To say that Disney Villainous was a runaway hit is underrating its success. I can’t think of a single person who has come near the game and not loved it. How do you follow something like that up? If you simply reskin the exact same game, you run the risk of being called unoriginal. If you change it too much you risk of fans saying you wrecked it. There is no winning, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Why? Because for every person who’s played the original and will inevitably compare the two, there is someone new who has no frame of reference to compare against.
Hi. My name is Dave and I’ve never played Villainous before now.
With that little admission out of the way, let’s talk Marvel Villainous. I was super excited about this game. Excited enough that I’ve held the review back longer than I should have so that I could try to play just a few more games. Every time I’ve played, the game went differently based on the players and characters they chose to play. Each character has their own win condition, so I suppose that’s as good a place to start as any. It should be pointed out that while the characters in Marvel Villainous are likely best known to non-comic fans for their connections to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Villainous versions draw from the comic book versions, rather than the MCU versions. I also promise to come back around to what some of the terms I’ll be using mean a bit later.
Ultron was featured in the second Avengers film, Age of Ultron, where he was created by Tony Stark and Bruce Banner. But his comic book history dates back to the ’60s where he was created by Hank Pym. (Who wouldn’t be introduced into the MCU until Ant-Man). Interestingly, Ultron plays an important role in the Secret Wars storyline that Marvel Studio is rumoured to be building towards, and appeared in What If? that is being developed as a series for Disney+.
Ultron’s objective is to reveal four Upgrade tiles and bring about the Age of Ultron. Each Upgrade must be completed and revealed in order. Transformation is revealed be removing two Sentries from your Domain. Various Sentry units make up the vast majority of Ultron’s Ally cards making this a fairly easy objective. Optimization requires to specifically remove a Duplicate Sentry with two Impervious Alloy (Item) cards attached to it. Ultimate only requires that you have a Sentry in each location of your Domain. Finally, you need to pay 12 Power to reveal the Age of Ultron tile and win the game.
Hela is Loki’s Daughter or Odin’s Daughter, depending on the version of the character. She was the major villain in Thor: Ragnarok, but like Ultron, the comic book version dates back to the ’60s.
Hela’s objective is to have a combination of at least 8 Allies and Soul Mark tokens and no opposing characters at the Odin’s Vault location in her Domain. Her deck focuses largely on attaching Soul Marks to heroes, which are then returned to Odin’s Vault when those Heroes are defeated. The main question we encountered with Hela was whether the wording of her objective meant that both parts of the objective were at Odin’s Vault, or if only the “no opposing characters” part applied. We decided that since Souls Marks are specifically collected at Odin’s vault that the Allies were required to be there as well. (That is also how other groups I played with interpreted it as well.)
Killmonger is one of the best and most morally complex antagonists in MCU, but his comic book version is arguably the least well known character option in Villainous. His objective is to Relocate two Explosives cards to another player’s domain. Since Items can’t normally be Relocated outside your own domain he needs to reveal the Control the Mines tile, which includes the ability to Pay 2 Power to specifically Relocate Explosives. Before you can get to that point, Killmonger must first defeat his rival Klaw. When defeated, Klaw’s tile is flipped to reveal Challenge For The Throne, which allows Killmonger to Pay 2 Power to find and play or relocate Black Panther (a Fate card) to his Domain. When Black Panther is defeated, removed, or relocated out of Killmonger’s domain he can reveal Control the Mines (again, allowing him Relocate Explosives). If the other players can return Black Panther to Killmonger’s domain, Control The Mines is flipped back over to The Mines Are Lost and he will need to be defeated by Killmonger again.
Taskmaster is contextually the opposite of Killmonger. Unknown in the MCU (he’ll debut in Black Widow) but significantly more well known in the comics.
His objective is to have four Allies with a strength of 5 or more in play at four different locations. Those Allies can be in his own domain, another villain’s domain, or even at an event from the Fate Deck. Consequently, many of his cards involve slowly building up his Ally’s strength and keeping them in play when they might otherwise be discarded.
Thanos is the fifth and final Villain in Marvel Villainous. Revealed in the post-credits of Avengers, Thanos was the adversary who was the thread that tied together the various Marvel movies leading into Avengers Infinity War and End Game. While his character in the comics is much more nuanced, he will forever be linked to the Infinity Stones in both mediums.
He is the most difficult character to learn in Villainous and even has his own page of the rulebook. At the start of the game, the six Infinity Stone tiles are set in the middle. As the game progresses the other players may have a stone attached to one of their Allies, that player gets access to the ability listed for that stone. Thanos must Relocate his own Allies to that player’s domain where he may attempt to Vanquish the Ally attached to the Stone. If Thanos has an Ally remaining after his Vanquish action, the Stone becomes attached to them to be relocated back to Thanos’ domain. An opponent with a stone can also attempt to defend that stone by Vanquishing Thanos’ Allies in their domain. In both cases, the active player treats the defending Ally just like a hero card, but they are not considered “Heroes” for other effects. When Thanos retrieves an Infinity Stone, it is treated as a permanent Speciality card in his Domain.
I promised I would come back to how the game is actually played, So let’s tackle that. I already mentioned that each Villain in the game has their own objective – their own win condition – which may or may not have anything to do with the other players. Every player has a unique player board with four location spaces on it, this is their Domain. On their turn, the active player must move their Villain Marker to any new location, and may only take the actions listed at the new location. You may take any action listed, in any order, once per each instance on the location. It is not uncommon for cards to add new Actions to a location, or even the domain in general.
Two of those actions, Play Cards and Discard Cards, are largely self-explanatory. To Play a Card from your hand, you take the action and pay whatever cost (usually Power Tokens) that card has, you may only play one card per action. When you Discard Cards you may discard as many cards from your hand as you like, but won’t draw new cards until the end of the turn.
When a player takes the Gain Power action they receive the number of Power Tokens listed, which they will use to pay for the costs associated with other actions.
Certain cards have the Activate icon on them, and the player needs to take that action to use whatever benefit is listed.
Normally players can only Relocate their own Ally and Item cards to other locations within their own domain, or to Events in play. There are exceptions to that, depending on the Villain(s) being played. Relocate is most useful when trying to build up a group of Allies to successfully take the Vanquish action to defeat a Hero. The Vanquish action is used to defeat a single Hero at a location, by comparing the combined strength of as many allies as desired against the strength of the Hero, and then all characters involved are discarded.
The final action is Fate. There are four types of Fate cards in the communal Fate Deck, with each Villain contributing up to 11 cards to 15 common cards to create a single Fate Deck. Effects and Item cards work just like they would if played from a player’s hand, while Hero cards are the opposite of Ally cards. When a Hero is played into a location, they are placed in such a way that they cover some of that location’s action icons, preventing their use until they are Vanquished or otherwise removed from that location. The fourth type is an Event card. There are Global Events that impact all players, and all players can work together to resolve for a reward. There are Targeted Events that only affect a specific Villain, and in most cases, you can only play Fate cards on other players. That means if a player draws a Targeted Event that would affect their own Villain, it is discarded without effect. The shared universe of modern comics makes it that any hero or villain could potentially show up anywhere to battle anyone. The shared nature of the source material and the solely antagonistic nature of the Fate cards make having a common Fate deck work well. You can never be certain As well, the number of Event Cards used can be reduced or increased when setting up to adjust the difficulty of the game, which is a nice way to handle that in a game that otherwise would have a hard time scaling the challenge for newer or more experienced players.
As you can tell, the basic mechanics of the game should be easy to grasp for most people, the steeper learning curve comes from learning how to best work with the strategies of each Villain. But that challenge is part of what makes the game so much fun. To be extremely clear here, it’s a lot of fun.
Even without comparing the two versions of Villainous, and even though I really enjoy the game as-is, it’s not perfect. I mentioned that Thanos has a dedicated page in the rulebook; I would like to have seen all five Villains get a page. Four more pages would even balance out from a printing standpoint. Every one of the groups I played with had questions about how certain interactions worked and we couldn’t always find a concrete answer. But most of the time we were able to decide an answer as a table, and sometimes we were eventually able to find the right answer somewhere else. More clarity would be a bonus all around, especially for newer players (or rules lawyers). I was also extremely hesitant about the way the cards sit in the box. I was pleasantly surprised to see how well the Speciality Tiles can keep the cards in place in the insert, and there were very few loose cards after travelling. Nevertheless, I found a free pattern online and printed up some unofficial deck boxes for the cards. If I had one wish in the entire game it would be for deck boxes.
Just for the record: somehow Taste of Cosmic Power managed to make it through to printing with a major misprint (it happens). The card is an Effect, not an Item. Ravensburger already had corrected cards ordered by the time this was hitting shelves, and all you need to do is contact Customercare(at)ravensburger.com for a replacement. Then go lock that misprint up. It’s a collector’s item now!
[Editior’s Note: I wish society was at a point where I didn’t feel the need to clarify that I’m trying to avoid spambots and humans need to replace (at) with @ in the above email address, but here we are. -dc]
I’ll close this out with a tiny detail that made me smile. Everyone knows that Marvel movies have a post-credits scene that normally hints at a future release. Well the last thing in the Marvel Villainous rulebook is the game credits, then you close the book and there’s what is technically a “post-credits” image on the back cover foreshadowing things to come. Maybe I’m reading too far into that, but I’m still not spoiling it.
I want to play more of Marvel Villainous. Knowing some of the comparisons that have been made, I almost don’t want to play the original version so that I can stay in my happy place with this one. Almost…