Design by Nicholas Trahan
Published by Mayfair Games
2 – 4 Players, 90 minutes
Review by Greg J. Schloesser
Superheroes are all the rage, with seemingly an endless array of television series and movies focusing on even minor characters. That is just fine with me, as I have always been a superhero fan, with a strong favoritism towards the DC world. I am still waiting on the ultimate superhero game to be produced. Some have been good, but most have been sorely lacking punch (heh, heh!). So, it was natural that I would be attracted to Villainy by designer Nicholas Trahan.
Villainy, however, is set in the opposite world. Players are not superheroes, but rather assume the roles of minor villains hoping to make it to the big time. To accomplish this, they must commit a series of crimes, from the petty to the severe, in order to increase their infamy and recruit henchmen to their cause. Like any good villain, a player must complete his master plan, but first must deal with the pesky do-gooder Fantastiman. Defeat Fantastiman and one becomes a villain worthy of notice.
Villainy has a 1960s cartoonish style that will either attract or repel you. This isn’t the dark and gritty atmosphere evoked by The Dark Knight or Batman vs. Superman. Rather, it would be more on par with the Super Friends cartoon series. Players begin with a villain wannabe, and can even give them clever names by choosing from over 100 villainous name tiles. Fancy the name Dark Walrus, or perhaps Lord Commander Sloth? How about Pain Head? Or, you can take the lazy approach and simply keep the original name on the villain card (I kinda like the name “Rat Lady”!).
Each player has a mat wherein they will track the stats for their primary villain and up to three henchmen. Don’t worry, though, as there are only three stats to track for each: strength, charisma and intellect. These are tracked by rotating dials, which are a bit too easy to bump and upset. The board also provides space for any specialties that are acquired, which can include weapons, gadgets, science, tech and more. One or more of these specialties may be needed to commit certain crimes and defeat Fantastiman. Players begin with a few dollars, a “cube of power” (die) and an urge to commit crimes.
The table is set with a variety of cards, including “Meanwhile” cards (Alter-Egos and Crime) and Henchmen. Five of each are revealed Other decks are set aside and only used as needed.
Turns tend to be lightning quick, as a player may only perform one action per turn. A character, be it the player’s villain or a henchman — must be active in order to perform an action. Once an action is performed the character is considered “tired” and must rest before becoming active again. This is accomplished by “working” the characters, which provides income from their “alter ego” jobs, if any. Even villains need money to live!
As mentioned, a character may take one action per turn. These include:
Assume an Alter Ego. The character assumes a job, but must meet the stat requirements of that position. For example, the Talent Agent position requires a charisma level of 4, while becoming a prize fighter requires strength, charisma and intelligence to all be at level 4. Jobs provide money, which is needed to hire henchmen and perform other tasks.
Hire a Hench. What self-respecting villain doesn’t have henchmen or minions? The villain can hire up to three henchmen, but must pay the specified one-time-only cost. Each henchman has its own stats, and some come with specialties, which are indicated by placing the corresponding specialty token on the player mat. These specialties are helpful when fighting certain crimes, completing plans, or in fights with other villains or Fantastiman. Henchmen have classifications (human, animal, robot, etc.) and all have villainous-sounding names that help enhance the game’s campy, humorous atmosphere.
Henchmen operate just like a player’s villain in that they can perform most of the various actions available to the villain. Plus, they are needed to complete evil plans. As with the villain, they become tired after performing an action and must be rested before they can again help the villain wreak havoc.
Do Some Crimes. Quite simply, committing crimes is what villains do! The player may commit a crime by selecting one of the face-up “Meanwhile” cards. Remember, villains are neophytes, so the crimes they commit aren’t too shocking … yet. They includes such dastardly deeds as Jamming the Cell Towers, Rigging the Lottery, Wrecking the Bingo Hall, etc. Committing crimes increases the character’s stats as listed on the card and sometimes rewards (or costs!) the player with money. This is the major method by which characters can increase their stats.
Start a Fight. This sounds far more fascinating than it really is. Starting a fight simply requires all players to roll their cube of power (die). For each player the instigator beats or ties, he gets to select a reward from those listed on the Fight Summary card. This is usually money, increased stats or a new specialty. Any opponent who rolls better than the attacker gets a reward of $2 from the bank. A player may only start one fight before he rests all of his characters.
Buy a Specialty. Specialties are needed to complete evil plans and to ultimately defeat Fantastiman. Specialties come in four types and each token is named, often humorously. They have no special ability beyond being required to fulfill evil plans. Specialties can often be won in fights or acquired when hiring a henchman, but if all else fails, a character may purchase a needed one.
Hot Action. Some characters come with a special “hot action” ability. These tend to provide a special bonus or reward when used.
If a player has numerous characters who are “tired”–or he just needs money–he can “work” them as opposed to taking a regular action. Working resets all characters to “ready” status and provides income from the villain’s job, but the henchmen only provide money from their jobs (if any) if they are not tired. We actually played this rule incorrectly at first, giving income from all jobs, even when the henchmen were tired. I preferred this method as it injected more money into the game, allowing it to play faster.
As mentioned, a player must complete three evil plans (with increasing difficulty) and defeat Fantastiman in order to win the game. Each evil plan lists stats for two or more characters that must be involved in the completion of the plan. For example, to complete the Origin Plan (1st level) “Dye the Lake Red”, a player must have two characters involved. The first must have an intelligence of 3 or better, along with a science specialty. The second character must have both strength and charisma of 3 or better. If a player meets these qualifications, the plan is successful and the stated rewards earned. He then selects an evil plan from the next level.
When a player has met the qualifications for his third level evil plan (his “Magnus Opus”), he is ready to do battle with Fantastiman. Defeating that do-gooder requires rolling an 8 on a six-sided die, so the player must first earn modifiers. This is done in a push-your-luck fashion by revealing and encountering a series of Fantastiman Battle cards. Each card will list certain criteria that a player must meet or suffer the consequences. For example, the “Overload” card forces the player to pay $1 for each specialty on his team unless he has a Mutant henchman. Other cards require die rolls, the loss of specialties, etc. If a player cannot meet the requirements of a card, or if the losses suffered cause a player to no longer meet the requirements of his Magnus Opus, he has failed. He must then wait to once again gather the necessary requirements before making another attempt.
If a player successfully meets the requirements of a card, he keeps the card, which provides a +1 modifier to his die roll on the final battle with Fantastiman. The player may continue encountering cards until he is either defeated or feels he has enough modifiers to give him a reasonable chance at victory. At that point, he rolls the die, applies any modifiers gained, and hopes the result is 8 or better. If so, he has defeated Fantastiman, completed his Magnus Opus and wins the game, elevating himself to revered status in the eyes of villains everywhere. Losing the battle gives the player a “notoriety” counter, which is worth +1 on his next battle with Fantastiman.
There are other elements to the game, including “free-for-alls” wherein all players battle by rolling dice and applying modifiers. A typical game takes about 90 minutes or so to complete. It seems to start slowly and it feels as though it will take a long time to finish, but once players begin acquiring henchmen, play seems to speed-up and fulfilling the requirements of the evil plans becomes easier. It also plays quicker if you allow job payments for all characters, even if they are not active.
Villainy gets high marks for atmosphere, presentation and humor. Everything down to the box cover is done in a campy, 1960’s comic book fashion. As with games of this nature, the atmosphere and fun is enhanced if players get into the spirit by role-playing a bit and reading the flavor text on the cards.
The game is certainly fiddly, as players are constantly adjusting their stats, acquiring and moving cards and tokens, etc. There is a decent amount of record keeping, primarily involving the adjustment of the dials, which, as mentioned, are easy to inadvertently knock. Thus, care must be exercised. Fortunately, the game is not one wherein one has a tableau of cards, each with special powers that mesh and integrate, requiring one to constantly check those powers so as not to overlook them. The game is far simpler and the few special powers are easy to remember.
Dice are involved, so luck is present. That’s fine, but I feel the luck may be a bit too much in the final battles with Fantastiman. The cards vary wildly in their effects, and some of them can prove quite fatal. While most give the player the opportunity to roll dice or mitigate the penalty if possessing a certain classification of henchman, others simply impose a harsh penalty. Which ones a player faces is a matter of luck. Thus, one player may have a fairly easy go of it, while another may have an impossible task. Since victory requires facing this deck, it seems a more balanced deck would be preferable.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this review, I am a superhero fan and have been searching for the ultimate superhero boardgame. Villainy is not that game, but neither are any of the other superhero-themed games I’ve played. Villainy is fun, especially if one gets into the spirit and role-plays it a bit. However, it is fiddly and the end game has a bit too much luck, thereby making the final winner a matter more determined by luck than skill. I like the game, but am not enthused. The search continues …
Thoughts of Other Opinionated Gamers:
Mark Jackson (1 play): Superhero games tend to be a bit fiddly – when you’re trying to create a system that mimics the wild & wonderful world of comic book craziness, there’s bound to be a substantial amount of “chrome” to enhance the theme. Sometimes it works well (I’m a big fan of Sentinels of the Multiverse); other times, not so much. (The Marvel Heroes games from some years back.)
Villainy takes on the same theme as Nefarious (an earlier “make your evil plan work” game), but does so in a more gamer-friendly fashion. However, Villainy tends to the “fiddly gets in the way of gameplay” end of the spectrum, and Greg’s critiques about luck and the final battle are spot on. (Note: I won my first and only game, so this isn’t sour grapes.)
I was also frustrated that Mayfair skimped on the skill components; they’re a nice thematic touch, but the number provided was almost inadequate for 3 players, let alone a full complement of four players at the table.
Overall, not a bad experience – but my concerns would keep me from recommending it.
4 (Love it!):
3 (Like it): Greg S.
2 (Neutral): Mark Jackson
1 (Not for me):