Vengeance is what happens when someone takes the murderous revenge tale of movies like Kill Bill and turns them into a board game. Or at least tries to.
A game for 1-4 players, Vengeance puts you in control of a person who has been wronged at the hands of criminal gangs, and who is now very much out for some payback.
The overall structure of Vengeance is designed to mimic an action movie; the game begins with the "Wronging", a phase where players are tortured and suffer a ton of damage at the hands of a series of gang bosses.
Those bosses are then marked by players, with the goal of the game to explore the seedy underside of the city, find them and take them out (along with any henchmen who get in your way). You get points each time you do this, and the player with the most points at the end of the game wins.
The game is split into three acts, each following roughly the same pattern. They open with a "Montage" section, where players heal their wounds, buy/upgrade equipment and abilities and scout out the city looking for the location of their marked bosses.
Once that's done, Vengeance shifts to a combat section, where players drop miniatures onto the map and blast/slice their way through a criminal den trying to assassinate its resident gang boss.
It's here the tone of the game changes a little; while the overall premise and opening are an ode to revenge movies in general, the fighting in Vengeance is caters specifically to fans of John Wick.
The main game board is made up of six gang dens, which are replaced as the game goes on with more detailed and difficult encounters.
You repeat the montage-combat routine for all three acts, using each montage section to rest and refit before your next fight. It actually took a little getting used to; the game's use of miniatures, top-down combat and health meters had me expecting this would be an experience similar to, say, Imperial Assault, and so I spent the first montage focusing on healing myself for the battles ahead.
I'd made a mistake, because Vengeance isn't a game about staying alive. You're rarely seriously threatened by the thugs you're up against. Instead it's a game about racing the clock, and trying to cause as much damage as you possibly can in as short amount of time as possible.
Upon entering a den, you only have three turns to get through it, kill everyone in your way then assassinate a boss. Everything in the combat phase is handled via dice rolls, which present you with all the possible moves - run, knife, shoot - you can make that turn.
The time limit and random nature of the rolls means you're constantly improvising, trying to make the best of a bad situation as you attempt to string together a sequence of kills ala John Wick, seguing rapidly from running up some stairs to knifing a guy to rolling past a thug to bursting through a doorway guns blazing.
For all its cool art and original premise, Vengeance has a problem in that its theme doesn't quite fit the game, no matter how far its creators have tried to stretch it. The random nature of the Wronging feels disconnected, and your quest through the game for multiple bad guys (and more you can willingly add later) seems at odds with the idea that you're playing as a victim of a single crime. Having the victory condition be a points tally, and not the murder of the person who wronged you, also feels ... wrong.
Breaking the game up into three phases is also weird, not simply because it keeps pausing the action just when you're starting to have some fun, but because again it breaks with the theme: action movies tend to only use the montage once, they don't drop them in and repeat the same ones every 30 minutes.
Not helping my first hours with Vengeance was some terrible documentation. The included quick start guide is nowhere near long enough (it skips combat entirely, the space it's most badly needed), while the main manual fails to clearly explain some of the key principles of the game, like how damage is dealt and how combos function.
Vengeance's biggest problem, though, is its lack of interaction between players. It's designed for 1-4, and going from what I played, solo play might be the best option here, as there's very little reason for multiple people to be playing the same game other than the pleasure of each other's company.
You don't really play with other people in Vengeance, you play alongside them. Each person has their own individual targets for revenge, and you're unable to trade items, share reconnaissance or embark on combat missions with other players. It means Vengeance begins to feel like a very lonely game, especially when you're playing with 3-4 people and have to sit through everyone else's combat turns.
The miniatures in this game are great, but - and this is a first for me - I actually thought there were too many of them. You need so many of them, and so many of them are interchangeable, that continually getting them on and off the board became a bit of a pain.
For all those flaws, though, I still enjoyed Vengeance, because its combat system is so good its able to carry the rest of the experience bleeding and screaming through a bullet-riddled doorway.
It's rare that a dice-roll system is able to so beautifully capture the tasks its setting out to simulate, but Vengeance really does make you feel like you're a crazed gunman bursting into a gang den and just winging it, heart racing as you sprint from room to room.
Sometimes you get unlucky and can only deal out a little damage, leaving yourself vulnerable to criminal counter-attacks. But I also managed, with the help of some powerful abilities, to string together some massive combinations of movement, knifework and gunplay that left a trail of bodies in my wake.
It's an absolute blast when it all comes together, and can be genuinely thrilling to execute in a way that I'm more used to seeing in a video game like Splinter Cell or Assassin's Creed than in a space where I'm rolling dice on my table.
Before we wrap this up, I'd also like to give a shout out to Axel Torvenius's fantastic character art for the game. The gritty, comic book-style is absolutely perfect for the theme, and the game's cast of playable characters and thugs are both distinct and memorable. It would have been easy for a game like this to come across as too "dorky", but everyone in this game looks exactly like they should: like a dirty, broken arsehole.
I liked Vengeance! The theme doesn't quite come together, and the structure feels a bit weird, and the manuals sucked, and yet ... the combat was so good, so exciting and perfect for the game that everything else was worth it.
I had no idea when I sat down with Vengeance that I'd be playing a John Wick simulator, but I'm very glad I did.