Sometimes it's good to be bad, and the powers that be have obviously cottoned on to that with the Disney Villainous expansions. I'm glad they did; the Disney Villainous board game was excellent to begin with, so we won't complain at getting an encore.
Or four, to be specific. A trio of Disney Villainous expansions have hit shelves so far - 'Despicable Plots', 'Perfectly Wretched', 'Wicked to the Core', and 'Evil Comes Prepared'. These introduce three new characters each, some of which have been highly sought-after since Villainous' release. Scar? Check. Hades? Check. They're fine additions to what you could argue is one of the top board games for 2 players.
Do they live up to the original, though? It's fair to worry that add-ons won't be as clever as the OG Villainous. Luckily for us, you can set your mind at ease. The opposite is true here. If anything, the expansions are smarter. There are some pretty left-field character choices, too; I get the impression that most of them were selected because they add something genuinely unique to the game rather than for their fan-favorite status.
That's the Disney Villainous expansions all over. It seems like a chance for the developers at Ravensburger to stretch their wings. Seeing as these sets are standalone games which only cost $25 / £25 apiece, that's a win-win situation for us.
Just remember, they aren't really board games for kids. In spite of what you might assume, the Villainous series is aiming for an older audience; if anything, these are strategic board games for adults that have plenty of depth to lose yourself in.
Disney Villainous: Despicable Plots is a textbook example of what good expansions should be. Although it offers more of the same via three new characters (Gaston of Beauty and the Beast fame, Cinderella's Wicked Stepmother, and the Horned King from The Black Cauldron), things are also shaken up thanks to a left-field twist on the game's mechanics.
For Disney Villainous: Despicable Plots, that twist is the Horned King. Much like Ratigan from Evil Comes Prepared, it's an unusual yet bold choice. The film he's plucked from - the often-maligned Black Cauldron - is one of those forgotten Disney flicks you may not even realize exists, and the House of Mouse seems to prefer it that way. However, its endearingly offbeat nature (did anyone else have fortune-telling pigs on their bingo card?) makes for really interesting gameplay in what is already one of the best board games.
As with Jafar and Genie's lamp from the original game, your aim is to find the Cauldron itself and then activate it. This allows you to raise an army of undead 'Cauldron Born' from the bodies of ancient warriors, and you win if they occupy each square of your board. Typically, getting them isn't what you'd call easy. You have to swap carefully placed skeleton cards for each Cauldron Born, and if the Cauldron is ever deactivated by an opponent's meddling, you're temporarily blocked from raising more. In addition, you'll lose a Cauldron Born at the start of every turn if the Cauldron is out of action. That makes the Horned King's Fate deck a nuisance foes can wreak havoc with. This forces you to think carefully about ways to keep your momentum going, and you've got to plan a few steps ahead at all times.
The same is true of Gaston. The egotistical hunter can sprint toward his objective at a terrifying rate, but it's equally straightforward to stop him dead in his tracks. That's because he's got an equally unusual role: he must get rid of the obstacle tokens spread across his board, thus helping him 'prove' to Belle that he'd make the perfect husband (gross). Even though removing obstacles is straightforward - intimidatingly so - a well-placed Fate card can also send him tumbling backwards in terms of progress by replacing those same obstacles. This results in a sense of push and pull, which isn't something we've seen a great deal from Villainous.
However, it is frustrating. You can live up to the Villainous name here by undoing a player's work at the 11th hour, and while some will lap that up, it's the sort of irritating last-minute 'gotcha' that makes classic board games like Monopoly such friendship-killers.
Luckily enough, Lady Tremaine (the Wicked Stepmother) is another kettle of fish. Her goal is to marry the Prince to one of her daughters, but getting to that point is all about planning ahead. This is because she can't vanquish heroes in the same fashion as everyone else. Instead, she has to deploy special cards that'll neutralise them in some other way, which is an interesting juggling act when you consider the fact that you normally don't get more than four cards at a time. In addition, she has to unlock certain spaces, keep cards off the board, transform her daughters into their 'Ball Gown' equivalents, and play specific abilities before being able to win - all while keeping Cinderella indisposed. As the name 'Despicable Plots' would suggest, this requires fierce management skills.
The result is a challenging yet fun puzzle for veterans to unpick. When combined with one of the best movers the game has ever had (the intricately detailed Horned King token), Disney Villainous: Despicable Plots is firing on almost all cylinders.
You can tell that Ravensburger is getting better at this with each new expansion, and Perfectly Wretched is another demonstration of this. It strikes the best balance of complexity and ease out of all the add-ons so far, meaning there's something for everyone to get their teeth into regardless of whether you're an old hand at this or a newcomer. That's because each character - Cruella De Ville, Mother Gothel, and Pete - has a fresh, unique objective that's still easy to understand. More importantly, they're straightforward to learn yet difficult to master.
For example, Cruella has to gather 99 puppies to win... but she'll need to draw them out first using special cards. Certain heroes can steal those dogs back, too. Meanwhile, Pete has a different goal for each part of the board and Gothel is trying to win Rapunzel's trust (even as the latter slips away from her tower). It's all pretty simple. Unlike certain characters in the first expansion, there are no confusing rules to wrap your head around. I wouldn't necessarily recommend Perfectly Wretched for those who haven't tried Villainous before - there are easier starting points - but it's not too bad on the whole.
As always, the artwork is also superb. Every board and card features paintings that recreate scenes from the movies, giving a thoroughly premium feel to the game (and if you go to Target, you can even get a unique design). The movers are equally impressive. Cruella's massive fur coat is front and center here, while Gothel's token is the flower from Tangled. They definitely live up to earlier installments.
Speaking of Tangled, it's cool to see more recent movies sneaking into the roster. It gives me hope that we could get characters from Moana, Frozen, Wreck It Ralph, and beyond in upcoming expansions.
Evil Comes Prepared
Evil Comes Prepared is another winner. Out of the first two expansions (this and Wicked to the Core), I'd say that its characters are the most interesting to use. It also marks Ravensburger's first foray into more unusual choices - who would have anticipated Ratigan?
In terms of what's in the box, you'll get Scar from The Lion King - the 1997 version, that is - Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective, and Yzma from the criminally-underrated Emperor's New Groove. They're all great to play with, but don't push the boat out too far in terms of complexity.
That's not to say they're dull, though. As an example, Scar's Fate deck is different to everyone else's. That's because he needs to build a 'Succession' deck out of vanquished heroes, and he'll only win when their combined strength makes 15. It's a similar story with Yzma; her Fate deck is split into four piles. She's got to defeat Emperor Kuzco with right-hand man Kronk, but because Kuzco is hidden in one of those four piles, that's easier said than done (worse still, Kronk may turn against her if she moves him too much). Last but not least is Ratigan, all-round sleazebag and crime lord. He's trying to build a robotic Queen to replace the real deal, but if he fails, his objective changes. He then transforms into the monstrous 'Rat' and must defeat Basil of Baker Street by any means necessary.
In other words, they're all interesting enough to convince veterans of Villainous to return. Are they better than characters in the OG game? In some ways, yes. However, they're definitely not as beginner-friendly. Instead, they're a good way to shake up the existing dynamic - not to mention give players a new challenge to master.
Wicked to the Core
Villainous' first expansion, Wicked to the Core, draws on almost 70 years of Disney history to give you the Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Hades from Hercules, and Dr Facilier from The Princess and the Frog. All of them are solid additions to the roster, and each one has a fun twist of their own.
For instance, the Evil Queen must gather ingredients to create potions that are the only way of defeating her foes. At the other end of the scale, Hades needs to march three Titans from the Underworld to Mount Olympus… but because they move so slowly, he'll have to juggle an onslaught of heroes and effects that trap them in place. Finally, Dr Facilier spends the game building a one-of-a-kind 'Fortune' deck that may contain the card he needs to win. Players can only draw and use three of these cards at random, so the trick is making this deck as small as possible (naturally, your opponents will try to pad it out with duds as well). This is something that really defines Wicked to the Core; the cards that are used against you shake things up almost as much as the playable characters themselves.
Unfortunately, it doesn't always hit the mark. Namely, Dr Facilier is tricky to understand. I've been avidly playing Villainous for months, and even I struggled to get a grip on his rules. That's a shame - he's comfortably the most novel of the three, but he's also the most complicated. As such, I wouldn't advise picking Wicked to the Core as your first Villainous experience. Or giving Facilier to a newcomer, for that matter.
For those of you who feel you've mastered the original game, though? The expansion's challenges will certainly keep you busy, and Hades is a delight to use (and to look at - his mover is a magnificent pillar of blue flame). It's a strong start to the extended Villainous range.