Game Review: Nefarious

Played Nefarious today, a board game where you play a mad scientist. The goal of the game is to invent 20 victory points worth of crazy inventions. All the inventions are mad scientist themed, with things like cloning, and buttered toast cat array. Being a mad scientist costs money, so part of the game is balancing the various ways to earn money / cards vs actually building things.

There are 4 actions that you can choose from each turn, and each player chooses at the same time which action they want to perform. 1: Espionage, 2: Invent, 3: Research, 4: Work. The first step is to get gold based on your spies. Then the game cycles through each of the phases in numerical order, starting with espionage, and all the players that picked that action get to perform it.

The interesting mechanic is espionage. During the espionage phase, you can choose one of the 4 actions to place a spy on. The espionage and research actions are free to place a spy, work costs 1 gold and invent costs 2 gold. If either of your neighbours performs the action that you have a spy on, you get 1 gold. You can place as many spies as you want on an action, up to a maximum of 5 spies, because that’s how many spies you have. The goal is to try and predict which actions your neighbours perform in order to maximise your income.

A lot of people tend to perform espionage at the start, but it peters off towards the mid-game. Eventually, people are going to need to invent things, so placing your spies there will pay off eventually, but it means you are at a gold disadvantage at the start. One player put all 5 of his spies on invent, and by the end of the game, he was getting 5 or 10 gold every round, which is huge. He ended up winning, but a few other players were only one turn away from winning, so it’s hard to tell if it’s the optimal strategy.

The invent phase allows you to spend your gold to invent one item. Inventions are worth victory points, but some inventions will also have effects on you, your opponents, or both. Things like losing / gaining cards, losing / gaining gold, placing / removing spies. You might create an invention that’s cheap, and worth a lot of victory points, but it’ll be in exchange for your opponents all getting a free card.

The research phase allows you to get 2 gold, and draw an invention card.

The work phase allows you to get 4 gold.

The game itself was pretty straightforward to pick up, and despite having 6 players, the fact that the rounds were short, and it wasn’t a “clockwise around the table” style game meant that you didn’t have the problem of people at one end of the table becoming disengaged while the other people had their turn.

I really liked the crazy invention cards, Sure, they’re really cheesy (machine that blots out the sun), but the pictures that went with them were cute and funny.

For a casual, light game, I think this really hit the spot. There are so few things to choose from, so it’s not overly taxing, and easy to pick up for people who don’t care to pick up a serious strategy game. It was enjoyable, but I’m a bit wary of replayability. The game has a “secret twist” mechanic, that we didn’t play with, but I’m told it introduces a random mechanic change partway through the game, so it could be that inventions cost half the amount of gold.

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