- Designer: Prospero Hall
- Artist: N/A
- Publisher: Ravensburger
- Release Date: August 2018
Luke: Who would have thought that one of the most popular Disney board games to date would give players the chance to take on the titular roles of the villains?
Phil: It’s certainly a premise that has gotten a lot of players excited, myself included. Many Disney baddies represent some of the best moments of the films they appear in.
Luke: They also have some of the best musical numbers. Be Prepared, Gaston, Hellfire, Poor Unfortunate Souls. This list goes on and on…
Phil: And with mechanics that I’ve heard people compare to both Scythe and Vast, we were both curious as to what this weird amalgamation of things could possibly play like.
Luke: Yeah, both those games are pretty heavy-weight games, something Villainous certainly isn’t.
Phil: What it is is a 2-player race to the finish, as players with unique characters rush to complete their evil plans before their opponent.
Luke: You mean 2- to 4-player game.
Phil: Teeeeeeeeeeechnically, yes, but this game feels like it was designed to be played best at 2, which suits us just fine.
Luke: Which is why we’re looking at some of the 2-player sets in particular, namely Wicked to the Core and Evil Comes Prepared.
Phil: Why not the most iteration, Perfectly Wretched?
Luke: We were waiting for it to come about before we launched this review, but when looking more closely into it, those sets introduce a few more complex characters, and we didn’t want that perspective coloring our opinions of what is, generally speaking, a fairly light, single-note affair.
Phil: Ooof. Not sounding great out of the gate.
Luke: Don’t be so quick to judge; for such a light title, this game has some meat on its bones.
Phil: For sure, and that comes in the form of the wide variability. Each villain has their own decks of cards, boards, and sometimes mechanics that define them. Dr. Fascilier tries to build a deck of cards, Scar has to kill Mufasa and the various denizens of Pride Rock, and Yzma has to find where Kuzco is hiding and kill him with Kronk. It’s incredibly thematic if you know the source material.
Luke: It really draws you into the experience.
Phil: On your turn, players move their player token to a new space on their personal board, dictating what actions they can take. On the next turn, they must move that token to a new space, preventing you from abusing a particular set of actions too frequently.
The action-types are:
- Gain Power: Power if your primary currency, used to pay for cards and other effects.
- Play a Card: Cards come in the form of loyal minions who fight enemy forces, items that give persistent effects, reaction cards that are triggered by your opponent’s actions, and events that provide 1-time effects.
- Activate: Some cards only provide their effects when activated.
- Move ___: Minions, heroes, and items can be moved across the 4 regions you control.
- Vanquish: When you use minions to defeat invading forces, both the minions you used and that pesky hero is discarded. But how do heroes even show up?
- Fate: Introducing the primary form of player interaction, your opponent can draw 2 cards from your hero deck, choosing one to put in play and ruin your carefully curated plans.
- Discard Cards: Lastly, players can toss any cards from their hand that are more situational or simply unhelpful at the time.
Luke: Oh good. Take-that mechanics. My favorite.
Phil: It’s certainly the most divisive aspect of the game. Because each villain has their own Fate deck, it feels very thematic when Heracles and Phil show up to ruin Hades’ day, but its implementation feels awkward mechanically. Beyond the Fate action and the reaction cards, Villainous is basically a solo game, allowing you to envelope yourself in the world of your film of choice.
Luke: But there are so many different villains to choose from.
Phil: And here’s the other odd element. Each villain is a treat to play, giving you a new experience without throwing out the initial formula. This makes each game exciting as you learn how Rattigan or the Evil Queen deals with their troubles, but it also becomes stale just as quickly. After playing a particular villain once or twice, it becomes the same game experience every time. And because it’s such a solitary experience, it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing against; your deck and board will more or less dictate your experience.
Luke: This can also lead to some villains feeling outright better than others, as they just have more efficient engines. And some villains need heroes to come out of the deck, meaning that when you do Fate them, you may be helping them more than harming them.
Phil: There’s a lot of things about Villainous that feel double-edged, but what that ultimately amounts to is this is a game for a particular audience. Are you a fan of classic Disney films? Do you not want to interact all that much with other players? Do you like having particularly unique player powers? And, most importantly, do you not mind a little meanness? Than Villainous may be the game series for you.
Verdict: Villainous is a game that lives and dies on its references to films people already have a deep connection to. If you love Disney, there’s almost definitely a character here for you to play, but beware; you’ll need to keep buying expansions to keep the game fresh beyond the first 5 or so plays.