[Editor’s note: After a note from the designer, I realized a mistake was made in reading the rules that affected the gameplay significantly. As a result this review has been updated and a flaw regarding this rule was removed where indicated below.] Do you have a master plan for world domination? Do you giggle at the prospect of the entire world serving your every whim? Do you stay up at night sketching out plots and learning about key elements of the world you would need under your control in order to unleash your fury on the world? It’s too bad for you, because Evil Intent indeed purports to be a game that lets you do all these things, but in fact the game itself is a broken, incomplete mess of a kickstarter project. Read on to find out why.
How It Plays
In Evil Intent, as you may have guessed, players take on the role of an Evil Genius with some motivation to take over the world. From ancient undead pharaohs to mutated bunnies to alien invaders on top of the classic mad scientists and femme fatales, there’s no shortage of variety in who you might be. Each E.G. also has a unique ability in addition to their backstory. Players also receive a Scheme, which is a secret plan they plan to unleash on the world. The Scheme contains instructions for the player on how to enact their scheme within the rules of the game.
The majority of the game takes place over 8 rounds, each round with 8 steps. In order, players will fill in empty slots on the globe with Opportunity cards, purchase Thwart cards, henchmen, and minions, assign their minions in their lair, draw and resolve an Agent card, move their henchmen, resolve Opportunity attempts, and finally collect Income. The Lair is where a player determines what they will accomplish in a given round. The lair has 4 rooms. Minions are assigned to these rooms to enhance a specific function during the round. One room inceases the movement points of the henchmen, one room increases income received at the end of the round, and the last two rooms increase the players Force and Influence, respectively. Henchman are used to move around the globe to get to specific Opportunity cards. Players roll either their Force or their Influence against a target number based on the Opportunity card they’re trying to claim. Opportunity cards can either be Generic or Special, with the Special card granting some permanent bonus in addition to helping out a scheme.
Each scheme generally has a set of 2 types of Opportunities required to advance the scheme. The more of those opportunities a player has, the better their World Domination will go. The schemes come in slightly different mechanical flavors – some will have you roll dice based on the total number of cards you have in the correct colors, others will let you roll dice based on one color but multiply your result by the total of the other color. Players can enter World Domination at the end of any round if they wish to get a head start, but MUST enter it at the end of round 8. In addition, once a player has entered World Domination mode, they can no longer use their minions, move their henchman, or collect new Opportunity cards, and they can’t leave World Domination mode. In World Domination mode, players roll dice and count successes based on their Scheme and what opportunity cards they’ve collected. Each success allows them to place a world domination token on the map (although placing it on a space with another player’s token costs extra successes). Whoever fills the map with world domination tokens first wins the game. Thwart Cards are a major element of the game. Thwart cards can be played at any time. Thwart cards have effects that get in the way of other players – usually preventing their Henchman from acting on the board, but also often stealing cards or money or minions as well.
Lawful or Chaotic Evil?
There’s a big problem with Evil Intent. It’s not finished. There are so many loose ends in the gameplay that I have to wonder if the game was playtested more than 10 times, or outside of a single gaming group. Look, I support amateur attempts at design or art or writing. Please, I don’t care who you are, write a story, paint a picture, design a boardgame to play with your friends. Just don’t try to sell it to me. The flaws in this game are numerous and obvious and I’m just going to have to break it down in list format so I don’t go on too long.
Flaw #1: Thwart cards are too powerful
Look, I get that some people love “take-that” games. I’m not a huge fan unless its done really well, but its not the take-that element that gets me. It’s that the swings the cards force are huge and sweeping. When you only have 8 rounds to collect cards that you need to try to win the game, every round you lose ability to take action is HUGE. When you only get 4-5 cards by the end of the 8th round, having someone steal a card from you is HUGE. When these massive changes happen frequently, it wipes away most of the meaning of your choices and leaves you feeling powerless despite the big stacks of tokens and cards you have. Okay, you could get by with powerful cards that mess with other players… but there should be some sacrifice required in order to force players to choose between hurting other players and helping themselves. In this game, Thwart cards are the cheapest thing to purchase and are free to play. There’s no reason NOT to stock up on thwart cards, which means everyone has them, which means it’s really hard for people to accomplish anything as locations are blocked, henchmen are put to sleep, and cards are stolen. And since Thwart cards can be refreshed easily each round, it’s not even like you have to decide to play a thwart card now or play it later. Because it’s both.
Flaw #2: Numbers are too big
In my own early attempts at game design, I wanted to have big ol’ fancy numbers – big attack values while rolling huge fistfuls of dice. It was fun for about 2 seconds and then I realized that big numbers result in lots of swinginess, and they devalue strategic choice. The best designed games give you tiny amounts of resources at a time and limit what you can do, because it forces you to choose, to plan, to think, but by the end of the game you’ve collect enough to really feel like you’ve accomplished something. Evil Intent did not learn this lesson – your stacks of minions will have players frequently rolling 10-12 dice (which takes a long time to roll and count your successes) and you’ll be trying to score anywhere from 3 to 7 successes. This means your success rate is almost completely random. Aside from dice rolls, you’ll have plenty of Minions so you’ll never really feel like you have to manage their assignment in your lair all that much – just stack ‘em up high where you need ’em.
Flaw #3: Lairs are too flexible
Compounding my last point of #3, it’s just too easy to move minions around your lair. That makes sense thematically, I guess, but it doesn’t make for any interesting choices in the game. Since you can completely re-assign your minions each round, you don’t really have to think ahead. Again you can just pile a stack of minions where you need them right then. In fact, a common strategy is to spend an early round stacking all of your Minions on the Income space. Sure you sacrifice a round of actions, but then you load up on money to add a boatload of new minions and you’ll never be short on anything the rest of the game – that strategy shoots you far ahead of anyone who doesn’t do that. Maybe it’s not an inherent flaw that it’s so flexible, but it just doesn’t do anything to force player choice or strategy.
Flaw #4: Evil Genius powers are broken
I don’t understand why player powers are so hard for designers to get right. I don’t care if they are perfectly balanced or not, but there should at least be a perception of balance. At the very least, you should be able to intentionally do things to take advantage of your power. In Evil Intent, most of the Evil Genius powers aren’t great. A lot of them give you bonuses to die rolls for certain opportunities – which only helps if that opportunity is included in your scheme. In one game, I played one Evil Genius that let me collect other players minions if they were killed (I was the Undead Pharaoh), which sounds AWESOME until you realize that Minions rarely, if ever, die. No thwart cards kill minions (some of them Steal but that doesn’t apply in this situation). Occasional Agent cards kill a couple minions, but guess what – only one of those cards came up the entire game, and they only killed MY OWN MINIONS which nullified my power and made it totally useless. Awesome. The lack of control over many powers – that is, you can use them if things happen to line up, but there’s nothing you can do to encourage them to line up – makes them worthless. Of course there are a few powers that are effective quite frequently, so there’s visible imbalance.
Flaw #5: Lack of propagation
In most decent games, it’s pretty hard to NOT move forward towards the end game. The act of playing pushes you forward, even if your strategy is terrible. As long as you put some effort into accomplishing your goals, you will move towards them. In Evil Intent, you can try as hard as you like, but if you roll poorly or end up on the wrong end of a Thwart card at the wrong time, you can end up with nothing. It’s entirely unfun to play a game that, through no fault of your own, you can gain literally nothing. Which leads to…
Flaw #6: Dead ends
To that end, it’s also entirely possible that you could get stuck in World Domination mode with no possible way to even attempt to gain ground. Perhaps you just didn’t roll well the entire game, or your cards were stolen, or too many other people got there first. For whatever reason I’ve seen players who, while not technically eliminated, could not advance at all.
Flaw #7: Lucky Luck Luck is king, queen, and court jester
There are plenty of games out there in which you live or die by the dice. Many dudes-on-a-map games, Last Night on Earth, or even games like Martian Dice are all about the dice rolls. But these games provide things you can do outside of luck – whether it’s intelligent building of armies, wise tactics, bonuses, or rolling first and then choosing to do with your dice. There are choices and ways to get engaged despite the luck. Evil Intent doesn’t even give you so much as a story to go along with your dice rolls; there is very little you can do to negate, supercede, or sidestep luck. No matter how much you plan or set up your lair or thwart the other players, to collect opportunity cards relies entirely on unmitigated luck. The limit of 8 rounds for preparation means your bad luck really, really hurts you. That only compounds with the World Domination round, which takes the results of the luck from the first part of the game and forces players to just roll their dice over and over again until someone wins. There are no real choices to make at that point. You’re literally just rolling to see who can roll the best, the quickest. You could argue that this is just a test of how well you did in the first part of the game, except that…
[Edit: in the original version of this review, an additional flaw was listed that stated the endgame dragged on because of a rule that required additional successes to place World Domination tokens. I was notified by the designer and double-checked the rules to find that I had made an error – the extra success is required to claim an opportunity card, not place a World Domination token. With this rule fix, world domination is much less painful and the flaw has been redacted. I apologize for the error.]
Flaw #8: competition is imbalanced
No matter what opportunity cards are on the board, it’s generally the best idea to collect opportunities that match your color. With 7 different opportunity types – and each player requiring only 2 of those 7 – it’s entirely possible one player will need their own set of colors, while the other player’s needs will overlap. In that case, the lone player is almost guaranteed a win as they freely collect their own colors while the other players fight over the colors THEY need. There are fairly limited numbers of each card type, and most schemes require both colors and won’t work with just one of the two, so not only will players be stealing cards from each other, but there will be the same number of cards going around whether one player needs ‘em or four players do.
It all comes down to…
I could write more deeply into each of these flaws and compound on more details, but I think you get the idea. The end result is that you have a “game” which gives players very little in the way of strategic choice. There is a mix of too much freedom and too much out of player’s control; the swinginess is so extreme that the game can look totally different from one round to the next. What choices you have don’t matter. This one of the few games that my gaming group has universally dislied; even games I’ve reviewed negatively have seen some players enjoying them, but this game was quickly recognized as a flawed mess.
The sad thing is that it’s a great concept for a game and there are some good ideas buried beneath it all. With a lot more development and a heck of a lot more playtesting, Evil Intent might have been something great. I can think of a number of changes I would try to make the game playable. For example, the game could flow much better if, instead of 8 rounds with 8 steps each, players just took turns doing 1 thing – either rearranging their lair, purchasing, or resolving an opportunity. Obviously the numbers would need tweaking, but this alone would force players to make a lot of choices – do they race for the opportunities to get there first but risk failure, or spend time preparing? Do they just move all their minions to focus on one task, accomplish that task, then rearrange, or try to set up their lair so they can take several actions in a row? I’m not even against having “take-that” Thwart cards, they just need to be toned down or far more expensive, so they don’t make it impossible to make ANY plans. At the very least in this sort of game players should have to consider a moment whether it’s worth playing a card by giving it some sort of cost. Another very useful change would be to make the Opportunity cards multiple colors. Not only would this increase the supply but it would help make sure players were always competing over what’s there, because even if they needed totally different colors, it’s likely at least some of the cards on the table would have a bit of both. World Domination shouldn’t be its own phase – players can easily get trapped there. Players should be able to advance their World Domination and then go back to planning. It should all be intermixed. And finally all the numbers need to be tweaked. Fewer dice to roll and fewer successes needed, so players actually can accomplish something. And more ways to mitigate luck. Take a look at, say Eldritch Horror, which has a similar dice rolling mechanism – and in that game, the most difficult monsters have a required success rate of maybe 5 hits, and even that can be over a few rounds. The fact is, rolling 10 dice at once just slows a game down and any more than 3 or 4 hits prevents players from making their own successes. Evil Intent is a prime example of when Kickstarter allows an unfinished product to get to the market. It looks fun, the idea is solid, but the game is completely unfinished. If it were an amateur effort – a game someone made to play with their friends, I would salute the effort. Great job, you’re not a professional designer, but you made a game to play with your friends, and that’s cool. But don’t sell that game to me, don’t clog the market with your unfinished products, because it’s just not on that level. Not even close. iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Kraken Games for providing a review copy of Evil Intent.