In 2018, gamers were blindsided by Disney Villainous. No one was expecting Disney to produce a game based on their most evil characters, let alone to discover that a franchise game from the House of Mouse would be as good as it was. Four years on and it’s embedded as a family classic and has spawned a sequel based on Star Wars. Now players can take the role of Darth Vader, Kylo Ren and others and try and drive the dark side of the force to victory.
Star Wars Villainous: Power of The Dark Side review: price and who it's for
This is a mid-sized box game with some hefty content, including sculpted statuettes of your favourite Star Wars villains, for which you can expect to pay about £40/$40. Because it’s Star Wars and it’s going to be on sale in mass-market stores, it’ll no doubt get a lot of interest from younger fans of the franchise. The bad news is that Star Wars Villainous is a fairly meaty game with a lot of rules: the original was moderately complex, and this has a slew of new options that players will need to learn. As such it’s not as family-friendly as you might imagine and is better suited to game fans.
Star Wars Villainous: Power of The Dark Side review: How it plays
Each player chooses a character and gets a dedicated board for that villain together with two decks of cards. One is their villain deck which contains allies, items and events that the character can command. The other is their fate deck which has their heroic adversaries and setback events. These are all tied to the villain’s storyline. For example, Darth Vader’s board has locations like Cloud City and the Emperor’s Throne Room, his deck is full of Stormtroopers and his fate deck sees him facing down Han Solo and Obi-Wan.
Villains also come with a unique objective and a little guide to read on how to complete it. In Darth’s case, winning means flipping a special Luke Skywalker card to its “uncertain” side and moving it to the Emperor’s Throne Room space, which can be accomplished by card play. Darth must then put their ally, The Emperor, into play in that space and move their statue to join them. Between their individual decks and objectives, every character in Star Wars Villainous feels not only unique to play but takes actions and describes a story arc that fits well to their role in the franchise.
On your turn, you have to move your piece to one of the four spaces on your villain board. Each has four action icons, some of which may be blocked by a hero card. Most of these spaces let your character gain resources or spend them playing cards from their hand. Of special interest is the fate action which allows you to choose a target opponent, draw two cards from their fate deck, and choose one to play on them. Heroes will block action icons until defeated, which you can do with the vanquish action so long as you’ve played an equivalent strength of ally cards into the same space.
Fate is an interesting mechanic that’s clearly supposed to bring a degree of interaction to what’s otherwise something of an insular game, with each player choosing their own goals. And it succeeds, but only to an extent. Most of the time, fate actions will be incidental: you’ll take them because you want other actions in the same space that advance your agenda. That makes it feel more like a bonus than a direct attack, but it’s still fun and thematic to choose a setback for an opponent and choke their board with it. And of course, it gives you a chance to peg back a runaway leader, too.
There’s a fifth space on your board, deep space, which is new to this version of Villainous and is the source of a lot of the extra complexity in the game. It can’t be accessed until a vehicle card has been played into it, at which point it gains the action icons and a special effect listed on the card. However, there are also vehicle cards in the fate deck which can potentially block a villain’s vehicle like a hero card, and which can be discarded through the use of a vanquish action.
Together with a new resource, ambition, these changes make Star Wars Villainous quite the strategic treat. Every character requires a different approach. General Grievous wins by beating heroes so he actively wants to attract fate cards. Asajj Ventress, meanwhile, needs to cycle her deck fast in order to get the resources to complete quests. In all cases, you’ll benefit from planning ahead as you shepherd resources to play higher-cost cards where they count. But at the same time, the threat of fate cards means your plans need constant adjustment.
Some heroes are easier to play than others, but all reward repeat spins of the game as you master their intricacies. Card draw is the only random factor here: battles are decided by a straight strength vs strength comparison. So the game very much encourages mastery of each villain to get a strategic edge. Trying out a new one, learning the ropes and then putting what you’ve learned into practice is rewarding and addictive. And thanks to the twenty-minute per villain play time, repeat plays to fine-tune strategies are a definite possibility.
Star Wars Villainous: Power of The Dark Side review: Verdict
For strategy game fans, Star Wars Villainous is a definite step up from the original Disney Villainous game. The new resources and board space create a lot more strategic options to work with, adding to the fun and replay value. It’s a shame the price we have to pay for this is shutting out some younger or less patient fans of the franchise. But if you’re up for the challenge, this is a compelling addition to the Star Wars tabletop line-up.
Star Wars Villainous: Power of The Dark Side review: Also consider
If you like the concept of this game but are put off by the learning curve, the obvious alternative is the original Disney Villanous game. It’s similar but simpler, and still a lot of fun. And maybe your family and friends will prefer the idea of playing Maleficent or Captain Hook over characters from Star Wars. There’s a Marvel Villainous too if that strikes your fancy.
If you enjoy the Star Wars licence there are lots of other games to consider but they’re all very different from Villainous and most are as much, if not more, complicated. Perhaps the most accessible is Star Wars: X-Wing, where you fly ready-painted models of iconic ships in deep space dogfights. It looks great and plays great but be aware that it’s the thin end of a wedge, with eye-popping numbers of additional ships available if you want them.
For more accessible family play, the same design team bought out Horrified, a fun cooperative game of monster hunting. It’s based on hokey Universal horror movies from the sixties so it’s not at all scary, but it does a great job of being easy to learn while still ramping up the excitement and piling on some pressure as the game progresses.