In the sea of board games at your local Target, few jump out quite as well as Marvel Villainous, a zeitgeist-branded version of Ravensburger’s platinum-selling game.
The point of Villainous games is to achieve the objective of your selected villain. No two villains’ goals are the same, and the pathways to success look wildly different across the board.
Players can select from a pool of five Marvel villains:
Players can interfere with others’ success by playing Fate cards to introduce Heroes to their opponents’ Domain, send friendly Allies to attack enemies, or use abilities unique to their specific villain.
Right off the bat, Marvel Villainous features great art. From the detail on individual cards to the villain playing pieces themselves, this game is just fun to look at. You could take any hero card, blow it up to poster size, and ignore the rest of your 9-year-old nephew’s Christmas wish list.
The game plays into its theme very well. Each villain’s objective is central to the characters as we understand them in the Marvel Universe. For instance, Killmonger must defeat Klaw, defeat Black Panther and then place explosives into an enemy’s Domain to win. Thanos must collect the Infinity Stones. Ultron has to progress through a series of upgrades, and so on.
Navigating these objectives whilst keeping your opponent from achieving theirs requires careful strategization that can quickly turn sour if you’re not paying attention.
The absolute worst part of this game is the wording of the instructions.
A vast majority of the verbiage used in the game is vague or ill-explained in the rule book.
For example, “removing” a card, whether it be an ally or an item, can activate any number of special abilities. However, the rule book defines removing as a free and separate action that can be done at any time. But triggering most special abilities requires Activation or Playing A Card, which are not free and separate actions. Also, defeating or vanquishing the card does not count as “removing,” despite the fact that defeated or vanquished cards are removed from play.
Confused? Me, too.
A lot of the game mechanics are like this, and during our third round of play, we were still running into issues like this every other turn.
The Fate cards are also a troublesome aspect of this version of Villainous. Fate cards include Heroes, some of whom come with special abilities, or effects that can shake up the gameplay.
Heroes don’t hinder all villain objectives equally.
For example, Hela can only win if she has 8 Soul Marks and Allies at a specific location, and there cannot be any Heroes at that location. An opponent just has to keep playing Heroes to that location to prevent her from winning. On the other hand, Taskmaster just needs to have four Allies in four separate locations. Heroes do absolutely nothing to prevent Taskmaster from winning.
As a result, the game is inherently unbalanced and deprives certain villains of wins. In more than 20 games played in various combinations, Taskmaster and Thanos won once, Hela won 0 times, Ultron a cool dozen, and Killmonger the rest. In losses, Thanos is often at least 6-7 turns away from winning, even in the hands of my most strategic pal. There’s little to no reward to playing defense, meaning that every player virtually operates in a vacuum.
The Final Verdict
If you’re opting for Marvel Villainous over the regular Disney Villainous, don’t.
If you’re just looking for something easy to learn and quick to play, don’t.
If you’re seeking frustration and neat visuals, I guess Marvel Villainous is cheaper than Cyberpunk 2077.
If you do decide to pull the trigger on Marvel Villainous, leave Thanos in the box. Just trust me.