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A View from the Shadows: Disney Villainous, Part III

J Updated
A View from the Shadows: Disney Villainous, part III

Game Information

Publisher
There Will Be Games

The conclusion to our series about Disney Villainous, covering Perfectly Wretched and Despicable Plots

In this segment, we'll be covering Evil Comes Prepared (Cruella de Vil, Pete, Mother Gothel) and Despicable Plots (Gaston, Lady Tremaine, The Horned King.)

Cruella de Vil

Difficulty: 2

Objective: Start your turn with at least 99 captured puppies.

Cruella is one of the more colorful of Disney characters (yes, despite the corpse-white skin and yearning for black-and-white fur coats), so it makes sense in an odd way that she'd have one of the more unusual of goals that, while fully within the sphere of her story and film, also adds another layer to the function of the game with puppy tokens. She's not only concerned about what cards are and aren't in her realm, but also how many tokens accompany them. That provides some interesting depth to her gameplay that other villains often don't present. Her two most important cards are, of course, the two rarest: her Allies (well, servants, really), Jasper and Horace, since they're the only ones that can actually capture the puppy tokens she needs to win. The rest of her cards are largely a series of Effects and very important Items that enable Jasper and Horace to do their nefarious job. Among them are the Roadster, which can move puppies to any location (such as where Horace or Jasper are waiting to snatch them), and the Telephone, which can get either of them back from the discard pile (or a good Effect, like Get The Job Done or The Devil Take It.) Cruella is mostly about card combos, but she only has one "big spot" like most other villains, so she's dependent on setting up some infrastructure (mostly Horace and Jasper) and then using the Activate action (in two locations in her realm) to really make things work. Thankfully, Cruella doesn't suffer much from Power costs, as there's only one card that costs 3 in her deck, with the vast majority costing 1. But, again, it's about playing multiple cards, if possible, more than trying to pay for big ones. A key Item that's often overlooked is the Fireplace Poker, as most use it to Vanquish the two Heroes that Horace and Jasper can't defeat, Perdita and Pongo. But since it's so important to keep her two thugs on the board, the Poker is invaluable in doing just that. Without them, she's reduced to one copy of Bought And Paid For to get any tokens. With the Poker in mind, it makes one of Cruella's Conditions, Devilish, actually quite useful, since you can use it to Vanquish for free.

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Cruella's realm is nicely diversified, with one of the few five action locations in the game (Hell Hall) and her "big spot" in the Countryside. But even without a Power gain, Radcliffe House will also be important for its Activate/Vanquish/Play/Fate spread. The Milk Farm is the one location that will probably receive the least attention, although it does have one of her two Discard actions. She lacks a Gain 2 Power action entirely, but two of her Gain Powers are on her side of the board and so can't be annulled by Heroes. Speaking of which, most of the Heroes and cards in Cruella's Fate deck are about delaying actions; moving Heroes and Allies to disadvantageous locations or moving uncaptured puppy tokens off the board and back to the supply, which reflects the slow pace of Cruella's game. Similarly, Pongo simply doesn't allow them to be captured at his location. But Perdita and two copies of Flew The Coop actually remove captured tokens back to the supply, which can be crushing. Again, Cruella is mostly about finding a rhythm between what's in play and making steady progress. You'll often find that most opponents don't really register how quickly the gap can be closed to your total with the 22 value puppy tokens, so some psychological warfare ("Look how far I have to go!") might be useful and appropriate for That Devil Woman.

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Pete

Difficulty: 2

Objective: Complete the four selected goals.

Pete is one of the more fascinating villains in the game, not only for the fact that he's unexpected, as the villain of the original Mickey Mouse cartoon, Steamboat Willie, and that Prospero Hall was smart enough to retain his black-and-white presentation, but also because his goals could be a different combination in every game. Said goals vary in difficulty, as well, with the easiest probably being Power Play (Spend at least 6 Power in one turn while Pete is at this location) and the most difficult probably being Strike It Rich (Start your turn with at least three Items at this location), since Pete's Items are all pretty costly at 3 Power. In fact, Pete has Power issues, in general, since he often needs to spend a lot on Bandits and then discard them, meaning he has to get them all back to play again in order to keep his realm clear of pesky Heroes. Thankfully, he has Power gains in all four locations and another potential two from Bank Loot and Stolen Cargo, so he's not horribly restrained. But you'll often be required to play Sneaky Pete and/or Parrot just to pack your hand with Bandits so you can take advantage of their multi-play ability, all of which will cost you a lot of Power. The good thing for Pete is that his goals stay hidden until he completes them, so people can't simply camp out on one or two of them and put an unclimbable hill in front of you. However, experienced players will be able to suss out what you're doing in each location, so this is where Horse can be very helpful, allowing you to move things anywhere in your realm and pull off some surprise completions. That also includes your extra action Items (Bank Loot, Jalopy, Steamboat Willie, Stolen Cargo) as they must be played to particular locations, but they can be moved like any Item. More than any other villain, Pete has to adapt to what's in his hand and the Discard action is probably best left for later, when you've accomplished one or two of your goals and are working toward specific results with the remainder.

Pete's realm is solid, if somewhat unremarkable, with his "big spot" at the wonderfully-named Podunk Landing. With the variability of Pete's goals, there's nothing particularly slanted about his board that might make achieving one or the other easier in any location. Much of Pete's Fate deck is targeted at his Power issues, with Outlawed and Tired simply draining Power from him and Knocked Silly discarding the cards that Pete was saving that Power to play. Indeed, Knocked Silly may make it more likely for Pete to cycle through his deck than any other villain, since it could potentially rob him of five cards in one play. The Heroes are of decent average strength, as well, with the most devastating being Mickey Mouse, who doesn't allow you to complete goals, and Goofy, who switches goal tokens, ruining your build-up in at least one and perhaps two locations. Similarly to Cruella, Pete is more about slow, steady progress toward his multiple tasks, rather than large, sweeping turns that demonstrably show him turning a corner. In that respect, even simple cards like Hide, which discards one Bandit, can be effective in the hands of someone who clearly understands what goal is being worked toward in a particular location. Pete is definitely a deck that pays off with experience, for both player and opponents.

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Mother Gothel

Difficulty: 2

Objective: Start your turn with at least 10 Trust

On the face of it, Mother Gothel's objective isn't that different from Prince John's, in that both are trying to accumulate a resource until they reach a specific total. In the case of Gothel, it's mostly about working against the small clock that is Rapunzel's continued progress toward Corona, where if she remains there for an extended period of time, you'll basically not have a chance of winning at all. So, while John's task is to measure how important it is to spend Power on cards, Gothel's task is to minimize the loss of Trust while trying to keep Rapunzel from moving as often as possible. Most of Gothel's Items and Effects are about gaining Trust, while her Allies are about retarding or resetting Rapunzel's movement. The most useful among them is probably Hair Brush, since it gains Trust when played or when moved to Rapunzel's location. But don't sleep on Knife, since it can be used with Royal Guards to defeat Rapunzel and send her back to the Tower and gain Trust. That's a reinforcement for keeping Guards in play regularly, since they can also move Rapunzel when they're moved. Your most important Allies usually end up being the Stabbington brothers (Patchy and Sideburns), as both can defeat Rapunzel alone and simply move her back to the Tower when played. But they also both cost 3 Power, whereas the Guards and the Knife only cost 1 each. Of course, that means you'll probably want to play What Once Was Mine to get the Stabbingtons out of the discard pile. As for Trust gain, it's all about I Love You Most and Let Down Your Hair, with the latter having the alternate effect of moving Rapunzel back. In the end, accumulating 10 Trust isn't a huge hurdle, but one of the things that raises Mother Gothel's difficulty level is always having to work against that little clock. In that way, she presents another factor to monitor in the same way that Cruella has to monitor her tokens. This expansion really added something to the gameplay with all three villains and Gothel is no exception. She even has a devil's bargain card in Misdirection, where she can move Rapunzel ahead but still gain Trust from it. The other thing that raises difficulty is, of course, having a Hero in your realm who blocks actions whom you can never get rid of. This isn't quite as daunting as Ursula only having three locations, but it is a challenge. For a change, one of Gothel's Conditions is brilliant (Egomania) and the other (Duplicity) is the usual Discard fodder.

The other thing that keeps Mother Gothel from being as impacted as Ursula is by her lock is Gothel's realm. Two of her locations- The Snuggly Duckling and The Forest -have only one action that can be covered by a Hero and both of them are dual Play a Card locations, with The Snuggly Duckling being the "big spot". But you'll want to spend a lot of time at Rapunzel's Tower, as well, not only because it's your only Vanquish location, but also because of the Trust bonuses you get from cards like I Love You Most. When it comes to her Fate deck, there are some Heroes that seem daunting, like Flynn Rider, who's kind of a Trust bank, as Little John is to Prince John or which have results that seem especially disruptive when played, like the direct discard of Hook Hand. But the Effects are usually more impactful, like three copies of Everyone Has A Dream, which simply reduces your Trust, or the two copies of Floating Lights, which move Rapunzel right to Corona. As a good case example, while it seems difficult to have Queen and King played to Rapunzel's location, costing 1 Trust and leaving two 4 Strength Heroes in one spot, you can still defeat said Heroes in any order, which means that on the following turn you could just defeat Rapunzel and send her back while finding another way to deal with Queen and King. I really enjoy Mother Gothel's gameplay for the same reason I do the Evil Queen, as it feels like both villains have a smaller mini-game within the larger game that they're playing and it's an interesting new look at how the overall game proceeds.

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Gaston

Difficulty: 1

Objective: Remove all 8 Obstacles

Long requested by Villainous fans, Gaston has finally arrived. That's an upside. The downside may be that Gaston is both quite easy to play and even more oriented toward ignoring the other players at the table than most other villains. In contrast to the number of villains trying to place cards at every location (one of which we'll get to shortly), Gaston is trying to remove the eight Obstacles spread across his board. He has many cards that do exactly that, such as Come Into The Light, Get Out!, and Monsieur D'Arque. The latter may be the most important because instead of relying on drawing the other cards and having the Power to play them (their costs are considerable at 3 and 5, respectively), D'Arque can simply remove an Obstacle every turn for 2 Power. Gaston needs the Activate action at The Tavern to do so and that action can be covered by a Hero. He's also more limited in his Power gain than most other villains, with Gains of only 2 and 1 spread across his realm. But the fact is that there's not much that inhibits him and, like Prince John, he can be enabled by his Fate deck, since two of his opposing Heroes remove Obstacles when they're defeated. Defeating Heroes is also not a tremendous challenge with the multiplying power of Wolves, the ability for Lefou to return Allies to your hand after a Vanquish, and Hunter's Instinct being a straight expenditure of 3 Power to remove one (i.e. no Vanquish or properly placed Ally required.) Obstacles can even be used as currency for one of the best card draw/Power gain mechanisms in the game with Swoon, which gives you a net of 2 Power or draws three(!) cards. Gaston also only has one Condition, Beautiful As Me, which he has three copies of, which is easily fulfilled (another player takes four or more actions) and aims directly at his goal by removing an Obstacle. Gaston is both straightforward and quite difficult to stop once he's rolling. In short, he fits the game length of Villainous quite well, as he'll likely complete his efforts before anyone else.

Remarkably enough, his realm is quite restrained. He doesn't have a "big spot" because, again, he has no Gain 3 Power action. The closest to the normal location is the Beast's Castle, which gains 1 Power and has two Play a card actions. Right next door is The Woods, with a Gain 2, Play, Fate, and Discard. But just as important is The Tavern, which has an Activate, a Gain 2 Power, a Play, and a Vanquish. Also, Gaston's realm has two Vanquish actions, which means he can dispose of Heroes more easily than many of his rivals. That becomes crucial when you realize that he has one of the most efficient Allies in the game (The Mob, with 4 Strength for 2 Power) but also when you realize that two of his opposing Heroes, Beast and Maurice, remove all Obstacles from Belle's House and Beast's Castle, respectively, when they're defeated. The obvious choice, then, is to clear everything from The Tavern and The Woods first and then wait to see if an opponent drops either of those Heroes in your realm and, basically, does you a favor. Gaston's Fate deck can slow him down. Cards like Massaging My Feet, I've Never Seen So Many Books, and Saving My Life directly replace Obstacles, with It Is You possibly replacing as many as four. And, of course, Belle doesn't allow any Obstacles to be removed while she's in play. But your opponents will be relying on significant luck of the draw to restrain your almost inexorable climb toward victory. I'm tempted to say that we simply haven't learned the proper way to approach Gaston yet, but for the moment, he strikes me as very much like Prince John and Ratigan, in that there's almost no obstacle he can't overcome.

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Lady Tremaine

Difficulty: 3

Objective: Marry Drizella or Anastasia to the Prince

OK. Show of hands. How many people even knew/remembered that Cinderella's wicked stepmother had a name? I mean, naturally, she should. But I don't remember her being referred to as anything but "wicked stepmother." Anyway, her objective listed above is quite deceiving, since it could be more properly explained as: "Play Drizella or Anastasia, then unlock The Ballroom, make sure the Prince has been played to it, then replace either Drizella or Anastasia with their Ballgown duplicate, move them to The Ballroom, and activate Wedding Bells, as long as no Glass Slippers are in play." Got all that? This is a Jafar-level goal, to be sure. What further complicates it is that, like Ursula, Tremaine lacks a Vanquish action and she has to unlock a location. In place of defeating Heroes with Allies, Lady Tremaine uses Traps that still leave them in place, but remove any constant ability that they have. She also relies heavily on her Items to make things work, like Lady Tremaine's Cane, The Key, and Invitation From The King, which is the only way to unlock The Ballroom. Yes, Tremaine is a lot like Jafar in that you're searching for one card to gain full access to your realm and then trying to move cards around your locations to the proper spot to execute a win. To use those Items, she's heavily reliant upon the Activate action... which only exists in The Ballroom. Until then, she's also relying upon some pretty remarkable Effects which replace a lot of normal functions, like There's Still A Chance, You Little Thief, and Midnight, which can have huge impact on the progress of your game. So, like Jafar, Tremaine is heavily invested in her Discard actions and then a well-timed I Said "If" to shuffle her discard pile back into her deck and draw two more cards. In most other decks, that card would be broken. For Lady Tremaine, it's survival. Also unusually, she has two great Conditions in Vicious Practical Jokes and And One More Thing, which doesn't make using that Discard action any easier, since the common targets for many villains are things you'd actually like to hold on to.

Her realm is different. She doesn't have the usual "big spot", with Cinderella's Room coming the closest with a Gain 3 Power, Play a card, Discard, and Move Item/Ally. But the Music Room has two Plays and Gains 2 Power, so it's close. But, again, keep in mind that Heroes can't be removed in the normal way and will still cover actions, even if Trapped. You're depending on drawing Midnight for any serious situations or hoping you can get The Key activated enough times to move Heroes out of your way to Cinderella's Room, since the Power gain and Discard can't be blocked there. But Tremaine's Fate deck is also somewhat restrained, with many of the Effects and Hero powers targeted at the second stage of her game, which is trying to move one of her daughters to The Ballroom; something they can't do with Ballroom Cinderella in play but, just like Tremaine's daughters, she can't be played unless Cinderella is already in play or unless Fairy Godmother is played. In fact, the card Tremaine is most loathe to see is probably Jaq, since he discards Items when he's played or moved and you won't be winning a game as Lady Tremaine without several of your Items. In truth, it probably sounds more complicated than it actually is, but the deck has a lot of moving parts and it's a challenge to make them all fit together. Again, with proper use of the Discard action to increases the odds of finding the right parts, I Said "If" might end up being your most reliable card. Once the snowball is rolling, with a ballgown daughter and Wedding Bells in play, there's not a lot of things that can stop her, but getting to that point is a tougher ask than many other villains.

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Horned King

Difficulty: 3

Objective: Have Cauldron Born at each location

Why is there no article (specifically "The") before his name and he's just "Horned King"? I don't know. I'm as surprised that anyone remembers The Black Cauldron as I am that Cinderella's stepmother has a name. The film is from the mid-80s and is not like a Disney film at all. It's redolent of the influence that Ralph Bakshi had on the animation industry and seems like a leftover from the brief moment in the halls of Disney where films like The Black Hole and Tron seemed acceptable. It's a fairly dark fantasy with a number of unlikeable characters; most of them not the villains. It's also very Tolkienesque, in that the dark lord of the land wants to reclaim a relic and use it to conquer the world. That relic is The Black Cauldron, which you have to find and then use to reanimate your dead soldiers to do the conquering. Right away, the similarities to Maleficent and The Red Queen (she has a "The"!) should be obvious. What's more difficult for HK is that all of the Ancient Soldiers that he needs to have present to play his Cauldron Born cost 3 Power, which means a greater Power expenditure than either of the other two villains. Unlike the Curses or Card Guards, they also don't do anything other than provide an Activate icon, something you lack in your realm but which you don't use for anything in your deck other than flipping the Cauldron. Now, once you do have the Cauldron Born in place, they're permanent Allies with a 6 Strength, which means you won't have to worry about Heroes clogging those spaces, as you have two Vanquish actions in your realm. But you still had to pay another 2 Power to get them in place, so Power gain is a legitimate concern for Horned King and your biggest gain (in the Fair Folk Kingdom) can be covered by Heroes. Here's where you're expecting me to say that the cards that he has are so powerful that they make up for all of that... Not so much. Strangely, a lot of the cards in HK's deck are tuned directly toward his goal, which is normally a definite positive (see: Gaston), except that they don't really do anything else and you can only proceed to your goal one turn at a time, by hoping that you have a Cauldron Born in your hand and an Ancient Soldier on the board to be replaced. If you lack either of those or the 2 Power to do so, you're stuck. Even having the Power of the Black Cauldron doesn't do anything other than enable the Cauldron Born sitting in your hand to be something other than (ahem) dead weight. In many ways, it's something like playing Hades, except your Titans don't do anything and you don't see obvious markers of closing in on your objective. And this includes the fact that you're playing the best draw card in the game in Captured! (1 Power for three(!) cards.) On a positive note, HK does have one nice albeit ironically-titled Condition card (Only Moments Away From Victory) that will let you play one of those Ancient Soldiers for free whenever anyone else plays a single Item.

HK's realm is decent, with the "big spot" at the Fair Folk Kingdom, except with a Vanquish instead of a Discard. That's not too much of a concern because, even though you do want to cycle through to find cards like Show Me The Black Cauldron, you only have five Ancient Soldiers and five Cauldron Born, so if you discard more than one of them, you're stuck either running through your entire deck or using We Have Made A Bargain to shuffle your discard pile back into your deck to hopefully draw into them again. And, again, both of them do nothing for you without the perfect circumstances. It's that kind of slow play on top of only being able to proceed toward your goal one turn at a time that makes HK a bit trying when played. Even worse is that HK's Fate deck has not one, not two, but three cards in it where direct discard is either a certainty (I Believe In You) or a possibility (The Witches of Morva), which means you might be relying on We Have Made A Bargain through no choice of your own. The Witches are particularly irritating as the highest Strength Hero in the deck (3) and a reminder that, as cool as it is to have a permanent 6 Strength Ally in play, the Cauldron Born are drastic overkill when looking at the majority of Heroes in the Fate deck, who are Strength 1 and 2 and not really that problematic in terms of constant abilities. Oh, and then there's Fflewddur Fflam, who can move all of those carefully placed Cauldron Born to one spot, just in case you thought you were getting lucky. Do I think HK is as difficult as Ursula? Maybe? Ursula's problem is that she has too many things to do and not enough resources with which to do them, largely because of the lock issue. HK's problem is that he really only has one thing to do, but can't do it faster than one turn at a time and all of the resources with which to do it are both costly and otherwise completely useless. Again, as with Gaston, perhaps more experience with HK will change my opinion, but I don't feel completely uncomfortable listing him among those villains least likely to succeed after high school.

 

So, that's the long and short of it. One thing I really like about the game is that, even though I certainly have my favorites and think some of the villains are a little undertuned on the difficulty scale, I haven't found any of them unenjoyable to play. They each have their own intricacies and little puzzles that require you to make interesting choices, even if some of them are more problematic than others. My favorites from each box are probably Maleficent and Jafar, Evil Queen, Ratigan, Mother Gothel, and Lady Tremaine. But I have a soft spot for Hades, Dr. Facilier, Cruella de Vil, and Horned King, as well. As I mentioned in part I, one of the real issues with a game that plays so differently is that someone's first play might turn out to be one of the more difficult villains; an Ursula or Jafar or Horned King, and they might be turned off by their negative first impression. That's perfectly understandable and I certainly wouldn't blame anyone for a lack of interest from that point forward. But I think Villainous, from both a gameplay perspective and a story perspective, is one that deserves a second look. I will say again that the translation of story and character to the game is second-to-none compared to any of the other IP-based games that I've encountered and that even villains who don't work as well as hoped from a mechanical perspective are still interesting to deal with for a game that usually only takes about half an hour. In the end, I'd call it a real (and continuing) successful scheme.

There Will Be Games

Marc Reichardt  (He/Him)
Associate Writer

Marc started gaming at the age of 5 by beating everyone at Monopoly, but soon decided that Marxism, science fiction, and wargames were more interesting than money, so he opted for writing (and more games) while building political parties, running a comic studio, and following Liverpool. You can find him on Twitter @Jackwraith and lurking in other corners of the Interwebs.

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Articles by Marc

Marc Reichardt
Staff Board Game Reviewer

Articles by Marc

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