disney villainous

Disney Villainous Review

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Publisher: Wonder Forge
Age: 10+
Players: 2-6
Game Length: 45-60 minutes
MSRP: $34.99

A good villain usually makes for a good story, and one of Disney’s strengths throughout every era was its memorable cast of villains. Some, like Maleficent, have even become more popular than their heroic rivals. Yet we’ve never seen a tabletop game that focuses solely on the darker side of the Disney universe, until now.

Disney Villainous is an elegantly constructed, asymmetrical card game where you play as one of six classic Disney villains. Each villain has their own deck of cards, player board, and goals, all of which reflect their sinister machinations in each film. Being bad never felt so good.

Off With Their Head

Players begin by selecting one of six infamous villains: Captain Hook, Maleficent, Jafar, Ursula, Prince John and Queen of Hearts.

disney villainousEvery villain is tasked with completing their own objective, ripped straight from the films. Jafar has to unlock the Cave of Wonders, hypnotize the genie, and bring both he and the lamp to the Palace, while Captain Hook needs to defeat Peter Pan at the Jolly Roger.

Each turn you move your player marker onto one of four locations on your player board. Each space has several different actions available, from playing cards to gathering power and vanquishing heroes. Choosing where to go and how to utilize both your cards and your limited actions each turn is a delightful puzzle.

At the same time, you’ll need to draw from the fate deck of your opponent’s heroes to foil their plans, while they do the same to you.

Choose Your Fate

While the villains are trying to get their various objectives done, those pesky heroes are always in the way. One of the actions allows you to draw from your opponent’s fate deck of heroes, select one of two cards, and play them on the top portion of their player board. Heroes cover up half the actions, weakening that villain’s options, as well as including debilitating effects specifically designed to undermine that villain – such as discarding Maleficent’s curses or stealing power from Prince John.

The fate deck is a lot of fun and helps alleviate the multiplayer-solitaire problem that frequently crops up in these kinds of games. It provides a high level of interactivity between players, and leads to some fun table talk as players see who’s doing well and work to thwart them.

disney villainous

The card art, player board, and player pieces are absolutely lovely. Disney fans will be satisfied to find classic art depictions of movie scenes and characters on each card. The foldout player board looks fantastic and the pieces are gorgeous 3D color-coded symbols of each villain. As great as the components are, the modeled plastic cauldron that holds the power is cheap by comparison.

With each villain having unique rules and cards, some of them play far more complex than others. Prince John and Maleficent are very straight-forward, while Ursula’s need to apply Binding Contracts to defeat heroes and only ever having access to three locations at a time creates a much more difficult scenario.

The balance between villains seems fine – almost every game I played was very close. Though Maleficent won every game she was played in, regardless of who played her. A complexity rating for each villain would have been very welcome, though the guide pamphlets do a decent job explaining their unique play styles.

The Rating

Villainous has a recommended age of 10+. Despite being a Disney game it’s complex enough to make it suitable only for older kids, teens, and adults. The fact that the most recent villain is from 1992 is a big clue that it skews to an older crowd than most Disney games. The game is easy enough to teach, but each villain has its own rules to learn and strategies to employ, and you have to pay close attention to what your opponents are doing.

disney villainous

The Takeaway

Villainous is a fantastic and cleverly designed card game. Each villain’s deck and strategy is richly thematic and expertly tied to their respective films, and the fate deck is an effective way of adding deliciously diabolical player interactivity. Hugely recommended for Disney fans looking for their next favorite card game.

Find Disney Villainous at Amazon, Target, and other retailers. 

shadows in the forest

Shadows in the Forest Review

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Ever play a board game in the dark? The 1980s kids game from Germany called Waldschattenspiel was designed for night-time playing. It featured an open-flame candle moving around a 3-dimensional board, while other players tried to hide in the shadows. Thinkfun’s recent remake, Shadows in the Forest, officially brings the game to the US with a richer theme and a more kid-friendly LED lantern.

Shadows in the Forest is an unusual and unique board game where players must tactically remain in darkness, while giggling at avoiding the dreaded light.

Hello Darkness My Old Friend

Shadows in the Forest can technically support any number of players, with one player playing as the lantern-controlling Seeker, and everyone else playing as the Shadowlings on a team. Every round the Seeker rolls a dice and move the lantern that number of spaces through different routes on the board.

The Shadowlings aren’t beholden to any such movement restrictions – but they have to remain in the shadows. A number of cardboard trees and rocks have to be assembled each time you open the box. They provide proper hiding places for the Shadowlings. If all the Shadowlings can reach one Hiding Place together, those players win.

shadows in the forest

At the same time, the Seeker player is trying to bathe each one in light. Hitting a Shadowling freezes it, and the Shadowling loses its little plastic mask, unable to move until another Shadowling can safely reach it. The Seekers job is to collect all the masks and freeze all the Shadowlings.

It’s basically an elaborate game of freeze tag. Despite the simplicity it’s a lot of fun, causing a raucous amount of laughing and giggling, even with adults.

Playing with lights and shadows is a novel concept, and easy enough that anyone can jump in and play within seconds.

Blinded by the Light

The original Waldschattenspiel featured dwarves. Shadows in the Forest re-themes the figures, replacing them with cute shadowy blobs called Shadowlings. With their masks on they look like something from a Miyazaki film. They’re all plastic, including the removable white masks, but high quality.

As a nice touch the dice is glow in the dark and rechargeable if you stick it next to a light source. The LED lantern does the job perfectly without worrying about your kids literally playing with fire.

The game comes with six Shadowlings, and it’s up to the players how many they want to play with. It’s a nice way to create a range of difficulty challenges, with three being the easiest and six being very difficult.

Darkness isn’t just a feature, it’s pretty much a requirement, and the darker the better. Playing in an dimly lit area or not-yet dark time of day is less than ideal, resulting in arguments over whether nor not a Shadowling passed through the light. The board isn’t large but it can be tricky to see exactly where the light ends and the shadows begin at the edge of the lantern’s light.

shadows in the forest

The Rating

The box recommends Ages 8+ though younger kids can quickly grasp the simple rules and join in, particularly as the Seeker.

The Takeaway

By using light and shadows as a fun form of freeze tag, Shadows in the Forest is both simplistic and clever. As a rules-lite game with no firm timer it feels casual and light-hearted, though this can cause problems among kids as Shadowling movement mostly requires the honor system to stay in shadow. The game is uniquely limited by its surroundings; perfect for sleep-overs and basements, and provides a fun experience that’s guaranteed to be different than any family game you’ve played before.

Shadows in the Forest is available at Amazon now, and in Target stores in August.

jurassic park danger

Jurassic Park Danger! Review

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Game publisher Ravensburger is celebrating Jurassic Park’s 25th anniversary with Jurassic Park Danger!, an adventure strategy game that pits the heroes (and victims) of the first film against the rampaging dinosaurs on Isla Nublar.

By melding together fun board game mechanics from Euro-style games, Jurassic Park Danger! is far more compelling and rewarding than many family games found in the Target gaming aisle. Its dedication to the source material is immensely rewarding for fans of the 1993 film – but be prepared for the dinosaurs to come out on top more often than not.

Man Creates Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs Eat Man

Jurassic Park Danger! is both cooperative and competitive. It’s designed for 2-5 players. One player always takes the role of the rampaging dinosaurs on the island – specifically a dilophosaurus, velociprator, and Tyrannosaurus Rex. Each dinosaur is represented by wonderful little dino-meeples with printed pictures.

The other players each play one of ten color-coded characters from the film, including Dr. Alan Grant, Dr. Ian Malcolm, Dr. Ellie Sattler, and park owner John Hammond. Every player (including the dinosaur player) gets their own character mat and deck of cards.

The island board isn’t quite a faithful recreation of the park. Instead it’s randomly constructed every game through the modular hexagonal inner pieces, not unlike The Settlers of Catan. This randomizes the locations of cliffs, electric fences, dinosaur spawn points, and some of the objectives. To maintain a semblance of balance, the main objectives are always placed at the cardinal directions of the island, with human players always starting in the middle.

The human players’ goals are to active three locations, such as the control center, then escape off the island via the helicopter. If the humans can collectively get three characters off the island, they win.

jurassic park danger

At the same time, each character has their own specific goals, listed on their character mats. Like everything else, they’re drawn from the film. Ray Arnold, for example, must go to the maintenance shed location to earn his goal token before he can escape (hopefully a better fate than in the movie). These goals help add an interesting wrinkle to players’ plans – particularly when a character dies.

Clever Girl

The dinosaur players’ goal is to eliminate three human characters. Crucially, Jurassic Park Danger! works around player elimination by letting the humans play a new character with a fresh deck of cards. In fact, the manual very plainly states on the first page that there’s a good chance the character you start with won’t survive to make it off the island!

The low odds of survival is due to the card playing and health mechanic. Every round every player selects a card and places it face down on their sheet. The dinosaur player always goes first, revealing their movement capabilities and attempting to maneuver and ambush as many humans as possible. When a dinosaur enters a human space, the dinosaur attacks, and the human has to permanently lose a card. That’s bad news for humans, because they need to play those cards to get around the island.

The humans all have similar cards in their hands: Run, Climb, Sneak, and Distract. Running, climbing and sneaking offer different means of traveling around the map, but you’ll need to roll a dice to accomplish some of them.

jurassic park dangerI like that all the characters vary slightly, and aren’t just a simple aesthetic change. Tim, Hammond’s grandson, is slightly better at sneaking but not so great at climbing, for example.

Additionally, each character has special ability cards they can deploy. Lex’s I’m a Hacker card let’s her reroll a dice. Nedry can turn a single electric fence off or on, while Grant can rescue a nearby character by moving them into his space.

Playing multiple characters with different goals and abilities makes the game far more challenging for human players than the dinosaur player. Humans must also coordinate their actions to accomplish as much as they can while they’re still alive.

It’s far easier for the dinosaur player to use their unique abilities – like the dilophosaurus spit – to spread their attacks, block paths, and generally wear down the humans.

While it’s fun to watch both sides sneak around and out maneuver each other, it’s less enjoyable to lose your human character simply because you slowly ran out of cards to play. The balance feels particularly painful with less human players, as you have far fewer options to survive the onslaught of attacks. In half a dozen plays I’ve never seen the human players win, though they have come close.

The Rating

Jurassic Park Danger! is recommended for Ages 10+. Since movement is tied to card choice, and humans start with a full hand of all 10 cards, every single choice is strategic and tactical. Characters are eliminated, but players are not.

While Jurassic Park Danger! is suitable for families, it’s also aimed squarely at nostalgic fans of the original film.

The Takeaway

I count Jurassic Park as one of my all-time favorite films, and Jurassic Park Danger! absolutely nails the themes, style, and story beats remarkably well. The randomized board setup and ten characters provide a wealth of replay value, and the wooden meeples and card-playing strategy reflect the game’s Eurogame roots rather than a mass-market family game. I didn’t think I’d ever see a solid board game adaptation using the original Jurassic Park license, but life finds a way.