Villainous Review – Disney Take On The Board Game World
This board game renaissance, we have all been a part of over the past few years, is an interesting thing. Where gaming companies are thriving, other players are only starting to throw their hat into the ring. Up until now, for instance, there are a few big names in the entertainment business who have been relatively quiet on the scene. A player I have expected to see a lot more of, but who haven’t materialised as much as expected, is Disney.
Well, thanks to board game designer Prospero Hall, and production company Wonder Forge, Disney’s classic universe has now made a made a huge splash into the depths of the board game renaissance. What is more, they are making a magnificent ripple, big enough to wake the Kraken, with the new game – Villainous.
So, after one of those “I’ve seen this on Instagram and can’t believe Disney are making a game for the serious adult gaming market” moments (you know, we’ve all had them). I decided to give Villainous a try.
So, let’s review Villainous. My reviews tend to be fairly long, so if you want to skip to the relevant parts this is the contents table:
- The Core Information – What is Villainous?
- How To Play Villainous – A Brief Explaination
- Our Opinions – What is Villainous like to play?
- TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Mickey Mouse
The Core Information: What is Villainous?
Villainous is a board game for 2-6 players designed by Prospero Hall (who also designed House of Danger and Bob Ross – Art of Chill). In the game, you take the roles of one of the six most iconic Disney bad guys of all time looking to complete your own objective first to win the game. The villains you can play as are:
- Ursula from The Little Mermaid
- Captain Hook from Peter Pan
- King John from Robin Hood
- The Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland
- Jafar from Aladdin
- Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty
Each villain has their own unique board, deck of Villain Cards, Fate Cards, and awesome pawn that is for their use during the game. There is only one resource in the game, and that is Power. Villain cards have a certain Power cost. The different villains and characters each have their own objectives.
The game takes around 1 hour to play.
How To Play Villainous – A Brief Explanation
Every game of Villainous starts the same. Everyone chooses their villains.
Once you have chosen your villains you set up. As mentioned before, everyone has their board. They also have their own pawn (Captain Hook’s is pictured above), player board, and two decks. The decks are a Villain Deck, which are cards the villain plays on themselves, and the Fate Deck. This is a really neat mechanic and comprises of thematic cards other players can play on you. The Villain Deck is placed on the left hand side of the player board, with the Fate Deck being placed on the right.
On your turn, you move your villain pawn to one of four spaces on your board. This denotes the kind of actions you can do. You can play cards for instance, you can gain power or discard from your hand. You can move your allies or items (types of Villain card) or move heroes (types of Fate card). Or, you can play Fate on another player to try to mess up their game.
Fate is where the game really comes alive. To play Fate, you draw two cards from someone else’s Fate deck. You discard one, and play the other on that player. These, if heroes, get placed at locations where they cover up some of the actions, inhibiting the villain’s ability to play. If they are items or events, those get played on heroes, bolstering them and making them harder to defeat.
So, how do you get rid of heroes? You need to play allies and items, events and conditions, on your own side. The simplest way to defeat a hero is to use allies, however some characters have different abilities to make it easier or harder to do.
Each villain in the game has their own winning criteria. They have their own way of winning the game, and thus each need their own strategy (my regular readers are probably rolling their eyes right now as they become aware of the six inevitable strategy articles). This makes the game fun and different to play, not to mention a somewhat challenging experience.
Our Opinions – What is Villainous Like To Play?
I have to admit that when I first got Villainous, I was dubious. Here was a game, not just licensed by but fully imbuing Disney essence, that was about being the villain in the story. It had everything it needed to theoretically be some twee trip down Disney nostalgia rather than a game in its own right.
I have to admit, dear reader, that in all of my time being a board gamer, being a board game blogger and dude who analyses games – I don’t think I have ever been so wrong.
Villainous is a serious game for people who like serious gaming. It isn’t a deck building game, but each deck does respond incredibly differently to the rest. We’ve played with a few characters now, and each one feels different. The decks feel different. They behave differently, and exacerbate their uniqueness, epitomising both the character and challenging game play.
One of the strongest things about the game is the Fate deck. In my opinion, it is a great mechanic, and the fact each player has one keeps the game thematic. It also allows for additional strategies, as some characters need things from their Fate deck to win the game. What this means is that players can be mean to one another; however, sometimes being mean will backfire. It means sometimes being bad can turn out badly and help an opponent win. Who knew?
More Strategies Than Aladdin Has Wishes
So, with that in mind, let’s talk about the different kinds of strategy in the game. Firstly, there is the strategy of how you play your own deck. At any one time you have a hand of four, and you can play as many cards as your current space/location allows. This is usually one or two. You can also discard cards, meaning it is more than possible to churn through a deck. Each character has certain synergies, and certain ways of playing.
This is the first game I have come across that offers strategy guides for the different character decks. At first I thought it was Disney lowering the bar to make the game accessible. Part of that sentence is true, they do make it easier to pick a character up straight out the box; however, it does not lower the bar. The bar is high, is pole vaultingly so, and the strategy guide is the equivalent to giving you a step ladder to get slightly closer to where you need to be to optimise the decks.
Next, there is the Fate strategy. Characters need to play Fate to slow their opponents down; however, sometimes they need to get played on so they can get characters or items out themselves. Sometimes you need to be mean and receive the meanities (yes, “meanities”, you heard it here first folks) in return. Sometimes being mean has the opposite effect. King John, for instance, needs power, and the Warrant card gives him power whenever a hero (a type of Fate card) is played on a location with a Warrant. You don’t want to give King John that power lest he win earlier than he should.
This brings us onto the Power strategy, with Power being the one and only resource in the game. There is a huge pot (pot included) of power in the middle of the table, ripe for the pillaging. You gain power throughout the game. Sometimes it is the end goal, but most of the time it is a means to an end. You gain power to play cards. You play cards to win.
Each deck behaves in a different way. Captain Hook, for instance, wants to churn through his Fate deck until he gets Peter Pan to fight. This means getting other players to dislike him enough to keep playing Fate on him, or using a few cards to move through his Fate deck. Ursula wants to churn through her Villain deck to find the Crown and Trident, meaning she should discard as much as possible, to keep drawing new cards. King John wants to gain power, so augments his locations with allies and abilities to help him gain it and keep it. The list goes on and on.
Better Mechanics Than Cogsworth’s Insides
One of the things, in my opinion, that really makes this game stand out is how it merges and masters a few mechanics. Those who have played Scythe will recognise the basis of the player board mechanic. It is one of the great things about Scythe that makes it stand out so. Villainous uses that mechanic, simplified it a bit in regards to the type and number of actions that can be done, before making it smoothly complex (yes, that makes sense) with the addition of the Fate cards cutting some of the actions out of the game.
The Fate deck in itself is a kind of deck I haven’t seen anywhere before. It may not be new ground, I may not just know as much about board games as I think I do, but either way it is cool seeing a non-mainstream mechanic enter the board game market.
The Poison Apple (It’s Not All Good)
That being said, it is not all good. The production quality is absolutely awesome, bar the cauldron for holding power tokens. That feels cheap. There is one other problem as well that isn’t just aesthetics.
The bigger problem, as wonderful as the decks are, resides within the form of said decks.
Obviously, I have not yet played this game enough for it to grow old; however, I can imagine that once the game has been played with each character a few times it can grow old due to the fact that each deck is meant to be played in certain ways. Although this may be 40 or 50 games down the line, it does draw to question as to whether Villainous has a limited shelf life or whether it can just keep getting played and played. I guess we won’t know for some time, but I can see, once an experienced group of gamers have played it a few times, it may just become a straight up race to see who can complete their objective the fastest. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it changes the function of the game to be something a little bit different; however, I wouldn’t be a board game reviewer/analyst if I didn’t state the concern.
This could obviously be alleviated with expansions.
“It means no worries, for the rest of your days.”
Although there is that one concern I have about the longevity of the game, I have to admit I am incredibly impressed with Villainous. It is fast and it is furious. It requires strategic thinking, deeper than we initially thought it would, and has a strong theme that is imbued within the game. You feel slightly villainous whilst playing, and when a game makes you get into the role and feel the fun that Disney intends its characters to be then that is a good sign.
Not to mention, when playing Ursula it gives me an excuse to keep calling everyone “poor unfortunate souls”. It’s a great laugh. I’m a riot.
TL;DR: The Good, The Bad, and The Mickey Mouse
Inspired by reading a post by David over at Roll to Review recently, and in trying to make these reviews slightly more useful, I thought I would break this down to the basics.
- The production value of the game is amazing. Everything looks ace (except for the cauldron).
- The theme is strong, and actually runs through the game. This isn’t just another franchised game.
- There is a really nice mix of mechanics – including a very well done player board (reminiscent of Scythe) and the Fate deck.
- Villainous is much deeper than it looks, with strong strategies per character. The strategy leaflets for each character are a nice touch.
- This is a game that has a wide appeal. Disney fans will enjoy it for obvious reasons. Younger gamers and less hardcore gamers will find the theme helps make the game accessible. Hardcore gamers will enjoy the challenge.
- There is a fair amount of player interaction, yet you can be villainous without everyone hating you.
- This game cost me less than thirty bucks (GBP). I’m not sure I’ve mentioned that, but that’s ace.
- Don’t think it slipped my attention Disney/Prospero that this game is infinitely expandable!
- This game isn’t shrink wrapped but rather kept together by sticky tabs, which is friendlier for the environment. A random point, especially since there are six large plastic minis/pawns in the game, but reducing the environmental impact by reducing the disposable plastic is a good thing.
NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
- I don’t have an opinion over the choice of characters. I am a Disney fan (my missus and I spent our third anniversary at Disneyland Paris as 23yr olds) and have seen the majority of the films. Personally, I don’t like Alice in Wonderland, but that’s personal choice. I’m waiting for the Scar deck.
- The Cauldron looks and feels cheap. This is the only part of the game that does, the rest is a pile of golden awesomeness.
- Shelf life may be limited after playing it a lot. That can be said of a lot of games, but the finality of the Villain decks have just made me more aware of it here.
This game is neat and I really like it. Realistically, if I were the grading type (which I don’t usually do) then I would say A+ for effort. This game is exactly what it says on the tin, and most of all it is fun. It is enjoyable and fabulous and I really look forward to the next game. Kudos Prospero Hall, this has to be one of the best film/TV games I think I have ever played.
That, dear readers, is high praise because the X-Files game is ace.
So, there we have it. One review – more opinionated than usual, but to be honest it was refreshing to just be able to talk about opinions. Please let me know if you find this review style helpful.
Also, let’s talk about the game itself in the comments below. I love it. What do you think? Do you think this is the kind of game you would enjoy? Who is your favourite Disney villain? Let me know below.