Designer: Matthew Dunstan, Brett J. Gilbert
Player Count: 2-4
Play Time: 30-45 Minutes
We love Co-op games. LOVE THEM! The thrill of working together to figure out your next move. The stress of knowing that everything comes down to that last move. That moment when you lose miserably and slowly retrace your steps to figure out where you went wrong. And that celebratory moment when you finally defeat the game and high five and hug and call your mom with excitement because you finally escaped the desert or locked away the big book of madness or survived the war in The Grizzled. One of the newest additions to this genre is a game all about breaking into an evil professor’s house, stealing his treasures, and trying not to get caught, set off traps or lose to the greatest enemy of all – time. So let’s take a look if this Gen Con hotlist game makes the cut!
How Does it Play?
In Professor Evil, you and up to four friends will take on the roles of team members who infiltrate the trap rigged mansion of Professor Evil himself. On your turn, you’ll first draw two cards off of a small character deck. These allow you two unique abilities during your turn and you can choose to use one of them. You’ll then take several actions which can be spent moving around the mansion, turning off traps, unlocking doors and collecting treasures.
It seems all well and good, but the last step of your turn requires you to roll dice to see what set backs will impair your team. This can involve the Professor himself moving around the mansion. When he enters the room, he’ll reactivate all traps, lock all doors and if he finds you, he’ll even kick you out! Causing you to have to re-enter and get to your destination. The fact that he activates traps is especially troublesome as each treasure will have symbols for which traps need to be turned off in order to collect the treasure. The professor entering a room and turning a trap back on can often mean several turns worth of work are suddenly undone.
The other big setback is the time tracker. Markers show how long it takes the Professor to lock away each treasure and should the time tracker ever reach the spot of a treasure, he’ll snag it off the board and its gone forever. Lose four and its game over! This die roll will also move the time marker further towards the treasures, essentially counting down your demise.
What Makes Professor Evil So Great?
There are a lot of things that I love about this game. For starters, it looks great. The art and colors are vibrant. The characters are all interesting to look at and the board, when laid out, gives a sense of nostalgia as it strongly resembles Clue.
Mechanically, this game is very similar to other co-op games like Forbidden Desert and Forbidden Island. You’re essentially racing against the clock. However, a big difference here is the deck of player power cards. These, for me, were the highlight of the mechanics. In games like Pandemic or the Forbidden series, each character has a unique ability. Here, each character has several interesting abilities and there’s a sense of chance as you draw your two cards, but also a sense of strategy as you decide which option to use.
Beyond this, each character board can be flipped at certain times on the time track, offering another ongoing ability but also a “super ability” that reflips your character board. This means that you lose your ongoing power, but perhaps you’re in a bind and that “super ability” is just the thing to save you.
And while all these special abilities might seem like a lot to keep track of, everything is very well worded and simple to understand. This means that the game flows quickly and we never had to stop to try and decript the rules to know whether or not to use a specific card. In fact, everything about Professor Evil was easy to pick up and learn and by the time we started playing we didn’t have to look back at the rules even once. While certain games warrant rules checks, it’s refreshing and wonderful to read the rules, explain the game and then just play, unhindered by frequent questions.
What Could Make Professor Evil Even Better?
I really like Professor Evil, both visually and mechanically, but I would definitely point out that this is an easier co-op game. Sure, we only won by a small margin on our first play, but we still won, and I don’t feel like we ever felt the high level of tension that Pandemic or Forbidden Desert often provide. When I think about great co-op games, I often imagine The Big Book of Madness, a stellar game which I 100% recommend. I bring it up because of all the times we’ve played it, we’ve only won once. Now do I think every Co-op game needs that high level of difficulty? Of course not. But the tension and stress we feel when we play it is unmatched. Hair gets pulled, faces get covered in grief. It’s a game that is hilarious, but also feels so engaging because every single turn matters so much.
Professor Evil never felt that way. Things got dicey towards the end, but the winning play felt too easy. I mention all of this to say that what I would really love to see is an expansion to this game which ups the intensity. Perhaps the traps can hurt the team members. Perhaps the Professor does something even more horrible to you. It might sound crazy to want a game to be harder, but anyone who plays co-op games knows that the true bread and butter of these titles is finally winning when you know how much the stakes were stacked against you. In this game, it almost felt like the Professor was at a disadvantage to our many, MANY, abilities and tricks.
Though it might not be the most challenging or rewarding Co-op game you’ll play, Professor Evil and the Citadel of Time succeeds at being a fun, quick, family game with some interesting new mechanics to the Co-op gaming landscape. Does it dethrone Pandemic or Forbidden Desert? Not quite, but it comes awfully close, and anyone who loves those games and is looking for a new puzzle to sink their teeth into will surely find plenty of enjoyment here. The game is slick, beautiful and fun for any age or level of gaming experience. Perhaps this game won’t be the main even of Game Night, but it makes for one heck of a starter or filler game. Now get out there team! Break and enter and get those treasures back before it’s too late!