Disney's spent over 80 years reassuring us that good always wins (as will become obvious if you've picked up Disney Plus), but the Disney Villainous board game isn't satisfied with happy endings. Not for our heroes, anyway. Instead, it poses a sly question. What if the bad guys triumphed for once? And wouldn't that be more fun? As it turns out, yes. Yes it would.
Time to play: 40-60 mins
Set-up time: 2 mins
Avg. price: $30 / £25
The worst takes it all
The Disney Villainous board game puts you in command of the company's most evil - and interesting - characters. It becomes a melting pot of 'what if' scenarios as a result. What if Jafar was able to claim the Genie's lamp before Aladdin ran off with it? What if Maleficent took her revenge against the kingdom after all, or Captain Hook defeated Peter Pan? Although it's fair to worry that this would make the game depressing, that's not the case. Classic heroes like Ariel or Robin Hood will be doing their best to foil your efforts, and they're really annoying - making it easy to see things from the baddie's perspective. Particularly when your opponents keep siccing goody-two-shoes on you with gleeful abandon.
You see, villains aren't known for their generous disposition. With that in mind, Villainous has you scuppering everyone else's plans to make sure you can achieve your goal first. That means dropping various do-gooders onto their board in order to foil their efforts. Drawing a hero from your opponent's deck allows you to place them anywhere you like, blocking potential moves and being a general nuisance (especially when you can only defeat them with a well-placed ally). This helps Villainous stand out from the crowd - it's a game that revels in being just a little bit mean.
It's surprisingly tactical as a result. Pursuing your own objectives and thwarting opponents is a balancing act that takes time to master. This means it's not necessarily a good board game for kids. However, the layered gameplay marks it out as an excellent board game for adults instead.
If you can wrap your head around it, anyway. Villainous is a complex game with lots of mechanics to take in. That's overwhelming at first. In fact, I recommend proceeding with caution if you want something quick and straightforward - Scrabble, this is not.
Stick with it and you'll be hooked, though. There's so much to get your teeth into.
It's good to be bad
Speaking of which, there are six villains to choose from - Maleficent, Ursula, Prince John, Jafar, Captain Hook, and the Queen of Hearts. Getting them their way requires you to scheme through beloved Disney films, and each character's objectives and abilities are different. More specifically, they're rooted in the villain's unique personality. As an example, Ursula wants Triton's Trident and Crown but can only hold onto them by banishing foes with binding contracts. At the same time, the Queen of Hearts is able to 'shrink' her enemies. This demonstrates a thoughtful attention to detail that defines Villainous. It adds replay value, too; each character offers a different experience.
The same can be said of a baddie's arch-nemesis. Their heroic counterparts are specifically designed to counteract their playstyle. For instance, the greedy Prince John must gather 20 power tokens to win. Unfortunately, his hero deck is full to bursting with handicaps that'll take power tokens away. This leads to a clever tug of war between players that can swiftly turn the tables. Is your opponent getting close to winning? Drop Robin Hood on their board to throw a spanner in the works.
Those boards are beautiful, by the way. Key scenes have been recreated in a painterly style with love and care, and no expense has been spared on the artwork. Meanwhile, its cards go above and beyond with lavish, character-specific decoration. Even the backs feature eye-catching patterns.
The movers are Villainous' piece de resistance, though. These are substantial yet abstract 3D figurines that capture the essence of each character in an understated, classy way. It's a premium touch for a game that isn't actually very expensive.
That's a good summary of Villainous; it's so much better than you could have ever expected. Yes, it's complicated. It's also the opposite of the best cooperative board games - the whole point is to screw each other over. Yet this is why the game works. It has enough depth and spice to keep you playing for months, to say nothing of all those Disney Villainous expansions.