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Monday, May 20, 2024

Victorian Masterminds: It’s Good to be Bad

by | published Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The bad news: Sherlock Holmes, the world’s greatest detective has disappeared. The good news: you are a supervillain bent on global domination…and your job just got a whole lot easier! In Victorian Masterminds, 2 to 4 players will take on the role of brilliant ne’er do wells and look to earn points by stealing national monuments, kidnapping scientists, and building their infernal machine! Mwahahahaha!

If you’ve been following the blog over the years, you know I’m a pretty big fan of the games of Antoine Bauza and Eric Lang. To hear that they had a co-design coming out was music to my ears, even more so when I heard that you would be rewarded for completing evil deeds.

While it spent a lot of time in development, Victorian Masterminds has been worth the wait. It is a strategic game, with fast turns and getting into the heads of your opponent, but it never takes itself too seriously.

Each player has a team of five Agents that will do their bidding for them around the great cities of the world. The Agents are depicted on chunky cog tokens, and each one has a different ability. The Number 2 allows a player to gain the spoils of a location twice. The Henchman can complete the Mission card at a location. The Gunner allows players to capture Buildings at a location. The Saboteur denies the ability of the next Agent revealed. Finally, the Engineer uses the ability of the infernal machine you’re trying to complete.

Players collect resources to construct their infernal machines. They might be giant mechanical spiders, or flying metal whales, or a steam powered mole-like drill. Each machine is created slightly different with its own Engine Room ability that is triggered by the Engineer. Players start with only a blue print, but as they gain the necessary parts, the machine fills in bit by bit, gaining them more powers and abilities.

Aside from Bolts and Copper Plates, players can collect Firepower, Da Vinci Codex worth points, and even Scientists that will grant more flexibility with their actions.

The main board consists of different locations representing five of the great cities of the world. They provide a spoil of some sort for going there, such as copper plates, bolts, scientists, and increased firepower. They also each have a Mission card to be completed then replaced and a set of buildings that can be captured.

On a turn, a player takes the top Agent off their pile, looks at it and deploys them to a city. If there are fewer than three Agents of any colour in that city, play continues on. However, if that is the third Agent, then play stops and the stack of Agents there is flipped and resolved, from the first one placed to the last. Agents gain the spoils and, as long as they haven’t been Sabotaged, they get to perform their special action.

Now, just because Mr. Holmes is missing, it doesn’t mean there’s no law enforcement. There is a Secret Service meter that is raised every time a building is taken from a city. Each player has a token on that meter, and they can gain Firepower to raise their own level. To snatch a building from one of these cities, their Firepower level has to be as high or higher than the Secret Service level.

The turns go pretty quickly in the game. For the most part, all you do is place one of your Agent cogs down in a city, and if it’s the third Agent in that location, you resolve them, which is relatively quick as well. One thing you’re going to have to take advantage of is the Monocle of Forgetfulness. Whenever the game is paused to resolve a stack of Agents, the active player takes the Monocle to remind you where play will pick up once action continues. The first game I played I thought we would never need that, but it can actually get a little confusing and this little reminder came in quite handy.

The nefarious plots continue until one player completes their infernal machine, or the Secret Service level reaches 12. Each player takes one more turn and then all of the remaining stacks of Agents are resolved from the top of the board to the bottom.

Players earn points for Mayhem they have strewn across the world. Points are awarded for buildings captured, Mayhem tokens or Da Vinci Codex collected, or any completed parts of their machine that grant them.

Now, you’re definitely going to want to consider what Agents another player may have sent to a location. Definitely the Saboteur can screw up your plans, but even if someone else’s Gunner activates before you, they can steal the building you had your eye on, or raise the Secret Service level, so you don’t have the Firepower needed to acquire one, which just…well it just stinks.

As you’d expect from a steampunk adventure where you play criminal masterminds, there is a fair amount of chaos and screwing people over. You might not be able to do the sweet move you had planned on your turn, which can be frustrating in longer games. I think Victorian Masterminds is short enough, that although you will occasionally feel the sting of a less than effective turn, you’ll get over it quickly enough. Also keep an eye out for the powers of the infernal machines. Some seem a bit more powerful than others, so maybe reserve those for less experienced evil villains.

This game came to me with a great deal of excitement attached and this two designers did not disappoint. Check out Victorian Masterminds and tap in to your evil side!


  • Sean J.

    Sean is the Founder and Photographer for the DWP. He has been gaming all his life. From Monopoly and Clue at the cottage to Euchre tournaments with the family, tabletop games have taken up a lot of his free time. In his gaming career he has worked for Snakes & Lattes Board Game Cafe, Asmodee, and CMON. He is a contributor to The Dice Tower Podcast and has written for Games Trade Magazine and Meeple Monthly. He lives and works in Toronto.

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