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Game Preview: Villainous, or Fine, Now I'm the Bad Guy

W. Eric Martin
United States
North Carolina
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Each year at NY Toy Fair, I get a sampling of the game industry from the viewpoint of the mainstream market. Yes, hobby games are present in small numbers, but for the most part publishers are aiming their titles for the millions of people who play games on an irregular basis and not the irregular people who play games on a million-times-a-week basis.

More and more often, however, those markets are overlapping, with hobby-friendly designs showing up in mainstream-friendly packaging. Sometimes this is achieved solely by pouring an IP into an existing design, as with Codenames: Marvel and Munchkin: Rick and Morty, and sometimes this is done through an original game design, as with Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle and Jurassic Park: Danger!

Not by chance, both of these latter design originate from the design company Forrest-Pruzan Creative, which has specialized in games based on licensed properties, and the FPC design that will likely make the largest splash in 2018 is Villainous, which is credited to the company's Prospero Hall pen name and which publisher Wonder Forge will release on August 1, 2018.

In the game, each player takes control of one of six characters, each one a villain in a different Disney movie: Prince John, Ursula, Maleficent, Captain Hook, Jafar, and the Queen of Hearts. Each player has their own villain deck, fate deck, player board, and 3D character.

On a turn, the active player moves their character to a different location on their player board, takes one or more of the actions visible on that space (often by playing cards from their hand), then refills their hand to four cards. Cards are allies, items, effects, conditions, and (for some characters) curses. You need to use your cards to fulfill your unique victory condition, and that's one of the game's main hooks. Every character's win condition is specific to that character's story from the movie. Ursula needs to collect the crown and trident, then bring them to her realm; Maleficent needs to place a curse on each location on her board; Prince John cares only about collecting 20 power, with power being the currency of the game that allows you to play cards and do other things.

One of the actions allows you to choose another player, draw two cards from that player's fate deck, then play one of those cards on that player's board, covering two of the four action spaces on one of their locations. The fate deck contains heroes, items, and effects from that villain's movie, and these cards allow other players to mess with that particular villain. This design silos each Disney world, keeping Aladdin from popping up in Wonderland or Aurora from facing off against Ursula, while also maintaining the essence of the movie. After all, in Aladdin the main character, the Sultan, the flying rug, and other characters were all the bad guys from Jafar's point of view, so naturally he has to overcome their interference in order to open the Cave of Wonders, acquire the magic lamp, hypnotize the genie, and bring the lamp to the palace.

Yes, some of the character's victory conditions are more involved than others, but each character has a player guide that details what you need to do to win while describing elements in your deck that can help make this happen.

I've played Villainous only three times so far on a review copy from Wonder Forge, all with only two players, so I'm still very much in the realm of first impressions. I haven't even seen the decks of two of the characters, and I haven't experienced how fate interacts with multiple opponents, but what I've seen so far has been quite entertaining.

In my first game, I was Ursula, and I didn't look through my deck at all, preferring to learn entirely by playing — which was a hard lesson for me as the crown and trident I needed were on cards buried at the bottom of my deck. I hadn't even drawn them by the time Jafar claimed victory, much less had a chance to acquire them.

For game #2, with my opponent now controlling Prince John, I took advantage of the discard action as much as possible to cycle through my deck and find what I needed. Discarded cards aren't removed from the game, but cycled through, so I wasn't losing out on anything permanently. Prince John's goal was so straightforward that I made good use of the condition cards in my deck that gave me a bonus when anyone else had six power in their reserve. (Knowing your opponent's deck is as good as knowing yours as in game #1 Jafar had a condition card that triggered on three allies, yet Ursula's deck contains only two allies in total, so he wasted several turns with that dead card in hand — not that it mattered in the end, mind you.)

The appeal of Villainous to a mainstream market is obvious based on the strength of the Disney name, but the gameplay is more involved than what some might expect when they find this game on the shelves of Target or Walmart. Ideally these newcomers to hobby games give this design a chance and learn what's possible with modern game design while reliving — and reinterpreting — the movie classics from decades past.

Ravensburger North America, which owns Wonder Forge, will have copies of Villainous for sale and demo at Gen Con 2018, so you can check out the game there if you don't find it somewhere else earlier. For more details on the game now, check out my video exploration below, which includes a nine-minute segment in which I may or may not have taken a breath during my exposition...

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