Review – Disney Villainous
The worst takes it all.
|Category||Family Board Games|
Disney Villainous has exploded since its release in 2018. The basic system remains the same (move your villain, perform actions, play cards, all in order to fulfill your victory condition), but Prospero Hall did an excellent job of building in a lot of potential nuance to make room for many different types of villains. How does the original box set hold up?
Disney Villainous is not and was not intended to be a deeply strategic game. It’s more about enjoying the villain you’re playing as, embracing the warm nudges of nostalgia, and trying to give your character the best chance you can to get a win all while suffering through devastating setbacks that all villains face.
To start, everyone will choose a villain to play as and gather their board (realm), villain cards, and fate cards. All villains within each universe are compatible with each other (you can’t play Marvel villains vs traditional Disney villains), but not all villains are created equal. Some villains will beat other villains 90% of the time, which is just what ends up happening when you have a bunch of asymmetric characters. That’s not a bad thing, and it can even serve as a nice handicap for experienced players going up against newer players.
On your turn, you’ll move your piece to 1 of the 4 locations in your realm and perform as many of the 3-5 actions there as you’d like. Most of the time, that includes gaining power (Villainous’s currency) and playing a card. Sometimes, you’ll fate other players, which means you’ll draw 2 cards from their fate deck (conditions and heroes) and play 1 of those cards so as to hinder the opposing villain in their quest for victory. Fating people is really all the player interaction Villainous offers, but it can be a lot of fun (and incredibly frustrating as Aladdin steals the Genie’s Lamp from you after you’ve worked all game to get it).
That’s the core system. Pretty simple. The nuances come in with how each villain plays. The fact that the core system is so simple and yet so flexible is great because, once you understand it, you can learn a bunch of different villains without feeling like you’re learning an entirely new game. It’s more like you’re learning about a new way to play the game.
The components for this game are excellent. The player movers are tactile and chunky, and if there’s a problem with 1 (they’re mass-produced, after all), Ravensburger was great about sending the replacement part I needed when my Jafar mover leaned too much to stand on his own. The artwork has all been streamlined into an almost-3D cartoony look, which works great because they’re taking source material from cartoons of the 1920s as well as high-budget animated movies from the 2010s. The player boards and tokens are all excellent as well, and the cards have held up well to many shuffling. The unique artwork on each villains’ deck is also cool to look at and decipher what each symbol has to do with their original story.
My main critique with Villainous is that games with higher player counts can drag on for 2+ hours. A decent chunk of villains’ win condition begins with: “At the start of your turn…” which means, if you’re playing as that villain, you’ll have to achieve the condition (say it’s have 20 power), and then survive every other player fating you in order to win. Sometimes it happens, but a lot of fate cards are brutal and will set you back 2-4 turns. When Villainous becomes a grind of fating the almost-winner for an hour until someone forgets, that’s when this game is at its worst. The core system is fun, but it’s not complex enough nor are the cards aren’t deep enough to warrant a 1+ hour game.
On the positive side, it is a lot of fun playing as these familiar villains. There’s roleplaying opportunities here too as you play as the villain, go through your multi-step victory condition, and fight off heroes. You’re creating your own story as you play the game, and you’re using familiar characters, which is great. Moreover, the gameplay itself isn’t bad, it’s just bad when it pushes that 1-hour mark. While it’s fun to play Villainous with 4+ players, I’ve had the most fun, from a gameplay perspective, at 2 players. 3 players is a nice sweet spot too if you’re looking to keep the strong gameplay and throw in a bit more chaos.
Now let’s take a look at the 6 villains included in Disney Villainous. Also note that I will be discussing villains in terms of tiers: A, B, C, and D tiers, with A-tier villains being the best set up to win quickly, and D-tier being the slow burners who will rarely win unless they’re playing against other D-tiers.
Captain Hook (B-tier) must lure Peter Pan to the Jolly Roger and defeat him using his many henchmen and pirates! Captain Hook, along with Prince John, is the most straightforward villain in the core box. Most of his cards are allies, which he’ll use to defeat Peter Pan, attachments when allow him to move Peter Pan, and condition cards that allow him to find Peter Pan. He’ll occasionally run into problems if the Neverland map (required to lure Peter Pan) is on the bottom of his deck, but because his victory condition is so straightforward, he’ll often eventually win if the game lasts long enough. The taunt fate card is particularly thematic, as it forces Captain Hook to defeat any hero it’s attached to, which can redirect his forces away from Peter Pan.
Jafar (C-tier) must find the amulet to unlock the Cave of Wonders, seduce the genie to become his ally with his snake staff, and maintain possession of the magic lamp until the beginning of his next turn to win. If it sounds like a lot, it’s because it is, but Jafar is a favorite of mine because of how versatile his villain deck is and how his sneaky plan in Aladdin is so well-replicated here. It feels extra Jafarian when you use the snake staff to convert heroes to your allies, then use them to defeat each other. And of course there’s a card called A Necessary Sacrifice that lets you discard an item or ally to gain 3 power. Excellent, versatile, thematic gameplay.
Maleficent (C-tier) must begin her turn with a curse at each of the 4 locations in her realm. Maleficent is a fun puzzle to solve because when you get close to playing all 4 curses, you have to look at her board, look at the heroes in play, and figure out the best place to put the remaining curses because they each of different powers. She is difficult to win with because you have to start your turn with all curses out, and a good portion of her fate deck is geared towards removing curses, but she’s still a fun play for me because I enjoy the puzzle and the darkish fantasy artwork.
Prince John (C-tier) must begin his turn with 20 or more power. Thematically, this makes sense, and it’s more interesting than one might expect gameplay-wise. Yes, you could just gain power every turn until you eventually have 20 at the beginning of a turn, but many of Prince John’s cards allow him to gain even more power (taxing heroes in his realm, putting up wanted signs, etc.). Robin Hood is a favorite Disney movie of mine, and I really like the cost/benefit analysis that goes on while playing Prince John, so he’s a favorite of mine.
The Queen of Hearts (A-tier) must successfully take the shot. She does this by converting her card guards to wickets and drawing cards to see if her shot is successful or not. The more guards she has in her realm, the more likely her shot will succeed. She’s straightforward and pretty easy to win with. Something unique about her is that she can shrink hero cards so they only cover up 1 of the top actions in a space, while her fate deck can enlarge hero cards, which allows them to cover up 3 of the top actions.
Ursula (D-tier) must begin her turn with the trident and the crown in her lair. Ursula is one of the most thematic villains in this set because her gameplay is modified in the following ways: in order to defeat heroes, she gives them a binding contract which defeats them once she’s moved them to a certain location, and she can change form from sea witch to human, which opens up different areas of her realm. This makes for fun gameplay, but it’s rare to win with Ursula, especially because in order for her to get the trident, she must defeat King Triton first.
If you enjoy Disney characters and have a mischievous side, definitely give Disney Villainous a go. Expect 60+ minute games with more than 3 players, which is more than I would like given my relative lack of Disney nostalgia. If I could, I would give Disney Villainous a 5/10 with 4-6 players and an 8 with 3 or less. So we’ll meet in the middleish for a 7, but add a point if you’re into all things Disney (like my wife, who isn’t bothered by the longer games of Disney Villainous).
The Bottom Line
A no-brainer for Disney fans with a mischievous side (who should add 1 points to this rating at the very least).