Credited to Prospero Hall (a conglomerate of games people aka Forrest-Pruzan Creative) and published by Ravensburger, VILLAINOUS is a 2-6 player game based on the best and most loved of DISNEY VILLAINS.
Each player has their own character board and character guide as well as beautifully sculpted plastic 'Villain Mover'. Oh boy do I dislike that name. Character, Pawn, Dobber, Piece all sound better as does the simple 'Villain', but 'Villain Mover' just sounds so wrong. It got so that when reading the rules to the different groups of players I was deliberately renaming 'Villain Mover', as even the younger players didn't like it. Thankfully this is the only part of the VILLAINOUS game we didn't like, the rest is fun as I hope you will discover from this review.
The player boards unfold to reveal 4 specific locations on each. On the left side of these boards is an illustration of your character and underneath them is the objective. Six boards, one per character, with 24 different scenes/locations from the six movies which the Villains reside in. Captain Hook from 'Peter Pan' Jafar from 'Aladdin' Maleficent from 'Maleficent' Prince John from 'Robin Hood' Queen of Hearts from 'Alice in Wonderland' and Ursula from 'Little Mermaid'. With a line up of Villainous stars like this, what could be 'good' about this game?
On some of the boards the last location space has an almost invisible (very hard to see) icon showing a lock and this means that the location is not open for business (neither characters nor cards may be played into it - there is an in-game exception) until the key to the lock (whatever that may be - this is Disney so it isn't going to be a straightforward key-like key), is dicovered. Note that not all boards have this lock but they may they have other minor set-backs.
The Villains of this masterpiece each have their own strategies. These are found in each player's mind and also in the specific character decks that accompany the Board and Guide of each Villain.
Villainous has a monetary system of Power tokens which are gained from and returned to the cauldron, this being a blown-plastic mould representing the steel-like blue-metal of an ancient witches cauldron and this table piece adds to the 3D effect of the game.
That 3D effect is continued with the moulded plastic abstract character figurines. I say abstract because they are not actual character moulds, more like what is now known as 'Modern Art', the topic/subjects origins made clear by the colour of the feature and the outline shape, though for comedic reasons King John is devised as a 'Crown' rather than as the King John character from the film.
Each Villain has their own two decks of cards, one is a Villain deck where all their Allies and Items are, and the other is a Fate deck which holds their enemies and adversaries. The colour of the Villain deck's flip side matches the colour of the character figure, but each of their Fate decks has a faint Gold border and illustration on a White background. All decks are different in their content, that is ALL decks; every coloured deck is different and created around its character's portrayal, and every white deck is different, being specified to the adversaries of the character the deck is aligned with.
Decks only work with the correct character, it is not possible to play the game using switched decks. There is the possibility that if you play several games using the same character you will get used to how to play it and that may eventually lead to a little discont as the games will mainly all be the same. There are 6 characters, all fun to play so don't stick to one just because it is your favourite Villain or colour, get to know them all and play a different character each time you play VILLAINOUS.
The player board locations each have four icons on them. Some of these icons will be on all of the character sheets, some will not, in fact it is quite possible that you may have an Action that someone else doesn't, and vice versa. If you do have the same Action icons they will almost certainly be on different locations, for example on the first movement (aka scenery) space the four icons represent: Play A Card, Activate, Fate and Vanquish, whereas Captain Hook's four first space icons are: Gain '1' Power, Discard Cards, Vanquish and Play A Card. Peter Pan has to be defeated on the Jolly Roger scene space if Captain Hook is to win, whereas Jafar needs to get the Magic Lamp to the Sultan's Palace whilst having the Genie under his control.
Having played the game a lot we are thinking of making our own location overlays for each character, keeping the same Action Icons but moving them about a bit to see if this affects the way we play. All we need to do is print up a strip of paper that will tack onto or just lay across the location part of the board, keeping the location names the same but with the Action icons in different positions. We haven't tried this yet but it is something to think about.
Each of the locations is named: Prince John can visit Sherwood Forest, Friar Tuck's Church, Nottingham and The Jail, the latter being the fourth scenery space and it doesn't have a lock on it. Ursula has Ursula's Lair, Eric's Ship, The Shore and the 'locked' Palace. Any character chosen with a locked fourth location will really need to open the lock as it will be fundamental to the character's target for winning.
Above and below each location are spaces marked for cards to be placed. The bottom space allows for just the tip of the top of the card, it doesn't cover anything on the board. Cards played on these spaces will come from the player's own Villain deck and will be Allies and Items with Conditions and Effects played as 'instants'.
While these cards are covering the Action icons those Actions cannot be taken. If there are similar icons on other locations that are not covered then those Actions can be taken. It is important to remember that only the actions on the location where your character figure stands.
On their Turn players can do any or all of the actions displayed on the space they have moved onto. Each Turn the players have to move their Figure to another space, they may not stay on the same space. Once on a space they have four actions they can do in any order. We usually stand the character onto the action spot we are currently actioning, but we still have to remember which actions we have already taken. It would have been nice if the publishers had included 3 die-cut counters for each character so that they can be placed over the actions already taken during a Turn.
I said it is important to remember that only the Actions on the location where your figure stands can be taken. However, when you take some of those actions, they may affect other locations. For example; the 'Play a card' action allows you to play a card from your hand onto one of (ie 'any') the locations on the player's board. This might be playing an Ally, playing an Item, or playing an Effect (will affect where it says) or a Condition that may affect an opponent. Choosing the Fate action allows the player to take the top two cards from an opponent's Fate deck, discard one and play the other onto the owning player's board.
Items are unusual in as much as some have to be played onto an Ally (or a Hero if played from the Fate deck) but others are playable on their own and still count. Some cards require activating for their special ability to take place, sometimes the activation is free other times there is a monetary (Power) cost; Power is also spent to play cards from your hand when necessary; not all cards have a cost.
I like the fact that the designers have ensured there is no possibility of a card type being misunderstood. The type is in colour at the bottom centre of each card. Red for Ally, Orange for Hero, Blue for Item, Green for Effect and Pink for Condition.
The cards all carry images from the associated Movies, scenes you may well recognise. That's the beauty of Disney! We all know and most of us 'love' Disney films and Disney characters, and so amongst the wonderful Villains we get to play with in this game it is great to see other Disney characters; the Lost Boys, Smee, Wendy, Tinker Bell, Ariel, Max, Flounder, the Cheshire Cat, Caterpillar, White Rabbit, Alice, March Hare, Dormouse and of course the Mad Hatter and they are just a few from two of the movies - these are all from Fate cards and are Heroes that will be in conflict with the players.
Depending on which Actions are covered by the Fate cards players can continue to head towards their goal, their objective. Of course it makes it harder to complete the objective when choices are removed from you, especially when you have to collect certain cards and use them at the right location at the right time. To remove Heroes and Items from the board they have to be Vanquished, which means having a higher value of Strength at the same location as the Fate cards. Strength being the Hero's / Ally's strength augmented by Items if present. If there is more than one Hero at a location then you have to Vanquish them one at a time. Once you have defeated a Hero you have to discard the Ally or Allies and/or Items used in the Vanquishing. You also have to have your Character on a Vanquish space which doesn't have to be in the same location as the Vanquishing is taking place.
We really enjoy this game though we have come to understand the benefit of shuffling the boards and randomly dealing them out rather than selecting your favourite Villain. This is because it can be easier to complete some objectives than others once you know the game and understand how to use the character's cards and abilities. Giving opposing players the choice of which, from two, cards to play to upset the plans of another player through the use of Fate cards is fun and interactive. This is yet another game in the latest fad of designing family games with core game functions so that they are playable on multi-levels and it works wonderfully well.
Its price range online is between £28.00 and £35.00 which when you consider the production, quality and the replay value is a very good price. Even though the design of the box isn't going to make it stand out on games store or Toy Shop shelves I have to say that personally I love the 'evil' green box with the shadow of Maleficent gracing it so villainessly.