Star Wars Villainous Review
Villainous is now available in three flavours. The original Disney version was a huge hit, while the Marvel version (which I reviewed here) fell a little flat. Fans of the series felt the balance was off, and pieces of it were overly complicated without need. Star Wars Villainous is here now, taking the game’s mechanisms and coating them with one of the biggest themes in the world. If you’re going to make a game called Villainous, you need charismatic Villains, and the Star Wars universe is full of them. Star Wars + Villainous mechanisms + a few new tweaks = Villainous 1.5, and I really like it.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away
For those of you new to the Villainous system, here’s your primer. Villainous is an asymmetric mixture of hand management and action selection. Each player has a player piece known as a mover, and on their turn they move them from their current space on their board to a different one. Each space has four possible actions on them, in various combinations. Once there, you take those actions in any order you like. The first person to achieve their unique goal, wins.
This new Star Wars version will be immediately familiar to anybody who’s played either of the previous games. The iconography is the same, the board layouts are the same, and so is the use of Villain and Fate decks. That’s all well and good, but without innovation, re-skinned games get old, really quickly. Star Wars Villainous mixes things up with a couple of really nice additions. First up, we’ve got a new currency. As well as Galactic Credits (money) to spend, you now also accrue Ambition. With each turn you acquire more ambition, which you can use to activate certain cards. It’s a small addition, but it adds a little more meat to the game.
The biggest and best new addition is the extra blank space on the player boards and the vehicles that go on them. Yeah, that’s right, vehicles. Star Wars vehicles. EEeeEeeeeueuuughhhhhh. That’s the noise of a TIE Fighter, by the way. The first time I played a vehicle to my board and gained a whole new spot to put my mover on felt awesome. Suddenly getting this whole extra space added more to think about, like when Darth Maul lit up the other end of his lightsaber. Yeah, Phantom Menace is a Star Wars film, deal with it.
Great, kid, don’t get cocky
Star Wars Villainous’ asymmetry is simultaneously both its biggest strength and weakness. It’s really cool that whenever you take out a different character to play, the things you have to do are different to the others. General Grievous for instance, needs to collect eight lightsabers to win. How does he collect lightsabers? Killing Jedi, of course. This means he wants people to play his fate cards, as that’s where those cheeky Jedi are hiding. Ordinarily you don’t want people playing your fate cards, as each one covers half of the actions on one of your mover’s spaces. It’s a neat way to flip the game on its head, and it makes the character interesting to play.
On the flip side of this you’ve got the likes of Kylo Ren to play as. Kylo’s a bit of a goth and wants to join the Dark Side to win, which again, means killing heroes. Fighting heroes with Kylo, just like Grievous, is dependent on getting Heroes out of your fate deck and onto your board, but the only way that can happen is by another player using their fate actions. If you’ve got another character like Darth Vader in play, you might find everyone throwing their fate actions their way, just to slow their march to win. While you can mitigate this (Kylo has a Snope card he can draw, which gives a new Ambition action to move towards the Dark Side), it means constantly drawing and discarding your Villain deck, and it’s not much fun.
I guess it’s a bit of a double-edged sword (lightsaber?). Villanous’ cornerstone is the interaction between the players. It’s what makes it so much fun to play, and what leads to all the heated table talk. It’s just awkward when a character depends on that negative interaction, because they depend on being fed obstacles in order to advance their cause. It’s not a deal-breaker, for sure, but it’s definitely something to be aware of.
It’s almost hard to remember a time before Villainous existed, even though it’s only five years old now. Building on the back of Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars – which I guess is technically all Disney these days – didn’t harm its chances, but it stands on its own thanks to being a good game. If the Marvel version was a slight stumble, then Star Wars Villainous is the franchise standing back up on its own two feet, striking out on an Imperial March.
It’s undeniable that three of the five included villains feel easier to play than the others (namely, Darth Vader, General Grievous, and Moff Gideon), but there don’t seem to be any inherent imbalances, and you’d be right to expect this now with Propsero Hall having so much experience in making these games. I’d be amazed if I don’t see at least one expansion for Star Wars Villainous in the next year. It’s crying out for the likes of The Emperor, Boba Fett, Darth Maul, and Jabba The Hutt.
This might be the point where you’re asking “Which version of Villainous is the best? Which should I buy?”. The answer is simple. Buy the version with the franchise you like best. If you spend your days singing “Let it gooooo”, get the Disney one. If you like nothing more than superheroes in spangly suits, get Marvel. I grew up with Star Wars – my first online nickname for Quake deathmatches was Bib Fortuna – and this Villanous is the best Villainous for me. The additions also lift the game and make it feel gamier.
Villainous isn’t a game to buy if you don’t like any meanness between players. Directly attacking the other players with their Fate decks is a core part of the game. If, however, the idea of getting your family or friends duking it out to see who’s the baddest fills you with hand-wringing joy, it’s a readily available, lightweight way to get it done, and it’s a lot of fun.
Review copy kindly provided by Ravensburger UK. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
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Star Wars Villainous (2022)
Designers: Prospero Hall
Playing time: 60 mins