Making villains’ dreams come true is the main goal in Disney Villainous, the critically acclaimed series of board games and expansions developed and published by Ravensburger. Polygon got an early look at its fifth entry, a standalone title called Disney Villainous: Bigger and Badder. It’s filled with promise, new ideas, and new characters to play with. And it shows that this franchise still has plenty of potential on the tabletop.
In Disney Villainous games players take on the roles of classic Disney villains from all across the studio’s 85-year history. Each has their own objective, board, cards, and unique gameplay mechanics needed to pull off their scheme. And each expansion, with its own collection of villains, can be played on its own or combined with any other entry in the series.
Bigger and Badder adds three new characters to Disney Villainous, bringing the series total to 24. It’s also the first expansion to include Pixar characters, as it features The Incredibles’ Syndrome and Toy Story 3’s Lotso. Madame Mim, from the Disney animated The Sword in the Stone, rounds out the new list.
In Disney Villainous, players each progress privately on their own sideboards, using any of the available actions in one of four locations on their turn. Those actions include drawing power, playing and discarding cards, activating abilities, and performing a Fate action, which allows players to draw cards from an opponents’ deck and play an Effect, Item, or Hero that will harm them in some way. A player’s Villain deck holds the cards they’ll use for themselves, while a Fate deck holds the cards others will draw and use against them. The key strategy is not to hold onto cards in the hopes that they might eventually help — Disney Villainous is a game of maximizing every turn with available actions, and when you can combo multiple cards, gain extra actions, and pull off huge moves it can be incredibly satisfying. And slowing down other players may come at a detriment to your own progress.
Disney Villainous is at its most compelling when it’s telling a story. Cards are designed to mimic story beats through game mechanics, and playing an unfamiliar character can feel like discovering their narrative for the first time. Madame Mim’s goal is to beat the wizard Merlin in a battle of wits. In The Sword in the Stone, they each transform into different animals, trying to defeat the other. In Bigger and Badder, Mim plays different Transformation cards that give her the ability to beat Merlin’s corresponding Transformations. I found her gameplay to be the most fun, in its springiness and quick pacing. The more of Mim’s Transformations you play, the more you can accomplish in a single turn, creating opportunities for some incredibly satisfying combos.
In Toy Story 3, Lotso is a manipulative figure, putting toys where he wants them and ruling with a plush fist. In Bigger and Badder he controls Heroes. He can progress fairly quickly toward his objective, with a deck full of helpful cards that reduce Heroes’ strengths and move them where he needs them to go, but he also has an equally punishing Fate deck, packed with opportunities to knock Lotso back several steps in his process. When playing with more vigilant players, Lotso can be a hard villain to win with, as it’s quite clear when he’s on the verge of winning, and he can be significantly slowed down in a single Fate.
Syndrome is the most interesting new character to play on a pure narrative level. His cards tell the movie’s story of a villain testing and strengthening a superweapon by trying it against Heroes. The game design successfully evokes the feelings of development and upgrading, in one of the more potent forms of storytelling in Disney Villainous’ collection. Syndrome is the first Disney Villainous character whose goal is to pretend to be heroic, as he positions himself to defeat his own Omnidroid and remove all Heroes from the board. But removing Heroes can be slow-going, giving Madame Mim the edge when it comes to fun.
On a graphic design level, Ravensburger continues to execute better than many of its competitors. The series’ visual style is to create painted reinterpretations of various scenes, done here by Lucas Toquato, Johnny Morrow, Pix Smith, and Jesse Larsen. The best artwork tends to come from the adaptation of classic 2D animation, but this time, the sharp, stylized design of The Incredibles really pops in Syndrome’s deck. Evocative, minimalist game movers leave a little something to be desired, as Syndrome’s piece repeats certain design elements from past movers. Lotso’s piece loses any pretense of minimalism by depicting his actual head. And while Madame Mim’s powder purple-backed cards are a gorgeous addition to any Villainous box, Syndrome’s rust orange feels a bit boring next to the five other brown and orange decks in the series.
Some of these are, admittedly, small gripes, but they’re fitting when discussing Disney Villainous, a series that is known by fans for its attention to detail. Key moments are immortalized, and minor characters get their day — Madame Mim has less than 10 minutes of screen time in her original movie, but her gameplay here is still fascinating. Meanwhile, the artwork and stories here are handled with care. Bigger and Badder feels impressive; not just for how innovative an expansion it is, but because it’s a statement of assurance to the loving fans who always want more.
Minor flaws aside, Disney Villainous: Bigger and Badder is the Villainous franchise at its best. It’s creative and fresh and it opens doors to new characters in ways that feel promising for the future of the series. New tiles, tokens, and mechanics are interesting, but most importantly every single character, whether you love them or not, tells a compelling story that’s fun to play. This is immersive tabletop gaming. It’s exciting to see what comes next for Disney Villainous, but this is a pretty good place to be right now.
Disney Villainous: Bigger and Badder is available now exclusively at Target and will have a wider release later this year. The board game was reviewed with a pre-release copy provided by Ravensburger. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.