When I first heard about Villainous, my instant reaction was: "Sounds cool... but I'm not really a Disney guy." And it's true. As much as I appreciated the remarkable animation, Disney never really appealed to my generally cynical nature. It felt too straight-laced. I was more of a Warner Brothers person, with its inherently subversive nature and multi-layered jokes. But a lot of people at TWBG whose opinions I respect said great things about the game and, besides, if you're not really interested in the lighthearted nature of the stories, the whole point of the game is that this time the bad guys win! So, I gave in and picked it up and haven't regretted it for a second. The fact that each villain has a unique goal and each of them still plays out so much like their stories from the films is a remarkable achievement and the theme is a big step away from Ravensburger's normal output. My former-toy-store-owning girfriend's first reaction was perfect: "This is a Ravensburger game?" Yes, and it's a great one. When the first expansion, Wicked to the Core, was announced, I knew it was an instant buy and I think most players will agree with me.
One of the mild criticisms of the base game is that there's a disparity among the six villains. Some of them, like Maleficent, are straightforward in their play, while others, like Ursula, are either much more reliant on the draw or have a much steeper learning curve when it comes to dealing with that poor or slow draw. While I think that criticism is mildly misplaced (I'll accept the fact that some villains' goals and gameplay are more obvious than others'.), I don't think it applies at all to any of the three new baddies: the Evil Queen of Snow White, the dark god, Hades, from Hercules, and the nefarious Dr. Facilier from The Princess and the Frog.
Just like with the base game, all three villains tell their story every time they're played. The Evil Queen actually can't directly vanquish heroes. She has to remove them by brewing poisons and getting them to Take a Bite of a tainted apple. Hades is trying to move the Titans to Olympus, but has to time how rapidly they move and hope to keep his enemies mortal along the way. Dr. Facilier, meanwhile, has to cycle through his deck for the Talisman and test his fortune in order to Rule New Orleans. I've never even seen Hercules or The Princess and the Frog and I could glean the plots of both films simply from playing their respective villains. That's when you know that you've found a great distillation of both theme and function which is the high water mark for most game designs.
While all three are as draw dependent as any card game one would expect to play (the Queen for her ingredients, Hades for his Titans, and Dr. Facilier for the Talisman), they all have ways to manipulate their draw or simply overpower Fate obstacles on the board with both actions and ally cards while they're waiting. Indeed, one of the more enlivening aspects of the new villains is the way that they can snowball their way to victory, even from what seems like a poor position. There's a certain tension involved in wondering if the Queen has Take a Bite in hand when Snow White is in the Queen's realm; or seeing two or three Titans on the verge of climbing Mount Olympus and handing the game to Hades; or knowing that Facilier has the Talisman in hand and having to think of ways to keep him from making it to the Voodoo Emporium.
For those who revel in the Disney theme, you'll be pleased to know that all Seven Dwarfs are present in the Queen's Fate deck. SImilarly, for non-Disney afficianados like me, one of the attractive things about the new villains is how atypical their themes are. Hades' cards are very powerful and very dark and lack much of the "cute" quality that most identify with the Mouse Kingdom. Facilier's cards and board are redolent of the spooky, slightly out of focus nature of old New Orleans. These are both much more modern Disney films (1997 and 2009, respectively) and they carry that more recent nature into both their presentation and the resultant gameplay.
Plus, in a nod to value and the discerning gamer, Ravensburger has included the full rules and the needed tokens in Wicked to the Core to play the whole game. You don't need the base game to play. So, you can try Villainous by playing full games with the expansion before you ever shell out for the larger package. Given the unceasing torrent of new releases and the outlay of cash needed to keep up with them, I find that to be a very smart move on their part.