If you’re already acquainted with the Villainous series of games, the gameplay in Marvel Villainous: Twisted Ambitions will evoke a sense of familiarity. Released as a standalone expansion that can be played with or without the other boxes in the Marvel Villainous series, players select a villain to play and retrieve that villain’s unique player board, villain deck, and villain guide. Each villain also contributes a selection of cards that get added to a communal Fate Deck, where you and your rivals will be drawing iconic Marvel heroes to try to impede your progress. Each villain in the game has their own unique goals to achieve to win. Titania wants to power up to defeat She-Hulk, Doctor Octopus intends to pull off a series of complex schemes that can only be completed in specific circumstances, and Kang the Conqueror wants to break reality by conquering locations in other players’ boards.
On each player’s turn, they move their character’s “mover” piece to a new area on their domain board. Each space on your board has multiple action symbols on it, and you can perform them in any order. The actions are simple: gain power, play a card, activate an ability, relocate an item or ally, vanquish a foe, draw Fate cards to play on your opponents, or discard cards from your hand to clear out the junk. Turn proceeds around the table until one player has fulfilled their unique win condition. With each character playing so differently, Ravensburger has included a helpful booklet for each villain, giving you a brief rundown of the strategy for that villain and including tips and tricks to help you play.
While your win condition is mostly a solo-driven experience, the magic of Villainous is in how you can interact with the other players. Left unchecked, each player will have an easy path to victory, and that’s where the Fate deck comes in. The Fate deck lets you unleash an array of Marvel heroes against your enemies. When you play a hero card to an enemy’s domain, that hero card sits over a few of the action icons on that space of the domain board, essentially blocking certain actions from being taken. This severely hinders the action economy of your opponents and is imperative to slow them down enough to give you time to win. Of course, at the same time, they’re throwing heroes at you to slow you down.
It takes a full playthrough or two before everyone understands how the three villains here interact and what to do to stop them. Kang, for example, shuffles variants of himself into each other player’s deck. Once they are drawn, he can journey to that player’s domain to defeat his variants, therefore conquering the location. Therefore, holding onto cards that let you shuffle Kang’s variants back into the deck before you draw them helps slow him down. Titania gets stronger with each enemy she defeats, and she needs to reach a certain strength level to fight She-Hulk, so starving her of heroes to vanquish helps keep her in check. In our playthroughs, we found Doc Ock to be the hardest villain for others to stop simply because he has several different schemes to complete, all requiring wildly different board states and special requirements, and by the time he can play a scheme, it is too late to stop him.
Of course, each villain comes equipped with a deck full of allies, items, effects, and superpowers that help enable their goals. Titania can move heroes from other players’ domains to her own to give her some cannon fodder to beat up. Kang can defeat his variants using robot duplicates that make it easier for him than his opponents. Doc Ock has special tentacles that give him extra actions to take each turn. All of this is lovingly rendered through the top-notch artwork and bright, colorful components that you’ve come to expect from the Villainous series.
A Multiverse of Madness
The core of the game is about cycling through your deck to find the right combination of cards. Frustratingly, there seem to be some balance issues in the game where if certain villains hit their key cards early, there is seemingly no way to stop them. In the multiple playthroughs we had, Doc Ock was the key offender in this regard, as his power levels were completely determined by how early he drew his tentacles card or his Mysterio ally. On paper, it’s a cool idea for Kang to be able to invade other domains, fitting with his multiversal time-traveling powers. In practice, we found Kang the Conqueror to be woefully underpowered and easily overcome with strategic card shuffling, as his variants had a different card back from the rest of your opponents’ deck, making it quite easy to see when you were about to draw one of his variants.
The primary mode of player interaction in this game can be quite frustrating. Your only available action is to send heroes to disrupt an opponent’s game plan. This mechanic often results in an overwhelming influx of heroes, especially when you find yourself falling behind. With limited actions per turn while others are taking twice as many, a disheartening sense of hopelessness can set in. It can feel like you’re merely going through the motions, awaiting the conclusion of the game where you have no real agency. More familiarity with the systems will likely alleviate the chances of falling as far behind as you’d be able to take proactive steps to avoid those pitfalls, but in a game 100% reliant on card draws, you’re still at the mercy of the random shuffle.
Marvel Villainous: Twisted Ambitions caters to fans by offering an immersive experience. With its familiar gameplay mechanics, it delivers more of the same gameplay fans have come to expect from the Disney Villainous and Star Wars Villainous games. If you’re seeking more of the same captivating gameplay, this expansion will scratch that itch perfectly, providing a delightful continuation of the series.
The game showcases the series’ core strengths, boasting visually appealing components and impeccable character design that truly brings the lore of each villain to life. If your gaming group has previously enjoyed other Villainous games, this new addition will inject a refreshing dose of spice and variety into your collection. As an expansion, the inclusion of Titania, Doc Ock, and Kang the Conqueror feels right at home within Marvel’s Villainous rogues’ gallery, complementing the existing lineup of infamous antagonists.
For those who remain undecided or unswayed by the series, Marvel Villainous: Twisted Ambitions may not be the game that converts them into enthusiastic fans. While it expertly caters to existing devotees, it may not have the same impact on those who have yet to fully embrace the world of Villainous. As an expansion to complement any of the other Marvel Villainous boxes, Twisted Ambitions will find a comfortable place on your shelf. As a jumping-off point for newbies to the series, though, there are better boxes out there that provide a more complete gameplay experience.