Let’s get this straight first; Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes it All (Wonderforge Games, 2018) is NOT a family game. Although it sports the Disney brand name and is rated for ages 10+, this asymmetric powers, hand-management, and (being a bit evil) take that game is not for youngsters. Villainous is actually a good game for adult gamers but may wear out its welcome a bit earlier than one may like.
Out of the Box Impressions
When I first walked the aisle in Target to find the game, I thought I had found an opened copy. Villainous does not come shrink-wrapped but is sealed using four tape tabs. The one copy on the shelf already had some scuffs on the matte finish box. I still bought it, but wonder just how much “shelf life” was lost even before my purchase.
The artwork in Villainous is very impressive as one expects from Disney. The color palette is a bit muted for my taste but is in keeping with the “darker” theme of the game. Appropriate quotes and card art goes a long way towards building the atmosphere of the game; a bit sinister but not horror.
My initial impression of component quality is less-than-impressive. The player boards seem a bit thin while the Villain Movers (pawns) are chunky with some unsightly flash. In my game Captain Hook seems unbalanced and is always falling over backwards. The cards in the Villain and Fate Decks seem ok with great art but I worry that the finish might not last; is sleeving necessary? The Tokens seem about the right weight but the Cauldron is a thinner plastic than I expected. I really worry about the folded Villain Guides because they seem so fragile being printed on glossy paper not cardstock; not sure how long they really will last.
Villainous is in many ways a set of solo mini-games with shared game mechanics and just a few chances for player interaction thrown in. Every turn you move your Villain Mover (geez, just call it a pawn!) to a new Location in your Realm (player Board). Then one executes as many of the Actions at that Location that you can pay for with Power Tokens or Villain Cards. Sometimes, your opposing players will draw from your Fate Deck and reveal Heroes to hinder your progress. If one pays close attention to the Villain Cards in their hand there may also be opportunities to play Villain Cards during another player’s turn.
While each Villain will generally use the same shared game mechanics, each has a unique Objective they must accomplish to win the game. This means players must discover the right strategy and play-style for each Villain; what works for Prince John may not work for the Queen of Hearts. In our first game, I played Jafar and failed to carefully read my Villain Guide as I was too busy trying to teach the game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. As a result, I did not optimally sequence my strategy and failed to even come close to accomplishing my Objective before the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy won as Captain Hook.
What Others Say
As of the date of writing this post, there are five reviews of Villainous in the BoardGameGeek.com forums for this game. I read some of the comments there with amusement:
- Loophus continually points out how much trouble kids may have with this game. (HINT – Just because it’s Disney does not mean it is a kids game! Accept that Villainous is an “adult” game by Disney!)
- LonoXIII believes the game lacks replayability – “One complaint, however, is that the game only comes with six villains; each villain only ever has one goal, and once you’ve beaten the game with them, there’s little replay with that character. Once a player has won with all six villains, the replayability drops notably, and I could see the game ending up shelved after a while.” (Since when does winning a game once make it “solved?” The random shuffle of the Villain and Fate Decks alone will ensure that no two games are identical. Sure, once you learn the necessary strategy it becomes easier (faster?) to execute play but by no means is it “solved.”)
- TheHumanTim points out – “The only part of the physical game production that felt poorly designed was the box insert.” (Yeah, the insert doesn’t hold its shape well but at least they tried….)
- Dismas gets the theme – “The theme comes through very well in this game. Yes, what it boils down to is your gathering power to play certain cards to win the game, but it feels like so much more. It feels like you are actually trying to rewrite the script to the movie. I think that is what I like best about this game. It would have been so easy (and lazy) to make this a game about “misunderstood” villains who aren’t actually evil. No, this game you are evil and you are trying to succeed in your plot.” (As the box back states, “Be a Villain…Defeat the Heroes…Enact Your Evil Scheme!”)
- mattlowder also gets it – “I have to begin the review by saying this is not a light game. Do not be fooled. This is a richly complex games that will not click with you immediately. Strategy blooms in this one as each character you play has different goals, despite the mechanisms of triggering actions and movement being mostly identical for each player. They feel different, have asymmetrical powers, and the experience wholly satisfying if you are willing to grasp it and understand that this is not a light and fluffy game.” (“Richly complex may be overstating it but agree it is not a light and fluffy game.)
While I am not thrilled with the component quality of Villainous, I am generally pleased and greatly impressed with how well the theme integrates with art and play. Then again, for the $35 price-point the game is actually a bargain; just how many $35 games have this great art and chunky pawns to go with a better-than-average game mechanic?
Like LonoXIII, I too worry about replayability but not for the same reasons. To me, it is not the number of Villains but the strategy for each that limits replayability. A cursory look at each Villain Guide reveals an “optimal” strategy. Once this strategy is “known” the only difference in each game becomes how well the cards allow you to execute that strategy. If Villainous is played too often this could make the game challenge seem stale.
Finally, games like Villainous are not necessarily in the RockyMountainNavy Boy’s wheelhouse (preference being to lite wargames). Nonetheless, the combination of theme and game play makes Villainous enjoyable on the table and will get played. After all, we all want to misbehave once in a while!