My friend Matthew brought the Disney board game Villainous, by Wonderforge over yesterday. I’ve wanted to play it since I saw it on Game the Game. The theme sounded cool and the artwork appealed to me. The bad guys are almost always cooler than the heroes. Sigh, I miss the Disney World Villains store.
Matt played at Prince John and I picked Jafar. Each player gets a different villain. Each villain has a different set of goals and play styles. Prince John is about accumulating power tokens. The trick is that you have to spend power to do just about anything. You can’t just save tokens and you can’t just use every card you draw. Jafar has to do several steps in sequence and then get the Genie under his control (difficult) and then get the lamp and the Genie to the Palace at the same time (tricky). Jafar is about manipulating other characters, which matches the movie nicely. I don’t remember the Robinhood movie, but it seems like Prince John is about using his authority to capture his enemies.
This game is amazingly well tuned (at least at two players). I won by exactly one turn. The victory condition for Prince John is to have twenty power on your turn. Matthew had nineteen. He said that with more players there will be more variance in how close each player is to end game. That makes sense given with more players there’s a greater chance for one player to become the Tall Poppy and get dog piled. In many games you can start falling behind and lose hope. Being so well tuned, in Villainous, players would feel like they have a chance until the very end.
There’s a nice mechanic that reduces dog piling in a multiplayer game. Players attack each other with fate cards. The player most recently attacked takes a token with the fate icon that indicates to the other players they may not target the holder again.
Another good feature is something I had in TotAM from the start. You draw at the end of your turn instead of the beginning and you always refill your hand to your hand limit. In most games you plan your next turn while the other player take theirs. You base this plan on the cards in your hand. Then your turn starts and you draw another card or two. Now you have to make everyone wait while you reconsider your turn. In Villainous you draw at the end so you can plan your next turn with all the cards you’ll have. Drawing to your hand limit means you are more likely to have viable choices for every turn. In games where you can play more cards than you can draw in one turn you can find yourself with one or two cards in your hand. That leaves me feeling frustrated and powerless. I’d rather win/lose based on my choices than on how few/many cards I have.
The game has a pleasant balance of simplicity and complexity. Kids could probably get the hang of it and adults can dig into the deeper strategy. You can play it turn by turn, but to win you have to think about this turn and your next.
While it is a race to complete your villain’s win conditions, the game provides interaction between players with the fate cards. These are opportunities to screw over your opponents. That keeps it from feeling like a single player game with other people at the table. There’s not so much interaction as to make you feel stuck.
Getting into the story is fun too. I got to say “unlimited power!” and Matthew responded “teeny living space”. As Jafar, I hypnotized Aladdin into killing Jasmine. Whether I won or lost the game as a whole, I considered that a victory.
That reminds me. The game also deals with Winner Momentum/Loser Inertia (I’ll write about that later) well. When you vanquish (kill) a hero (a good guy played against you), you discard all the cards used to get that victory. I didn’t keep Aladdin to use right away again. If you didn’t lose those cards your ability to repel heroes would get to the point where there was not much point in playing them.
I would definately play this game again and I’m giving some thought to buying it. My only worry is replayability. I might start losing interest after I play each villain once. There’s opportunity for them to add additional baddies, so maybe that wouldn’t be a problem.