Villainous, the award-winning board game series published by Ravensburger, is finally getting the expansion that fans have been clamoring for. Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side arrives this August, and will include Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, Asajj Ventress, General Grievous, and Moff Gideon as playable characters.
Polygon sat down with the Ravensburger production team to discuss the history of the franchise, and the bold step it’s taking into a galaxy far, far away.
First unveiled in 2018, Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes All flipped the script in the world of tabletop gaming by allowing players to take on the roles of infamous evildoers from classic Disney animated films. That initial title was developed by Prospero Hall (now part of Funko Games) and included Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty), Ursula (The Little Mermaid), Jafar (Aladdin), Prince John (Robin Hood), Queen of Hearts (Alice in Wonderland), and Captain Hook (Peter Pan). There was something for every kind of classic Disney animation fan — including compelling, card-based gameplay and a hefty dose of screw-your-neighbor-style competition. The Villainous series is now developed in-house and published internationally by Ravensburger.
The franchise has grown to become a staple of the modern big-box retail gaming catalog, occupying prominent placement at Walmart and Target as well as appearing on the shelves at friendly local stores. The company says it has now sold nearly three million copies worldwide, and part of the secret to its success has always been its approachability.
Each of the games in the series is family friendly, although far from non-violent. (“We don’t use the ‘K’ word,” chides international marketing manager Cassidy Werner.) The iconography is big and easy to interpret, and the graphic design is clean and modern. Most importantly, every villain comes with its own cheat sheet — a Villain Guide that details exactly how they can be played to win.
Star Wars Villainous will be the first in what is now the franchise’s third game system, the first two being Disney Villainous and Marvel Villainous. Characters aren’t compatible between the three systems, so no putting Thanos up against Hades or Darth Vader for instance. But that means Star Wars Villainous’ new mechanics are also unique and distinct.
In Star Wars Villainous players will maintain a pool of Ambition, which they will use to fuel their various actions at the table. That, along with Fate, will give them all the tools they need achieve their goals. Darth Vader is there, naturally, trying to woo Luke Skywalker to the dark side of the Force. Grievous is collecting lightsabers, while Asajj Ventress has to complete three of five randomly drawn missions. Moff Gideon is there as well, trying to capture Grogu and perform vile experiments on him.
Image: Ravensburger and Lucasfilm Ltd
Image: Ravensburger and Lucasfilm
To slow each other down, players will have access to vehicles — a franchise first. Vehicles brought into play with Ambition will provide villains with new and powerful moves to perform on their turns. Meanwhile, vehicles brought into play with Fate will be flown by in-fiction heroes bent on taking the bad guys down.
The final product will include loads of images from movies and cartoons in the Star Wars saga. Ravensburger project manager Jenny Webb said working with Lucasfilm was a highlight of the entire experience. She says she was continually floored by the company’s breadth of knowledge about the spacefaring franchise.
“We’re going through little art sketches for the cards,” Webb said, “and of course — this won’t be a surprise — but we have R2-D2 in there at some point. And [our Lucasfilm contact] looked at it and he was like, ‘No. No, that’s, that’s Episode IV R2 and you need Episode VI R2 to make this card work. […] The reason I’m calling you out on that is you’re going to get a hardcore Star Wars fan, and they will criticize you if that’s wrong.’ So I really felt like we had a solid partnership with Lucasfilm.”
One of the most striking elements of the Villainous series is the player pawns, called movers by the team at Ravensburger. They represent where each enemy is in the universe, and denote which powers were used in previous rounds and what powers are available to be used in the future. For the first time in franchise history, every box of Star Wars Villainous will contain slightly different movers. Each will have a subtly randomized look created by a unique new manufacturing process.
“From a technical perspective,” said Webb, “these use a specific colored powder that’s infused into the base color, and then swirled around. Then they kind of bloom a little bit so we get this very cool kind of galactic feel.” Like other pawns in the Villainous franchise, all of the movers in this new game will be translucent and cast a colored light across the table during play. But when you hold them up to the light they will shimmer with a “kind of universe effect,” Webb said.
“Sometimes this blooming does take the color out to the edge of the surface,” Webb said, “so you’ll see that really sharp color pop through on the surface, and then it’ll recede as it goes in.”
The result should be a set of oversized, sculptural game pieces that feel like part of the Star Wars universe.
Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side will retail for $39.99. The final game will accommodate 2-4 players, with a playtime that runs roughly 20 minutes per villain. Expect to see it online, at big-box retailers, and in local hobby stores starting this summer.
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