In Mwahahaha!, each player takes the role of a diabolical mastermind bent on world domination. The description in the game itself puts it rather nicely, I think:
Mwahahaha! is a card game of mad scientists and global domination for 2 to 5 players. You assume the role of an evil genius who builds a criminal empire and constructs a doomsday device with which to cow a trembling humanity. But you’re not the only one with grand machinations. Other players rival you for absolute mastery. He who completes his device first and collects the highest ransom is declared the winner — and ruler of the world!
This is a fun card game with a great theme and cool cartoony artwork. Now, it's called a "Card game," but don't take that to mean that the game has few components and only lasts for 15 minutes. The game is nearly overloaded with cards, chits, dice, boards, and tokens. This game must weigh at least 5 or 6 pounds, and it barely fits back into the box it comes in (but it fits).
Everything is good quality and the green and purple dice are way cool (though they are a little hard to see on my green tablecloth). As I already mentioned, I like the artwork, and most of the cards have flavor text on them.
How's it play?
The rulebook is pretty long and so full of examples and long explanations that its easy to get overwhelmed, but the rules are actually quite easy. Turns consist of you trying to get resources for your doomsday device and screwing over everyone else as much as possible. Each turn is divided into three phases: the Creation, Rivalry, and then Domination phase.
Each player has an evil Lair (described on their player board) that has ratings for each of the 4 resources in the game (which are: Structure, Energy, Money, and Eureka!). Players also have Empire cards that represent companies or firms under your control that have resource ratings of their own. During the creation phase, each player draws raw materials cards (which depict resources on them) and trade them in for matching resource chits. The catch is that you can't recieve more resources than you have rating for on both your empire cards and lair. This is probably the most "gamey" part of the game and is also the toughest part for new players to wrap their head around. Thematically, you are using your empires/lair to convert raw materials into actual usable resources, which makes sense, but I wonder sometimes if the game could benefit from removing the raw materials cards all together and just producing your resource ratings worth of resources every turn. On the other hand, once you understand it it's not too complicated, and one person actually told me he thought that the resource generation mechanism was the most interesting bit of the game (note: he is a heavy-Euro fan and probably didn't care about the theme at all).
During the Creation phase, you can also buy additional empire cards and minions, and you can trade with other players. Trading never happened much in our games, though. One reason for this is that there is so much "screw you" and "take that" stuff in the game that no one wanted to help anyone else, even a little bit. Another reason is probably the existence of the "Betrayal!" card; it's a Raw Materials card that reads "If you just got this card in a trade, discard it" (You don't actually show people the cards you're trading before you trade them, so this comes at you unexpectedly). The last reason is the arbitrary limit imposed on Raw Materials trading (only 1 card traded per turn). I guess it's nice that the option to trade is there, though.
The best thing about the Creation phase is that everybody get resources, trades, and buys stuff simultaneously; it feels kind of chaotic, but it probably saves a lot of time.
During the Rivalry phase, each player can make a single attack on another player's lair or empire card. Up to 3 minions can attack and 3 can defend. Players add up the attack scores of their minions (and add 1 or 2 if they are defending an empire or lair) and roll that many dice. Compare highest to lowest values on both sides, sort of like RISK, only instead of eliminating enemy armies you score successes for each die roll higher than your opponent's. If you rolled more dice than they did, uncontested rolls count as a success on a 3+. For each success, you hit an enemy minion and steal a resource (or successfully steal the empire).
A minion card. The attack score depends on what kind of resource or empire you're fighting over.
Players make their attacks in turn order and then starts the Domination phase, where people will make their threats and demands upon humanity. You can threaten a city, state, country, or even the world if your doomsday device is beefed up enough. By the end of the first turn, you will probably have just enough resources put into your device to threaten a single city. Each doomsday device has different resource costs and threat ratings. Usually, the more expensive the device, the more threatening it is.
How's it feel?
While the game is a "take that" kind of game, it is fairly difficult to totally stop someone who is winning unless you have some really nasty "dirty trick" cards. Most of the time, all you can do to another player is kill their minions and take their empires, or steal some resources from your lair if you attack with overwhelming force. Now that stuff can hurt, but minions and empires are highly dispensable anyway, and it's really your doomsday device that matters.
It's a lot of fun to threaten France or Boise or whatever and just to be an evil mad scientist for an hour. The game seems to take a while to get going though, and it can drag on if the players don't have a plan or know what they're doing.
It's very much a "take that" card game, so any of those are simialar I guess. It's pretty casual. There is some strategy though, mostly in how you develop your doomsday device, when you ditch it for another one, and which one you pick. Different devices have varying resource costs and give you different amounts of power to threaten the world with.
Make sure you read the rulebook beforehand. The rules are easy, but the rulebook is by the rulebook. The game comes with a "cheat sheet" that sumarizes most of the rules.
This game is published by White Wolf, which probably has a reputation of picking a cool theme and trying to slap a game onto it, but I like this game's theme, feel, and artwork so much that I barely mind its flaws at all.
One house rule I've found helps the game move along much quicker without significantly changing gameplay is to use more raw materials cards in the deck and change everyone's special power to "Once per turn you may discard two raw materials cards to harvest..." instead of not drawing 2 cards. Also, everyone draws 5 raw materials cards a turn. Our games last around an hour this way.
Overall, I think this game is great fun and hilarious, an AT card game through and through. If you like the theme at all I recommend you try it.