Board Game Review: Nefarious

Mad scientists creating bonkers inventions. That’s pretty much Nefarious in a nutshell, a game which combines some great ideas and simple rules to create a game which, when we played it, even managed to convince some of my more board-game-sceptic family members that there’s a lot of fun to be had round a table.

The idea behind Nefarious is very straight forward; on each turn players secretly decide which of four actions they want to take by placing the relevant card face down in front of them. The four main actions – research, work, invent and espionage – each give you various perks or bonuses, whether that’s earning a bit more money, letting you invent some bizarre contraption (concentrated brain juice anyone?), getting hold of some potential future inventions or placing a spy onto the board. The game forces you to figure out a strategy to keep you ahead of the game, inventing whatever crazy things you can In order to get to 20 victory points before anyone else. Do you invent as many smaller things as you can as quickly as you can, or work up a bit of cash and wait for the big hitters which might come out of the deck at some point? Do you add all of your spies onto the board early (which takes up a turn, but then earns you money if someone chooses that action later) or use those earlier goes round the board to increase your hand of possible inventions?

There’s no right or wrong answer there, it depends on who you’re playing, what they’re trying, and which cards you happen to get in your hand. Strategies will need to adapt, and with other players’ inventions having an impact on your own situations sometimes, it can get pretty chaotic pretty quickly. When you choose to invent a certain product from the cards in your hand (which costs money) many of them will have an effect on them, either affecting you, your opponents, or both. This could be gaining or losing money, adding or removing spies, or affecting the remaining inventions that you are holding but haven’t played yet. That’s not to say they’re all negative though; if you’ve got a hand of pretty rubbish inventions and you get the chance to swap all of your cards for a new hand, something which can be a huge bonus at the right point of the game!


But what makes this game have so much longevity is the twist cards. Two of these cards are randomly placed on the board before the game starts and change some of the rules of the game. Maybe everyone gets more money per turn, or the effects listed on the invention cards are performed twice instead of the once. There’s a huge range of various tweaks that these cards can make, and as such you might go dozens of games and not play two games with the exact same rules twice. It stops you from building a strategy which you then use in every game – you can’t plan to build a huge pot of money if you main method of collecting it is crippled by a twist card for example. It’s a great addition, and one which makes the game. Without the twist cards I could see this getting a little samey after a few games, but those cards help to keep everything fresh for far longer.

The games we played were, once we got the hang of the rules, pretty quick as well and no more than half an hour each which for a game aimed at having a bit of a laugh seems about right – it certainly didn’t feel like it was going on too long. Everyone certainly enjoyed the game, and while it might not be one which lives long in the memory it’s a very enjoyable, light game to bring out when you fancy playing something but nobody wants to get too engrossed in the complex nature of some other board games. The components felt good (which I believe was an issue with the earlier versions of the game) and the rule book was crystal clear, explaining everything exceedingly well while still being relatively short – all things which help when you’re trying to play with people who don’t understand the draw of a good board game.

And so while I wouldn’t suggest that Nefarious is the most addictive game I’ve ever played, and it’s fair to say there are games I’d turn to before this, it’s still a very fun game to play with people who aren’t used to the ins and outs of modern board games. The twist cards mean you’ve got plenty of variety, and the simple rules mean you can sit down with almost anyone and still have a few good games. It’s definitely one to think about with a family gathering coming up, that’s for sure.


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