If playing Disney Villainous is like being in the fifth grade, Marvel Villainous is the first day of middle school. It feels the same, but it’s totally not. There are rules and norms you had no idea existed but are now the most important things in the world—and there’s a chance the classmates you came along with may not be your friends by the end of it. But that kinda makes Ravensburger’s board game a blast.
The latest board and card game release from Ravensburger (in a partnership with Prospero Hall) is a departure from the Disney Villainous series, which pitted different Disney villains against each other in a race to complete goals from their movies. This version ventures into the Marvel Universe to focus on the exploits of classic comic book baddies (they’re technically not the MCU versions but they have very similar designs and goals, so they’re pretty much the same thing).
The starting edition of this game, Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power, features five villains: Hela, Killmonger, Ultron, Thanos, and Taskmaster. Most of these characters have already made appearances in Disney’s Marvel films—with the exception of Taskmaster, whose debut in Black Widow was delayed because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. I’m guessing he was intended to be the freshest MCU face for this game, but now he’s more like a teaser for what we can expect in the film. Considering every other character in Marvel Villainous has died in the films, I suppose we can assume his fate. Pour one out for Taskmaster.
For this playthrough, I was Hela and my slightly beleaguered husband played Thanos (the things he does for love). The villains’ goals range from defeating their iconic heroes to collecting allies, souls, and Infinity Stones to boost their ranks. To do so, villains move between different realms on their boards, collecting money (in the form of Power), building forces, and vanquishing heroes. It was actually pretty easy to move from Disney Villainous to Marvel Villainous without having to spend too much time learning the rules. There are a few new bells and whistles, like being able to move your allies to other people’s boards to collect items, but the main crux of the game is identical to the Disney version—with one big exception.
Unlike Disney Villainous, where each villain is off doing their own thing in their own films (with the exception of House of Mouse and Once Upon a Time), the baddies in Marvel Villainous exist in one shared comic book universe. You’re just as likely to see Black Panther fight Killmonger as you are to see him standoff against Thanos. The fact that Marvel characters commonly cross over into other movies would make it harder in the board game to sequester heroes to their own specific villains—so Marvel Villainous didn’t.
Instead of each villain having their own hero deck, in this game everyone shares. The collective deck features generic heroes from Marvel Comics, along with ones specific to each villain being played. Every time you choose to play a hero card against another player, you draw from the shared deck and then choose who to play it against. It adds another layer of fun complexity to the game, but it also makes it easy to target others based on what cards you get, thus increasing the chances of royally screwing over your opponents. Boy oh boy, it can get ugly really fast. Especially when you add Events into the picture.
Marvel films often feature big events that bring heroes and villains together to fight a shared threat—there’s a whole series of Avengers films that are basically one long chain of events. In Marvel Villainous, various Events are hidden in the shared hero deck and if one is uncovered (and there are no conflicting Events already on the board), it’s immediately played and will add a penalty until the villains collectively donate enough allies to defeat it. Some of these affect all players, but others are targeted to specific villains. I got the Hela Event early on and had it for over half the game, and it sucked so much. Trust me when I say trying to play with that penalty was one of the most frustrating game experiences I’ve had since Dead of Winter.
You can play without Events but you’d miss out on one of the things that made the game so enraging yet rewarding. There was a time during my initial playthrough, when I’d been stuck with the Hela Event and a shared Event for 20 minutes and could barely do a damn thing, that I was ready to say “fuck it.” But this is a game that’s worth sticking through the rough patches because it rewards patience, hard work, and some good old-fashioned villainy (after that whole nightmare, I still ended up winning). Marvel Villainous is a tougher, less forgiving version of Disney Villainous, but that seems appropriate. It’s the PG-13 upgrade after years of G.
I’ll end on the question I’m sure you’re still dying to know: Can I play this with Disney Villainous? Ravensburger previously said Marvel Villainous isn’t designed to cross over with the Disney game. Technically that’s true, but if you remove the Events, build individual Marvel hero decks that match the size and scope of the Disney ones, and give the Disney villains a few Marvel upgrades (mainly letting allies move back and forth between players), it’s relatively easy to make that long-awaited Ursula and Ultron crossover happen. You just have to use your imagination. I have a feeling we’re all pretty good at that.
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