Designer Gordon Calleja has stated that the initial idea for the Vengeance Director’s Cut expansion came from my perspective on the game, a perspective I discussed in an earlier episode of my podcast Ding & Dent. My specific comment from that review was:
“This game is focused so intensely on the medium of film, it has this dual aspect where you’re not just acting in the game, but you’re also the director.”
So it’s ironic – and disappointing – that I don’t hold a strong affinity for this expansion. To be clear: it’s fine and it has some interesting elements, but I don’t believe the sum of its parts actually enhances the Vengeance experience.
The problem is not specifically with the additional content, it’s more a function of drift and distraction.
Vengeance reaches its pinnacle when you’re swept up in the tempo. When I think of the game I think of the dice. No. I think of my half-crippled protagonist whose flesh is torn and bones are broken, poised, ready to come out of the fugue of exhaustion and sever souls from bodies. The fantastic real-time combat system is the delivery method for that quip.
Everything else in the game is distraction. The montage phase is a clever system to deliver character advancement and weave strategic elements atop the tactical miniatures based combat. I believe it adds depth and a layer that enhances play for those seeking a cerebral experience with weight. But the more I’ve played Vengeance over the years the more I’ve realized those interludes are speed bumps.
In that respect, additional systems and mechanisms only further obfuscate the core action scenes.
I do believe some will greatly appreciate aspects of The Director’s Cut. One of the game’s biggest rough spots is the lack of player interaction. The main focus of this extension seeks to alleviate that.
Participants receive special cards which allow you to modify the conditions and circumstances of another player’s fight phase. Things like swapping out a certain minion type for another, activating enemies before the protagonist rolls, or moving foes about to alter the tactical landscape. It’s a neat concept and it does provide for direct antagonistic maneuvers against your opponents. The experience feels less isolated and gameplay is more intertwined.
But it’s also more clunky.
The timing window for cards is precise and can be tricky, which does cause you to focus more during an opponent’s fight phase, but the “WAIT! CUT!” directorial aspects inhibit momentum. From a mechanical point of view it means you cannot use the sand-timer anymore during combat. That little instrument, while often generous in its allocation of time and space, cultivates a tension that is core to the Vengeance experience. It melds tactical puzzle with dramatic velocity to produce an atmosphere that is simply integral to the game’s identity.
Introducing player interaction at that cost feels like Vengeance selling its soul to the devil. At best, it’s a lateral move, but one that comes with the expense of additional cards and rules to manage.
This overhead sinking the proposition is a constant thread in the expansion.
Hero Perks are new character specific upgrades you can purchase. But they’re a couple of new cards you have to sort through, keep nearby, and actually remember they exist when it comes time to consider them against the row of public perks. They also don’t slot onto your board so it’s easy to overlook the new ability you purchased 10 minutes ago when you’re actually kicking some ass.
The Story Missions hold the most promise of the B-sides. It introduces new character specific objectives that reference their detailed backstory. This is a positive because the personal stories of the protagonists often fell to the wayside, serving as an exclusive function of solitaire play in the base game. This pushes that narrative to the fore during a multiplayer outing which adds texture to the experience.
The problem, again, is that you now have to track something new. It’s an additional option when the game is already overstuffed with them. In multiple plays I’ve seen people mostly forget about these cards, or earn partial rewards and never trigger the main benefit. It also adds another consideration to setup as many stories require specific gangs be included in the game.
Well then, maybe The Director’s Cut is salvageable purely for additional content in the form of a new hero and opposing gang?
Napoleone, the new protagonist, is perfectly fine. An appreciated addition that’s not altogether needed, but certainly worthy of time and attention.
But The Immocalati gang? Purely a hassle.
This is perhaps an unpopular opinion, but Vengeance has gotten worse with the addition of new foes. This and the Rosari Clan expansion merely add more bags of miniatures stuffed into the box requiring more precious time to sort and setup each den. Those who aren’t playing this game weekly will forget which sculpts go with which gang, causing further confusion.
Once you start adding gangs you also need to start randomizing the starting pool which is a bit of a drag.
All of this administration is occurring and you know what that little plastic Napoleone miniature is doing? Nothing. He’s sitting there, staring off into the void and not fulfilling his destiny. He’s static and cold when he should be spitting teeth into Donna Immacolata’s eye.
Once setup has been extended alongside additional cards and tokens players need to shuffle around and keep an eye on, it quickly becomes too much. Focus drifts and you have to cut out the extraneous and narrow your vision to the core aspects of Vengeance. The new pieces start to get ignored when managing the player area as they merely get in the way. When the session is wrapped, there’s a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach questioning, “why?”
Look, I’m somewhat of a cinephile and there was a time when I was obsessed with director’s cuts. I sat with glee as I fired up the 10 hour version of Apocalypse Now. I could barely remain in my seat when finally getting to see Star Wars on the big screen in all its CGI glory. I even spent hours tracking down the extended edition of Terminator 2: Judgment Day so I could finally watch that four minute dream sequence.
Like those films, the director’s cut did not heighten my enjoyment of Vengeance. What it did was pull me back from this hobby and cause me to re-assess my relationship with expansions and “content”.
I think I want more of what I love. That usually manifests in acquiring additional material for a game long before I’ve exhausted what’s already there.
It’s difficult to recognize and address, but the greater truth is that I do want more. Not more pieces to touch, but more time and exploration. I want to give a work its due and not have my mind constantly wandering to the next thing.
Piling more stuff atop the heap does not cultivate joy.
Expansions like Vengeance: Director’s Cut feel necessary from a perspective of consumption as our sight tends to wander from games that are older than a few months. As a strategic product, extensions can revitalize old games by returning them to the spotlight and forcing us to look backwards while looking forward. That this approach feels a necessity is troubling. It’s one of the prominent ugly aspects of this hobby and it’s impossible to assign blame on anyone but ourselves.
A review copy was provided by the publisher.