Reviewed by Herb Levy

VICTORIAN MASTERMINDS (CMON, 2 to 4 players, ages 14 and up, 60 minutes; $49.99)


Many games entice players to connect with their “inner child”. This time, designers Antoine Bauza and Eric M. Lang entice gamers to connect with their “inner evil” as players assume the roles of super villains operating at the turn of the last century. These villains compete to build incredible “Machines of Destruction” while capturing buildings and famous landmarks in their quest to generate the most mayhem and rule the world in their new game Victorian Masterminds!

Each player receives a play sheet with a schematic diagram of their particular “Machine of Destruction”, noting which and how many parts are needed to construct each piece.  There is also room for scientists recruited and Da Vinci Codexes (knowledge) collected. But as brilliant as these evil masterminds are, they cannot do it alone. All players have five “Agents” to aid them in gathering the essential elements needed and, possibly, making things a bit more difficult for their competing villains.

The main game board shows five of the great cities of the world: London, Moscow, Washington, Paris and Rome, each one having a miniature of one of their great Landmarks (Paris, the Eiffel Tower, Rome, the Colosseum etc.) as well as other minis representing Furnaces, Factories and Universities. Each of these cities will yield valuable resources as  “spoils” (London for copper plates, Moscow for increased firepower, Washington for bolts, Paris for scientists and Rome for a Da Vinci Codex token). Each city also has a “mission” which offers a goal that may be claimed when a player has his appropriate Agent in play.

The Secret Service is the agency set to thwart these evil plans. On top of the city board is a separate Secret Service board which tracks the Service’s level of research and strength. (Every time a building is captured by any of these masterminds, that level rises by 1.)  On that board, the Firepower rating of the villains can also be found, with each villain’s marker placed according to the number of players in the game. The player with the most evil laugh is the first player!

On a turn, the active player places one of his Agents in one of the great cities. Which Agent to place depends on which “spoils” you wish to collect AND the unique talent of the Agent.

Each Agent has a special ability. Number 2 doubles the amount of city spoils collected. The Henchman allows the player to try to fulfill the Mission card at that city location. The Gunner will attempt to capture a building. The Engineer allows you to use the unique abilities of your Machine of Destruction and, possibly, the bonus power it has. The Saboteur may be able to neutralize the special power of an opposing player’s Agent.

To capture a building, the player’s Firepower must be equal to or greater than the current value of the Secret Service. If that is the case, the player takes the building of choice AND the bonus that building delivers. Capturing a University gains the players 1 scientist while a Factory will give you 1 bolt and a Furnace 1 copper plate. Capturing the Landmark gains you 1 Mayhem token. (All buildings are worth 2 Mayhem points with Mayhem tokens worth an additional 2 MPs when end game scoring is done.) But nothing happens until the action in a city is triggered!

All players shuffle their stack of five Agents and place them face down. On a turn, the top Agent is drawn, looked at and then placed it in the city of their choice. But it is only when the THIRD agent is placed in that city that things happen. 

The stack of Agents is now turned UPSIDE DOWN and actions resolved in that order! All Agents will get the spoils of the city but the extra Ability may or may not “work” depending on being able to fulfill Mission card requirements (which may require a certain part of a player’s Machine of Destruction being finished or a type of building previously taken) or completely stymied should the Saboteur be found on top of another player’s Agent! (That player will still collect the spoils but no special ability will be activated. Of course, a players’s Saboteur can NOT sabotage one of his/her own Agents.) If a player runs out of Agents to play, then all discards are collected, shuffled and stacked face down again for the next turn.

Players must assigned bolts and plates collected immediately to various parts of their machines.  Parts completed will not only earn Mayhem Points but will free up room for more scientists to be collected and make collected Codexes more valuable. Codexes are initially worth 1 MP but one of the sections of your machine, once completed, can double their value! Codexes are significant in another way too. Once five have been collected, that player has the ability to CHOOSE which Agent to play from their stack on a turn rather than just drawing the top one.

In keeping with the game’s theme, you would think Scientists are extremely valuable in completing such a diabolical Machine of Destruction. But, in game terms, their value lies not in completing a machine but in being able to enhance what a player can do. You can turn in 1 scientist to play an Agent in your DISCARD pile! Hand in two scientists and you get a DOUBLE turn! Turn in 3 scientists and you may capture ANY building on the board regardless of Firepower! (The Secret Service Level still goes up by 1.) 

Play continues until either one villain has completed his Machine of Destruction OR the Secret Service Level has reached 12. That triggers the final round where everyone, including the player who caused the end game condition to be met, has one more turn. Then we score. 

Points come from several directions. To Mayhem Points earned through completed sections of their Machine, players add 2 MPs for each building they have captured, Mayhem Points awarded by Mission cards and Mayhem tokens held (worth 2 MPs each). Finally, the value of Da Vinci Codex tokens (either 1 MP or 2 MP) are added. The player with the highest total wins! Tie? Then the player who has either finished constructing his machine or come the closest to completion is victorious!

With its “villain twisting mustache” artwork style, Victorian Masterminds captures a “comic book” feel of madmen on the loose! While the blind draw of Agents forces you to be flexible in your approach, it need not be a permanent thing as collecting Codexes give you more control over what to play and when. CMON is known for quality miniatures and they have certainly done a fine job here, adding to the atmosphere. The Agents are represented by thick, colorful, plastic pieces shaped like “cogs” in a machine, a nice “tip of the hat” to the game’s theme. Player sheets definitely give the sense of a blueprint, a “blueprint for destruction” as it were, and it’s fun to build each piece by placing plates and bolts in their specified spots, watching your machine take shape. Speaking of which, the plates and bolts are surprisingly small. It would have been a good idea to have made them a bit larger for ease of handling with less danger of losing them in the back and forth of game play. Also, the symbols used on the blueprint for showing the increased abilities of the Engineer as different parts of the machine are constructed are much too similar and can lead to some unnecessary confusion so be aware.

Essentially, this is a “delayed reaction” worker placement game. The upside own resolution of Agents requires you to think about when to pull the trigger on resolution so you can stay ahead of both the Secret Service AND your opponents.  In the opening description of the game, Sherlock Holmes is referenced but Holmes makes NO appearance in the game. Seems to me that an expansion of sorts utilizing the Great Detective as a counterbalance to the madmen of destruction would be a natural. 

Despite the emphasis on villainy (which, in truth, is a fun and lighthearted approach), Victorian Masterminds is true to its Euro nature in that the “take that” aspect of play is very mild. Rather, the focus is on the race to complete your steampunk style Machine of Destruction, merrily causing mayhem as you go, to become the best and baddest villain of them all! You don’t have to be a mastermind to figure out that this is a game you won’t mind getting to the table over and over again. – – – – – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy

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