If you’ve spent much time on Review Geek, you know we’re absolutely gaga for board and card games and all things Marvel. We’re also low-key lovers of anti-heroes, like Loki. That’s why I was stoked to get my hands on Ravensburger’s Marvel Villainous: Mischief & Malice.
The board game is a standalone expansion to Marvel Villainous, Ravensburger’s popular—albeit now confusingly-named—board game. Mischief & Malice comes out at the perfect time, right around the time that Hulu’s M.O.D.O.K. series was released and when Disney+ released its wonderful show Loki, further expanding what we collectively know about the loveable trickster.
Mischief & Malice is a great way to bring a little more Loki into your life, and it’s sure to be a win-win for serious Marvel fans and lovers of complicated board games alike. There are three villains you can play as—Loki, Madame Masque, or M.O.D.O.K. Each villain has their own unique strengths, goals, card deck, and Domain. To win, you’ll need to work to achieve your villain’s goal before the other players do the same.
Gameplay: Not So Easy Peasy
While that sounds easy enough, don’t be fooled: The game has a steep learning curve and a large 20-page instruction manual. It’s downright difficult to play. There is a hefty amount of material to read through, prepare, and keep track of during each turn. I’m a seasoned board game enthusiast—as are the people I tested the game out with—and it definitely took some time to get the game up and running smoothly.
The game offers up three difficulty modes: Omnipotent (Easy), Inevitable (Intermediate), and Undying (Difficult). With Omnipotent, you’ll remove all Events from the game and ignore any references to them. In Inevitable, the game plays out as-is with no adjustments. And in Undying, if you’re truly brave enough, you will not restrict the number of Global Events in play, and a single villain can be affected by multiple events (oof, that’s brutal!).
Even at its easiest setting, though, I’d hesitate to say that Mischief & Malice is a good choice for board game newbies or kids looking for a simple game to play. It might be fun, but it’s tough.
Each turn, players must move their villain to a different region within their Domain. Each region has four unique action options that can potentially be performed, so you’ll need to choose your moves wisely. And of course, like every good card game, you have to discard at the end of your turn, which also requires some careful planning (especially if you’re only holding good cards you like).
In a turn, an opponent may also have the chance to interact with another player’s Domain, say, by blocking part of a region with a Hero or Ally. Until these characters are defeated, they’ll stay in that region and continue to block two actions in that particular region, possibly causing other types of damage or interference, too, depending on the card. You’ll then have to refocus your strategy to vanquish them while at the same time working on completing your objective.
That said, WOW, is this game fun! Once you get your mind wrapped around the mechanics and start getting a feel for the game’s overall rhythm, it’s a challenging and fast-paced thrill (even though it takes anywhere from 40-80 minutes to play through). If you don’t mind having that level of complexity on the table, you’ll most likely end up loving the game. I know I did!
This Setup Requires a Lot of Space
As you set up the game, you’ll need a sizable flat area to do so. The game’s various components include a villain deck, villain figurine, discard pile, Domain, starting hand, villain guide, and a reference card for each player. Then, there are the community components, like the Fate deck, specialty tiles, and a few different types of tokens. There are a lot of moving parts, and believe me, you’ll want to have plenty of space to comfortably keep track of everything. (You’ll need about the same amount of room as Mysterium or Pandemic.)
Honestly, though, this isn’t a huge deal because this game is beautiful, and I don’t mind being immersed in all of its glory. The gorgeous art on the box and throughout this entire game makes Mischief & Malice all the more fun and exciting, and the extremely well-balanced mechanics ensure the game stays equal parts intense and thrilling the entire time.
Hijinks, Villainy, and Multiverse Madness
The game leans into Marvel’s multiverse, especially for whoever gets to play Loki. Plus, you’ll get to deal with Lokis from other universes, like Lady Loki, King Loki, Kid Loki, Viking Loki, and Sorcerer Supreme Loki.
As Loki, your objective is to gain and spend 10 Mischief; as you’d assume, the only way to achieve this is by interfering with other players’ Domains with your alternate Loki versions, who each have their own personalities and effects, and run around causing chaos. Perhaps the most fun part about this is that the other players also reap a unique benefit from any alternate Lokis you place in their Domain; while vanquishing ultimately helps them out, doing so simultaneously removes that bonus.
M.O.D.O.K.’s goal, on the other hand, is working to activate the Cosmic Cube, which he can do if he has a “5” rating in A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanics) Loyalty and both the Creating the Cube and Cosmic Cube in play. But getting there ain’t easy. The more M.O.D.O.K. focuses on Heroes; the more A.I.M. pushes to give him the boot. If you’re playing this villain, you’ll need to carefully balance your actions so you can successfully achieve your objective.
As Madame Masque, you’ll aspire to murder eight Heroes to settle her Vendetta task. Admittedly, this is also the most difficult character to play (and is perhaps why this character always goes first). Additionally, when you murder a Hero, you will have to choose whether that kill counts towards her Vendetta or a Contract; that’s all fine and dandy, but it can lead to Madame Masque having to 86 way more enemies than the other two players. There are also a few sticky issues with her Domain, and, in my opinion, she ends up having an overreliance on the Fate deck. Out of the three, she is the least fun to play.
Overall, the game works well and ends up with an incredibly fun—albeit complex—flow. The mechanics are truly interesting and well-balanced for the most part, and Mischief & Malice is a fun way to explore further this aspect of the Marvel universe (even if it’s non-canonic). I do have a few small gripes, however. Obviously, Loki is the star of the game. While Ravensburger does a solid job working in elements of the Trickster god’s namesake chaos, the other characters don’t feel quite as well-rounded. I know, I know, it’s hard to compete with Loki, but still, their objectives and actions feel like more work and less fun. They simply have less dazzle (and unfortunately, each player has to be a different character—not everyone can be Loki).
Also, to some degree, the game is dependent on which card you draw, and even then, many cards are situational. I know that’s kind of the nature of card games, but if you have a few turns with poor draws here, there isn’t much you’ll be able to do to work towards your objective or fight off an enemy. I also felt like the game didn’t scale down to two players as well as I would have liked; when playing with just two people, it felt like it was fundamentally missing something. It’s screaming to have a larger group to better balance out the Events and actions and to up the competition. Three players games work better, and it feels like it could have a stronger balance overall with even four players, but that’s not an option.
If you’ve got $25, a deep love of Marvel and board games, and a couple hours of free time, I can’t recommend Marvel Villainous: Mischief & Malice enough (especially if you have the maximum of three players). Despite the game’s steep learning curve, it is so much fun. The fact that it’s a little more complex than the average board or card game works to its advantage; it’s a cerebral challenge rooted in comic book lore. What more can a geek ask for?