The most recent release from the (Prospero) halls of villainy.
Since I'm now getting back to writing about games, I figured I'd delve back into one of my short series from a couple years(!) back and finish off looking at the expansions for Disney Villainous. Bigger and Badder actually only came out last year (2022) so I'm not horribly overdue, especially considering my desire to get real time in with most of the games I'm looking at before I say anything. B&B is the first expansion to introduce a real system change to the game as a whole, with the introduction of Strength tokens, which are specifically tied to two of the villains in this set (Lotso and Syndrome) but are given physical representation as a mechanism that could have broader application to future sets. The tokens use the basic black-and-gold color scheme that the Power tokens also use, so if more villains do emerge from Prospero Hall, it's possible this approach could see more use. Of course, given the studio's usual desire to make all of their productions self-contained (e.g. each expansion is a game unto itself), you likely won't be required to buy B&B to take advantage of that. The Strength mechanism does open up a lot of more subtle ways to deal with Heroes that aren't simply "Have more Strength in Allies", since it increases the versatility of the latter in how you utilize Vanquish actions. That said, with the introduction of a whole new mechanism, it does give the vague whiff of potentially reaching the limits of the game's design space. It's still a remarkable translation of IP to gameplay, just as all the other villains have been, but it's possible that the clock may be ticking here.
Objective: Have 4 Heroes with 0 Strength and Buzz Lightyear in the Caterpillar Room
That objective is quite the mouthful and seems like a pretty tall task, but it doesn't really stand out from the rest of the villains on the difficulty scale because of the enormous number of cards in Lotso's deck that directly target that objective. Many villains have cards that are obviously pointed at their winning condition, but also have cards that are more general use and meant to be enablers to keep the game moving along. All of Lotso's cards except four of his Allies (Twitch, Sparks, Chunk, and Big Baby) directly address the ability to either reduce Heroes' Strength or move them to the Caterpillar Room, if not both. Many of them are realm-wide Strength reductions, like Original Factory Settings and Woody's Hat. Lotso also has one of the most targeted Condition cards in the game in Something Snapped, which can easily be a card you hold onto in the late game, waiting for another player to discard so that you can then move all Heroes to the Caterpillar Room in one stroke and follow it on your next turn with what is often the coup de grace of New Toys Don't Stand A Chance, which reduces Strength by the number of Heroes in the Room. The conceit of the whole process is that, despite your making Heroes weaker and easier to Vanquish, you often don't want to do so, because you want them all in your realm and in the Room. That's what makes cards like Twitch and Sparks secondary to many of the rest. One thing to keep in mind with all of these cards targeting Heroes, however, is that Buzz Lightyear, who starts in your realm (and in the Caterpillar Room, in fact) is not a Hero, but instead a Guardian. That means that he can't be targeted by those cards. Of course, since Guardian mode has no Strength, it's not really a target in the first place, but it's something to consider when trying to move, since it can't normally happen and you're often left trying to turn him to Demo Mode with Original Factory Settings in order to pull off your win condition.
Lotso's big spot (3 Power, Play, Discard, Fate) is The Playground, but it's not really as important for him as many other villains, with only Big Baby, Locked Up, and New Toys Don't Stand A Chance exceeding a Power cost of 2. His double Play location is Tricounty Landfill, which also has his only Move Item or Ally ability and the only Vanquish spot on his board, as well. That makes it a contextual location, since you don't really want to do one of those abilities most of the time and moving an Ally is sometimes questionable, too. In contrast, The Library can be one of your key locations, since it gives 2 Power and the Action ability, which can be hugely important if you have Stretch in play, since he allows you to move any Hero or Guardian in his location to the Caterpillar Room. Lotso's Fate deck is a variety of Heroes with a decent palette of Strength and some recovery actions, like Bonnie's Toys, which removes all Strength tokens. But the key cards are probably the movement actions that let an opponent move Heroes out of the Room, like One Way Out. One key Hero is Rex, who can't lose Strength when other Heroes are in the same location. But the biggest impact card is, appropriately, Woody which like a similar card for Syndrome (see below) is essentially a reset. He moves all Heroes out of the Room when he's played and has a 5 Strength, which means that you're essentially building from ground zero again if he shows up. It's been a rare thing for villains to have that kind of "lose the game" card in their Fate deck and, again, this may be a sign that the seams of the overall design are beginning to show. Nevertheless, I've won more than once with Lotso because his deck is so focused that it takes a seriously bad succession of draws to not make significant progress toward his goal.
Objective: Defeat all of Merlin's Transformations
Again, Mim's objective sounds daunting, given the number of Transformations that have to be defeated in order to win (eight) and the need to have all eight of Mim's Transformations available since each of them is only effective against one counterpart (Crocodile only beats Turtle, Fox only beats Rabbit, etc.), except Mouse, which can be beaten by Tiger or Rattlesnake. However, the outlet in the deck is I'll Make The Rules, which allows you to Vanquish any one Transformation when played, albeit at a cost of 4 Power. There are three of those in the deck, so you'll typically be able to play at least two of them in order to make the matchups that you want easier. Also, Mim has a significant number of draw/discard cards in things like Magificent, Marvelous, Mad and Battle Of Wits which allow you to fill your discard pile and then restore all of it to your deck multiple times during the average game, so cycling is a definite option. The Condition card, A Sporting Chance, is also quite helpful in this regard, since you can target a specific card (like, say, I'll Make The Rules) from your discard pile to come right back to your hand. With all of that, Mim's gameplay is also kind of straightforward. It's essentially a matching game, without much room in the deck to do anything other than cycle cards to find the right Transformations to match against what's on your board. If you're able to do that, then you can find a pretty clear path toward victory without too much that opponents can do against you. Again, this fairly simple approach not only makes Mim easy to play but also might be a look at how Prospero Hall might be reaching the bottom of the idea cauldron.
Mim's board is unique in that, given the number of Heroes that will be in her realm throughout the game (Cards in her deck, like Wizard's Duel, also encourage this) there are no spaces that have more than one ability taken away by a present Hero and one space that excludes none (Dueling Ground.) All locations have three abilities that Heroes can't take away, which only makes Mim that much easier to play. She does, however, lack a "big spot", since she won't ever be gaining more than 2 Power in a turn (at either The Woods or Madam Mim's Cottage) but there is Power to be gained at all four locations, which means it will trickle in more slowly, but will generally be consistent (It can be denied by a Hero in The Woods.) Mim's Fate deck is largely delaying actions with four copies of Knowledge and Wisdom, which only move one of Merlin's Transformations to another location. But given that Mim has access to not only two Item/Ally Moves in her realm, but also a Fate Move, those have less impact than you'd often think. Germ Merlin does discard one of Mim's Transformations and both Merlin and Archimedes swap out a Merlin Transformation for another but, again, those are just delaying actions, albeit more significant ones. The most impactful Fate card is usually Bird Arthur, which makes Mim dump her whole hand and only draw two cards to replace it. But given Mim's deck, that's not nearly as much of a reset as either Lotso or Syndrome or other villains can often face.
Objective: Defeat Omnidroid v.10 and have no Heroes in your realm
Syndrome is one of the more unusual villains in the game, which is saying something given that almost all of them play quite differently from each other. One of the things that makes Syndrome stand out is that he has no less than four Conditions in his deck, whereas none of the rest have more than two. That means that he's somewhat more interactive than the rest (Villainous can be accused of being something of a multiplayer solitaire game when it's not being played to its limits) but it also means that he can often be hindered not only by a bad draw, but also because others aren't playing to your draw. Conditions can often be cards that are useful to use the Discard ability with, since it's more challenging to predict your opponents' play patterns. Syndrome's are broader than other villains', as well, so you get a better return from having them in your hand than opponents' generally do. Also, you only have two kinds of Items, but one of them- Major Modifications -contributes directly to your objective and is twice as numerous as the other (Zero-Point Energy.) But, like some other villains, Syndrome does have a card that must be drawn (Syndrome's Remote) before the Omnidroid v.10 can be defeated and he can win the game, but that will happen when you use Omnidroid v.X9 to Vanquish a Hero.
Syndrome's realm is an extremely flexible one, with a "big spot" (3 Power, Play, Discard, Fate) in Downtown Metroville and another two great locations in Syndrome's Lair (Play, Play, Vanquish, Move) and Nomanisan Island (2 Power, Play, Play, Discard.) Even the last isn't bad, as it continues to focus on his primary goal of defeating Heroes/Omnidroids (Park Residence: 1 Power, Play, Fate, Vanquish.) Syndrome's Fate deck isn't problematic except for one card. Certainly the Park family makes life challenging, but that's the whole point of his deck and premise: defeating the Heroes that make his life miserable. But, like Lotso, he has a "full reset/lose the game" card in the form of That Was Totally Wicked. More than once, I've been in a situation where I've had multiple Major Modifications in my realm and been trying to play one of the Omnidroids and had this card played, which simply wiped my entire realm of Items and Allies and left me starting over, which is an "I win" card for any opponent who plays it. The fact that two other cards in the Fate deck (Teamwork) allow you to play the second card drawn and dig through half of the remaining deck to find That Was Totally Wicked to be played the next time someone Fates him has basically meant that no one has been able to win with Syndrome in any of our games, since the only way to recover from it is to cycle through your whole deck, as he lacks any kind of discard recovery system like Mim. Hence, the difficulty rating. I'm not sure what design path led to the inclusion of a card that would make this character unable to win the average game but it's one of those that I would place right next to the general design of Ursula in an otherwise wonderful game.
So that's the most recent expansion in all its dark glory. Hopefully there are still characters to be brought out from the depths of Disney and my suspicions about the limits of the overall parameters are unfounded.