The villain never wins in a Disney film, but one of them will finally get to achieve their dastardly goal in the Villainous board game. With each player taking control of a Disney villain within their respective realms, the race is on to see who can complete their vile objective first. Are you a bad enough evildoer to defeat the heroes that stand in your way while also overcoming the interference from other villains trying to finish their schemes?
Villainous is an asymmetrical card game where each player is trying to complete their objective within their respective realm. While the core mechanics of the game are the same for all players, their objectives, abilities, player boards, and powers are unique to each player. This sort of makes it play like six different games in one, giving you lots of reasons to play it more than once.
For Aladdin villain Jafar, he must bring the magic lamp back to the sultan’s temple and have the Genie under his control. Meanwhile, Prince John of Robin Hood fame wants to gain enough power to control every aspect of Nottingham. The characters, their objectives, and the worlds they operate in seem to fairly accurately reflect their respective source material.
Where the different characters and realms merge is in their core gameplay. Every player has a board with four different locations on the map. On your turn, you will move to any unlocked location and perform the actions that each space grants you. Some of the actions you can perform include collecting power, which is the game’s primary currency, playing cards from your hand, discarding cards, and a number of other actions that will benefit your cause.
The most interesting action available is the Fate action. This allows you to draw two Fate cards from another player’s deck and play one of them onto their board. Oftentimes, these Fate cards represent heroes from that realm, such as Alice from Alice in Wonderland or Jasmine from Aladdin. You can play them on the top half of someone else’s board in order to block the top two actions from that location. Furthermore, many of these cards have specific actions tied to them that can make it even harder for you to win. During one game as Jafar, getting my lamp stolen by Aladdin right at the end was devastating.
The game oozes with Disney flavour. If you’re a fan of the company’s films, the game makes it really easy to geek out over the tight integration of the game’s characters and lore into its core gameplay. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not a Disney expert, but I love the movie Aladdin and Jafar felt right.
It’s also surprisingly complex for a game with the Disney name. There’s a lot of moving parts that make it a blast to play, but it can be an uphill battle if you’re new to modern tabletop board games. You may want to workshop this with your group first to make sure that everyone grasps what’s going on here. If your group can get this game going, there’s a ton of fun to be had over the course of multiple plays as you try each of the game’s villains.
Where I do have concerns with the game over the course of extended plays is it’s balance. I can’t confirm for certain, but I get the sense that certain villains have an easier time than others. In particular, my gut thinks characters like Prince John and the Queen of Hearts have it a bit easier than characters like Jafar and Captain Hook. Success for the latter group requires them to activate specific cards that could be buried deep into their decks, making it harder for them to win depending on how the cards were shuffled. Meanwhile, the former group can pretty much march towards their goals right away. Maybe having new players start with the easier characters and experienced players use the harder ones could act as a means of nullifying the skill gap, but I do have concerns that it could be a problem after many plays.
Haven’t played enough to make a final verdict on the game’s character balance, but I have played enough to say that Villainous is a really neat and enjoyable game. Licensed games can be hit-and-miss, but it seems like this one was made with care, as the mechanics and source material blend well, even if it is a bit weird that villains would try to slow other villains down who don’t even exist in the same realm. Unless you plan on playing this at a hyper-serious level, you may not notice the balance issues at all, or simply assign particular villains to specific players to try and minimize the gap. For Disney lovers, it’s definitely worth a shot. If for some reason you aren’t, it’s still a neat asymmetrical game that’s doing neat stuff with its mechanics, even if its balance could use a bit more fine-tuning.
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