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REVIEW: “Villainous” board game delivers on Disney theme

  • $34.99 / released August 2018
  • OFFICIAL SITE: wonderforge.com
  • PURCHASE LINK: Target
  • FINAL: You WANT this game. 4 out of 5 stars

There’s no shortage of light, family board games out there, and once you dive into the hobby you realize there’s no shortage of massive, deeply complex board games available. What we’re often lacking is the kind of game that lands right in the middle: a game that presents an easy-to-understand concept but is just daring enough to include unexpected elements. “Disney Villainous” hits that target square in the bullseye.

You’re forgiven for seeing the Disney brand name and assuming this is another simple roll-and-move kids movie tie-in game or another re-branded version of an existing game, like “Monopoly,” “Codenames” or “Trivial Pursuit.” “Villainous” is a wholly original design that should appeal to a wide spectrum of players. The game has a good mix of luck and skill, and the art detail is impressive and thorough.

In “Villainous” you play as one of six famous Disney villains, like Ursula from “The Little Mermaid” or Captain Hook from “Peter Pan.” Each villain has their own board of four locations and you move freely across these spaces like a mastermind ordering around underlings. These underlings – and their unique items and abilities – come from your specific deck of cards. These cards are not shared between players, so there’s no chance of any villain interacting with a character or plot point that is outside of their particular movie. This is not a game that mashes up Disney movies; it is extremely focused on keeping you immersed in one film at all times.

“Villainous” is a gorgeous game that put real effort into art and presentation. Everything has a dark gothic wash to it, and, most impressively, all of the artwork is brand new imagery created in the movies’ original fashion. The designers did not just take the easy way out and capture film screenshots, nor did they create some new homogenized look. In a world of highly stylized Tsum-Tsums and Funko Pops merchandise, Disney purists will be thrilled at the game’s attention to Walt-approved detail.

Each villain has a unique goal, typically an exact re-creation of how the villain would have triumphed in the movie. Some of them are straight forward, as in Prince John’s desire for wealth as seen in “Robin Hood.” Others require a wonderfully pedantic manipulation of specific cards and events. Jafar, the baddie from “Aladdin,” needs to unlock the Cave of Wonders, locate the Magic Lamp, transport the Lamp back to the Sultan’s palace, and hypnotize Genie.

The villain decks are all tuned to achieve their particular goals, making each character feel unique. The basic gameplay is the same across all six, but the varying win conditions means you’re playing a different game from your opponents.

Each villain has a secondary “fate” deck, which is how your opponents interfere with your plans. The fate decks contain the heroes and sidekicks from the movies, and, again, this is how the game retains that isolationist theming to prevent Ariel from swimming in to shut down Wonderland’s Queen of Hearts.

The hero cards cover up portions of the villains’ locations, effectively restricting players’ options and actions. The villain player must muster allies – like Jafar’s pal Iago or Hook’s pirate gang – to remove the hero. The heroes are merely a nuisance to the ongoing plan, which is a great touch for a game made from the lofty perspective of the villains.

The downside to the game’s design is that it will take a couple plays to fully acclimate yourself to any one villain’s role, since everyone is playing with their own specific set of cards and goals. You’ll grasp a deeper sense of strategy once you know what cards are coming your way and what fate cards in your opponents’ decks are best used to stymie their plans.

For a game based on wicked witches and evil enemies, “Villainous” is not especially mean-spirited. When you “attack” an opponent via their fate deck, you just draw two fate cards and choose one card to play against them. You will not feel like you are setting up some long term crushing “take that!” combo, like you would in many other competitive board games. Player interaction is, overall, low.

The upshot is that casual players will not feel overwhelmed, but serious board gamers have enough choices at their fingertips to craft a winning strategy. “Villainous” is great at managing this middle ground. Without drowning out the simple “go here and do this” basics, the game introduces concepts (like individual decks, asymmetric goals, and changeable player turns) that you’ll find in higher-level board games.

“Villainous” excels at dropping you inside a Disney movie, with the twist being that you want the villain to win. If you’re ready for a Disney-themed game that works hard to deliver on that Disney theming, you’re ready for “Disney Villainous.”

“Disney Villainous” is available at major retailers. This review is based on product supplied by the publisher. Images courtesy Wonder Forge.