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Star Wars Villainous review: "Impressive... most impressive"

Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side cover
(Image: © Future)

GamesRadar+ Verdict

Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side reinvigorates the franchise with intelligent additions all-round. While it's not as beginner-friendly as a result, the strategy gameplay on offer here is superb.

Pros

  • +

    Smart new mechanics

  • +

    A fresh, intriguing challenge for fans

  • +

    Absolutely beautiful

  • +

    Crammed with fan-service

Cons

  • -

    Hard to explain

  • -

    Takes a session to really 'get' it

  • -

    More complex than the original

Some of cinema's best baddies can be found in a galaxy far, far away, and Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side doesn't waste the opportunity to unleash them. Its five playable characters (Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, General Grievous, Moff Gideon, and Asajj Ventress) are as savage on the tabletop as they are on-screen. The result is impressive… most impressive.

Besides being a strong follow-up to one of the best board games in recent years, Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side is also a smart update that gives the series a renewed sense of vigor. While the spinoff has faults, it's also worthy of standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the top Star Wars board games

What is it, and how does it work?

Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side board and cards

This version of Villainous adds in vehicles and a new Ambition mechanic (Image credit: Future)
Essential info

- Game type: Strategy
- Players: 2 - 5
- Complexity: Hard
- Lasts: 20 mins per player
- Ages: 10+
- Price: $39.99 / £34.99
- Play if you enjoy: Disney Villainous, Marvel Villainous

In Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side, you've got to help one of the saga's antagonists achieve their goal. Think of it like a 'what if' scenario - should things go your way, Darth Vader will turn Luke to evil and Kylo Ren becomes a master of darkness. 

That title isn't an idle threat, either. While your rivals are plotting their way to victory, you can throw a spanner in the works by dropping iconic heroes or effects onto their board to delay them. Known as the 'Fate' deck, it's wicked and thoroughly satisfying (this is not one of the best cooperative board games by any stretch of the imagination).

In short, it's all going to be familiar for longtime players of Disney Villainous. Well, sort of. 

It provides an extra layer of tactics that genuinely impact - and enhance - the game's flow

As with Marvel Villainous before it, this spinoff adds to the formula with fresh ideas that make it feel unique. Besides an updated design that's more suitable for the galaxy-spanning series, the inclusion of vehicles shakes things up nicely. These are dropped into the 'Deep Space' slot at the end of your board and act as bonus spaces with special actions. So long as they're allies, anyway. You see, there are also enemy vehicles hidden away in the Fate deck. When played, these will hit you with some pretty gnarly conditions (the Millennium Falcon gives those pesky heroes what may as well be a bonus life, for example). Plus, they'll reduce the number of cards you can have in your hand if they're the only ship in Deep Space. It's a nasty way of upsetting your best-laid plans.

The new 'Ambition' mechanic is less aggressive by comparison, yet it's arguably more significant. Earned at the beginning of your turn or via certain cards, this is a bonus resource used to take special actions like removing multiple heroes at once or drawing new cards. It provides an extra layer of tactics that genuinely impact - and enhance - the game's flow.

Is it any good?

Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side General Grievous token, cards, and board

General Grievous has to defeat Jedi heroes in order to collect their lightsabers (Image credit: Future)

Let's not beat around the bush: this is a cracking game. Even though it's not perfect and is difficult to get your head around at first (in fact, it's arguably less beginner-friendly than the original Villainous because there's more to juggle), the layers it adds offer engrossing strategies you can grapple with. Fans of the series should appreciate Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side as a result, while newcomers who persevere will be left with a new favorite for game night.

A lot of this comes down to how unique each villain feels. Like so many of the Disney Villainous expansions, the characters here provide an experience we've not seen from the game before. Clone Wars staple Asajj Ventress has to complete mission cards inspired by the show, for instance, and these usually involve hunting down specific heroes for a reward.

The characters are very true to their inspiration, too. Alongside the nod to Asajj's assassin past, Vader's disregard for his officers is on full display with a special action that allows you to sacrifice the Imperial brass to get rid of enemy vehicles. It's a delight for fans.

Taken as a whole, this makes Star Wars Villainous one of the best additions to the franchise in years

Especially because the stunning artwork used throughout is so full of fan-service. Recreating iconic moments in a painterly style, the cards and boards are beautiful. What's more, the themed character movers are some of the franchise's best. Each one features its inspiration's lightsaber hilt cleverly blended into the design, and the deliberately worn style with flecks of color injected into the mold does justice to Star Wars' lived-in aesthetic.

Gameplay gets a big thumbs up as well, even if it's a lot to take in at first (you'll definitely need to play a throwaway session to get the hang of things). Namely, the addition of vehicles from across the franchise isn't just a glorified ally card; they provide legitimate ways to enhance or hinder gameplay that you'll need to build into your strategy. Unless you want to grind to a halt when someone deploys an X-Wing that reduces the number of cards you can carry, of course.

Equally, Ambition adds a new meta to the series that makes Star Wars Villainous feel fresh. It's one extra thing to balance in your quest for domination, and if you use these abilities properly, they can provide satisfying solutions to problems that'll make you rather smug. As an example, Asajj has a pricey but useful card that lets her move to a location and wipe out all the Fate cards there. Because she'll be dealing with a lot of these thanks to her missions, this can let you complete a multi-part quest in one fell swoop.

Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side tokens

The Star Wars Villainous movers are some of the best this series has ever seen (Image credit: Future)

It doesn't change the game per se, but the idea gives you interesting new ways to interact with Villainous as a whole.

In much the same way, some Fate cards are brutal. If deployed correctly, these can really level the playing field and have opponents cursing your name. In one of my test-sessions, Vader was served with an effect that stops him using Ambition abilities (and thus winning the game) unless he discarded his whole hand of cards… which contained the very cards he needed to win. It was a delicious Catch 22. Similarly, another saw Kylo Ren hit with a well-timed Rey that reset a lot of the player's hard work. Basically, they add real spice to proceedings and give you some much-needed breathing room if you're falling behind.

Taken as a whole, this makes Star Wars Villainous one of the best additions to the franchise in years. For me, it's a stronger entry than Marvel Villainous and builds on the formula in clever ways. 

Should you buy Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side?

For fans of Villainous that feel as if they've seen everything it's got to offer, Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side should reinvigorate the franchise. Thanks to smart, well-thought out additions that build new spokes on the wheel rather than reinventing it, this is a breath of fresh air that'll make you excited to play again.

It's true that the game isn't perfect. For instance, I'd recommend the original Villainous instead if you're unfamiliar with the series (Power of the Dark Side is slightly more complicated than its predecessors). However, that isn't to say newcomers should avoid it - it just requires a little patience. Indeed, perseverance will reward you with one of the better strategy board games for adults you can get right now.  


How we tested Star Wars Villainous

I tested Star Wars Villainous: Power of the Dark Side (which was reviewed with a copy provided by Ravensburger) over multiple sessions with numerous people, and these groups included both newcomers and longtime fans of the series. I also made sure I got experience with all of the characters before writing up my thoughts. For more on our review process, here's how we test board games and tabletop RPGs at GamesRadar+.

More info

Available platformsTabletop Gaming
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Benjamin Abbott
Benjamin Abbott

As the site's Tabletop & Merch Editor, you'll find my grubby paws on everything from board game reviews to Lego buying guides. I have been writing about games in one form or another since 2012 and can normally be found cackling over some evil plan I've cooked up for my group's next Dungeons & Dragons campaign.