Say Bye to the Villains proves to be a brutal and challenging experience with a rich theme, balancing that precarious line between fun and frustrating.
The latest title from Seiji Kanai, creator of hit games like Love Letter, Cheaty Mages and Lost Legacy, Say Bye to the Villains is a gorgeous, manga-inspired love letter to Japanese tales of samurai, ninjas and Yakuza. Players assume the roles of villagers in a small, gang-ruled village that moonlight as warriors of justice. Only by working together and defeating the oppressive crime lords can the village be saved; unfortunately, vanquishing the villains is a task much easier said than done.
Say Bye is a cooperative card game playable between 3 to 8 players, with most sessions lasting between 30-45 minutes. Each player chooses one of the eight available Vanquishers, the hidden samurai and ninja that reside in the village determined to bring peace to their community. A number of Villains, each with their own unique powers and stats, are then randomly dealt to the center of the table equal to the number of players. For example, a four player game will require the successful defeat of four Villains.
Both Vanquishers and Villains have three numerical stats on their cards: Speed, Power, and Life. These numbers are important when resolving the final confrontation between players and Villains, as each Vanquisher will be pitted against one of the available Villains and must overcome their opposing stats. The character with the higher Speed will get the first strike, matching their Power to their opponent’s Life. If they can match or exceed it, that character slays the other and wins the duel. If not, the opposing character lives and takes a retaliatory swipe, also comparing the corresponding Power and Life stats. Vanquishers only receive one chance to kill their chosen Villain; if you fail to defeat even one, the entire team loses.
To complicate matters further, each Villain receives a fixed number of face-down Situation Cards. These represent the Villains’ resources, such as bodyguards, concealed weapons, escape plans, and so forth. Many Situations simply enhance the Villain’s base stats, such as increasing their Power or Speed. Other cards have dastardly effects on the players, like weakening them or stripping them of powers. And a handful of Situations can even alter the victory condition for that particular Villain; instead of defeating them in combat, one card actually requires the player to lose against them instead, signifying the Villain was in reality one of the good guys undercover. These Situation Cards compose the main thrust of the game, as identifying and revealing these game-changing cards is key to overcoming them.
But wait, there’s more!
Each player has a limited amount of time to perform the necessary espionage and uncover the hidden Situations, while also playing Action Cards from their hands to train and increase their own stats. Every card has a numerical value on the top left corner that represents the passage of time. Once a player has expended ten units of time, they are finished and must target one of the Villains on the table. At that point, they cannot do anything else except wait for the inevitable showdown once all players are ready. Thankfully, each Vanquisher has a unique special ability that makes the management of time, training and spying a bit easier, but total cooperation is required to make the most of every player’s turn. Even just a few unhelpful plays can significantly diminish the group’s odds of victory. Defeating all of the Villains is a significant and nerve-wracking trial to be sure, though falling just short of victory is still satisfying enough to make me want to tackle the challenge again.
In a similar vein to games like Ghost Stories and Hanabi, Say Bye to the Villains is cut from the same cloth of challenging cooperative experiences that reward strong teamwork and coordination. Only by working together, sharing relevant information from checked Situation Cards and passing helpful Action Cards to your friends, will you have a chance at winning. Some may find the game’s restrictions on card knowledge to be a bit too confining, but it certainly fits well within the theme. Espionage is only as useful as the spies’ ability to convey their discoveries.
From my playthroughs, I found 3-4 players to be the sweet spot that blends the appropriate levels of fun and challenge. I was never able to test an 8-player game, but at 6 players the difficulty in managing your available time while also ensuring your allies are strong enough to vanquish their assigned Villain was chaotic, to say the least. A well-experienced group of 6+ players would likely be able to coordinate efficiently and claim victory, but any game involving new players is almost guaranteed to be a loss with that many Vanquishers and Villains.
Also, it’s important to note that the art in Say Bye to the Villains is absolutely fantastic. Noboru Sugiura, also known for his art on other Seiji Kanai projects, really knocks it out of the park with a heavy manga influence full of thick black lines and faded colors, as if reading from an old weathered graphic novel. The cards even retain their original kanji from the original Japanese version, sitting side-by-side with the English text. It really boosts the overall presentation of an already beautiful-looking game that is rich in theme and character.
Say Bye to the Villains isn’t a perfect game, nor is it even the best cooperative game out there. Some of the random elements of the cards, both from the Villains’ Situations and the players’ Action Cards, can easily swing a game into near-impossible territory. However, the game does a remarkable job at making you feel like one of the Vanquishers, rushing to train and spy on the Villains before the impending battle. All of the cards mesh really well thematically, and with some proper teamwork, you just might be able to say, “Bye!” to those pesky Villains. Even though I’ve yet to succeed at doing so, I can’t wait to don my katana and try again.