05th Feb2018

‘Vengeance’ Board Game Review

by Matthew Smail

vengeance-box

In Vengeance, the latest game from Mighty Boards and the mind of Gordon Calleja, up to four players recreate the same kind of blood-soaked revenge sequences that we’re more used to seeing in movies like Kill Bill and Death Wish. With card and dice drafting plus a unique take on miniatures combat, Vengeance presents a complex setup at first, but the memories of stacking decks and placing dens soon gives way to fast, crowd pleasing combat and a satisfying variety of options.

I speak often about how important it is to link the theme of a game with its mechanical components. The longer and/or heavier in weight a game is, the more I believe that to be true. Where Vengeance is concerned, the link between game phases (beginning The Wronging and then alternating between Montage and Fight scenes) could not have been handled better.

In The Wronging phase, players assemble their Vengeance hand by drafting cards from a shared deck until they have seven. Three of these must then be turned face up to show whichever gangster is on them, their victory point values and a few other key bits of information. At the bottom of each card, a kind of torture will be detailed (electrocution, for example) as well as the damage it causes to the players mind, skill or health value. This is then marked on their player board with black and red cubes (which I’ll explain later.)

Hopefully you can imagine how this works based on how I’ve described it, but to elaborate – it’s a wonderful way of investing players into the theme right from the outset. The Wronging phase also presents a number of strategic decisions about which cards to draft in the first place and then which to flip (bearing in mind that more damage at this stage often results in higher victory points later).

One of the reasons why these decisions involve strategy is because during the main setup, you’ll have placed six dens on the table to form the board, then you’ll have placed a face down boss card onto each of them. Players won’t know which boss is hiding in each den until they use a scouting action during the Montage phase. It’s also worth noting that no points are awarded for killing bosses that are not face up in the attacking players Vengeance hand, so attacking dens at random is not a sound idea.

During each montage phase (of which there are three) players first roll a number of dice (based on their characters mind value, adjusted for any damage) and then take turns to draft them based on current player order. You might roll two healing die, for example, but then lose both because two other players drafted them first. Then, players use a deck of character specific cards to decide which three actions to take during The Montage.

The recon action I described above allows players to place recon tokens on dens, which allows them to look at the boss card located there at any time. Healing does what you’d expect, though to spice things up a little, Vengeance does feature both severe and normal (black and red) damage, each of which costs a different number of healing points to cure. Last up is upgrading, which is perhaps the most exciting thing you can do during The Montage.

Each player board has four slots for upgrades (one of which has a preconfigured ability on it when the game begins) or items to be stored. New ones can be purchased from a selection of eight visible upgrades and four visible items that are placed on a specific board. In most montage phases, you’ll be able to afford one or two of these, so the game does a good job of constantly introducing new ways to tackle enemies during the Fight and keep things fresh.

During Fight phases (which the game refers to as its heart – and I would agree) players take it in turns to assault one of the dens. Every fight includes three die rolls (based on the player characters current skill level, adjusted for damage) which are performed and resolved one at a time. The combat dice feature icons that deal melee and ranged damage as well as movement and enemy activation.

Following a single “free” move at the beginning of each roll, players must use the results rolled to kill the boss character (at least) and preferably, all of the minions in the den. This is another perfect blend of theme and mechanic, as each Fight is quick and feels like the hero has burst in, shot a bad guy across the room, stabbed a doorman who leaps off his chair to intercept and then dashes for the next room. The whole phase happens so fast that it hardly feels like downtime for the players not involved and as often as not, everyone will be cheering and booing at the outcome.

The upgrades and items that I mentioned earlier play a big part in combat and usually allow players to reduce the variance of die rolls by changing them. For example, a common upgrade switches allows players to switch ranged and melee rolls for the other – which is important because ranged rolls can only target enemies in the next space, whilst melee attacks can only be used on enemies in the same spot.

There are several enemy types as indicated by the coloured circles on the board and by the same symbols on the boss card when flipped. Some enemies have two health whilst others have a ranged attack, for example, whilst most are purely vanilla minions. Each gang boss (and specific members of his gang) have gang specific abilities. Because Vengeance has relatively simple enemy skills and uses coloured bases to indicate minions of each type, this is a lot simpler than it sounds in practice and it isn’t long before you’ll have each enemy and gang skillset committed to memory.

After a Fight phase is over, the den is scored. If the boss and all his or her minions are killed (as is usually the case in the first set of dens that are worth two points each) then the attacking player scores both the den value and the boss value shown on the face up Vengeance card. The boss card from the board is then placed on a kind of display stand that comes included in the box, whilst the Vengeance card in the players hand is placed face down underneath their player board. The den is then removed and a new one, with a higher victory point value (and usually more minions, spaces or both) replaces it with a new boss card.

Defeating only the boss will score Vengeance points alone, but will still reset the den, whilst failure to kill a boss will simply leave the den, minions and boss in play with the boss card now face up. There are a few other ways to score points through objective and achievement points that are placed beside the board during setup, so it’s always worth keeping an eye on them as well.

Play continues alternating between Fight and Montage phases (sometimes with two fight phases in a row) until the final act, which again allows players a high degree of long term strategic direction. You’ll always have a fairly accurate view of your current standing, so you can adjust your approach to be either cautious or aggressive as you need to. Again, the structure in Vengeance really works from a thematic perspective, because it works just like a movie does – albeit a somewhat extended one.

Whilst some of the game is influenced by luck (die rolling and card drafting) there are more than enough systems to mitigate it. Roll three enemy activation combat die, for example, and you can always reroll them. Other upgrades allow enemy activation rolls to be swapped for additional attacks as well. When it comes to the draft, players have the chance to form strategies, but there is no direct player interaction that allows a player to profit from another’s failure, so it’s all quite fair and even.

Vengeance is also a game that really packs in a lot of components, most of which are built to a high standard. The boards and all card stock is excellent, as is the artwork that runs throughout them all. Miniatures are not the very best ever, but given the number of them there are a wide range of poses and the standard is far from bad. The custom dice are great and the manual and box insert round the package off nicely.

If I have a negative point to raise about Vengeance, it is a minor one. The manual is incredibly verbose, which makes setup seem longer and more complicated than it needs to be. Once you’ve been through the process a few times, you’ll wonder why it seemed so hard when you first tried to use the quick start guide. As a result, Vengeance is a medium-weight game for the person who is running the session, but it can be very light for friends who turn up just to play along, which is fantastic given the possibilities the systems offers.

With the quality of components and table presence it offers, the high level of accessibility (following initial setup) and the exceptional linking of some really good systems with an equally impressive theme, Vengeance is easy to recommend. There is relatively little to criticise except possibly the lack of direct interaction between players and that tiny bit of luck based gameplay, but overall I really enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

**** 4/5

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