It’s good to be bad… right? In the world of licensed games, especially in the Disney brand, the heroes get all the love. Rarely is there a game where not only do the villains win, but the players actively try to make that happen… until now. Enter Villainous, a game where you not only get to be the bad guy (or girl), but a memorable one from classic Disney films that you grew up with. Time to see what life is like from the other side.
Villainous is an asymmetrical card game for 2-6 players that takes about 45 minutes to play. Villainous plays best with 3-4 players.
As Villainous is an asymmetrical game, each player is going to approach the game just all little bit differently. While the core actions are the same for everyone, a players goals, decks, and realms are wholly unique.
The six starring characters in Villainous are Captain Hook, Jafar, Maleficent, Prince John, The Queen of Hearts, and Ursula. Each player begins by choosing one of those villains and collecting their realm board, villain deck, and fate deck. Players also get a villain guidebook that explains what they need to do to win the game and any special rules they might have.
For the gameplay, a players turn happens over three steps: Move your villain to a new location in your realm, perform any of the actions in the new location, draw back up to four cards. There are 8 potential actions a player could take:
- Gain power – Power is the currency used to play cards
- Play a card from your hand by paying its cost (if any) in power
- Activate a power on a previously played card
- Play a card from your opponent’s fate deck — these will hinder your opponent by covering up their action icons and otherwise making their life harder.
- Move an ally to an adjacent location
- Move a hero to an adjacent location
- Vanquish a hero using your ally cards
- Discard cards
The game ends when one of the characters achieves their victory condition. Examples include Prince John gaining 20 power, the Queen of Hearts making her croquet shot, or Jafar capturing the lamp and the genie.
With a licensed game, I always exercise a bit of caution. Outside of a few notable publishers, many licensed games, especially in the Disney realm, simply have a pasted on theme. They use the IP as a crutch to sell an otherwise uninspired and mediocre game. Thankfully with Villainous, that isn’t the case. This is a really well put together game that not only uses a major brand as its theme, but does so exceptionally well.
Each villain in the game not only has their own goals and unique decks, but everything about them feels thematic. Prince John wants the power, Ursula wants the trident and the crown, and Captain Hook wants to defeat Peter Pan. The Villains act as you’d expect them to because their realms, decks, and win conditions are tailored to that character.
That’s one of the reasons this game works so well. The asymmetrical nature allows each villain to have their own motivations and gameplay drawn straight from their movies/stories. Yet despite the game being asymmetrical, it’s also fairly streamlined. Since each player is using the same 8 actions, learning the game is actually fairly simple and it’s just a matter of understanding what each of the actions does (not hard) and how best to use the cards in your hand.
Speaking of the cards, I love that each deck is tailored to a particular villain. The Fate cards (the ones played against you) come from your own fate deck. That means that Abu and Aladdin will be showing up to confront Jafar and only Jafar. You won’t see Alice showing up to mess with Ursula’s plans, which helps keep the theme tight.
I should also warn you that Villainous is a directly confrontational game. One of the actions is to draw two fate cards from an opponents deck and choose one to play on them. Fate cards are always bad for the players, so, unfortunately, there can be a tendency for players to dogpile on the leader if they think you are close to winning, which is probably my biggest criticism of the game. The end game can really get drawn out because of that. The 5-6 player game does have a mechanic to prevent players from repeatedly targeting one player, which helps somewhat. We have actually house ruled our games to include that mechanic in 3-4 player games as well.
Finally, I do want to mention that I think the production values in Villainous are pretty exceptional. The cards all feature original artwork, which was a welcome surprise. With a wealth pre-existing Disney artwork to pull from, I was expecting them to reuse shots from the movies or books. The character movers are stylized minis that look really great and even the realm boards feel high quality. My only gripe is that Ravensburger sealed the boxes with wafer stickers on each side instead of shrink-wrap for some god awful reason. Please never do that again.
Villainous is a great game that not only makes excellent use of the Disney license, but uses it in a way that’s highly thematic and a blast to play. Despite being an asymmetrical game, Villainous is fairly easy to learn, which lets you jump right into playing. And since every villain feels different, you are going to want to play again to try them all out. Speaking of villains, considering the size of the Disney catalog, I would expect many more villains to be coming down the pipeline in the form of expansions (bring on Scar!).
The game does feature a heavy dose of “take that”, so if that’s not in your groups play style, you might want to consider giving this one a pass. But for the rest of us, Villainous gives players a chance to be the bad guy in a way that will have you coming back for more.
Final Score: 4 Stars – A great asymmetrical game with some stellar production values that takes full advantage of its license.
• Potential to dogpile on the leader can draw out the end game