Game Buzz: Nefarious

As we continue to roll towards Spiel 2011, here’s another new one from Donald X. Vaccarino:

image by BGG user Scott Tepper

Nefarious (The Mad Scientist Game…muahahaha) is being published by Ascora Games.  It’s for 2-6 players aged 8 and up and takes around 30 minutes to play.  Basically, you play competing mad scientists trying to (what else) take over the world.  The theme alone is pretty cool, and throw in the fact that it’s another game from the designer of Dominion, and I want to know more.

A Nefarious box comes with 6 Lair mats, 30 wooden minions, 24 action cards, 64 invention cards, 36 twist cards, and 90 moneybag tokens.  The minions look nice – they’re basically your hunchbacked assistants.  Not those little yellow goobers from Despicable Me – though those guys WERE awesome.  Players begin the game with a Lair, 5 minions, 4 action cards (the same for everyone), 10 money, and 3 invention cards (randomly dealt).  Two twist cards will be drawn and placed face up, affecting gameplay.

A game of Nefarious is divided into rounds.  There are four phases per round: select and reveal action cards, collect bags of money, resolve actions, and check for a winner/retrieve action cards.

SELECT AND REVEAL ACTION CARDS: Choose one of your four action cards (speculate, invent, research, or work), and play it face down.  When everyone’s ready, reveal.

Lair - image by BGG user Scott Tepper

COLLECT BAGS OF MONEY: If you have any minions in the investment areas of your lair (the colored spaces at the top that match the different actions), check to see if your adjacent neighbors played an action matching that space.  If so, you collect one money bag from the supply for each minion present.  You get double in a 2-player game.

RESOLVE ACTIONS: You’ll resolve your actions now in numbered order.  So, all players who selected Speculate go first, followed by all players who chose invent, etc.  Here’s how they work:

  1. Speculate – Pay a certain amount of money to place a minion in one of the spaces on the Lair.  To place in Speculate is free; to place in Research or Work costs one; to place in Invent costs two.
  2. Invent – You’ll choose an invention card and reveal it simultaneously with all other players who chose this action.  You pay the cost, then take the benefit.  Invention cards could allow you to draw or discard invention cards, remove or place minions, or gain or lose money bags.  Effects could target you or the other players.  Inventions get you points as well.
  3. Research – This simply gives you two moneybags and an invention card.
  4. Work – You get four moneybags.

CHECK FOR A WINNER: If at least one player has 20 points, the game is over and the player with the most wins.  However, if there’s a tie, or if no one has enough points, you continue playing until there’s a winner.

This game is really a lot lighter than I was expecting.  I saw the 8+ age range, but it didn’t really connect with me that this game would be quite so simple.  I have no idea about the fun factor, but I can’t imagine that the game would be that replayable.  I haven’t talked about the twist cards yet, which change the rules somewhat.  Without knowing what they are, I couldn’t say whether or not they would significantly change the game play.

I’m also coming at this from an adult gamer perspective.  I bet kids would have a blast with the game, and I can even see people having fun with the theme (maniacal laughter, funny accents, and so on).  A couple of the pieces remind me of other games – collecting money based on your neighbor actions reminds me of 7 Wonders, and the simultaneous action selection is a bit reminiscent of Race for the Galaxy (though not everyone does everything that gets chosen).  Maybe this will be a good gateway game.  I don’t know – I reserve final judgment until I’ve played it.  But of the Vaccarino products coming out at Spiel this year, I’m probably most interested in Dominion: Bestiary (which apparently got changed to Hinterlands since my discovery of the next seven expansions back in April), then Kingdom Builder, then Nefarious.  We’ll see…thanks for reading!



  1. The game on its own is good, but it’s the Twist cards that really push the game into the next level. Some of the twists make the game easier, some make it more challenging. You really do have to change your strategy from game to game because of the Twists, and that’s a big part of the fun.

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