Disney: Villainous - It's good to be bad

by Vortex Games NB

 

Have you always wanted to teach those rotten do-gooders a lesson? Well, Disney's Villainous lets you take control of some of the most iconic evil doers around to do just that.

Oftentimes with licensed brand games (say with many of the Marvel-themed games) , the heroes or protagonists overthrow and conquer against the villain. Rarely is there a game where not only do the villains win, but the players actively try to make that happen… until now. Villainous is a game where you not only get to be the bad guy (or girl), but a memorable one from classic Disney films that you grew up with. Now, you can take on that evil role and see what things would be like if the villain had succeeded in the end.
Villainous Box

 

Oftentimes with licensed brand games (say with many of the Marvel-themed games) , the heroes or protagonists overthrow and conquer against the villain. Rarely is there a game where not only do the villains win, but the players actively try to make that happen… until now. Villainous is a game where you not only get to be the bad guy (or girl), but a memorable one from classic Disney films that you grew up with. Now, you can take on that evil role and see what things would be like if the villain had succeeded in the end.

 

Villainous is an asymmetrical game for 2-6 players (ideal player range is 3-4) that takes about 45 minutes to play. Each player takes control of one of six Disney characters, each one a villain in a different Disney movie. They get their own villain deck, fate deck, player board, and character token.

 

On a turn, the active player moves their character to a different location on their player board, takes one or more of the actions visible on that space, then refills their hand to four cards. Cards are allies, items, effects, conditions, and (for some characters) curses.

 

Gameplay Overview:

As Villainous is an asymmetrical game, each player is going to approach the game with slightly varied styles of gameplay. While the core actions are the same for everyone, a players goals, decks, and realms are wholly unique.

The six starring characters in Villainous are Captain Hook, Jafar, Maleficent, Prince John, The Queen of Hearts, and Ursula. Each player begins by choosing one of those villains and collecting their realm board, villain deck, and fate deck. Players also get a villain guidebook that explains what they need to do to win the game and any special rules they might have.

For the gameplay, a players turn happens over three steps: 1) Move your villain to a new location in your realm (unless otherwise stated by a card that was played), 2) Perform any of the actions in the new location, and 3) Draw back up to four cards at the end of your turn. There are 8 potential actions a player could take:

  • Gain power – Power is the currency used to play cards
  • Play a card from your hand by paying its cost (if any) in power
  • Activate a power on a previously played card
  • Play a card from your opponent’s fate deck — these will hinder your opponent by covering up their action icons (located at the top of their realm) and otherwise making their life harder.
  • Move an ally to an adjacent location
  • Move a hero to an adjacent location
  • Vanquish a hero using your ally cards
  • Discard cards

The game ends when one of the characters achieves their victory condition. Examples include Maleficent placing a curse at each location of her realm, Captain Hook defeating Peter Pan at the Jolly Roger, or Ursula having the trident and crown back at her lair.

 

Game Experience:

Outside of a few notable publishers, many licensed games, especially in the Disney realm, simply have a pasted on theme. They use the IP (Intellectual Property), whereby, people are familiarized and often assume due to its brand, that it would provide the same satisfaction as previous renditions, as a crutch to sell an otherwise uninspired and mediocre game. However, with Villainous, thankfully that isn’t the case. Upon first glance, a lot of folks wouldn't suspect or be inclined to take a gander at it. However, Villainous is a really well put together game that not only uses a major brand as its theme, but does so in an exceptional manner.

Each villain in the game not only has their own goals and unique decks, but everything about them feels thematic. Prince John wants the power, Ursula wants the trident and the crown, and Captain Hook wants to defeat Peter Pan. The Villains act as you’d expect them to because their realms, decks, and win conditions are tailored to that character.

That’s one of the reasons this game works so well. The asymmetrical nature allows each villain to have their own motivations and gameplay drawn straight from their movies/stories. Yet despite the game being asymmetrical, it’s also fairly streamlined. Since each player is using the same 8 actions, learning the game is actually fairly simple and it’s just a matter of understanding what each of the actions does (not hard due to the game providing players with a helpful card displaying what each of the actions represent and do) and how best to use the cards in your hand.

Speaking of the cards, it is clever and nostalgically depicted that each deck is tailored to a particular villain. The Fate cards (the ones played against you) come from your own fate deck. That means that Prince Philip and Merryweather will be showing up to confront Maleficent and only Maleficent. You won’t see Robin Hood showing up to mess with Queen of Hearts' plans, which helps keep the theme tight.

Also of note, Villainous is a directly confrontational game. One of the actions is to draw two fate cards from an opponents deck and choose one to play on them. Fate cards are always bad for the players, so, unfortunately, there can be a tendency for players to dogpile or gangup on the leader if they think you are close to winning, which is probably the biggest criticism of the game. The end game can really get drawn out because of that. At times, it can rely purely on a luck of a turn to achieve your winning goal over someone else who is close to winning as well. The 5-6 player game does have a mechanic to prevent players from repeatedly targeting one player, which helps somewhat. In a 3-4 player game, one can discuss prior to playing on whether or not to implement the same mechanic for a better gameplay.

Finally, the overall production values in Villainous are pretty exceptional. The cards all feature remarkably well designed original artwork, each villain receiving a designated stylized artwork to their cards. The character game pieces are stylized minis that embody various themes derived from the given villain's film and even the realm boards feel and display a high quality. The one thing that Ravensburger should not have done was sealing the boxes with wafer stickers on each side instead of shrink-wrap for some unfathomable reason. So, exercise some caution when peeling off the stickers as to not accidentally peel the board game box.

 

Final Thoughts:

Villainous is a great game that not only makes excellent use of the Disney license, but uses it in a way that’s highly thematic and nostalgic. Despite being an asymmetrical game, Villainous is fairly easy to learn, allowing you to jump right into playing. And since every villain feels different, you are going to want to play again to try them all out.

Speaking of villains, currently the game has released 3 additional  expansions, all of which include 3 additional iconic Disney villains. Each can be played as standalone versions of the base game or you can mix and match the expansion villains with former expansions or the base game. Within each of these new expansions, you get new gameplay mechanics and features that cater to the new characters. The first expansion, “Wicked to the Core” introduces Evil Queen (Snow White); Dr. Facilier (The Princess and the Frog); and Hades (Hercules). The second expansion, “Evil Comes Prepared” introduces Scar (The Lion King); Ratigan (The Great Mouse Detective); and Yzma (The Emperor's New Groove). And the latest third expansion “Perfectly Wretched” introduces Cruella de Vil (101 Dalmatians); Mother Gothel (Tangled); and Pete (Steamboat Willie).

The game does feature a heavy dose of “take that”, so if that’s not in your groups play style, you might want to consider giving this one a pass. But for all other potential evildoers, Villainous gives players a chance to be the bad guy in a way that will have you coming back for more. Each game can be uniquely different depending on the character selection.

 

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