An Oldboy Learns New Tricks – A Vengeance: Roll & Fight Review

I was a little unsure of Vengeance: Roll & Fight. From a hopeful perspective, I was eager to see if this small box could replicate the intensity at the core of Mighty Boards’ original Vengeance, while successfully jettisoning the various decks and phases that bloated game length and resulted in my eventual weariness. But I was also cautious due to the adoption of the roll & write genre, a category of games I’ve been wholly ambivalent to.

But things – and people – change. In the year of our lord, 2022, I have finally found an exceptional roll & write design in Long Shot: The Dice Game. With Vengeance: Roll & Fight, it seems I’ve found a second.

The achievement of this title, much like Long Shot, is that it harnesses the fluidity and mechanical compression of the roll & write category without parroting the well-defined structure exhibited by the large swathe of existing releases. It feels nothing like a roll & write.

Instead of mimicking the bingo-like process of rolling or drawing a result and everyone simultaneously marking up a private sheet, Roll & Fight focuses the process on real-time dice rolling to bank combos of symbols that trigger abilities. You furiously roll custom six-siders, effectively racing the other players at the table to consume as many dice in the shared group pool as possible, seeking to chain together actions you will perform in the subsequent fight phase.

This is actually significantly different than its predecessor. In Vengeance, the dice rolling happened as part of the action. You rolled and resolved maneuvers, such as punches or gunfire, one at a time while a sand-timer provided pressure. In Roll & Fight, the maneuvers themselves are constructed in real-time but they’re not resolved until this rapid action phase is complete.

In practice, it feels a little like a more forgiving Space Alert. You’re not exactly programming an order of resolution, instead able to resolve each ability as you’d like. It affords a thoughtful puzzle-like contemplation as you try to maximize carnage to achieve the highest score possible.

This works extraordinarily well in terms of de-cluttering the Vengeance experience. The montage phase doesn’t eat up half the game. There’s no drafting of dens or fooling around with reconnaissance. Everything is more focused including the narrative.

I am really quite enamored with the reduction in narrative scope. Instead of blasting through multiple dens in a process that begs the player to sort of ignore this incongruence with logical story expectations, you will only need to worry about a single den and a single gang. It’s more tightly woven mechanically, as well as fictionally.

Asymmetric character growth still exists. You gain new skills and abilities during play in clever momentary interludes called “flashbacks”. This works eminently better than seizing play for a contemplative dividing of dice. It’s but a short scene, creating this neat mental framework of a previous moment of realization and growth. Then you’re back in the den, slashing throats and caving in skulls.

This aggressive editorial shearing does come with its own cost. While the narrative is more focused, it’s also sparser. Much of what was explicit previously is now restructured to rely on the participant’s own authorship.

Take the wronging for instance. In Vengeance, this was a whole phase where players setup their story by drafting cards and deciding how these various criminals did them dirty. These cards described specific details, such as electrocution or physical disfigurement. It painted an image in your head and left you feeling bruised and angry.

That’s gone entirely. Instead, each character has an included drawback. A negative ability such as ongoing damage or increased effectiveness for their foes. This is never spelled out, but this symbolizes the character’s abuse and loss at the hands of the villain. You must make that connection on your own and decide how it occurred.

Many won’t however, as the design rarely prompts such engagement. In fact, the game can play so quickly and with such ease that it’s easy for it to fade from memory shortly after the box has closed. It’s the downside of the loss of context and all of the extra peripheral detail its elder sibling possesses. While the process of play here is enticing and intense, it can often lead to an emotionless aftertaste that’s somewhat disappointing.

Even the solitaire mode bears this contrast. You can complete a session in roughly five minutes, quickly white knuckling your way through a house full of goons and then tallying up your score. It’s an easy game to leave setup on the table and pop in for a quick rumble in the span of a commercial break. But it lacks that enlarged presence of the previous title, the enduring narrative that leaves you something to chew over.

Much of this maps to current culture and market demand. There’s a strong desire and conditioning for instantaneous experience and the minimizing of requirements, as seen in the shift to streaming and proliferation of quick-serve dining. In gaming, expectations have shifted over the years from designs requiring multiple plays to unveil strategy and understand balance, to demanding a sense of completeness in the first session. Roll & Fight speaks to these trends and offers a product with such appeal. It’s also a nice palate cleanser to the constant stream of overstuffed Kickstarter miniatures-stuffed games that proliferate like Gremlins.

In some sense, none of this bothers me. The central real-time dice rolling is still visceral. The process of crossing off baddies’ heads with a marker serves well to convey an emotional weight of physical high-velocity decapitation.

There’s also the idea that the two games offer distinct experiences, with this new title not invalidating the prior. They both can be enjoyed for what they offer, foibles be damned.

To be frank, I’m not sure I want to return to Vengeance at this point. It’s difficult to get over the mental hurdle of setup and rules refreshment. I don’t harbor ill will, but if I did, all would be well because Roll & Fight captures a portion of the soul of that original creative work with much less hassle, and for me, that’s enough.

 

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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