to explain every different Heroic Attribute section and quite a few index pages to explain every single card and tile if you have any questions surrounding these. There are also some reference cards which I always love so players can more easily learn the game. And you really need these in this particular game as it is difficult to remember all those side actions starting out.
Player Interaction/Fun Factor
The player interaction is very limited here as players will be primarily focusing on themselves with the only real interaction coming when another player takes over a previously overthrown location. And even then, it’s just a matter of cube transference. Now there are a few sneaky cards that are one of the included modules that you can mix in with the rest of the decks. These will up the player interaction a bit but also add a negative connotation to the game. Basically, you can use your Honor to hinder other players in some way.
Lacking player interaction in a competitive game isn’t the best but I still had a lot of fun playing the game regardless. The main actions are easy to remember and complete and there is a slight thrill to be had manipulating all your influence scattered about. The only real downside was the plethora of side actions that can be taken. It took me quite a while to remember them without having to reference the included reference card. And even then, there are a few things to go through although eventually it really does become second nature. That said, players who get analysis paralysis will lock up on this one for sure. The choices of which influence to combine to heroic influence or to grab a proficiency tile or just leave the influence there to simmer so you can use it for a trait or relic…..so many juicy choices to be had.
One of the biggest things I found fun and exciting was the draw of locations and the card draws. I LOVE exploration games and this one delivers although the exploration aspect of the game quickly vanishes the more players you have. There are only 19 tiles in each game and in a five-player game you will blaze through all those after just a few rounds. Although even after the exploration aspect was finished the game transformed into something else. And depending on the player and possibly their secret goals, this could be anything! You could focus on becoming a fantastic monster hunter, gaining influence in Courage so you can slay more beasts or you could become a fabled Relic hunter gaining influence in Vision so you can acquire many different Relics. And with the included modules there are even more avenues you can explore to gain points. It’s almost overwhelming………….almost.
One of my favorite modules is the Monument module. This adds in some monument minis that can be built that are unique to each player for a boost of 15 Honor points once completed! Not only that but that particular module also adds in a 4th main action that can drastically change the game up. However with this 4th action comes a torrent of additional instructions on how to use it so it might be better to play without this particular module until you are experienced with the core game stuff.
Optimal Player Count/Replay Value
Considering the player interaction is almost non existent I wouldn’t recommend playing with the full five players, just to avoid the downtime between turns. At two players, it takes awhile to get the full map explored but for me that was some of the most fun so I didn’t mind the time it took to explore. I would say however that I think three players would be best as the board size and state seems to balance better at that player count. The amount of time exploring is just right and the downtime also isn’t that terrible with three.
Replay value is super high mostly because of all the added modules. The core stuff will all be variable with each new game, different placements of tiles and cards drawn but you will eventually see all the same stuff again and again. But add in a couple new modules and WHAM! You have all new items to explore. The new tiles are really awesome as you only ever use 19 total tiles so you will end up removing some tiles to add in new ones. Although you do need to be careful when doing this as it could break the game in a sense. Like if you removed the ONE tile that allows you to get Relics or Traits or Monsters. Luckily the manual does have a section explaining which tiles can be removed to keep the balance. All in all I would say the game has some incredibly high replay value as there are SO many different routes to take to gain points and all of them are fun and not just simple point salady type of things.
Positive Final Thoughts
This game really hit all the right spots for me. It has exploration and interesting cube manipulation and a really fun theme (if a bit generic) on top of all that. It’s thought provoking and has a very high degree of replayability with all the different modules you can add to the game to change stuff up a bit. And even though there are many different ways to try and gain points, you never really lose that focus you need to get them. Oh I forgot to mention the fun end game triggers! The game doesn’t just “end” when someone hits a certain points threshold or anything. There are two end game triggers starting out that are also variable and on top of that as players hit certain Honor point goals in the game, MORE end game triggers unlock which hastens the end in a fun and exciting way.
Negative Final Thoughts
Player interaction is very low and even with the added treachery cards you still don’t see that much interaction so it feels like everyone is playing their own game. There are a BUNCH of side actions to try and remember which creates a bunch of downtime especially at higher player counts. Also, because of the lack of player interaction I wouldn’t recommend this at the full 5 player count. Also, that tile bag is just too small.
The Bottom Line
I was immensely surprised with this game. It flew under my radar for so long because I just didn’t know what it was about and thought it was just a generic game. Boy was I wrong. This game has a lot of flavor and so many fun actions to explore. Once you get all the side actions and locations understood fully, this is a game that opens so many doors of possibilities. As such this one will receive my highest honor, The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE!
The Fuzzy Llama Golden Seal of Eternal EXCELLENCE