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Villainous Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Prospero Hall
Publisher: Wonder Forge
Year Published: 2018
No. of Players: 2-6
Ages: 10+
Playing Time: 50 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

  "Every villain is the hero of his of her own story."
-Attributed to approximately 100 different people on the internet

Most anyone that has made the pilgrimage to a Disney park can attest to the magic of the location. It has the ability to take anyone away from the stress of everyday life and instill in them a sense of childlike wonder that may have long been lost. 

And this does not happen by accident. All the cast members in the parks seem empowered to make certain that the visitors experience the joy that the parks intended to create. After all, there is a reason that Disney World is called the "happiest place on Earth." (And let's be honest, these days we could all benefit from a little Disney Magic)

I will always fondly remember the time that my youngest met Tigger at a photo spot and Tigger spent a few minutes matching his hops bounce-for-bounce. It was a little thing that didn't take a lot of time, but created a life-long memory that I hope never fades.

The experience at the parks is so impactful that even before we had even completed our first visit, we were planning our next.

I have since made a return trip to the park, and on the subsequent trip, my expectations were set based on the earlier trip--and they were still exceeded. And I would assume that many could attest to the same thing. 

But as one's expectations rise with subsequent visits to the park, they permeate into more than just the parks, but to the Disney brand. We set these benchmarks in our minds that we expect for all Disney-affiliated products to meet. Whether it be the movies, or products, or in this case, board games. 

And when you have those expectations associated with the brand, anything that doesn't meet these lofty expectations, even if it is still above average, seems a little disappointing. 

Such has been my experience with Villainous.  

Now, I don't want this be misconstrued as me not liking the game or saying that it is bad. That's not it at all. I think it is a good game with an awesome theme. But it wasn't great. I walked away wanting something a little more than what the game gave, rather than preemptively planning a return visit.

On the surface, the idea of playing as a Disney villain is a great theme. It's always cool to revisit a fictional story and see the story from the other side (e.g. the film Maleficent). And in that way, the game is exceptional. The main villains were wonderfully chosen and represented, and the supporting cast represented as heroes and allies reflect some "deep cuts" that will bring a smile to even the biggest fans of the films.

The miniature representations of the villains are amazing in terms of quality and appearance.
Play starts with each player selecting a villain and receiving the corresponding player board and miniature, with the players winning condition printed on the board. And this where I started to cool on this game. The winning conditions are all different, but I wouldn't describe them as equal. 

Some villains have to simply have certain cards in their area at the start of the turn in order to win. Some are more challenging by having heroes that do more to impede their progress toward the winning condition. Some have an increased level of difficulty by having to unlock spots on their board before they can move there. Some have an even higher level of difficulty by forcing them to reveal certain cards and then transport them to other areas on their board.

The lock tokens serve as a reminder of places on the board a player cant go until specific conditions are met.

Though unequal, I wouldn't consider it a game balance issue. But having a harder winning condition does require a different strategy. You have to be, well, villainous. A strategy emerged throughout plays that required the player(s) to pile the fate cards onto the player with the easier winning condition in order to thwart their play. (Make no mistake, Villainous is very much a "take-that" game.) But in doing so, they weren't able to focus on their own winning condition as much. To wit, it became more of a defense vs. offense battle rather than all players equally trying to reach their respective winning conditions. This made games drag on and become quite repetitive.

My initial thought was that this was by design, a sort of handicap that makes it more challenging for adults while easier for younger players. And this may have been the goal, but that isn't explicitly stated. Instead, on my playthroughs, there was always one player with what initially seemed by all to have a much easier time meeting their winning condition than the others until the focus of the other players became stopping them. And it was due to this separate, yet seemingly not-equal winning conditions that left a sour taste (and truth be told, more disappointment) in the mouths of all of the players. 

The objectives of the various villains. If some seem easier than others--they are.
Maybe we should have played more games with randomly assigning the villains. Maybe we should have prohibited use of what we saw as the easier characters. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the title of the game. Maybe we just all had bad luck with our draw piles, and we'll all feel differently six months from now.

That being said, the fact remains--we played the game as designed and my opinion must be based on those plays. And my opinion is that this game is great if you are simply looking for a fresh take on a Disney-themed game. If you're looking solely at game play, I couldn't rate this higher than just ok. Combining theme and game play, I'd say it averages out to a good-but-not-great-game.

I can't think of any time I have seen Skippy or Toby outside of the movie.
Make no mistake, this is a good game--and good isn't bad--but I expected more. When you're expecting great, and are met with only good, you cant help but to feel a little disappointment. That's where I am at with Villainous right now.

But again, if you love Disney and you want this game, by all means get it. There will be people that love the Disney brand and will love this game for nothing more than the IP. There will be people that love games and will find joy in the game play of Villainous regardless of the theme. There will be some that fall into both. But for me, Villainous fell a little flat.

You may love this game and honestly I hope that you do. I sincerely hope that it brings you the joy that it was intended to and you use it to create memories that you hold as dearly as I do with my experiences in the parks. 

After all, we could all use some Disney Magic right now.

For those that have grown accustomed to the usual format, here is a high-level overview of the above information and further explanation of rules and game play.


Rules and Game Play:
Players choose their villain, choosing between Captain Hook (from Peter Pan), Ursula (from Little Mermaid), Maleficent (from Sleeping Beauty), Prince John (from Robin Hood), Queen of Hearts (from Alice in Wonderland), or Jafar (from Aladdin).

Upon selection of their villain, players also take the matching villain deck, fate deck, player board, and villain miniature.

Players can choose between six different villains.
On their turn, a player will move their character to a different location (1 of 4, unless a space is locked) on their player board and take one or more of the actions available on that space. Example actions include obtaining power (the game's currency), assigning fate cards to your opponents, and playing villain cards from your hand onto your board. The villain deck is comprised of allies, conditions, effects, etc., that will help you fulfill your specific win condition.

Unopened Queen of Hearts villain board.
Selecting the fate action allows the player to choose another player, draw two cards from that player's fate deck, and play one of them on that player's board. In doing so, it covers two of the four available actions on that player's space on their board. The fate deck contains the hero and other effects that can restrict that player from meeting their winning condition.

Fate cards include heroes that your opponents can play on your board to limit your available actions on that space.

At the end of the turn, players draw their hand back up to four from their villain deck. Play continues until a player meets their winning condition at which time the game ends.

Artwork and Components:
This is where the game shines. The art on the cards is great. The miniatures representing the villains are great. Everything, sans the cauldron for holding power (it's pretty flimsy), is great. If you are looking to acquire this game for the Disney aspect of it, you will not be disappointed.

The art on the back of the Queen of Hearts villain deck.

The Catepillar hero card played on Tulgey Wood.

Dinglehoppers and Snarfblats can decrease the power of the villain and increase the power of a hero, respectively.

The Good:
It is Disney through-and-through. The hero, ally, effect, item, and condition cards are all pulled directly from their respective films. Even the conditions on the cards are film-specific and clever. For example, if Captain Hook moves to a location on his board that is currently occupied by the Tick Tock fate card, the player must discard their hand.

The art and components (excluding the cauldron) are exactly what you should expect from a Disney title.
I can confidently say that fans of games with Disney IP are really going to enjoy this title.

Also, it can easily take on expansions. There are so many characters that could eventually be included in this game. In fact, you can visit the Wonder Forge website and vote for the villain you would like to play.

The Bad:
As stated above, some of the winning conditions are a little easier to meet than others. This can turn the game into more a tug-of-war with all players repeating the same actions over and over (especially if only playing with two players). However, once you identify those villains, you can assign them to younger players to level the playing field.

Be gentle with the cauldron that holds the power tokens--it wasn't built to last.
Another common complaint (brought to you by First-World Problems, Inc.) during play was that the game doesn't come in shrink, but rather the lid is secured with four stickers. When removed, the stickers can remove the finish from the box. This shouldn't be a deal breaker, but for those that like to display pristine boxes, you've been warned. 

The Other:
There is a big take-that component to this game with the fate cards. If you, or someone you're playing with, is adverse to take-that in game play they may not enjoy that aspect of the game. But remember the game is about being a villain and doing villainous stuff, so that may soften the blow to those that normally wouldn't want to play a take-that style game.

Final Thoughts:
If you love Disney and you want this game, by all means get it. It will appeal to people that love the Disney brand and they will love this game for nothing more than the Disney branding.

And, I am sure that there will be people that love "take-that" games and will find joy in the game play of Villainous regardless of the theme.

I would further bet, that there will be some folks that fall into both and they will really like this game.

But to me, Villainous left me desiring more than what the game gave.

At times, the varying degree of difficulty of the individual character's winning conditions made the strategy aspect of the game devolve into a repetitive tug-of-war between the players--with the player with the easier winning condition marching onward to victory, while the other player(s) employ a constant barrage of take-that actions that seemed to serve as nothing more than a speed bump on the other players road to victory.

All that to say, Villainous is a good game, but if you go into into expecting great, you may be disappointed.

Players Who Like: Disney-themed titles such as Disney Pictopia and Codenames: Disney.

Check out Villainous on:

https://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/256382/villainous   http://www.wonderforge.com/games/disney/villainous/   https://www.facebook.com/WonderForge   https://twitter.com/wonderforge  https://www.instagram.com/wonderforge/   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3ILozmFNwg   https://www.amazon.com/Wonder-Forge-Disney-Villainous-Strategy/dp/B07DLGD9K6

About the Author:
Nick is a compliance consultant by day, a board gamer at night, and a husband and father always. When he is not bringing a game to the table, he is running (most often to or from his kids) or watching the New York Yankees. You can follow what Nick is playing on Twitter at @ndshipley
Villainous Review Villainous Review Reviewed by Nick Shipley on August 22, 2018 Rating: 5

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