Marvel Villainous is not a game I was ever interested in. I did not want to play Villainous because it isn’t called Villainous, it’s called Disney Villainous.
A Disney game that is pretending to be a proper board game. Ugh, I may as well just buy Star Wars Monopoly, I bet it’s got Jar Jar Binks in it.
I don’t know but when I saw Marvel Villainous I thought, as most of you will have, that this was a cash-in because, for some reason, I could not understand Disney Villainous was quite popular.
Suffice it to say I saw Marvel Villainous on sale and whilst feeling flush I bought several games and added Marvel Villainous to my Zatu basket to get a 5% discount.
Yes it cost me more than it would have if I left it but I got a whole 5% off the discounted price, you have to don’t you?
Anyway, long story short and Marvel Villainous sat on my shelf of shame for at least a year. Its cellophane mocking me every time I walked into the office and looked at the shelf of shame.
So board one day I suggested that we had a bit of family time and play a game. No one was interested until I said I had a new game.
I was lying but I knew I had several games still in shrink and ready to go so 20 minutes later we were at the table and I was reading the rules of how to play.
What is Marvel Villainous?
If I said baddies or if I said Thanos you would definitely listen, wouldn’t you? Well, Marvel Villainous is an asymmetrical action selection/card management game where you get to play as the bad guy.
There are five bad boys and girls in the core box, they are the aforementioned Thanos, Hela, Ultron, Killmonger and Taskmaster.
The goal of the game is to complete your character’s win condition which will be very different from your opposition’s antagonists.
What’s in the Box?
The first thing I should tell you about Marvel Villainous is that the production quality is quite good for a Disney product.
If you have been to Disney Land or the Disney store or bought anything Disney you will be well aware of Disney’s quality control when it comes to toys.
I bought my son some Planes bits in the Bristol Disney store many years ago and a part of the truck that came with it was breaking away before we left the store.
In Disney’s defence 8-year-old children in sweatshops cannot possibly have the same quality control as a factory run by adults but still, I was not expecting much in terms of quality.
The card stock could be better but it’s a minor gripe and if you sleeve the cards you would never know. The mat finish doesn’t help when shuffling so sleeves would alleviate that problem.
There are 5 tokens that represent the various villains, several decks of cards and the player boards with a bunch of power and strength tokens sitting in a plastic bowl which you will now call the vault.
The card stock is good quality with nice crisp printing and the 5 tokens, called movers, that represent the characters are impressionistic yet easily identify each character.
You will take longer to choose your villain than you will be setting up Marvel Villainous. There are 8 steps and step 1 is choosing your character.
Step 1 When you have selected who you want to be you grab their Domain, a reference card, their Fate and Villain deck, and their mover. Put the Face deck on top of the common fate deck.
Step 2 Place the domain in front of you with their token on their portrait.
Step 3 Shuffle the common fate deck and each player’s fate deck together to form a single fate deck. This is placed near the centre of the table so that you can all reach it.
Step 4 Shuffle your villain deck and place it on the left of your domain making sure there is room for a discard pile.
Step 5 Place the Power and Strength tokens in the Vault and place this next to the Fate deck.
Step 6 Draw 4 cards from your villain deck. This is your starting hand which you can look at but must keep secret from the other players.
Step 7 The player who last read a Marvel comic goes first, if not it’s the oldest player. So at 49 I always go first.
Step 8 In turn order each player reads the objective from their domain so that all players are aware of their objective.
Choose your mode
There are three different game modes which are considered easy, intermediate and difficult. Respectively they are called Omnipotent, Inevitable and Undying but the most fun is Inevitable.
The difference in modes is based on the number of events in play. These cards are interspersed in the Fate Deck and are ignored in Omnipotent mode and more than one event can be in play in Undying mode and can make the game drag on.
Turns are taken in a clockwise order and there are three actions that you must take in order.
- Move your mover. You may not stay in the same space and must move to a different location each turn. You cannot move to another player’s Domain and may not visit any event locations.
- Perform Actions. Ok, this is a big one and I will break down the actions you can take a little later, however, every location on each Domain has different actions that you can take. You can use the actions in your location in any order you like but you can only use each action once for each icon. For example, if a location has two separate actions for playing a card, you can play two cards. Also if there is an action you do not want to take this round, you can ignore it.
- Draw cards. You simply draw cards until you have four in your hand, if you run out of cards you simply shuffle the discard pile and carry on.
So let’s talk about the type of actions in each location because they are represented by symbols. The symbols are listed on the player reference card but it doesn’t take long before you know what each does and which locations in your Villains Domain you want to visit next.
Gain Power. Collect power from the vault equal to the number inside this symbol. This is the currency of the game that will allow you to play cards and activate your powers.
Play a card. Pay the power cost and play a card for each of these symbols in your location. If a card has a zero cost you don’t pay any power but you must use the symbol to play it.
Activate. On Ally, Item or Speciality cards there may be an activate symbol. To play that ability you need to pay its cost and then carry out the action. You can also activate an ally or item at another player’s location or if you have played cards to an event.
Relocate. You can move one of your Allies or items from one location in your Domain to another location in your Domain or you could move them to an event. You can also move your allies from another player’s domain to your domain. Some cards can also be moved from a location to another player’s domain but this is always mentioned on that specific card.
Vanquish. Defeat a hero or ally at a location in your domain where you have an ally or hero of your own. You compare the strength on the card or cards in your location and they need to be higher than the strength of the enemy. All cards that are used in the battle are placed into their discard piles.
Fate. You can flip a fate card and play that card to another player’s domain. Sometimes you cannot play a fate card so they are just discarded. The manual says “Fate was not on your side, this turn”.
You can discard any number of cards from your hand to your discard pile. At the end of your turn, you draw your cards until you have four in hand.
Once you have the mechanics down you will still need the manual as with most games but after a few games, you will be very familiar with how Marvel Villainous plays.
There is an issue with the game that I want to get out of the way because, on the whole, I enjoy Marvel Villainous.
Many actions are repeated on each Domain, many actions are repeated on each turn and strategically, the game seems incredibly light.
However, after a couple of rounds, there is a lot going on. Your main focus is on your Domain and your goals however, you soon realise you are trying to figure out what everyone else is doing and could do next because that could and will affect what you do now.
There is a far deeper strategy game going on that first impressions would have you believe and I have noticed that every time we play, the conversation quickly dies in the third round when everyone realises, they need to concentrate.
Marvel Villainous seems to nurture the analysis paralysis in all of us and whilst the game is fun it can lead to the playing experience feeling dry.
Sure there is still banter if you are playing with the right group and you will still chat but there is a definite focus on each player’s face.
During a two-player game, this is not really an issue but when playing with four players I can physically feel the fun ooze out of the room as people hunker down to use their brains.
I should not be complaining about this. Some games are so light there is no challenge but a game that actively kills conversation feels odd to play.
We only ever play one game before the box gets put back on the shelf. I suppose that a game with so many moving parts, imagine 4 player chess, a game with so many possibilities this is inevitable but I think for this reason the two-player game is a far more fun experience.
The blurb claims the game will take 20 minutes per player but in my opinion, they cannot possibly include thinking time in that equation.
You are trying to complete your objective, stop your opponents from completing theirs and planning your next moves with malicious intent.
The true goal then is to hinder other players and work towards your objective whilst making sure you mitigate their attempts at hindering you.
Each character is a very different beast to play. My favourite character is Hela. She has, in my opinion, the best allies in her deck (Hello Fenris) and I like the Soul Mark mechanic.
The villains feel different and keep the game feeling fresh each time you play and when you factor in playing against different players using different villains there are so many combinations that every game creates a different challenge.
A change of Fate
The Fate deck shifts the balance of the game consistently too. During a 3 or 4-player game, it’s very common to draw a fate card and hinder another player.
The way the Fate deck works is that each Villain deck has its own unique set of Fate cards. These cards are shuffled into the base Fate deck.
The base Fate deck has hero cards, Ironman, Hawkeye, Hulk, Black Widow, Captain America, Vision, Falcon, Nick Fury, Thor, She-Hulk and Captain Marvel which you can play to hinder your opponent or protect your domain and four events.
They are Avengers Assemble, Lockdown at the Raft, Helicarrier Alert and Protected Vibranium. These events have a direct impact on all the villains so when they appear you will need to work together to remove them.
However, the fun starts when you choose your Villain and add their Fate cards to the deck. I won’t go through all the villain decks but I will use the Thanos Fate cards as an example.
He adds the following heroes to the Fate deck, Nebula, Gamora, Adam Warlock and Drax, bearing in mind these heroes can benefit all players but he also adds the Sacrifices Must Be Made event.
During this event Thanos will essentially lose cards and power however when the event is completed, you get to remove an ally from every other player. There are also six effect cards made up of three “A Stone is Found” and three “What did it Cost?”
A Stone is Found allows you to choose a villain, other than Thanos and they can get an unclaimed Infinity Stone. When it is played they can immediately activate it for free.
The stones have various effects such as the Soul Stone which will allow you to play an ally for free from the discard pile or the Power Stone which lets you add +1 strength to an ally.
However, What did it Cost allows you to target a villain with Infinity Stones and they have to discard cards up to their hand limit.
Each villain’s Fate cards add events that they alone will have to deal with but I think Thanos has cards that create some fun chaos that everyone can enjoy.
Marvel Villainous is a fun game that I do enjoy. I have to add a caveat that playing with two players is excellent, more than this though and your brain shuts down so you stop chatting. It’s almost like your brain is too busy doing maths so you cannot think of anything but what to do next.
OK, perhaps I am hamming it up a bit for the fun but, there is a palpable sense of woe as the room quiets while people think. Depending on who you are playing with there is often banter but we have never played two games of Marvel Villainous back to back which I cannot say for any other game that takes an hour and a half to play.
I cannot say that Marvel Villainous is a must-have game, I cannot even say that you should definitely own it. What I can tell you is that we like playing it and it does hit our table regularly enough to have survived several game culls and will probably be hitting the table from time to time for years to come.