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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Illustration for article titled Let your inner bad guy out of the box with our guide to Disney’s iVillainous/i board game
Photo: Ravensburger

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?

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Kids might love Disney princesses, but it’s often the villains that really stand out in the company’s roster of animated movies. Cast with star power and gravitas in mind, Disney’s evildoers have been voiced by Jeremy Irons and Vincent Price, and portrayed in live action by Angelina Jolie and Glenn Close. They often seem to be the characters having the most fun, as they revel in their power and brilliant schemes, often via a catchy and ominous song.

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The German game company Ravensburger understands the deep appeal of being bad, which is why it launched Disney Villainous in 2018. The base game lets two to six players take on the role of iconic Disney villains racing to complete their objective, and getting in each other’s way by enlisting the aid of another villain’s cast of heroes. Every villain has their own win condition and deck, producing a huge amount of replayability as players can try new characters and see how they fare against each other.

Villainous proved so popular that it’s been followed up by three sequels, each introducing three new villains. Another edition, Marvel Villainous, is scheduled to release in August, and will expand the concept to some of the best villains from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. If you and/or your kids are bummed about Disney postponing all its big releases due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Villainous provides a great way to have some fresh interactions with the characters you love to hate within the safety of your own home.

The game comes with guides for how to play each character, and advice for what the other players should be aware of when it comes to disrupting them. What it doesn’t come with, though, is an easy way to determine the varying complexity or quality of its characters to help players pick the ones they’re most likely to enjoy. So we’ve done that work for you, playing six of the series’ villains to provide answers on how they stack up against their cinematic counterparts, ensuring your stress-free start to your villainy career.


Prince John, Robin Hood

Prince John is an unusual Disney villain, as he starts the 1973 animated film having already basically won, managing to take over the England of anthropomorphic animals by hypnotizing his older brother into running off to the Crusades. Now he’s just trying to make a bunch of money through unjust taxes, and to stop Robin Hood from making fun of him.

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Appropriately, John has the easiest time winning the game out of any of the characters we tried. One of the core mechanics of Villainous is gathering power tokens, which are used to play cards from your hand or activate cards that are already in play. Visiting squares on your board, each based on a key location from the film, gets you one to three power each turn. John’s goal is simply to acquire 20 power.

Unfortunately, the villain must move every turn, so they can’t just camp out in the one location that gives them the most power every time time. Every zone lets you take three to five actions, though, such as playing cards, gaining power, or drawing cards from another player’s Fate deck, from which you can force them to deal with their heroes or other annoyances. Heroes typically reduce the number of actions you can take at their location, so playing them on your opponents makes their turn less effective.

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Most of John’s heroes also have the ability to steal power from him—representing Robin Hood’s efforts to steal back tax payments—but if he can defeat the hero, he gets the power back. John also has access to the Jail, a zone where he can ship unruly heroes to free up the locations they’re messing with. He also has plenty of powerful allies that can be used to defeat heroes, and many of his cards let him gain extra power when heroes come into play or are defeated. As a result, even attempts to disrupt his efforts often wind up playing out in his favor.


Captain Hook, Peter Pan

Captain Hook is another fairly simple villain, good for beginners in that he also has the benefit of bad things working out well for him. Hook wins by satisfying his obsessive desire to find and defeat Peter Pan. The boy who won’t grow up is hidden in the pirate captain’s Fate deck, which means that, for most of the game, it’s a terrible idea for other players to play Fate cards against Hook, since they’re just accelerating his search for vengeance.

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That means Hook’s pretty much free to do whatever he wants in the early game, recruiting pirate allies and building up his arsenal. Cards like his collection of different hooks, or a ship’s cannon, improve the effectiveness of various locations, making every turn better for him than it will be for most other players. That’s meant to compensate for the fact that one of the locations on his board is locked at the start of the game: He needs to find a map of Never Never Land tucked within his own deck to be able to get to Lost Boys’ base at Hangman’s Tree.

Once he’s done that, though, Hook just needs lure Peter to his ship so he can be defeated. Peter is the most powerful single hero we’ve seen in the game, so Hook needs to amass an army of well-armed pirates to actually dispatch him. Luckily, that’s exactly what he’s good at, even as other players try to counter it by buffing Peter with help from the Lost Boys or Tinker Bell. It’s a nice manifestation of Hook’s ability to play on Peter’s arrogance, and shows how Peter is only able to win through the strength of his friends.

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Scar, The Lion King

Scar is the signature villain of the Evil Comes Prepared expansion, and feels, in many ways, like an evolved version of Hook. His goal is to first defeat Mufasa, and then a bunch of other heroes to establish himself as the heir to Pride Rock. Although other players can interfere with Scar’s attempts to hunt down his hated brother, his deck is full of cards that let him play cards from his Fate discard pile, or interrupt people using Fate cards against him, putting some of the agency back in the player’s hands. The game really gets the feel of the scheming nature of the character, the kind of guy able to deal with young Simba by making him feel guilty about his father’s death.

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Scar doesn’t have to worry about any locked locations—that mechanic was entirely eliminated after the base game was released. His army of hyenas is also extremely powerful, gaining strength from working together at the same location to take down imposing enemies like Mufasa and Simba. Because he has so much control over his own Fate deck, and actually needs to defeat heroes to win, disrupting Scar’s schemes is really difficult. That makes sense for a villain who pretty much told Mufasa he was going to murder him, then was able to pull it off because the hero was too noble to do anything about it.


Ursula, The Little Mermaid

Speaking of those locked locations, Ursula is probably the reason they were eliminated from later expansions to the game. The sea witch is really fun in concept, but it’s almost impossible for her to win due to the restrictions placed on her. One of her locations is locked at all times, based on whether she’s in her aquatic or human form, and changing requires playing a card—so you might not be able to easily do it when you want to. Those are also the two locations where she can play Fate cards, meaning she’s always going to be less aggressive toward other players, since it’s really hard for her to take action against them two turns in a row.

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Ursula’s goal focuses on the trident, which summons King Triton, who she must then defeat, before spiriting his stuff off to her lair. The problem is that, like in the movie, Ursula doesn’t really fight. While every other villain in the game uses their allies to beat up heroes, Ursula can only defeat them by playing contract cards that each specify a location on her board. If she can get the hero to move to that location, through a mix of sorcery or her eel allies, they’ve violated their contract and are defeated, presumably transformed into those gross little monsters living in her lair. It’s great flavor, but hard to do—fiddly, easily disrupted, and with lots of complicating factors. There are just too many ways to mess with Ursula, and not enough ways for her to win. As a personal favorite, her handicaps all fit with her weird ethos of pretending to be a good guy and playing by the rules. But villains that use dirtier tricks are always going to beat her.

Illustration for article titled Let your inner bad guy out of the box with our guide to Disney’s iVillainous/i board game
Photo: Ravensburger
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Cruella de Vil, 101 Dalmatians

The fashionable villain is the star of the Perfectly Wretched expansion released back in March, and is one of the most fun villains we’ve played. Her goal is to capture multiple Dalmatian puppies, of course, so that she can make a spectacular new fur coat. Cruella does this by sending her goons to pick up Dalmatian tokens, which can represent 11 or 22 puppies who spawn at different locations. Her deck revolves around getting Dalmatians in play, and having her powerful allies nab them. Appropriately, she prefers to sit back and look fabulous, using her phone to call her minions into action.

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Cruella is great at racking up power, with cards that let her gain it based on how many Dalmatians she’s found but not yet captured, and then spending it to play allies and move them around. She can pick up speed fast, but her Fate deck has plenty of mean surprises for her enemies to turn against her, like Dalmatian couple Pongo and Perdita, who can rescue Dalmatians she’s already captured or prevent her from catching puppies at their location. That can be hard for her to deal with, since she really needs her allies on puppy-catching duty rather than fighting off full-grown dogs. But just as Cruella seems to absolutely revel in the ridiculous depths of her depravity, there’s something delightful in the simple joy of nabbing puppies and kicking heroic animals away.


Professor Ratigan, The Great Mouse Detective

Hailing from the 1986 Sherlock Holmes riff The Great Mouse Detective, Ratigan’s Villainous incarnation plays out exactly how a criminal genius should—with an elaborate opening gambit, and a measure of spiteful revenge if his enemies manage to get in his way.

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At the start of the game, Ratigan’s got a difficult and somewhat convoluted plot involving kidnapping heroes and stashing them in his lair, then marching a big powerful item across the board. If that item is destroyed, though, his victory condition changes to defeating Basil of Baker Street. Unlike other villains who need to defeat specific heroes, Ratigan doesn’t have any way to get Basil in play on his own. If he ever appears, though Ratigan just needs to leave the detective alone, which is appropriate for a guy that really wants to show off how smart he is, rather than getting his hands dirty.

Ratigan is slow to ramp up, and can be fairly easily disrupted, but he’s extremely fun and flavorful. His preferred way of dealing with heroes in both the movie and the game is to feed them to a fat cat he summons with a bell. Felicia is more expensive to play if Ratigan doesn’t feed her by sacrificing one of his minions, and that’s a trade he’s likely to make, considering how desperately he needs to horde power. There’s even a card for a guy that gets eaten in the film that you can play for free and has no useful abilities. He’s just meant to be cat food.

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We haven’t played all of the villains Villainous has to offer, and we’re still eager to try more and see what the Marvel expansion brings. So if you’ve played any of the ones we didn’t mention, please let us know your thoughts in the comments section. Maleficent? Jafar? Queen of Hearts? Mother Gothel?

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Samantha Nelson is an A.V. Club contributor, freelance food and drinks writer, hardcore gamer and member of the Critical Hit podcast.

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