You know how sometimes you go to Target just to look at all the nice decor and knick-knacks that you can’t really afford just to kill some time? That’s us 3 times a week. Another aisle that we frequent is, of course, the board game section, just to see if they have any good sales on particular games we’d like to try.
For a few months, we had our eyes on Villainous. The premise seemed cool and we’d heard a lot of good things about the game, one being that it was a licensed game that actually played well. After some research, we finally picked up a copy.
Villainous is a 2-6 player card game designed by Prospero Hall and published by Wonder Forge. The game takes 30-60 minutes to play and contains elements of “take that” mechanics, a lot of hand management, and features variable player powers that give each villain their own specific paths to victory.
The basic premise of Villainous is to be the first villain to complete your specific objective. Each player takes on the role of one of six villains (Jafar, Ursula, Prince John, Maleficent, Queen of Hearts, and Captain Hook). Your villain will have a player board (known as your realm, with 4 different locations), a villain deck (the cards you use to advance your goals), and a fate deck (the cards meant to stop you in your tracks).
Each turn you will move your villain marker to a different location on your player board. Each location has 4 actions (out of 8 unique actions) that dictate what you can do on that specific turn. These actions include:
- Gain Power (the main resource of the game)
- Play a Card (from your hand of 4 cards)
- Discard Cards (to get rid of unwanted options)
- Move an Item or Ally (allows you to reposition cards you have played)
- Fate (draw 2 cards from an opponent’s fate deck and choose one to play against them)
- Move a Hero (allows you to reposition a Hero fate card in your realm)
- Vanquish (use ally cards at a location to defeat a hero at that location)
- Activate Ability (allows you to activate the special effect of a card with the activate icon on it)
Throughout the game, players will attempt to gain lots of power, play cards into their realm to assist them, and defeat Hero cards that try and stop them. The first player to complete their goal wins the game.
Whereas most (if not all other) board games are shrink-wrapped when purchased brand new, the Villainous box was held together by 4 circular pieces of tape on each side. While this has nothing to do with the game components themselves, we felt it was important to mention because getting the tape off without leaving any residue was difficult in its own right.
Looking inside, the insert and components utilize the box space very nicely, leaving no room for components to tumble from side to side when placing the game on and off the shelf. The card quality was a little on the cheaper side, but unless you shuffle your cards like a savage, they won’t be easily damaged. The game comes with a plastic cauldron to hold your power tokens, which is made from thin, cheap plastic, but we feel it holds up well enough acting as cardboard storage.
However, the player boards, power tokens and villain markers (tiny plastic figurines) all seem to be made with fantastic quality. The tokens and player board material is thick and weighted and the villain markers felt nice in our hands as we moved them to a different location each turn.
Art and Graphic Design
We had figured that the publisher was going to use stills from the original Disney classics to fill out the cards, but we were pleasantly surprised that all of the artwork seemed to be original and true to the source material. Every piece of Villainous is gorgeous to look at and fits the theme very nicely. The design of the villain markers nailed the look and feel of the villain without being just a miniature of said villain.
The color palettes chosen for each villain are thematically appropriate and beautifully dark. Each villain has their own design on the back of their villain and fate decks that look like the border of the card decided to weave together into an intricate representation of your character. The only problem we had with the choice of color was the design on the back of the fate deck. The color they use for the interwoven design could be darker to make it pop more against the white fate cards.
The layout of the rulebook streamlines the learning of the game, and also makes referencing specific rules later a quick endeavor. The layout of the player board, cards, and iconography give players visible and accessible information throughout the game when the table itself can start to seem crowded.
Theme and Gameplay
Mechanically, the game offers a decent amount of player choice and interaction. For us, each turn felt like a meaningful decision, although some turns had a more grandiose feeling than others. We found ourselves always thinking a few turns ahead, which is thematically appropriate considering we are cold, calculating villains! Although at times, the game can slow down when players inevitably contract analysis paralysis when making big decisions.
Player interaction is present but not overpowering. When playing fate cards against your opponent, you’re giving them a problem that they may or may not have to deal with, depending on the fate card. Some cards require more urgent attention than others, and as the game’s theme supports, it’s up to fate to decide.
While the game does a good job of offsetting the strengths of the villain decks by using the fate deck to attack weaknesses, we found that not all villains were created equal. Jafar tended to be the easiest to win with as he had very powerful villain cards that were able to dispatch fate cards quickly, while Ursula felt like her realm and villain deck were actively working against her.
The shining star of the entire game, though, is the fantastic theme. Using the same mechanics, but with another theme, could potentially find success, but we feel as though Disney villains were a perfect fit. Simply put, the game could not survive without this theme. While the theme is integral to most games, it is essential in this one. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s mixing the familiarity of the Disney universe with a nice, evil twist!
2 Player Experience
While the game can be played with 2 to 6 players, we found that it plays really well with two. With only two players, the game feels more like a traditional CCG playstyle with a few added mechanics, which we like. The only issue with a two player game is that each player is the direct target of all the opposite player’s fate actions. This can lead to crowding of the player board and may extend the game time past what it should be.
Another thing to keep in mind from the two player perspective is that it’s much easier to keep track of what your opponent is doing, which is very important. When your opponent makes a move towards their goals, it is much easier to react considering your turn is always next.
Villainous is a very theme-heavy game that utilizes a few familiar mechanics to bring a memorable experience to the table. Its art and graphic design streamline the gameplay to make it accessible and enjoyable to Disney-lovers and tabletop gamers alike.
- Absolutely gorgeous art and graphic design
- Engaging experiences with a familiar theme
- Mechanics and villain options add excellent replayability
- Some balancing issues lead certain villains to have big advantages/disadvantages
- Card quality can feel cheap at times, so shuffle with care