Loki is just like Zoolander’s Hansel: “So hot right now.” (Fitting, since Owen Wilson is in both of them.) It feels like a perfect time to dive into Marvel’s multiverse with a new board game expansion, and Marvel Villainous is ready to deliver. Loki himself is a solid addition, but the others are less than marvellous.
Ravensburger has unveiled its first standalone expansion for Marvel Villainous, and Gizmodo got a chance to try out the game’s new characters: Loki (as seen on Disney+’s Loki), M.O.D.O.K. (animating it up on Hulu), and Madame Masque (rumoured to be in Disney+’s upcoming Hawkeye series). Marvel Villainous: Mischief & Malice stands out from the traditional expansion pantheon because you don’t need the main game to play it. If all you want is to ham it up as Loki with one or two other players, you can skip the main box and go straight to the IRL DLC. Just keep in mind you’ll only be able to play with three players maximum, instead of the traditional five players.
I was expecting Mischief & Malice to be hard. You might recall in my previous review that Marvel Villainous is a more “punishing” version of the Disney game, amping up the difficulty level and adding shared hero decks that recreate the Marvel Cinematic Universe crossover experience. In addition, since each Disney Villainous expansion adds characters with more gameplay variety and complexity, it stands to reason that Mischief & Malice would do the same. So, I wasn’t surprised… but what I wasn’t anticipating was for the difficulty to border on incomprehensible, due to a lack of clear instructions, to the point where I was making up house rules so my players stood a chance of winning.
Let’s start by talking about what works. In theory, it should be everything! The character designs in Mischief & Malice are fantastic — both visually and narratively. That’s no surprise. Ravensburger is the industry standard for how to do board game adaptations of existing movie and TV franchises. These aren’t some trivia nonsense or a cheap Monopoly Simpsons cash-in that replaces Park Place with “Moe’s Tavern.” Games like Jaws, The Princess Bride, and the Villainous series are expertly crafted to recreate how a movie or show feels, while accomplishing the rare feat of making each game interesting to play all on their own.
Loki is the standout in Mischief & Malice, and feels like the character who had the most development. Loki’s goal is to gain and spend 10 Mischief Tokens, which you accomplish by messing around with the other players and getting into shenanigans with alternate versions of our favourite trickster. His deck features several Multiverse Lokis — including Lady Loki, who has made a quasi-appearance in the Disney+ series — and you can send them to other players’ boards (or Domains) to hang out and cause trouble. The other player will get a bonus each time they use the Multiverse Loki’s special ability… but that grants you (as the real Loki) Mischief Tokens, so it forces everyone else to make tough decisions.
The other characters have cool concepts, too; it’s in the execution where things go wonky. Madame Masque needs to kill eight heroes to satisfy her Vendetta — but killing heroes is also the main way she can earn money (or Power), so each Vanquish is a challenging choice between funds or “endgame.” M.O.D.O.K. has to build his coalition of A.I.M. allies to earn Loyalty, while also finding and activating the Cosmic Cube.
The first problem with Madame Masque and M.O.D.O.K. is that they don’t have enough cards to support their type of gameplay. For example, M.O.D.O.K. only has five cards in his deck that grant him the ability to gain Loyalty (he needs five points), only if he has enough allies — and several cards can make him lose Loyalty. You end up playing the waiting game a lot, hoping for the right cards while accomplishing very little in the meantime. But the hardest character is Madame Masque.
You see, she needs to defeat heroes to either gain money or fulfil her Vendetta — which means you need to fight twice as many enemies as everyone else — but Villainous forbids you from placing heroes on your own board. There are cards that let you work around this, but they’re few and far between. For the most part, you have to rely on other players to “Fate” you and give you heroes to fight. That means if your opponents don’t want you to win, all they have to do is ignore you. Not only does that making winning as Madame Masque really hard, it’s boring.
And I had to do quite a bit of legwork to figure all that out. Unlike previous Villainous games, which gave clear directions on how to play as the villains, the instruction booklets for Madame Masque and M.O.D.O.K. left out a lot of details. For example: my husband was playing as Madame Masque and had no idea there were cards in her deck that would enable him to add heroes to his own Domain or fight heroes on other players’ boards. They weren’t mentioned in the booklet, or anywhere else. In a game like this, a player shouldn’t have to pre-read all their character’s cards to understand what they’re capable of.
So, for most of the game, he was left wondering how the hell he would be able to do anything if other players didn’t give him heroes to fight. I ended up making a house rule to let him put heroes on his own board because I felt so bad for him. Small note: I was also bummed that the summary sheet, which gives a brief synopsis for each villain, didn’t include suggestions for the other players on how to stop them. Other expansions like Disney Villainous: Perfectly Wretched have provided tips like that and they’re very helpful. Especially for newbies to the Villainous franchise.
If you’re really wanting to play as Loki, especially since he’s the Hansel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’d recommend picking up a copy of Mischief & Malice. But if the God of Mischief isn’t a selling point, I’d wait for the next expansion — or at least a patch that fixes the overall bug issues. Hold on, board games don’t have those? Crap. Marvel Villainous: Mischief & Malice is currently available online, and costs around $35. It also has a tease for the next expansion, which looks to include Spider-Man’s Doctor Octopus.