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Nefarious

Time to build doomsday machines, cloaking devices, and antigravity suits, in your quest to conquer the world as a mad...er, misunderstood...scientist!

Published by The Op and designed by Donald X. Vaccarino (Dominion), Nefarious is an action selection game in which players make their choices simultaneously. With minimal downtime and a quirky theme, it’s both fun and fast, with a little spying thrown in for good measure.

Gameplay

Each player chooses a player color and takes five spy meeples, ten coins, and four action cards. Each player’s set of action cards is the same: espionage, invent, research, and work. Each card corresponds to one of the action spaces on the board. The invention cards are then shuffled and three dealt to each player; the rest form the draw pile. Finally, two twists cards are drawn and placed on the board, while the others are returned to the box. Each twist card has a special rule that will be in play for the game. These will often change the rules or add to them in some way. For example, one twist card has each player start with extra money while another increases the point value of invention cards.

At the start of each round, players select one of their action cards to play, and reveal them simultaneously. The actions are then resolved in the following order.

Espionage: this allows you to place one of your spies on any of the four action spaces on the board. It costs one coin to place on the work area and two coins for the invent space, while the other two are free. If the player on the left or right of you performs the action where you have a spy, you earn one coin per spy you have on that space. The espionage action only allows you to place a spy; you may not move one from another location or remove one from the board. If you do not have an available spy, you’re out of luck.

Invent: the invent action allows you to place one of your invention cards face-down in front of yourself. All players who took the invent action this turn then reveal their card at the same time. You must pay the cost shown on your card to build it (otherwise you must take the card back into your hand). You then resolve the abilities marked on the card. Inventions will cause you or your opponents to either gain or lose money or invention cards in your hand, or allow you or your opponents to place or take back spies. Each invention card is also worth a certain number of points.

Research: this action allows you to draw an invention card into your hand and earn two coins.

Work: you earn four coins.

At the end of the round if any player has coins with a total value of 20 or more, the game is over and the player with the most is declared the winner. Otherwise, everyone takes back the action cards they played that turn and another round begins.

Nefarious Components

Review

Nefarious is a nicely-thematic, simultaneous action selection game that never gets too mean. Other players’ choices do affect you, earning you money with spies or hurting or helping with their invention abilities, but it’s not so combative that your plans are constantly being derailed.

There’s some good balance in the invention cards and their abilities. Something might be worth a lot of points, but also give your opponents some extra cards or money, or it might even hurt you, and you have to balance that with the end game goal.

The spies add another element to the interactions, helping to ensure you get a good supply of cash to keep the game moving, but also making you stop and consider more carefully which action to take. Do you really want to move to work and give an opponent a couple of coins? Maybe it’s safer just to go research. Where you move your own spies is also tricky, and can be influenced by whether or not you have any invention cards in hand that will allow you to take them back later. Early on espionage may be a popular action, but as more and more spies get out on the board, it’s not as likely to be used. However, if you know you have the ability to take one back, you might not mind that.

Twist cards, however, are what really make Nefarious shine. They add a really nice touch of variety to the gameplay. While some of them are rather minor changes to the rules, others can affect the strategies you take. For example, one grants you five victory points if you have five or more invention cards in hand. This is going to make the research action more attractive and can effect which inventions you decide to build.

With only four actions to choose between, the game is an easy one to teach. The names on the invention card are fun to read and the artwork is great. The iconography on the invention cards, however, does take a little while to learn and no player aid cards are included to help here. The invention cards are also of a material likely to bend easily.

Nefarious is fast and easy to play. The game flows nicely, keeping everyone engaged, with some good catch-up mechanics built into the high scoring cards through the abilities and the costs.

Pros: Player interaction that doesn’t feel too mean, fast gameplay, theme and aesthetics

Cons: Confusing iconography, some component issues

Disclosure: we received a complimentary review copy of this game.