Disney Villainous Designer Diary:
Over the years, the gamemakers of Prospero Hall have created hundreds of games, and each one has required balancing during development. Each game’s needs are unique, from calibrating the costs and rewards in a resource management game, to adjusting the win-lose ratio of a cooperative game. Is there a card that could throw a play experience wildly off-track? Does the structure of the game create suspense while at the same time giving every player a fair shot at victory? These are questions we’ve asked many times before, but they’ve never been more important than in creating Disney Villainous.
In Disney Villainous, each player takes on the role of a different Disney Villain. In order to win, each Villain needs to achieve their own unique objective. To do this, you take actions on your Villain’s board, play cards from your Villain’s deck, and avoid obstacles that your opponents introduce using your Villain’s Fate cards. From this short description, you may have realized the challenge that this game presented in terms of balancing. Each Villain has their own win condition, setting, tools, and impediments. Even apart from that, we wanted to evoke each Villain’s individual personality and story by leveraging different effects and mechanics when you play them. Ensuring that these varied and distinct Villains were well-matched was crucial to balancing Disney Villainous.
The first mission was to create a baseline against which we could measure all the other Villains. We started with Jafar, who had clear motivations and character traits in the film that informed how we designed his game objective and play style. After determining how he would progress to victory, what tactics he would use to get there, and what setbacks he would face, we gave him tools to more swiftly achieve his ends. This was important in setting the pace of the game and ensuring that the tug of war between players didn’t become oppressive, but instead remained exciting to the end. While Disney Villainous is a card game and is therefore affected by the luck of the draw, we wanted to provide each Villain ways to manipulate their way to victory, no matter the shuffle of the decks.
Once we had Jafar, we set to work adjusting the composition of the other Villains’ decks to match Jafar’s pace. To effectively balance a strategy game, especially one with a deep, rich world to explore, you have to anticipate that the players are skilled and savvy. Otherwise, you’re balancing for the player’s inefficiencies rather than the game’s. We tasked the sharpest, most cutthroat gamers to play the game relentlessly. They not only played it over and over, but also mastered the Villains they played. Could Maleficent come out on top against Captain Hook just as often as he bested her? And even after victory was secure, how closely did the other Villains follow suit? We found it critical to determine how tightly contested each game was and not just compare the win-loss record. Players are excited to play again if they come just behind the winner. How will they change their strategy? What will they do differently in the next game to give themselves the edge?
An exciting element of this process was capitalizing on the asymmetric structure of the game. We could make one Villain’s path to victory cheaper or more direct, as long as their opponents had a stronger or more reliable way to hinder their progress. This made player interaction all the more important in balancing. Can a player win if their primary focus is on impeding their opponents? What about if a player completely ignores their opponents? We worked to make the answer to both of these questions “No.” We wanted player interaction to be an important part of winning, but not a substitute for strategy in achieving your own objective.
Lastly, we balanced the Villains for different player numbers. With player interaction being essential, we needed a way to mitigate someone being overwhelmed by it in games with more players. We created the Fate Token for this purpose. Not only does it limit the number of times a player can be thwarted in a round, it also sparks negotiation between players about who to impede and how to time those actions. Balancing for larger player counts also inspired us to develop Condition cards. They help alleviate the longer downtime between turns and create an intermediate way for players to check in on their opponents’ progress. Condition cards are a great example of how balancing a game can encourage creative solutions and introduce new elements to a game after the core mechanics have solidified.
While balancing Disney Villainous could have been a daunting endeavor, the Prospero Hall team felt well-prepared to put the Villains through their paces. We’re excited to see Disney fans and gamers get their hands on the game and discuss their own challenges and strategies to play their favorite Villains facing off against different foes.
About the author: Ruby Wishnietsky is a producer at Prospero Hall. Her favorite game growing up was Star Trek: The Next Generation Interactive VCR Board Game. Today, she games on a daily basis, and Disneybounds whenever she’s in the parks.