Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 10+
Players: 2-3 (the full game supports up to 6)
Game Length: 40-60 minutes
MSRP: $24.99

The second stand-alone expansion to excellent asymmetrical card game Disney Villainous, Evil Comes Prepared, finally adds Scar as a playable villain, along with dark-horse picks Yzma from The Emperor’s New Groove and Professor Ratigan from The Great Mouse Detective. Scar is mildly disappointing but the others make up for it with unique and interesting play styles, proving that Villainous continues to host an impressive pantheon of Disney favorites.

Circle of Life

By now you should already be familiar with how Disney Villainous plays. Each player selects a Disney villain, which comes with their own deck of villain cards, a fate deck of meddling heroes, a player board with four locations, and a stylized 3D token. Each turn players move their token to a location, performing the limited actions at that location, such as playing cards, gaining power, and vanquishing heroes. Villains can also draw from their opponents’ fate decks to place heroes on their board, partially covering up their actions and thwarting their plans.

Part of the genius of Villainous is its asynchronous gameplay. Each villain has a unique victory condition, as well as their own unique card decks and player boards. No two villains play alike, though with the second expansion Evil Comes Prepared adding the 10th, 11th, and 12th villains to the game, we’re beginning to see some overlaps.

Surprisingly Scar is the weakest of the new additions in Evil Comes Prepared. Scar’s goal is to defeat 15 strength worth of heroes. Eliminating heroes is something most villains do anyway, though Scar has to defeat Mufasa before any defeated heroes count toward his goal. Defeating heroes doesn’t make for an interesting nor engaging goal, and most of Scar’s strength comes from playing a bunch of nameless hyena cards. I also question the theme, as Scar’s goal in The Lion King was to usurp Mufasa and take over the pride lands, not hunt down and kill all the heroes.

Professor Ratigan is much more interesting, featuring a two-in-one goal that changes if his initial plans are thwarted. As in the film, Ratigan’s goal is to replace the queen with a robotic version. The card costs a ton of power, however, which means Ratigan needs to play items and allies that reduce its cost. Once the card is played it needs to be carefully moved from one side of the board to the other. If Basil comes into play, the card is discarded, and Ratigan goes into a rage, physically flipping his goal over to defeating Basil. It’s a brilliant callback to the climax of the film, and often reflects the same playful frustration the Ratigan player is feeling.

Of the three new villains Yzma is the most radically different. Her setup involves separating the fate deck into four different stacks, with each stack at a single location. Yzma needs to spend her time locating Kuzco, then defeating him with Kronk. I’m less familiar with The Emperor’s New Groove than other Disney animated films, but Yzma has to make sure Kronk stays under her control, creating an interesting dynamic while trying to defeat Kuzco. Fating the Yzma player can be a bit of a pain, however, as you have to look through the full stack of cards at a location, and don’t want to give away Kuzco if you find him.

The Rating

Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared has a recommended age of 10+. The gameplay is complex enough to make it more suitable for older kids, teens, and adult Disneyphiles.

The Takeaway

Scar, clearly the marquee new addition, is unfortunately one of the weaker villains of them all, though Ratigan and Yzma provide interesting new ideas and gameplay opportunities. Evil Comes Prepared can coast on how good Villainous plays and the still-excellent production quality of the cards, boards, and tokens (Evil Comes Prepared definitely has the best tokens), but at this point we probably have all the villains we need.

Find Disney Villainous: Evil Comes Prepared at Target.

Jaws Board Game Review

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Publisher: Ravensburger
Age: 12+
Players: 2-4
Game Length: 60 minutes
MSRP: $29.99

Brody: I used to hate the water…

Hooper: I can’t imagine why.

Building upon the success of last year’s Jurassic Park Danger board game, Ravensburger returns with another movie license in the Jaws board game (available exclusively at Target). Released in 1975, Jaws is often considered the original summer blockbuster, as a trio of men on the vacation destination of Amity Island try to keep a man-eating shark from, well, man-eating, first by trying to close the beaches, then by getting on a boat and hunting the shark themselves.

The Jaws game brilliantly captures both halves of the film in a unique two act structure, culminating in an exciting finale where the shark player rips apart a sinking boat while other players desperately try to fend it off.

A Bigger Boat

As in Jurassic Park Danger, players are divided up into two teams, the humans and the shark. The three human characters of Brody, Hooper, and Quint are always present, making the 2 and 3-player game a little more challenging for the human player but also maintaining a proper balance when playing with fewer than four.

In act one the human team controls the three characters on Amity Island. Each turn they have a set number of actions with which to rescue swimmers (spawned from event cards drawn each round), gather motion sensing barrels, close beaches, and try to locate the shark. The shark player, meanwhile uses a hidden notepad to track their movement and eating habits.

Act one results in an excellent game of cat and mouse as the humans try to locate the shark player using their various abilities, like Brody’s binoculars and Hooper’s fish finder, while minimizing losses.

The first act ends when the shark has eaten nine swimmers, or if Quint manages to tag the shark with two of his barrels. Depending on how many swimmers the shark ate, act two swings in favor of either the shark (more ability cards) or the humans (more gear cards). The board is flipped and boat tiles are added to represent Quint’s boat from the film, the Orca.

If act one is a subtle detective game with some light strategy, act two is a full-on tactical strategy warfare with hit points and dice rolls. The shark resurfaces by choosing from several different Resurface cards, and the humans have to predict where it’ll appear, targeting the space with spears, flares, and pistols. The shark player rips apart chunks of the boat, flipping tiles or eliminating them entirely, and possibly dumping humans into the water where it can start whittling down their hit points.

I’ve played both extremes of act one, with the shark player eating the maximum number of swimmers (and thus gaining the biggest hand advantage going into act two) and the humans tagging the shark almost immediately, with the opposite swing in momentum. However, the card advantage from act one doesn’t grant an automatic win. In both instances the final turn of act two came down to a nail-biting thriller, with a 1 hit point shark nimbly trying to avoid becoming sushi while the surviving humans cling to the last shreds of a sinking boat.

We ran into a few rules questions when it came to act two’s constantly changing battlefield and adjacency conundrums. And it’s a bummer that the movie license doesn’t appear to include the actors’ likenesses, but that doesn’t take away from the fantastic gameplay.

The Rating

The Jaws Board Game has an age recommendation of 12+. Both acts require tactical planning and strategy, and in the case of the human players, coordination of their actions and attacks. The shark player needs to keep careful, honest track of what they do each round throughout act one.

The subject matter is another factor, as the shark player is eating people in act one, and both sides are trying to kill one another in act two. Humorously the original film is rated PG, but would garner at least a strong PG-13 rating (which wasn’t invented until 1984) if not an R rating today.

The Takeaway

I was very impressed to find the solution to whether or not to adapt a Jaws game from the ship or the island was “Why not both?” The two act gameplay structure creates a memorable mini campaign as both sides earn their powers from how well they handle act one. Alternatively you can play each act as a separate game mode if you’re short on time. Both sides play completely differently and the action is fun and tense throughout both acts. Even more than Jurassic Park Danger, the Jaws board game is a triumphant of great game design and an excellent use of the source material.

invasion of the cow snatchers

Invasion of the Cow Snatchers Review

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Publisher: Thinkfun
Age: 6+
Players: 1
Game Length: Varies
MSRP: $29.99

Thinkfun’s new magnetic cow-grabbing puzzle game Invasion of the Cow Snatchers adapts a common puzzle design into a modular, interactive 3D board, thanks to a little magnet-magic. A deck of 60 puzzle challenges with five difficulty levels ensures a hefty amount of replayability. The components and gameplay are simple enough for kids to enjoy, and engaging enough for teens and adults.

Beam Me Up

As a visiting UFO armed with a magnet, the player’s job is to abduct magnetized cow discs from a 3D farm field littered with obstacles, such as silos, hay bales, and barn doors. The puzzle is set up according to the challenge card, then a clear plastic cover placed on top, allowing the UFO to fly over and capture the cows one by one.

Four different colored fence pieces come in specific sizes, allowing only a certain number of cows to pass over once abducted. Once magnetized, the cows stick to the underside of the UFO, making it increasingly difficult to maneuver around the board. Puzzles are set up to allow only one or two possible solutions. The backside of the card reveals the exact movement and order of abductions that players need to make in order to catch ’em all and complete the puzzle.

It’s a simple puzzle system brought to life with the tactile quality of the plastic pieces and board. My seven year old was delighted to pick up cows, and equally flummoxed when she realized she was trapped behind fences that were suddenly too high. Thankfully puzzles are easy to reset. With a few minor hints and tips (“You don’t have to pick up this cow first; how can you reach that one over there?”) she was able to blaze through all 10 easy challenges and begin making her way through the medium level.

As a single-player series of puzzles, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers isn’t a typical competitive game, yet I witnessed a group of kids excitedly deduce how to approach each puzzle, and set up the next layout for one another.

The deck of challenge cards includes 60 total puzzle layouts, including Easy, Medium, Hard, Super Hard, and Genius. Genius actually features a few extra rules involving dropping off cows at certain drop-off points, creating some advanced brain teasers that teens and adults can enjoy.

The only snag we ran into was in one of the fence heights. The green barrier (crop field) is supposed to allow for one, and only one cow disc to pass overhead. Unfortunately we constantly struggled to get one cow across. Not sure if it was a defect with my particular copy or if the size of the fence is slightly off but it was enough to cause some frustration when playing, even with adults.

invasion of the cow snatchers

The Rating

Invasion of the Cow Snatchers has a suggested minimum age of six. Younger kids would be prone to quick frustration and may lack the dexterity of operating the UFO. Puzzles come in five different difficulties, allowing for multiple age ranges and skill levels.

The Takeaway

Using only a handful of plastic pieces, a modular 3D board, and a deck of cards, Invasion of the Cow Snatchers provides an impressive array of puzzle designs. The pick up and deliver gameplay is simple but effective and multiple difficulty levels allow for proper scaling as kids master each puzzle layout. A lovely puzzle game for kids and families.

oathbreaker

Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker Review

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Publisher: Dire Wolf Digital
Age: 14+
Players: 5-8
Game Length: 30-45 minutes
MSRP: $35

When you play the game of thrones you win or you die, but when you play Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker, everyone has a great time. Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker is a social deduction and bluffing game for large groups of five to eight players that builds upon the successful game mechanics of other social card games. The Game of Thrones theme fits perfectly as players hide their loyalties, accuse their neighbors, and ultimately serve their own personal ambitions.

Chaos is a Ladder

In Oathbreaker one player plays as the king (or queen) of the realm, while the rest are nobles vying for control. Nobles are secretly dealt cards to determine if they are a loyalist or conspirator. Loyalists need order to be higher on the score track while conspirators are all about sowing chaos. In addition, each player will have a secret personal ambition card, dictating a certain amount of honor, power, or wealth they need to accumulate to win the titular game of thrones.

Every other round nobles play cards face down to complete randomly drawn missions. They’ll need to match the correct symbols on the mission card if they want the mission to succeed and raise Order. Or they could secretly play sabotage cards to tank the mission, ensuring the rise of chaos. Conspirators will need to cleverly hide their motives, as the king player then bestows decree cards on the nobles. Favors offer boons and bonuses while Suspicions do just the opposite. This creates an interesting incentive to keep motives and actions hidden throughout the game as players compete for the king’s favor.

The hidden traitor mechanic has been used in many modern social card games from Ultimate Werewolf to The Resistance. Having a dedicated king player sets Oathbreaker apart, creating a uniquely asymmetrical experience. The king, who is always obviously on Team Loyalist, needs to pay careful attention to how their fellow players are using their character powers and where they play their cards. It’s a completely different experience compared to playing as one of the nobles.

oathbreaker

The components are impressive and high-quality, particularly the fold out score board depicting the map of Westeros and the nice chunky sigil coins for each house. The character player boards and mission cards are modeled directly after the HBO series. Familiar faces like Jon Snow, Melisandre, and Cersei Lannister each have their own unique ability that often directly involves other nobles, like Margaery Tyrell’s Wedding Pact allowing her and another noble to draw two cards.

The mission cards depict major and minor scenes from the TV series, such as the fight between The Red Viper and The Mountain, Arya’s assassin training, and the Battle of Blackwater Bay. A total of 33 over-sized mission cards ensures a nice amount of replayability in each game.

The only real complaint about Oathbreaker is the hefty player requirement. Since one player always needs to play as the king, Oathbreaker only works with higher player counts of at least five players (with eight players requiring two king players). In all but six player games a hidden Agent mechanic is used to even the playing field between conspirators and loyalists, and can often serve as an anticlimactic ending that pushes one side or the other to victory.

The Rating

Oathbreaker has a recommended age of 14+. Social deduction games can be difficult to grasp for kids and tweens. Players need to be comfortable and somewhat proficient in lying, deflection, and deception. And while the game itself nor the scenes depicted are objectionable, the Game of Thrones HBO series has a very strong TV-MA rating.

The Takeaway

Party games are often light on strategy in order to engage more players, but Oathbreaker expertly threads the needle between complex strategy and deception and hilarious hi-jinks. Even non-Game of Thrones fans could appreciate the simple but effective gameplay. Oathbreaker could very well replace many of the biggest social intrigue games on your game shelf and should be the first game you pull out for larger gatherings on game night.