The Disney board game Villainous by the team of authors Prospero Hall, published by Ravensburger, is dedicated to the forgotten heroes of the well-known Disney classics. The focus here is not on these polished and smoothed so-called good guys. This annoying crap always pushes itself into the foreground and tries to destroy the well elaborated plans of the true favorites of all Disney fans: Villains! What would Robin Hood be without the charismatic thumb-sucking Prince John? Where would the tension in Sleeping Beauty be without the skillfully pronounced curses of maleficent? And who wouldn’t love the queen of hearts’ bold command, “Off with your head!”? You see, the villains are the true heroes and are finally being honored accordingly.
Evil plans – each villain in his own shape
In Villainous, each player gets their own villain with a villain deck and a fate deck. The board game is asymmetrical in the sense that each villain has a different goal to work towards and pursues that goal with his deck using different mechanics. As a guide, each villain has his own little booklet that explains the specifics of the deck and some cards. It serves as a strategy guide so that the player is not left alone before the game begins. In addition there are of course general rules that apply to everyone.
Each villain has his own villain tableau with four locations between which he moves with his pawn and where he can then perform up to four actions. Which ones these are, also varies from villain to villain. However, there is an overview of which actions are available in the game, it just doesn’t have to be present for all villains. The distribution to the different locations in the tableau is also different for each villain.
Always keep moving – and action!
First of all, when it is your turn, your pawn must be moved to another location. Staying is not allowed (unless a card says otherwise). There you can get power markers, for example. You need these to play cards from your hand. You can only do this if a space on your location allows it. The cards in your villain deck can be very different. There are items, instant effects, and even henchmen. After all, what would a real villain be without a lowly servant to help him carry out his evil plans?
Do you have the impression that one of your fellow players is on a run right now? If so, you can use the action that allows you to draw two cards from another villain’s Fate Deck and play one of them in a location on their tableau. This is where scoundrels like Peter Pan or annoying princes come into play. On the one hand, they block half of the actions in the location where they are located and often have other uncomfortable abilities that make it harder to pursue his evil plans.
There are also actions that allow you to move one of your played cards from one location to another. You can play cards wherever you want, but you may need reinforcements because an unusually tough hero is making your rogue life difficult. Or maybe the heroes are not where you can defeat them best. For this there is the action move heroes. Your henchmen can then take care of the annoying heroes that your fellow players place in your beautiful realm. For this you need the action ” defeat heroes”.
On some of the cards you have played, there are also abilities that you can activate with the corresponding action. Finally, you can discard cards from your hand if you have only drawn junk. Or maybe you’re looking for a specific card. At the end of your turn, you’ll be able to fill up to four cards from your draw pile.
Guide to being a villain
That was all the basic rules that every player has to know. Your own villain has special abilities, but these are described in detail in your villain manual. For example, Ursula, known from Ariel, lacks the ability to defeat heroes. However, she can bind them with a contract. If the hero is then moved to a certain location, he is considered defeated and Ursula can simply discard the hero.
As soon as one of the villains has fulfilled his victory condition (for some of them, this condition must be held for another round), the game ends. The most evil villain in all fairy tale realms has been found.
Where there is light, there is also shadow – The Fortune Factor
As in every good Disney movie, there are aspects of Villainous that are really well done. However, there are also dark sides that you shouldn’t leave unmentioned. Let’s start with the negative sides, then we can improve towards the end.
Already in the first game we noticed a problem, which was repeatedly confirmed in the following games. Many villains depend on certain cards in their deck to achieve their goals. In said first game Jan played Hook, who has to find the card of Neverland to unlock the fourth location on his tableau. Jan was lucky and already had this card, which is so important for him, in his starting hand.
I played the Queen of Hearts, who must have a croquet goal in each of the four locations on her tableau. For this she needs card guards. When Jan had finally won, I had only drawn three of these cards at all. When I had looked through my deck after the game, I had to realize that the other five cards would have come only at the end of the deck. So there was bad luck at work here, which sometimes simply can’t be prevented by throwing off and drawing cards. We had similar situations again and again.
We borrow from those who have too much
Ursula and Jafar also have this problem. They must find exactly one specific card in their deck to win. Prince John is the exact opposite. His victory is actually only a matter of time, because he is supposed to have a certain number of power chips. The problem here: He can’t win faster by luck either, because the number of power chips he can get per round is limited.
On the most lucrative location he gets three power chips. Since he has to move, he can only use them every second round. The other locations can be blocked by other players by playing cards of fate. One or two power chips can then become zero.
In order to free the places again, Prince John has to play cards, which cost him power chips again. Nevertheless it is foreseeable how long it will take until the critical number of 20 power chips is reached. Although Prince John is a very easy character to play, if you work single-mindedly towards his victory, he is also quite boring to play.
Fate is blind – or short-sighted
So the probability of a win does not depend on the right strategy in Villainous. That’s why we have the mentioned strategy guide, which is really helpful. In a concise and clear summary, it contains everything you need to know when playing a new hero. However, as a new player you usually only read the guide of your own villain.
Especially in games with a lot of new players you’re very much fixated on your own tableau and hardly have an eye on what your fellow players are up to. This is quite important, though, so that the right player can be intervened at the right time with the Cards of Fate. You have to know who is how far along in order to be able to judge whether a player needs to be slowed down a bit. Again, Prince John has turned out to be a very popular target from a certain point on, because it’s easy to spot when the power chips are piling up on him.
With Jafar (which I haven’t played myself so far, but I’ve played him several times as an opponent) I find it difficult for beginners to recognize this. Which Cards of Fate are drawn also brings luck into play again. We have had some games where several times none of the drawn cards could be legally placed on the other villain’s tableau. This pleases his players, but frustrates the others.
Why Villainous does not meet expectations
Frustration is a good keyword here and I think it has a lot to do with the expectations as a player. Disney-licensed board games don’t have a particularly outstanding reputation in the board game scene. In our collection we have a Tinkerbell Quartet, several games with Frozen Theme and a Tangled game that we’ve had for at least five years, but have only played half a time so far. Disney means in most cases to take a well-known game concept and simply put the movie theme on top of it.
This is not the case with Villainous. Here the people of Prospero Hall have done a really great job. It’s an independent game with its own weaknesses, but also with its own strengths. For one thing, it’s the absolutely loving realization of the Disney theme and the dark and atmospheric design of every single component (the only exception is the plastic part for the boiler of the power chips). Each villain with all his own cards, which have their own illustrations and really great card backs matching the villain they belong to. The other components including the slightly abstractly designed, massive plastic figures also contribute to the overall atmospheric impression.
But to come back to the frustration: …you have to be able to take it when you play Villainous. The possible expectation of a shallow and simple children’s game is not confirmed here in any way. But it is also not a game where you can win by knowing the right strategy alone. In the stupidest case, you discard card after card to draw new ones and thus quickly get through your deck and find the one card you need to move forward yourself. This high level of luck and frustration should not bother you if you are considering having the board game move into your own shelf.
Disney at it’s best – why I like Villainous anyway
True Disney fans like me don’t mind that at all, of course. Turn on the music to the popular films in the background and dive deep into the world of your favorite villain yourself, that’s what Villainous offers. At the same time, I don’t have to be ashamed of having what appears to be a child’s play in the rack, because the entire presentation is aimed at the adult Disney fan who feels reminded of those great films of his childhood.
Another enormous advantage is that each villain is his own little universe, closed in on itself. Thanks to the Fate Deck with its own counterparts that thematically match the villain, the different decks don’t get in each other’s way. While this provides a low level of interaction, it has also resulted in all players being able to identify with their own villain. It became emotional at the table, there was discussion and accusations were made.
We had a great time when Villainous was on the table with us. Disney fans make this game happy just by its very existence. The solid game, which you notice that someone thought about thematically appropriate mechanics and goals for each villain during development, then puts another one on top. Personally, I’m glad to have Villainous in my game rack and I’m sure I’ll play a few more games. As mentioned, Jafar is still waiting for me to take him to my chest. And the self-contained villain decks have another advantage: There’s plenty of room for expansions with new villains.
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