All you want to do is bring balance back to the galaxy. It's a beautiful, elegant, simple idea, really. And the first thing you need to do is collect the Infinity Stones. Easier said than done with those so-called "heroes" always interfering. But that's not the worst of it. Ultron, the bucket of bolts, has plans of his own. And don't get us started on that meddlesome Hera. But they're no matter if you, Thanos the Mad Titan, can simply achieve your goals before they achieve theirs. That's the idea behind Marvel Villainous, a new entry in the Villainous series by Prospero Hall and published by Ravensburger.
In Marvel Villainous, an asymmetrical board game for 2 to 5 players, you'll take on the role of a famous villain from Marvel history trying to complete their nefarious plan. Playing as Thanos, Hela, Ultron, Taskmaster, or Killmonger, you'll try to achieve your own special version of the world (or galactic) domination before anyone else. To do this, you'll move your character pawn along your board and activate special actions at each space. Actions include gaining power (the currency of the game), playing cards, defeating heroes, and pulling Fate cards from the Fate Deck, a separate deck of cards containing powerful heroes like The Avengers you can use to target and derail your opponents.
The first game in this series, Disney Villainous, took the same themes but applied them to classic Disney villains like Jafar, Ursula, and Prince John from Robin Hood. And like Disney Villainous before it, the designers behind Marvel Villainous have put extreme care into making sure each player really feels like the villain they're playing. This goes beyond mere IP integration and warrants a discussion about how each character's goals and playstyle matches their identity.
Hela, for instance, needs to call forth her allies, attach "soul marks" to heroes who she then kills, and relies on pulling and playing cards from her discard pile (acting as a sort of underworld). Killmonger needs to control the mines and send explosives out of his domain, and his deck has almost no allies to help him, so he's got to make it work on his own. Taskmaster, the only villain in the game to have not appeared in a Marvel movie (yet, he's coming), effectively needs to train his allies to become stronger and spread them out across the game. Ultron needs to reach the Age of Ultron, which he achieves by upgrading himself via sentry robots that are augmented, destroyed, etc. And finally, Thanos, who's mechanics most perfectly match his character's storyline (especially in the MCU). He needs to gather the 6 Infinity Stones across the galaxy. For the most part, villains focus on their own domain boards and can't move onto other players' boards. But Thanos breaks that rule, sending his allies from domain to domain to collect the Infinity Stones.
The design of the game is top-notch, with comic book-style illustrations covering every card (instead of dreadful movie stills). The graphic design is clear, and as long as you have a small reference card handy, you'll have no trouble understanding the symbols as they relate to actions you can take. And the quality of this game, from the way the boards feel to the thickness of the cards and the plastic well that holds all the tokens, is some of the best on the market for this price-point.
The Bottom Line
Once again, Prospero Hall brings to market a game that completely smashes past my expectations. I opened this box bracing myself for Marvel fatigue, I'm a bit weary of the MCU and of the superhero genre in general, but like Disney Villainous this game is so well-conceived, entertaining, and challenging that I came back to it again and again while reviewing. Each villain plays so radically different from their opponents, each moment offers up different challenges, and each victory (or loss) felt well-deserved. For someone who went into it feeling exhausted by comic books, I'm happy to admit I can't wait to see expansions to this continue to draw from Marvel's deep villain well. This may very well be the best Marvel board game on shelves right now, and if you're at all a fan of the source material you should absolutely check it out.
Get This Game If
- You're a Marvel fanatic
- You like asymmetrical gameplay
- You've always wanted to crush those puny Avengers
Avoid This Game If
- You're looking for a more straightforward "minis on a map" style game
- You couldn't imagine playing a villain (you do-gooder)
The copy of Marvel Villainous used for this review was provided by the publisher.