This past week I played Vindication for the very first time. And then proceeded to play it 4 more times over the next 2 days.
Vindication is a fascinating game, it's been on my radar for awhile, ever since it hit shelves and the hype slowly but surely continued to grow. The game looks beautiful but the abstract nature of it had me completely uncertain as to whether I would enjoy the experience or not. So it was a pleasant affirmation to play game after game, and with each play my appreciation grew.
At its core, Vindication is a cube pusher. Move your guy around the map, gather cubes, then turn those cubes into other cubes until you win the game. The explanation inherently sounds pretty stupid, but many amazing games are cube pushers, even if it's not always cubes. Le Havre, Agricola, and many more are essentially glorified versions of "turn this into that". It doesn't make it a bad game but in Vindication this theme is so inherently so at odds with the theme of it that it stands out a bit more.
Where Vindication shines though, is the cards and buildings of the game. There are 6 types of cards, and each type comes with its own giant stack, and despite initial appearances, you'll likely only see 3-6 cards from each stack per game. These cards are the core of the game...they provide unique abilities on how to most efficiently push cubes. And the fact that you see so few cards each game, makes every game completely unique.
Combine this with a variable map setup that changes each game, and different end game triggers that vary each game. These culmination of factors turns Vindication into a puzzle, a set of constraints and circumstances that basically presents you with a goal of "how do I win this game" that will be different each playthrough. Companions that were completely overpowered one game, had barely any effect the next. In another game getting relics was clearly how my friend won...and yet in the next game it was quests and being vindicated. Every game is different, every experience varied, and Vindication does all this in a (usually) short playtime. In most games Vindication comes in at 45-90 minutes, an amazing punch of strategy and enjoyable gaming for such a reasonable time frame.
Sadly the most critical thing I can say about Vindication, is that it makes me question whether other games really deserve a spot in my collection. Games such as Glen More, Kingdom Builder, Endeavor Age of Sail...these are all great games that also deliver a great punch of strategy in a short time frame...and yet I enjoy Vindication vastly more. The rulebook is a bit abstract, but within half a game you'll "get it" although getting it won't help you win the next game....each experience truly is a unique puzzle.