Reviewed by Herb Levy
MANIACAL (Eagle-Gryphon Games, 1 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, 60-120 minutes; $74.99)
Life is not just about heroes; it’s also about super VILLAINS! And that is the approach taken in the new game designed by Hassan Lopez as players assume the roles of evil masterminds who will build a base of operations, recruit henchmen and span the world on nefarious missions, all to become the most infamous in their competitive quest to become recognized as the most Maniacal.
Each player chooses 1 Supervillain card (either randomly or via draft) and receives the large wooden meeple representing that villain and the associated Lackey card. The first player, randomly chosen, receives a starting bankroll of $8 with each succeeding player getting $1 more than the last ($9 for the second player, $10 for the third etc.) All also begin with a random Scheme card.
The large main board has room for 4 “attraction” tracks (and all players put one of their markers on the starting space of each track), an “Underground” where Scheme cards are placed, a “Hoodlum Hospital (where injured henchmen can heal) and “Lucifer’s Lounge” where Mercenaries can be hired. Players begin each round with a certain amount of time (weeks) available to do their infamous deeds. The center of the board shows six world continents, labelled from A to &|F. One “Contract” is placed, face down, in each of those six areas. (Contracts can be Easy, Hard or Legendary and the six card assortment is based on the round.) With starting score markers at 0, the game begins.
The first thing is to build your super base. The deck of Base Room cards is shuffled and five dealt to all. Each player will choose one of these cards and then, simultaneously reveal. Base rooms cost money (paid to the bank). There are four types of henchman – Beasts, Criminals, Scientists and Mystics – and Base cards will add to your appeal in one or more of those categories. (Attractiveness in these four types are tracked on the main board.) Remaining cards are passed and this is done a total of three times. (The two leftover cards from the starting five are simply discarded.)
Base cards need not be “connected” in any way and, if you are running out of funds, you can “sell” a card (rather then adding it to your base) for its stipulated price, an easy way to refill your coffers. With all cards either chosen, sold or discarded, recruitment of henchmen begins.
Each round allows for the recruitment of 2 each of the four types of henchmen and each type resolved before moving onto the other. The first henchmen from the Beast deck is revealed. This card (as will all of the others) displays a cost. The player with the highest “attractiveness” total on the Beast track gets to recruit that Beast. His/her value on that track is correspondingly reduced. Then the second Beast card is revealed and the player who is now the highest on the Beast track gets that one. This continues for all 4 henchmen types. But what if the value demanded is more than the value of the player who is in the lead on that track? Then recruitment for that type of henchmen immediately halts – even if that was the first one! (That unclaimed henchman remains available for the following round.) Now with henchmen at their sides to aid in their quest for infamy, players will seek to complete “Contracts”.
In turn order, players may attempt to complete “Contacts”. Contracts represent evil missions that you, as a Supervillain, are sending your henchmen to complete. Contracts display how many henchmen must be deployed, the difficulty of the mission and which, of the four special “traits” of the game (brawn, intellect, stealth or magic) are of most use in fulfilling the assignment. Should you find yourself without an ample supply of henchmen, you can always hire temporary help by adding Mercenaries (at a cost of 2 weeks on the time track.) Mercenaries are randomly drawn but all will add 3 dice in one of the four “traits”.
Based on your Supervillain, each assignment costs time (weeks) to travel to its particular location and once an assignment/Contract is chosen, the player moves his/her player token down the time track accordingly. Once time is paid, henchmen are assigned to the mission and the Contract turned over with specifics revealed.
All Contracts have a “target” value. This equates to the number of “hits” that must be rolled. All henchmen have traits that allow them to roll matching dice and these are gathered up and tossed. If a blank is rolled, that is a miss and a failure. Each fist rolled (and some dice sides show 2 or even 3 fists) is a hit! If you roll the icon of a particular trait AND that trait is the preferred one of the Contract, that counts as TWO hits! If the Lackey of your Supervillain is part of the team assigned, you get a free re-roll of any or all dice! In addition, some rooms in your base will offer benefits, sometimes costing additional time, to aid in completing Contracts and other things, and may be activated by assigning your Supervillain or a henchman to the room (rather than a mission). Once the dust settles, you see what you gain from the Contract.
A successful Contract will give you Infamy Points and money. Although counter-intuitive, even if unsuccessful, you will still earn IPs and money (consolation prizes?) but, of course, considerably less. Additional rewards are also possible such as being able to draw a Scheme card (“chance ” cards which may be played virtually at any time for good – to help yourself – or evil – to make a rival’s success more difficult) or draw a Superpower card (which you assign to one of the members of that team) which will increase the power (dice) of that henchman. Of course, being an evil henchmen is not all roses. You can be injured. (Injured henchmen can no longer go on missions until healed at Hoodlum Hospital at a cost of $2 and 2 weeks on the time track.) You can be captured! (A captured henchmen is removed from the game!)
After a round is finished, henchmen including your Lackey and any Mercenaries you have hired collect “salaries” at the rate of $1 each. Mercenaries are now lost (their assignments have been completed) but remaining henchmen are “refreshed” and eligible to be sent out on new missions. After three rounds of play, players collect a bonus of IPs based on how much money they have. The player with the most ill-gotten gains earns 15 IPs with 10, 6, 3 and 1 awarded to those with few funds remaining. The player with the most Infamy is the most notorious and the winner! (Tie? Then the villain with the most henchmen under his/her control earns the victory.)
There is lots in the box of Maniacal: lots of cards, lots of dice in the colors of villain “traits”, a large thick mounted board and nice chunky wooden pieces used to represent the villains in 3D glory. Supervillians and evil missions are the stuff of comic books and the game’s ambiance is enhanced by the artwork of a real comic book artist – Rob Guillory.
Supervillains have both strengths (such as being able to some money to gain more time or being able to add to your attraction values and more) and weaknesses (being unable to heal from injury or increasing a target value etc.) which you can use during game play. (Strengths or weaknesses or both can be used to balance the abilities of new and seasoned players.) Although your villain can activate rooms in their Bases, they are strictly the brains behind the operation. They do NOT go on missions to fulfill Contracts. (It might have been an interesting option to allow them to go on more difficult Contracts and add more dice or another re-roll or something consistent to their “extreme evil” status.) There is even a solo mode where the villain goes against the game’s equivalent of the Justice League or the Avengers called Defenders of Planet Earth or D.O.P.E (which shows you where the game’s sympathies lie).
An advanced rule option is the Finale where a Finale card is randomly dealt to all players at the start of the game. These cards give you end of game goals (such as recruiting certain types of henchmen, successfully completing specific types of Contracts etc,) which translate into IPs if accomplished. The cards also call for a massive, final, Contract requiring 3 henchmen to be deployed and a huge target to hit with your dice roll for a significant amount of IPs if successful. This adds a little direction and drama (and, admittedly, a bit more chaos) to the final moments of the game and is strongly recommended.
Although not complex, Maniacal has many layers. You can play the basic game (as discussed) of course. But there is so much going on – from card drafting to Supervillian powers to activating rooms to time management to lots of dice rolling- that it can be a challenge to keep track of everything. This makes it less a gateway game and more of a middle-weight. And there is a large luck factor here from the draw and play of Scheme cards to lots of dice rolling. But if the theme intrigues you and you want to connect with your “inner evil”, those layers keep the game fresh and unpredictable – and fun! – – – – – – – – -Herb Levy
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