Disney Villainous is one of the best games to hit the market in the last few years, and each of its sequels has only increased my opinion of it (because honestly, Pete is the most fun to play.) Now, with Marvel Villainous, the company is taking the franchise to a new universe, and with it, opening the possibility of new Villainous titles for years to come.
What Is Marvel Villainous?
Marvel Villainous is a game for 2-4 players, ages12 and up, and takes about 90 minutes to play. It’s currently available on Amazon and from your friendly local game store.
The game is published by Ravensburger and designed by Prospero Hall.
I do want to note at the outset that unlike the prior “sequels” in the Villainous franchise, all of which can be freely mixed-and-matched with the original base game or the other sequels, Marvel Villainous is a stand-alone game that is incompatible with the other titles.
That said, the mechanics are basically the same, so if you have played the other Villainous games you’ll be able to pick this one up very quickly. While this review is a full review of the title, I will highlight the rules that are different for those already familiar with the other game.
Marvel Villainous is GeekDad Approved!
Marvel Villainous Components
Inside the box, you’ll find:
- 5 villain movers (Thanos, Hela, Taskmasker, Killmonger, Ultron)
- 5 villain decks
- 6 fate decks: 1 common deck with 15 cards, and 5 villain-specific decks with 11 cards each
- 12 specialty tiles: 6 Infinity Stones, 4 Ultron objective tiles, 2 Killmonger objective tiles
- 5 villain guides
- 5 domains
- 5 reference cards
- 1 vault
- 40 power tokens
- 20 strength tokens
- 15 Soul Mark tokens
The components are all of the high quality I have come to expect from games from Prospero Hall.
A quick note: while the game’s choice of villains is obviously mostly inspired by massive popularlity of the MCU, the artwork, abilities, and characters in the game are all based on the comic versions of the characters, not the cinematic versions.
As in the original game, the villain movers are slightly abstract representations of the characters. All of them are very cool and definitely invoke the character. They do seem to be lighter weight than the movers found in the other Villainous sets, but that doesn’t impact the game play at all and they aren’t so lightweight as to seem fragile. I have no doubt these will stand up to many repeated plays.
The villain decks follow on the other sets design exactly. Each deck is made up of some varying combination of allies, items, and effects. The design and layout of the cards is exactly as in the other sets: a very nice piece of artwork on top, the cost to play the card in the top left corner, and clear gameplay elements on the bottom half.
New in this version are “speciality” cards. These are ongoing effects: once a villain plays them, they remain in play until something else causes them to be discarded. But unlike allies or items, specialities aren’t tied to a specific place in the villain’s domain. They are more like player upgrades than anything else.
What ultimately makes Marvel Villainous an entirely separate game from the others is the way the fate deck works. In the Disney editions of the game, each player has their own fate deck. In the Marvel game, there is a single unified fate deck. Which makes sense: Cinderella and Snow White don’t exist in the same universe, but all Marvel villains do. So Iron Man is as likely to show up to fight Thanos as he is Taskmasker. The game finds a nice balance between those universal opponents and villain-specific opponents by providing six fate decks. There’s one 15 card deck that will be used in every game, and is mostly made up of the Avengers. But then each villain also has their own 11 card fate deck with heroes, items, and events that would more specifically target an individual villain. See the Setup and Gameplay sections below for how this ends up working.
In addition, this game introduces event cards to the fate decks to add an additional challenge to the villains, which we’ll discuss in more detail in the How to Play section.
A few of the later Disney titles have tiles (i.e., cardboard pieces), such as the Repunzel hero and Pete objectives from Perfectly Wretched. Here, these tiles are combined with the new speciality category. Thanos, of course, needs to collect the Infinity Stones, each of which is a tile. Ultron needs to upgrade himself, and as such has four speciality tiles he needs to work through. Killmonger’s quest to take over Wakanda is likewise represented through tiles.
One of the things that makes any entry in the Villainous series fun is that each character plays a bit differently. But this requires character-specific rules, so just as in the Disney games, this version provides a reference booklet that explains the character’s objectives, their key cards, and provides a few strategy hints.
The Disney games place each villain in a realm. Here, villains inhabit domains, but the idea is the same: these are the player boards that provide the spaces to move to and the abilities that can be activated in each. The only design change here is that the domains now include an area on the far right for specialities. The domains are thick cardboard that fold over themselves for storage.
The game includes 5 reference cards so that players can understand the iconography.
Tha vault is the component that sits in the middle of the table and really just exists to hold the power tokens. As with the movers, this vault is of a much lighter plastic than those from the Disney games, but again, it’s not so light as to look “cheap” or detract from the game at all.
The power tokens are in every way identical to those from the Disney games and are the only componet that could be mixed-and-matched with the other titles. For those without the other games, they are simple round cardboard tokens that are essentially the “money” in the game.
Routinely in the game, both allies and heroes have effects on them that add or reduce strength. In the Disney games, these tend to be temporary effects or are added by cards, but the rules in the Marvel game are such that these bonuses are often permanent, so these tokens to represent those are a requirement here. They are circular cardboard tokens that have +1 on oneo side and a -1 on the other. (While they would at best be a “nice-to-have” feature in the Disney games, I do hope a future edition includes them.)
The final component are the Soul Marks, which Hera uses to track her progress towards victory. They are circle cardboard components, the same size as the power and strength tokens, but with Hera’s icon on both sides.
How to Play Marvel Villainous
The goal of the game is to complete your objective before any of your opponents do.
Each player chooses a villain and collects their mover, domain, guide and villain deck. They open their domain and place their mover on the portrait on the far left side of the domain. They shuffle their villain deck and draw 4 cards. Some of the villains, such as Killmonger and Ultron, have additional setup steps that are outlined in their villain guide.
It’s worth noting that while the game comes with enough components for a five player game, it is designed to be played with a maximum of four–the fifth villain merely provides more variety in game play. Shortly after the first sequel to Disney Villainous came out, we tried it as a six player game and discovered that the main reason for the four player limit was that any more than that created unbearably long down time between turns. With this Marvel version, I also suspect that more than four players might make defeating shared Events too easy.
Once everyone has selected a villain, take each chosen villain’s fate deck and shuffle them, along with the shared deck, into a single deck that is placed facedown in the middle of the table. Also place the vault in the middle of the table, and place all of the power tokens in it. Make a pile of the strength tokens nearby.
Choose a first player. The player to their left gets one power token, and the third and fourth players get two.
One your turn, you must first move to a new space in your domain. Unless you have something that specifically allows for it, you can never chose to stay in the same place in your domain on consecutive turns.
Each spot in the domain provides a set of actions you can perform. This is one of the key strategic elements in the game: on each turn, you have to decide which actions you can perform, which will only rarely be the exact correct set of actions.
The actions are:
Play a card. Almost all cards have a cost, so you have to have enough available power to pay for the card. If the card is an ally, you can play it to any location in your domain, not just the one your mover is at. Allies are played below the domain. Items are played the same as allies, with the caveat that some items must be attached to an ally, so you may need to play an ally before you can play an item. Events are one-time use cards: pay their cost, apply whatever effect is printed on the card, and then discard it.Specialities are played to the area on the far right side of your domain, and act as character upgrades: they are always in effect and can be used at any time, although most can only be used once per turn.
Once you have completed the actions available to you (and note that all actions are always optional, so you can freely choose to not perform any of them at any time), you draw back up to four cards (assuming you played or discarded during your turn), and then your turn ends. It’s important to note that you never draw until the end of your turn. Some cards can be played on other player’s turns, and sometimes things will force you to discard cards on other player’s turns as well. In those cases, you will have to play your hand with whatever cards you have left.
Gain power. Take the number of power tokens from the vault as indicated.
Activate. Many allies, items, and specialities have an activate ability. You can pay the activation cost, if there is one (it’ll be stated on the card), and then use whatever ability is granted by the activation.
Relocate. In the Disney versions, this is the move action, but it works quite differently here. You can move an ally or item from one loaction to another in your domain. This can be helpful to mass your forces to defeat a hero, just as in the Disney versions. However, this game also includes events (more on those in a bit), which are played outside your domain, so you can also use this action to move allies to and from events. Certainvillains, chiefly Thanos, have the ability to play allies to other people’s domains, so this action also allows him to move those allies back to his domain.
Vanquish. Use this to defeat heroes or other villain’s allies in your domain. To vanquish, you need to have allies with a combined power (shown in the bottom left corner of the card) equal to or greater than the power of the hero/ally you are trying to defeat. Note that items and other effects may increase or decrease the power. As long as you have enough power, the hero or ally is defeated and is returned to the appropriate discard pile. But, you then have to discard any of your allies who were used to defeat the hero, which always sucks.
Discard. You may discard as many cards from your hand as you choose. This is an often-overlooked action but can be important. If at the end of your turn you have not played or discarded any cards, you will not be able to draw new cards, so getting rid of a card that won’t be helpful to you right away so that you can have a chance to draw a card you can play on your next turn may be a key element in winning.
Fate. Significant rule change from the Disney games. Use this to draw a fate card. The shared fate deck is probably the biggest change in this version of the game. In the Disney game, you chose an opponent, and then drew from their fate deck and did whatever bad thing happened specifically to them. In this game, you draw from the shared fate deck, and then can choose which villain to hit with the fate. Most fate cards are allies, and when played, are placed on the top of one of the chosen villain’s locations. Importantly, this hero will cover up one or two of that location’s actions, which cannot then be used until the hero is defeated. There are also items which can be attached to heroes and events.
Remember that the fate deck is a combination of the shared deck and decks specific to each villain. These villain-specific decks have the villain’s icon on them. Allies, items, and effects from a villain’s fate deck can still be played on any villain, but they will be most effective against the designated villain. There are still plenty of times when it’s worth playing a fate card on the “wrong” villain; as a simple example, you might draw an item that needs to be attached to a hero, but the villain whose deck that came from doesn’t yet have any heroes. In the Disney versions, this would have been a wasted card, but now, you could play that on another opponent who did already have a hero out.
The really significant change with the fate decks, though, is the introduction of event cards to the fate deck. These are played in the middle of the table. Some are global events that impact all players equally, while others are villain-specific, and if drawn can only be played on that particular villain. Once out, the events have a continuing effect of some kind. In order to get rid of a global event, players basically need to work together, sending allies there until their combined strength equals or exceeds the strength requirement on the event. Once that occurs, all allies played to the event are discarded, along with the event. However, as an added incentive to help defeat them, each event has a reward, which any player who helped immediately receives.
Targeted events are those that only impact a specific villain, and that player must place allies on the event up to its strength, just like a global event, although in this case they have to do it alone. But, like the global events, targeted events also come with an award, and sometimes it can be quite a good one–in our first game, I was Ultron, and going into my turn I still had two specialities to complete before I could win. However, by defeating the event that had been placed on me and gaining its reward, I was able, quite unexpectedly, to complete both at once and win the game.
There are three game modes you can play: in the easiest mode, called “omnipotent”, recommended for those with no prior Villainous experience, you leave out the events altogether. In “inevitable” mode, you play with events, but with an additional caveat that only one global event can be in play at a time, so if one is out and a second one is drawn, the newly drawn event is immediately discarded without effect. Finally, there’s “undying” mode, where multiple global events can be in play at once.
As I mentioned above, one of my favorite things about each of the Villainous games is that the villains all play so very differently. Below, I look at each of the villains in this game and look a little bit at how each one plays.
Thanos is going to be the most-recognized villain here for people who are not comic book fans. He’s also the villain in this set that plays the most differently from every other villain, both here and in the Disney games.
To win, Thanos of course needs to collect the Infinity Stones. But, he faces an interesting hurdle. The Stones are cardboard tokens that, when Thanos is in play, start in the middle of the table. Some of his cards, and some of his fate cards, bring them into play … in other player’s domains, by attaching it to one of that player’s allies as if it were an item. Each stone has an activation power that thematically fits nicely with what the stones do: the Soul Stone, for instance, allows you a draw an ally from your discard pile. In order to collect the stone, Thanos must send one of his allies to that other player’s domain. They arrive there like a hero, so they are placed at the top of a location, they cover up actions, and they can be defeated by that player’s allies through an vanquish action. But, when one of Thanos’ allies is at a location with a stone, he can play a vanquish action to defeat the ally holding the stone. When that occurs, the player’s ally is discarded, and Thanos’ ally then has the stone attached to them. Then, on a subsequent turn (none of the locations in Thanos’ domain have both a vanquish and a relocate action), Thanos can use a relocate action to return the ally to his domain, at which point the stone becomes a specialty of Thanos’. Repeat this six times and Thanos wins, which is a lot harder than it looks, because the other players will generally do whatever they need to do to defeat Thanos’ allies when they are in their realm.
Ultron starts the game with four upgrades in his specialty area. Each has a set of requirements in order to become active; for example, the first upgrade, Transformation, requires that Ultron play two sentries (a type of ally in his deck) to his domain. Once that is completed, the upgrade is flipped over and becomes a specialty, so when the Transformation is complete, Ultron can add a card to his hand anytime he plays another sentry. The upgrades must be worked through in order, and when the final one, Age of Ultron, is played, Ultron wins.
Killmonger is the other villain with the ability to play to other player’s domains. In order to win, Killmonger needs to take control of the mines (one of his objective tiles) and then relocate two explosives (a type of card in his deck) to other domains. During setup, the Killmonger player places the two objective tiles, with Klaw on top, on the Golden City location. Klaw (technically a rival, but he plays basically like a hero) must first be vanquished. That causes the player to flip the tile to reveal Challenge for the Throne–a specialty–where the player has to find Black Panther in the fate deck (assuming he isn’t already out) and place (or relocate) him at the Warrior Falls location. Once Killmonger defeats Black Panther, he gets the Control the Mines specialty, which lets him move the explosives. However, there’s a catch: should something else get played that puts Black Panther back into Killmonger’s domain, he must re-defeat him before he can move more explosives.
Taskmasker is the villain in the set that will be unfamiliar to those who have only been exposed to Marvel via the movies (thanks to the pandemic, anyway–we will see him on the big screen if and when Black Widow ever gets released.) Taskmasker has the objective that is closest in style to the objectives of the Disney Villainous villains: he needs to have at least four allies in his domain, each with a strength of at least five, and with at least one in each location. Because of this, he is the villain whom Thanos can most easily mess with, since if Thanos is sending the stones to Taskmaster’s domains, and his allies after them, Taskmaster will have to keep using his allies to defeat those of Thanos, which makes accomplishing the goal difficult. He does, however, have a lot of cards that allow him to power up and protect his allies. Again, he is the villain that really plays closest to the style familiar to fans of the other Villainous titles.
Hela’s objective is to gain a combination of eight allies and Soul Marks, and to have no opposing characters (heroes or other villain’s allies) at the Odin’s Vault location. To win, Hela must have at least one Soul Mark (so she can’t just get eight allies). Soul Marks are attached to heroes via cards in Hela’s deck. In other versions of the game, objectives like this could get frustrating, because other players could prevent you from advancing to your goal by just never playing fate actions on you. Here, though, that problem is solved, as Hela can put a Soul Mark on any hero, not just those in her domain. And when that hero is defeated, she gets the Soul Mark, regardless of who defeated the hero.
I haven’t made special mention of heroes in my reviews of the other Villainous titles because they haven’t tended to be very interesting, but here they really are. The shared fate deck is in fact made up of nothing but four events and 11 Avengers. And maybe I’m just a lot more familiar with the Avengers than I am, say, the good guys in 101 Dalmations, but these feel unusually thematic. For example, Black Widow automatically defeats an ally at her location when played. Thor grants Protector, a new icon in this game that requires that, if multiple heroes are at a location, he must be defeated first. Captain America gets a +1 strength token when played, and gives a +1 strength token to each other hero in that same domain. Hawkeye, the archer, defeats an ally of the targeted player at an event. Without doing an exhaustive search through every card, I’m pretty sure this is the only way allies at events can be defeated.
But by far my favorite hero–easily the best hero in all of Villainous–is The Hulk. He enters the game at strength 5, which is high for heroes but not rediculously so (Captain Marvel starts at 6). But, when the Hulk is defeated, unlike every other hero in the franchise, he isn’t discarded. Instead, the player who defeated him puts a +1 strength marker on him and moves him to another player’s domain. In other words, he can’t be beaten. He can only be pushed off to be someone else’s problem, but he gets angrier each time that happens, and as he gets angier, he gets stronger. That’s just awesome.
The game ends immediately when a player accomplishes their objective, which really can be at any point. There is then a sometimes short, sometimes much longer discussion about how this player was so close to winning, but no this other player was definitely going to win first, and so on.
Why You Should Play Marvel Villainous
As I mentioned at the outset, I’m a fan of Villainous, having played all of Disney sets multiple times. (I haven’t achieved the goal yet of playing every villain, but I will get there at some point.) I’m also a fan of the Marvel superheroes, although I will admit that I am an MCU fan, as comic books just aren’t my thing. So I was definitely looking forward to getting to check out this game.
When I first heard about it, I was really excited to see if I could have Thanos defeat Maleficient, and equally disappointed when I found out that this game wouldn’t be compatible with the Disney sets. But I pretty quickly got over that disappointment, as I think that a lot of the incompatibility comes from things that ultimately fix issues in the original games.
Thematically, there had to be a shared fate deck. Not only would repeating the Avengers in each individual fate deck by silly, but it’d be weird to have two Thors out there. But the way that they took the idea of the shared heroes and then combined in the villain-specific heroes is great, because while we might not be used to seeing Black Panther fight Hela, we understand that that is definitely a thing that can happen in this universe.
The other added elements definitely make the game longer. Ultron, for instance, needs 12 power in order to activate the Age of Ultron and win. But, failry early in our game, someone played the “Invasion of Stark Enterprises” card on me, which meant that I got one fewer power per turn. As one of my more useful locations only grants one power, there were quite a few turns where I got no power at all. This way slowed me down on the path to what, on paper, seems a relatively easy objective. But the game is so well designed that it didn’t become a source of frustration. It wasn’t like I couldn’t do anything; instead, I had to rethink my strategy and realize that I needed to focus on taking out that event, and when I did, the reward–6 power–actually helped, as I noted above, me to quite suddenly win the game.
Overall, this is a fantastic take on a well-proven game mechanic. I hope and look forward to sequels to this game, as of course there are still a ton of Marvel villains out there. At the same time I hope to see them continue to develop new Disney titles as well (Gaston!!!!) and maybe eventually find a way to make a deal with Hasbro to branch out to that other major Disney-owned property, because you know I’d be all over Star Wars Villainous.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.