Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak Review

You can find a video version of this review here: Valor & Villainy: Minions of Mordak Review [Board game] – YouTube

Minions of Mordak is a one versus many board game designed by James Van Niekerk and published by Skybound Games. I have the deluxe version, which comes with a couple of features exclusive to backers. For that reason, I will not factor those features into this review. You can pre-order Minions of Mordak from Valor & Villainy

Overview

Minions of Mordak can be played with 2 to 5 players. One player assumes the role of the wizard named Mordak, while the others control heroes of various classes.

The game takes place over a number of rounds. The heroes attempt to uncover shrines hidden on the map to force Mordak out of hiding, while slaying his minions for XP and gathering loot.

Mordak casts spells, controls the minions, and meddles in the game from relative safety while attempting to build up power. Eventually, the game culminates in a final battle where Mordak enters the field directly. If the heroes manage to reduce Mordak to zero HP they win. If Mordak defeats three heroes after entering the map, Mordak wins.

Components

Much of the game is made from cardboard, which is actually a point in my favor. I know many enthusiasts like big fancy pieces. But a lot of the time they exist simply to artificially inflate the price of a board game. Aesthetically pleasing simplicity accomplishes the same goals for a much lower price.

Pricewise, Minions of Mordak is on the cheaper side, and you get a lot of components for your money. From a variety of cards, map tiles, dice, tokens, and character boards, which are easily the highlight of the physical pieces.

These are giant character sheets made out of cardboard where you track your health, energy, abilities, and various levels ups. The face of these boards are slotted. When you level up a skill, you place the tokens inside the board and they pop in nicely, and it prevents a bunch of loose tokens from sliding around, which is nice.

The map tiles are thick and durable, and the small cards for spells, and treasures are solid, but a pain to shuffle due to their size. The minion cards, however, are very thin, and they began to warp after two games.

These cards are double-sided, you draw from the bottom, and they have a cover card that hides them from view, so the warping doesn’t affect the gameplay at all. But it’s there.

The artwork is great, thematic, and consistent with itself all the way across. Minions of Mordak’s world is a humorous one as opposed to gritty and dark and the art conveys this without overstepping into the realm of childish. Minions of Mordak is for adults and kids alike.

Gameplay

The game itself is pretty easy to learn, though the rule book isn’t always clear on some mechanics. Every round the heroes move around the map revealing map tiles, fighting minions, casting spells, and looting, followed by leveling up. After which the villain also takes a turn with similar actions, but also controls the minions, then levels up too.

As with any game that pits multiple players against one. The lone player has the inherent advantage of a single mind. Teamwork is paramount to the hero’s ability to win, and one weak link could screw the whole team. This isn’t a negative, it’s just the reality of the concept.

I did find that Minions of Mordak works great at any player or hero count. The setup and rules change slightly, but it always remains the same game throughout with no special stipulations that stifle it. Alternatively, it’s not incredibly difficult for a single player to control multiple heroes, though the dynamic is different. The villain player loses that previously mentioned single-minded advantage, and it becomes a game of pure wits.

The villain and each hero start with two action points, but they can increase it by spending XP. Moving, attacking, and casting spells take an action, but heroes can reveal tiles and loot treasure in a tile for free.

Attacks and spells are performed by rolling different colored dice. The higher a character’s training in any particular skill, the larger quantity, and power of the dice. Dice always bring a degree of randomness, but the dice in Minion’s of Mordak are custom made, and only ever go as high as 2. The probability is much easier to predict than most games, and that makes it more skill-based.

Furthermore, dice for any action are rolled and piled into a pool of “hits” to be spent on the action. This means you can see your result before deciding what to do with it. If you don’t have enough attack power to slay a minion, you can bank some of it in the form of +1 tokens.

Spells usually have different effects based on how many “hits” you spend, so it’s possible to strategically pick and choose, or even cast multiple spells in one turn. You can even roll an “attack” with no target, simply to bank some hits for later. In addition, you can use an action to draw extra spells.

The villain controls almost like a hero. They can’t move or attack until the final battle, but they can still cast spells. They can also summon minions, and they gain control of every minion on the map that they can use to move around and attack with.

Minions, character abilities, and loot often impart new powers, alter existing ones, or offer keywords. For example “AOE” allows an attack to target multiple characters in one region.

The spells, minions, and loot are varied with a bunch of effects and abilities and they usually have humorous names or references.

Minions of Mordak features a lot of player choice and agency condensed into its action economy without being overwhelming. It’s a game of high strategy and teamwork. Most importantly, it’s also fun.

The mechanics flow pretty smoothly, I didn’t run into any awkward hang-ups where a mechanic felt out of place or clunky. That said, it’s not entirely perfect.

After six rounds the game enters the final battle. Mordak enters the map and the stakes get raised, neither side can level up anymore, and if Mordak gets defeated, the heroes win. If Mordak defeats three heroes, he wins.

The game pushes the idea that the heroes need to find three shrines. Doing so fast forwards to the final battle immediately, which in theory means Mordak is weaker.

In practice, I’ve never found that strategy to be viable. Revealing map tiles also spawns minions and loot, which is also good because the heroes need both of those things to level up and get stronger. But the shrines are hidden among the more dangerous tiles. It’s exceptionally easy to accidently spawn too many powerful minions and overwhelm the team.

If you explore slowly, and control the map, you won’t be able to find the shrines until round 5 or 6 where the difference it made would be negligible, especially because it cuts the hero’s growth short alongside Mordak’s.

It makes more sense to carefully grow your characters while trying to keep Mordak from defeating you, since every hero he defeats prior to the final battle awards him XP. I should note, defeated players remain in-game and lose nothing. Mordak just gets stronger.

There are very few defensive options in the game. There are many instances where a combo of spells or a dog pile of minions can take you from full health to zero without you ever getting an action in between, and that feels pretty bad. It can also make characters who can cast healing spells, feel essential in larger games.

You are free to level your characters in any way you want, which is fantastic for the heroes. While every hero has strengths and weaknesses, the customized nature allows any hero to fill a gap in the team if needed. For Mordak, this is less true.

Mordaks leveling is pretty much railroaded. You can technically level up as freely as the heroes, but the optimal path is clear. Mordaks melee and ranged skills are low and don’t pair well with his abilities. Every game, you will be leveling up his magic and his ability to summon minions, with no real variation.

I can already tell that Mordak will not be the only villain. Once expansions begin to roll out, maybe it will make more sense. But for now, you can feel pigeonholed in his growth. That said, playing the powerful and meddling Mordak is still a ton of fun and full of skillful strategy. The game really could use more map tiles too, they get repetitive pretty quickly, but it’s not that bothersome.

Verdict

Minions of Mordak is a great strategical and teamwork focused experience with well balanced asymmetric gameplay. Neither Mordak nor the heroes feel too weak or too powerful. It’s oozing with tongue in cheek humor, great artwork, and nice inexpensive components that won’t break the bank.

It has a few gameplay hiccups, but it’s a smooth experience with no clunky jank to speak off. Nothing feels awkward, and the game is relatively easy to understand. The heroes are varied and the gameplay is fun.

It’s design is clever and game is engaging. One versus many is a genre that’s hard to get right, but Minion’s of Mordak does it pretty solidly, barring a few sore spots.

I’m definitely looking forward to the inevitable expansion, and it’s a game I don’t regret backing on Kickstarter. I can happily recommend the game for it’s asking price.

You might also like my reviews of Arkham Horror 3rd Edition and the Marvel Champion’s LCG.

Pros

  • 8 varied heroes
  • Solid asymmetric gameplay
  • Awesome slotted character boards
  • Great artwork, theme and consistency
  • Lots of content for the price
  • Highly strategic with player agency, growth, and teamwork
  • Works great with low player counts

Cons

  • Flimsy minion cards warp pretty quick
  • Very little defensive options in combat
  • The encouraged hero goal seems to be a poor strategy and the rulebook can be unclear
  • Villains growth feels railroaded
  • Map tiles could use more variety