Disney Villainous Game Review: One of my favorite board game experiences was opening Villainous. It was an impulsive purchase made with the hope that my housemates would be intrigued by the premise, and it was successful. I’ve never had to work so little to fill a table with guests. Even those in the apartment who weren’t gamers were eager to play the part of a Disney villain and scheme their way to triumph.
Disney Villainous Game Review
As I assembled the parts, my excitement only increased. The player figures, hefty translucent totems that beautifully abstractly represent each character’s essence, caused exclamations of ecstasy. Maleficent, Jafar, Ursula, Captain Hook, The Queen of Hearts, and even Prince John were greeted with oohs and aahs. Even the backs of the player decks are embellished with classy and unique line drawings in addition to the lavish and lavishly printed card artwork. People were vying for the rights to their favorite characters in no time at all.
How To Play Disney Villainous
Villainous is easy to teach because of its simple mechanics. Players are given two villain-specific decks during setup along with a board that is divided into four sections, each with a unique arrangement of action spaces. You move your figure and do as many of the various activities as you’d like during your turn. The options are straightforward enough: play, move, or discard cards; defeat a hero; acquire power, the game’s money; or destiny someone, a type of sabotage in which you draw the top two cards from your victim’s fate deck and play whichever you like.
With a little subtle asymmetry, the game fulfills the promise of its premise. Villainous doesn’t go nearly that far, but the phrase can conjure up images of very complicated games like Root where each player has a unique set of mechanics and goals. Everyone may play the game pretty much the same way, but how you win depends on your character. King Triton and his crown must be taken prisoner in Ursula’s lair, Captain Hook must fight Peter Pan at the Jolly Roger, and Prince John must gather authority.
Helping the characters accomplish the ambitions that were so unfairly denied to them in their movies is how victory is attained. The past can be changed by you. This is a remarkably gratifying concept for a game.
Disney Villainous: The Mood At The Table
Our first game was joyful the entire time. Every single card elicited a response. Everyone rejoiced as Jafar called out Gazeem, welcoming a familiar face. We cheered in delight when the Queen of Hearts played the card “Off With Your Head.” We were all feeling quite happy and nostalgic.
Villainous is intended to be approachable, so aside from the strange query regarding navigating a victory condition, not much disturbed the peace. A surprising amount of effort is required to win for most characters; Jafar, for instance, must use the Scarab Pendant to open the Cave of Wonders and then use the Magic Lamp to locate the Genie and guide him step-by-step into the palace. The game tries its best to reduce confusion—each player has a companion booklet that describes their objective and the processes involved—but it can be challenging to keep track of on your first play.
The Queen of Hearts unexpectedly emerged as the winner, bringing the game to an abrupt stop. As we discussed the game, we came to the conclusion that she was rarely, if ever, predestined. Prince John, who had a large and obvious collection of power tokens, was doomed to hell early in the game, and nearly everyone else experienced constant interruptions during the contest, but the Queen of Hearts remained unopposed until it was too late.
It’s a game where cooperation between players is key to winning. Choosing when to destiny other players are half the fun of the game. A quick scan of the table revealed that several players would have been able to win with one more move. We admired it.
A Race with No Leader In Disney Villainous
This takes us to the core problem I have with the design, which is that Villainous is a racing game where it is impossible to know who is ahead. And given that the first three expansions each take gradually bigger strides toward solving it, I assume the designers share my opinion. You don’t experience the anxiety of knowing someone is close on your tail or the agonizing joy of being this close to catching up in the base game since the bulk of victory conditions are too cryptic to be visible from across the table.
The conclusion is so abrupt that it doesn’t even come close to being satisfying. We established a house rule whereby we would announce when we were one or two turns away from victory so that everyone else could decide who would prevail. The idea behind this was that those who were slipping behind might be able to make opportunities for themselves, but it didn’t raise the emotional stakes.
My roommates and I quickly played through the various character combinations as well as the first two expansions, Wicked to the Core and Evil Comes Prepared, in the ensuing weeks. I rapidly realized that I wasn’t the only one whose urge to play was directly related to meeting new characters. Villainous lacks a lot of depth, and while it is amusing, it is more so because of the setting and novelty than because of the game itself.
Regardless of the character you play as, most of your turns are spent destroying your deck(s) until you draw the one card that allows you to proceed to the next phase, which is neither especially interesting nor deep. Lack of strategic depth is not inherently problematic; I would happily play Spot It! seven days a week; nonetheless, Disney Villainous falls into the problematic trap of being excessively labor-intensive and unsatisfying relative to its lack of strategic depth.
Villainous is not for you if all you expect from video games is meat and a lot of decision-making options. On the other hand, you should definitely look for it if the phrase “play as your favorite Disney villain” makes your heart race. The non-gamers in my flat kept asking “Do you want to play Villainous?” for weeks because of the game’s eye-catching aesthetic and user-friendly interface.
Even while I don’t think the game is completely effective, I do believe it serves as a good example of how game designers can approach the intersection of theme and gameplay, and even though I no longer have any interest in playing it, I still find it interesting to think about. The excitement and camaraderie of that first game encapsulate the best aspects of this pastime. May there always be video games as fun to unbox as Villainous?