Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings has just been recently released to rave reviews, whilst Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and other classic superheroes continue to remain beloved in the hearts and minds of Marvel fans everywhere. But what about the antagonists of the Marvel world? You can't have a hero without a villain and Marvel sure has some memorable ones, which is why the Marvel Villainous board game series is such a fun idea.
The first entry in the series was Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power and featured the likes of Thanos, Hella and Killmonger - an excellent choice of playable characters but outclassed by the next game, Mischief & Malice. I am undoubtedly extremely biased towards Mischief & Malice purely because it features my favourite character from the MCU, Loki, but I also genuinely enjoy a lot of the title's core gameplay elements and its emphasis on introducing some lesser-known villains from the Marvel universe.
Mischief & Malice can be played as an expansion to Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power, but it can also be experienced on its own as long as you don't need to support more than three people. In the game, players can choose from Loki - the god of mischief, you know him and love him - M.O.D.O.K, an incredibly intelligent mastermind and leader of A.I.M; and Madame Masque, an experienced assassin with a lot of contracts to complete. Mischief & Malice is a competition to see whoever can achieve their objectives first, but how players go about them will be different depending on who they're playing as.
The core gameplay system for Mischief & Malice is based on one first established by Disney Villainous, a board game which saw players becoming the likes of Hades and Jafar in a race to secure their place as the ultimate Disney baddie, but makes some welcome changes. Apart from the obvious difference in theme and playable roster, Mischief & Malice takes the premise of the Villainous formula in a much more interesting direction than the initial Disney release ever did.
Each villain has their own unique set of objectives that they must fulfill in order to win the game, meaning that players will have a different experience depending on which character they decide to play as. What makes the playable villains of Mischief & Malice so good is that they're each focused on a very different kind of economy and approach to gameplay.
For example, unlike the other characters, Madame Masque cannot acquire power - the main currency of Mischief & Malice - by visiting spaces on her board, instead eliminating heroes to contribute to her win condition or acquire power. Whereas Loki has an interesting collection of multiverse cards that can be played onto locations on other players' boards to gain benefits for both himself and the player who controls that board. Whilst M.O.D.O.K relies on his hordes of henchpeople to find and assemble the Cosmic Cube he desperately wants.
Besides the amount of both variety and fun that the characters in Mischief & Malice have to offer players, it's impressive to see how well each villain's play style reflects their individual personalities and brand of badness. For instance, Loki's multiverse cards operate on a mutually beneficial relationship wherein the Prince of Asgard can offer someone they want something from a reward in return for their cooperation. As an assassin who works with an underground syndicate, Madame Masque pays her dues in murders, whilst M.O.D.O.K doesn't do the dirty work himself and lets his disposable employees run around for him. It does a lot to add real personality to the game and get players invested in the concept of Mischief & Malice.
Another fantastic aspect of Mischief & Malice is the game's approach to fate cards, an element first introduced in Disney Villainous. Players could attempt to make their opponents' lives difficult by randomly drawing cards designed to cause them trouble. Whilst their initial iteration saw players drawing from specific decks related to each character, fate cards in both Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power and Mischief & Malice are all shuffled into a single deck. This is a better approach because it prevents certain players from being continuously targeted - with the possibility of character specific cards being drawn left up to chance - and allows for fate cards with a wider variety of effects to be drawn.
Marvel Villainous: Infinite Power also introduced the concept of event cards to the formula, which prevent villains from achieving their goals until they are able to meet the event requirements. These cards can be found in the Mischief & Malice fate deck as well, which makes the act of drawing a fate card an even spicier one, whilst still ensuring that their appearance is not a forgone conclusion.
Elements like the shuffled fate cards, event cards and new villain gameplay mechanics add a feeling of excitement to the experience of playing Mischief & Malice because you don't quite know how things are going to play out. You could be set up to win the game in the next few turns, but then a player could draw a fate card that shuts you down until you can do something about it. Or a player could attempt to fate you, only for it to backfire on them as you use it to further your own devices.
It's this unexpectedness that makes Mischief & Malice work as well as it does, alongside the intense devotion to theme it displays in the gameplay and artwork. Marvel fans and board gamers should not miss out on Marvel Villainous: Mischief & Malice.