A Review of Disney Sidekicks (the cooperative board game)

The jabber on the Internet is that Disney Sidekicks was supposed to come out August 1st, 2021 at Target, about the same time as Gargoyles: Awakenings. When I went to Target last week, only Gargoyles: Awakenings was there (see last week’s blog entry). So, I went looking, and I found that I could order Disney Sidekicks online from Amazon and from Target: I chose to pay the extra $2.99 on Amazon to get it delivered quickly because my niece is here this week, and Disney Sidekicks seems like the kind of game we could play together!

Components

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Most of the components in this game are very nice.  The graphic design of the box is very readable and enticing!

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There’s a nice how-to-play video referenced above.  I kept this piece of paper for another reason (see the Tiny Tokens section below).  The board is pretty nice looking! It has two sides: a 2-3 Player side and a 4-Player side.

The 4-Player side has more spaces for the larger player count.

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There is exactly one punchout sheet of tokens. Again, like last week, the game comes WITHOUT shrink wrap on the box, but it comes with shrink wrap (well, plastic in this case) on the tokens?  This seems like a new trend in mass market games?

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The insert for this thing is quite nice.  It seems everything has a decent place in the insert! And the miniatures are better than average, if not great. See them closer below:

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 I mean, this looks very appealing!  I want to play this game because it looks cool and colorful!  There’s even a little castle to set up! See below.

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It turns out this castle isn’t that useful in the game: it  really just “looks cool” and holds places for 5 guards (a game ender), but it still contributes to the overall vibe of the game.  (The castle also houses the heroes you are trying to rescue).

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See above for another looks at some of the miniatures: note that both the sidekick and their nemesis are color-coded to couple together!  Tinkerbell and Captain Hook are greeeennyeellow, and Jafar and Abu are piiiiinkkpurrrple.  They aren’t great minis, but I like them.

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There’s a set of 7 “bad news” cards for every nemesis in the game, and they (usually) have a still from the Disney film on them.  They look nice: see above.  You can also correlate the colors (piiiinkpurple) decently well so you know which cards go to which Villains.   The cards are “generally” readable and are nice enough to be linen-finished.

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Villain cards for all 5 Villains in the game. Depending on which Sidekicks you choose, you get a different set of Villain cards.

Similarly, the good guys have cards: these are “powers” (notice the spaces: these powers are activated by villagers).  Each player gets a set of 3 random “powers” at the start of the game and the rest go back in the box.

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We will discuss the tokens more, but there are a lot of little tokens needed to play the game: the guards, the “die” tokens, the stars.  Note the villagers are the little white heads: these come out on the board usually every turn, and they “activate” the 3 “power” cards each Sidekick has.

Each player takes one of the Sidekick cards (see above) for the player they chose and for the corresponding nemesis (see below).

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Each player has a special ability, and their nemesis has some special set-ups (on the back of the card) as well as some special abilities of their own.

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There are player helper sheets!  And they are good!

I will say that the player aids HAVE to be good because the die, although it’s a quite nice die (and there’s only 1), needs a little bit of description about what the symbols mean, but the player aids really do work well for that.

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In general, the components are very welcoming and make me want to play the game!

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Rulebook

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On the surface (foreshadowing), this rulebook looks nice.  It has a great graphic design, and the font is easy to read.  See the intro above!

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The next page is components! Yay! Lots of pictures, but I am starting to see cracks already in content. What’s the “Action Card” referred to in the “5 Sidekick Sets”?  I have no idea: there’s no picture and no arrow.  And this happens a lot in the rulebook: it’ll just refer to something with any indication of what/where it is.  At the moment, though, I am still happy: the components look great and I know what “most” of them are.

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See set-up above: Again, this looks like it is good, but there are questions that come up already: do I turn the villagers face up or face down when I place them?  How many do I place out?  The villager tokens are SO SMALL, it’s hard to tell from the picture where to put them! (I think you put the villagers upside down so you can’t see the color of the villagers until you get there?)   And the only place in the rulebook I found a reference to “region” is the last bullet on the right … and this still didn’t help me decipher the Pirate Ship rules (see later discussion).   

This is a good picture of set-up, but I feel like the rulebook is lacking …  I think my set-up is right?

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The discussion of gameplay starts in the middle of the rulebook.  Incidentally, I don’t know if ANYONE ELSE will notice this, but the rulebook is held together with STRING and not staples!!!  Is this a new trend??? Why did they do this??  I only noticed this because I have a friend who works in a youth juvenile detention center (using board games to help teach), and they have to remove staples before they can give them some books!  So, that’s kinda cool: Disney Sidekicks can go straight in!  (Well, the plastic minis might still be an issue …)

There are a lot of rules here, and the cards for each villain are NOT consistently made!  The villain cards come out in the Danger phase:  some cards have the “3 sections”, some don’t. This is very confusing when you are first playing the game.  Another thing that I didn’t see until my second or third time playing the game: sometimes the bad guys move more than 1 space … this is denoted by the number of arrows.  BUT IN THE EXPLANATION, THEY ACTUALLY USE NUMBERS WITH THE ARROWS!!  Why not use both?  If I see the number 2, it’s very clear to me “move 2”, but if I see just two arrows, maybe I think it’s just the icon for movement.   This is first of many examples in this game I call Poorly Labelled Components (see section below). 

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See above for some discussion of what the Sidekick can do.  But the mechanics are a little wonky.  In move, you can cause yourself to be attacked by guards!  By how do guards come out?  Where do guards go?  Turns out you lose if 5 guards comes out!  The guard rules are scattered all over the rulebook and are not consistently in one place.  It wasn’t until my second game that i realized guards can come out in the middle if a second guard is to be placed on a location with a guard.  Argh.  I had to search the rules.

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This is a personal thing, but I want to know the “GAME END” conditions right up front!!  This rulebook puts them at the very end!!! (See above) As I read the rulebook, I want to have in mind what I need to do and things that can kill me!  If I leave the “GAME END” conditions to the end, the rules being communicated have less efficacy because I don’t have any usage context.  

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The rulebook ends with a bang, though! It puts a summary on the back!!! Thank you!!!!  

I suspected I would like this rulebook, but I was wrong.  It looks great, and the graphic design feels like it should flow easily, but I found the rulebook to be poorly organized.  Some of the rules in the game were wonky, and hard to look up.   Even after playing a few times, I still felt like I was missing stuff, and it was hard to lookup rules because the organization was unclear.  (Another example: “skipping” spaces … what does that mean?  It was brought up earlier in the rules, but what does it mean?  After reading through the rules and seeing all the places this mentioned, it seems clear you don’t even count an occupied space on the board, so “skipping” over occupied spaces means you move faster! It’s not just “you can’t land there”, you don’t even count the space! This felt VERY unintuitive to me: the topography and movement changes because of occupied spaces?  An example describing this when it first brought up would have helped). 

Solo Play

There are no solo rules (thus violating Saunders’ Law).  Last week in Gargolyes Awakening, we suggested two solo modes: one with the solo player playing just one character, and another with the solo player taking the role of two characters and alternating between them.  This week, I think we HAVE to play two characters!  Why?  Because the maps are geared towards either 2-3P or 4P:

So, we are stuck with the 2-3 Player map, so we have to play two characters.

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The game worked fine for me with two characters. See above for first set-up.  I learned the game, and even won my first game using Abu and Tinkerbell (see below for winning game).

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The game seemed to flow okay, but I found out later I screwed up a lot of rules:

  • How do guards get placed?  
  • I forgot to put out more villagers initially
  • I didn’t move the Villains fast enough (see discussion in Rulebook about Villain movement)
  • I am pretty sure I screwed up the Pirate Ship

    So, I may have cheated, but I learned and had a decent time playing.  I did get mad that I couldn’t find a rule in the rulebook a few times. Grrrr.

The 2-Player solo mode seems fine.  There is an extra amount of intellectual overhead to run two sidekicks because it also means you need to run two villains!  So, maybe that extra intellectual overhead (running 2 villains AND 2 sidekicks) was deemed “too much” for a mass market game?  So maybe that’s why there’s no official solo mode.  It worked fine for me, but I can see it being too much (as a solo game) for a frazzled Mom or Dad trying to learn the game with the kids in the background saying “when are we going to play”?

Gameplay

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Disney Sidekicks looks like it might be a Castle Panic type game, but it’s not really. I’d say it’s more of a cross between Sidekick Saga (a cooperative superhero game) and Disney Villainous (a competitive Disney villains game). The theme (Sidekicks of the the heroes work together to save the heroes) as well as a lot of the cooperative mechanics are reminiscent of Sidekick Saga: each player controls a sidekick that moves around the board collecting good things (the Villagers) to help them defeat the villains in combat. The notion of the player-specific villain comes from Disney Villainous, where each sidekick has their own nemesis who stalks them around the board. The Bad News cards control what the villains do, as well as where Villagers (good things), and Guards (bad things) spawn.

Play is balanced by having “Bad News” happen (which causes one villain or the other to do something bad), and then the current player may do a few things. There are number of similarities to Pandemic here as well! For example, the Bad News cards (below) cause Villagers and Guards to spawn (kind of like in Pandemic for disease cubes).

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Also like Pandemic: this is an action point game: Abu (above) gets 4 action points on his turn (lower left number of Abu’s card). On his turn, he can do the following (described quite well on the player summary aid) durting the Action Phase.

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During his turn, Abu can move, attack, unlock, rescue, or rest.  Then the next player goes.

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Players move around the board and fight any of the Villains or Henchmen!  Above, Abu is adjacent to Jafar and can attack him if he likes!!  If the heroes trapped in the middle are saved AND at least one villain is killed, players win! See Jafar all down to zero hit points below!

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The game is all about trying to save the heroes (locked in the castle in the middle), retreating when necessary, and fighting the villains!   All combat is done with the combat die!

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And each hit does one point of damage!

Impressions

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The game was too random for me.  In one game, I was mostly healed (only down 1 hit points) and I went down to the castle to save my hero. After a bad draw from the Bad News (Genie trounched me for 2 hit points) and some bad rolls from the Villain attacking me (he hit every time), we just lost!  I couldn’t mitigate the dice rolls either or the Bad News deck draw.  We lost in one move and there was nothing I could do about it.

Lucklily, the game is fast enough (40 minutes seems fairly accurate once you have played a few times) that this may not be a showstopper for you.  

A bigger problem might be complexity versus intended audience.

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My niece and I played a game.  There’s no way she would have muddled through the rules and complexity to play this without me.  She COULD have (she’s a very smart girl), but I’m not sure she’s want to!  This is supposed to be fun for her!!  Because I had learned the game beforehand, I “made the game flow easily”.  So, she enjoyed that. I think this means: someone (Dad, Uncle, Mom) has to learn the game beforehand to make sure the game flows well for the younger or less experienced groups.  If the intended audience is 8+, then I am assuming one of the 2-4 players is an experienced hand who can shepherd the players through.  

I can’t imagine handing this to an 8+ year old kid and saying “Go play!”   This game is much more complex than that.  I think Gargoyles: Awakening last week would be easier to play, and it was rated as ages 10+ !! 

Poorly Labelled Components

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There’s a lot of components that should have been labelled better: either to emphasize mechanics in the game, or just to be more readable.  Consider the card above:  

  1. I can barely read what the icon is in the first sentence.  Spoiler: It’s a star!  That seems weird, because that is a bad news card, so I didn’t expect a star (a star is a good thing).  So, I had to take a picture of the card to zoom in and see it! 
  2. Why are villagers labelled with a “!” (an exclamation point)?  It doesn’t seem thematic, so it’s not really suggestive of what the piece does.  I think it’s supposed to a “!” when it contributes to a power (but THAT doesn’t make sense, because you need to see what the color of the villager is). 

Another example: The term region is used quite a bit in the game, and there is a blurb in the rulebook that talks about “inner and outer” regions, but a lot of the pirate ship text is a little confusing. See below.

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I finally did get it, but it didn’t feel like it was well explained.  And the rulebook had very little on edge cases, and there was no FAQ. 

Tiny Tokens

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The tokens, stars and guards and villagers, ARE TOO SMALL.  See above for a picture of scale!  I can barely pick them up!  They are hard to see across the table!

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Another issue with the tiny tokens is that they are a nightmare to put back in the insert.  You can see in the insert above, that there is space for all the tiny tokens.   They are so tiny and so fiddly, I have no interest in trying to spend the end of my game doing a “dexterity game” trying to fit all the tiny tokens into the insert slot!

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Also, if you try to take the tiny tokens OUT of the insert slot, they fall out below the box! See above.

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Of course, the reason the tokens are so tiny is so that they only need ONE token sheet: see above.  (Which weirdly came in its own plastic bag?  Can we get rid of the plastic bag and add another token sheet with bigger tokens please? See below).

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In the end, I got some plastic bags and just put the little tokens UNDER the insert (the insert is good for most of the other components) with a NOTE that there were components underneath!  (The note is for my future self as well as others: you know people might miss that there were tokens underneath).

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I am making a big deal out of these little tokens because they were very hard to play with, very hard to manipulate, very hard to see, and very hard to store.  I would have been much happier if the tokens were twice as big. I think it would have gone a long ways towards making the game more playable.  ( I am considering putting in something else in the game to take the place: cubes?  The problem is, you aren’t supposed to know what the colors are, so you need tokens you can turn over. I think.)

Conclusion

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I really wanted to like this game, but ultimately it was too random for me. The game says ages 8+ on it, but the game is far more complicated than it seems. There are just too many edge cases when playing: the rulebook didn’t do a good job of synthesizing gameplay, and the components weren’t well-labelled to emphasize a lot of the in game mechanics. Ultimately, this game looks really good: the components are nice, the minis are pretty good, the cards are linen-finished, the art on the cards is nice …. and that may be enough for you, as the game does play fairly quickly. If you liked Disney Villanous, but wanted a cooperative game, then this might be a good fit for you. If you wanted a simpler Sidekick Saga, this may still be a good fit: just be aware that the rules aren’t very good and there’s a lot of randomness.

For me, the game was too random to want to pull out very often. My niece thought it was pretty good. I’d play it again with her, but ultimately, there were a lot of other games she’d rather play. This week alone, I introduced her to Disney Sidekicks, Canvas, Century Spice: Golem and Splendor, and she preferred all the other games over Disney Sidekicks.

3 thoughts on “A Review of Disney Sidekicks (the cooperative board game)

  1. Where did you see the play through video? I have tried that link multiple times and there’s no video. There’s a link to a pdf for the instructions but that’s it. I want to double check we have it set up correctly. My wife and i are experienced gamers and we have gotten our teeth kicked in three times in a row. So I’m thinking something is off.

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    1. Hi Justin, I didn’t try to find the video. I like learning games out of rulebooks, so I didn’t follow up on it. I usually only look for videos if I do not understand the rulebook at all. I followed the link and it took me to a storefront for SPinmaster, but no video. I also found this video, which might be official, but it still won’t be active for 40+ hours. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0KoWlKA0os4

      I think the game is too random in general, which is probably what you are encountering. If you stay away from the villains so you are “out of reach”, you can sort of avoid the bad stuff for a while and look for an opportunity to save your heroes. The question is, does that opportunity come up because of the nature of the game?

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