In this article, I take a look at a new cooperative Disney board game, Disney Sidekicks, by famed board game designer Eric M. Lang.
In Disney Sidekicks you play a popular sidekick trying to save their Disney Hero while defeating at least one of the infamous Disney Villains.
Disclosure: Thanks to Spin Master games for sending us a review copy of Disney Sidekicks to check out. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Disney Sidekicks, what’s in the box?
Disney Sidekicks was designed by Eric M. Lang and features artwork from Greg May. It was published in 2021 by Spin Master games. A game of Disney Sidekicks plays two to four players (according to the box, I don’t see why you couldn’t play solo).
A full game can be completed in under an hour, sometimes way under an hour if you run into some really bad luck. This cooperative board game has an MSRP of $29.99 and should be available through the mass market as well as hobby game stores.
In Disney Sidekicks, players get to “Kick it into Hero mode!” as one of five popular Disney sidekicks working together with the other players to rescue their heroes and defeat at least one of Disney’s most infamous villains. Along the way, they will have to deal with the villains’ henchmen, defeat guards and rescue villagers in order to learn new skills for their sidekicks.
Check out what you get in the box by watching our Disney Sidekicks Unboxing Video on YouTube.
The first thing you will find in the box is the rules which are nice and large with a larger size font and tons of graphics showing actual game components. These rules feature one of the best component overviews I’ve seen in a game. They also feature more example text than game rule text, which is good to see. The back of this book also has an excellent gameplay summary.
The game also includes a rather nice looking two-sided board. Which side you use is determined by the number of players, with fewer locations and bridges on the two to three player side. One issue with this board is that the main fold is rather large and one of the bridges in a two player game is meant to sit right on the fold.
Disney Sidekicks contains a single rather thin cardboard punchboard that holds some of the smallest tokens I’ve ever seen in a board game. These tokens are so tiny that I was worried I would lose some just while unboxing the game for the first time. The tokens are well cut and double sided. They include tiny Star, Attack Die, Health, Guard and Villager tokens, as well as larger Lock, Hero, Villain and Henchmen tokens.
There are two packs of cards in the box, one set of larger cards Hero and Villain cards and another pack of standard sized cards which include Danger Cards and Power Cards.
These cards come nested in a pretty well designed plastic insert that also holds plastic bridges, five castle pieces, miniatures for all of the Sidekicks and Villains, and a custom six-sided die. These components are the highlight of the box and all look great. I was especially impressed by the Sidekick and Villain miniatures and I could easily see a Disney fan buying this game just for the minis.
How do you play Disney Sidekicks?
You start a game of Disney Sidekicks by placing the board out onto the table, using the correct side for your group’s player count. The castle is assembled and placed in the centre of the board and a number of lock tokens equal to the number of players are placed beside the castle somewhere (there isn’t a specific spot on the board for this).
Bridges are placed on the indicated spaces on the board and the board is seeded with guards and villagers (one guard at each castle bridge and one villager on each space with an icon on it).
Everyone then picks a Sidekick to play. These include Abu from Aladdin, Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast, Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King, Tinkerbell from Peter Pan and the three Fairy Godmothers from Sleeping Beauty.
For each Sidekick, players collect a Character Card, their miniature, a reference card, a Health Token (which they place on their player card), one Star token, and their hero token (which gets placed inside the castle). Players then shuffle their Power Cards, draw three and play them face up. The remaining Power Cards are returned to the box.
Next, you set up the Villains. Each Sidekick has a matching Villain. In the same order as before you have Jaffar, Gaston, Scar, Captain Hook and of course Maleficent. On the back of each Villain Card, you will find set up rules specific to that Villain which will often have you place various tokens on the board. For example, Hook has you place The Jolly Rodger token in one of the river areas on the board and Maleficent has you place curse tokens on specific areas on the map. After completing set up, the Villain miniatures get placed on the board opposite their Sidekick opponent.
Finally, you need to build the Danger Deck. Each Villain has its own set of Danger Deck Card. You collect the cards for the Villains in play, add in two standard Danger Cards that are used every game and shuffle these all together.
If somehow you are finding the game too easy, it also comes with three additional sets of Danger Cards that can be added to make things more difficult. I very strongly suggest not even admitting these exist for your first few games and being careful to make sure you don’t make the same mistake I did and shuffle these in for your second game.
Gameplay in Disney Sidekicks is similar to many other popular cooperative games where, on a player’s turn, bad stuff happens, then the player gets to act by spending a set amount of action points to choose between different actions. This continues until either the sidekicks win or the group as a whole loses.
Victory is achieved if the players manage to save all of their associated Heroes and defeat at least one of the opposing Villains. Defeat can come in many forms. The players lose if any Sidekick is defeated, if three bridges are destroyed, if the castle is filled with a mix of five guards or villagers, or if a Villain’s specific defeat condition is reached (as indicated on their Villain card).
You start each turn in Disney Sidekicks by drawing a Danger Card. In general, each card will have you complete three steps. You will first add a villager to the map. If at any point when adding a villager you end up with three villagers in the same spot, one is captured and sent to the castle. Remember if the castle ever has five villagers and/or guards in it the players lose.
Next “Danger Rises” by reading the text of the card and doing what it says. These events are tied to which Villain the card represents and includes things like Jafar taking control of Genie, Hook having the Jolly Rodger attack, or Maleficent cursing more areas.
Finally, you will either place a guard token on the Sidekicks spot or the Villain will move towards their Sidekick and then attack any adjacent Sidekicks to where they’ve stopped. How far the villain will move is determined by the Danger Card.
Attacks are made by rolling the custom die a number of times equal to the number of attack tokens on the villain. Scratch marks count as hits and each hit removes one heath from a Sidekick. If a Sidekick ever runs out of health the players lose.
When placing guards, if there are ever two guard tokens in the same spot, one is moved to the castle. Remember if you get a mix of five guards and/or villagers in the castle you lose.
Assuming you haven’t lost at this point you then get to take actions with your Sidekick. Each has either three or four action points to spend (Tinkerbell is the only one with three, but her flight ability lets her move anywhere on the map each turn).
Actions include moving your Sidekick to an adjacent spot, skipping over any spots occupied by other Sidekicks or Villains, attacking a Henchman in your spot or an adjacent Villain that you have not attacked yet this turn, Unlocking the castle by spending Five Star Tokens (flip a locked token to the unlocked side), spending an unlocked token to free your Hero, rescuing a villager (and potentially gaining a new power) and, finally, resting, which allows you to recover one health or gain a Star Token.
Any attack that a Sidekick makes uses the custom die (this time you are hoping for Mickey’s glove showing a thumbs up, which does one damage to your target).
Most henchmen are removed from the board if hit. When Villains are hit a Star Token is removed from the Villain Card and given to the player. Many Villains also have additional rules to follow if they are hit, for example hitting Maleficent is the way to remove her Curse Tokens from the board. If a Villain loses their last Star Token they are defeated and removed from play along with any of their tokens still in play. Remember, players must defeat at least one Villain to win the game.
Along with the two different attack symbols on the custom six sided die, there is also a side showing a Star. When this is rolled the player rolling gets a Star Token regardless of if they were rolling for their hero, a villain or a henchman.
When players rescue a Villager they take the villager token from the board and can place it onto one of their three face up Power Cards that doesn’t already have a villager of that colour on it. Each card has from two to four spots on it and once all of these spots are filled the player earns that power.
The villager tokens are removed from the card and the power is tucked partially under the player’s Hero Card. Each of these powers breaks the rules in some way, giving players things like additional attack dice, more movement, re-rolls, health regeneration, stars each turn, etc.
Along with these powers, each hero also has their own asymmetric power that they start with at the beginning of the game. Tinkerbell can move anywhere for one movement, Timon and Pumbaa can heal, Lumiere can re-roll the die, etc. One neat bit is that each hero can also spend one Star Token to use their ability on another hero during their turn. So Tinkerbell can move someone else anywhere on the board, and Timon and Pumbaa can heal another Sidekick.
In addition to being one of the win conditions, when a hero is rescued the sidekick that saved them gets to keep the hero token on their player board and this token gives that player one additional action each turn.
Play continues around the table, with each player drawing a Danger Card, doing what the card says, and then taking actions with their heroes, until either the players win or the game defeats them.
Disney Sidekicks is not at all what we expected.
When you first see Disney Sidekicks you can’t help but expect a light, fun, family weight game with a rather cool Disney theme. Seeing Eric Lang’s name on the box you might expect an engaging cooperative experience that kids will love and that has enough depth that experienced gamers will also have fun playing. You see this game for sale in Target, Walmart or on Amazon and think this is a great game for Disney fans of all ages.
The problem is that you would be wrong. Disney Sidekicks is actually a fairly complex, and wickedly difficult, cooperative game that even the most experienced cooperative game players are going to find difficult to win.
This game is fiddly and punishing, even without adding in any of the cards meant to increase the difficulty of the game. Added to this are rulebook ambiguities that can lead to arguments at the table about the proper way to play the game.
I would like to take a look at these issues in more detail, starting with the components. The components in this game are a total mixed bag.
Let’s start with the miniatures. The miniatures in Disney Sidekicks are the best thing about this game. While they aren’t hobby miniature quality, they are great representations of these famous Disney characters. I especially love how the fairies are represented by three different miniatures that travel as a group but can split up based on their unique power (to travel with and protect another Sidekick from one hit).
The bridges are also cool and the castle looks good at the centre of the table.
However, while the castle does look cool it’s not really all that functional.
Tossing the hero tokens into the middle of the castle makes it hard to get them out later, there’s no place to put the lock/unlock tokens and the spots to hold the guard/villager tokens isn’t actually designed to hold them. Each castle tower is obviously designed to hold something round, but the tokens you are meant to put there are much smaller than the towers.
We did notice that any one of the miniatures fit perfectly up there. I almost wonder if the tower originally served a different purpose in this game and that was changed at some point.
The villager and guard tokens are the biggest problem with this game, production wise. These, along with the heart, star and attack die tokens, are the worst tokens I have ever seen in a board game (and I have played a lot of board games).
The tokens are thin and super tiny. Added to that, the villager tokens need to be differentiated by colour yet they feature two colours that are almost identical under the wrong lighting (like, for example, the lights in my basement) and that’s from someone who doesn’t have any vision issues or colour blindness.
Another problem is the rulebook. While it’s well designed with lots of examples, there are a few ambiguous rules. On a more positive note, Spin Master has published an updated rulebook on their website. The problem with this is that most people buying a mass market Disney game aren’t going to consider looking online for rulebook updates and errata. I really hope Spin Master has managed to update the rulebook in later printings of the game.
As for the gameplay, it feels pretty solid. Setting up the board with its various Villain counters and cards reminds me a lot of Horrified from Ravensburger, and that’s a good thing. Actually, quite a bit of the gameplay here reminds me of Horrified in a good way.
All of the rules in Disney Sidekicks seem to work together and work well. Moving around the board freeing villagers, gaining new powers, and battling henchmen and villagers is quite fun. That is until you suddenly lose.
Losing in Disney Sidekicks is something that’s going to happen frequently. In most games that we played this was due to the castle getting filled up with either villagers or guards and in almost every case it was due to a card having you place tokens on a spot and on the spots adjacent to it (similar to an outbreak in another popular cooperative game, Pandemic from Z-man Games). The limit of only one guard or two villagers on a spot can be extremely punishing. Playing with Maleficent in play makes this even worse as her curse tokens send any villager that’s meant to be placed where one is to the castle instead. I strongly recommend not using Maleficent at all until you’ve managed to win a few games.
In addition to losing the game due to a full castle, we have also lost because of heroes dying. Even having a character like Timon & Pumbaa in play doesn’t help when it can take three turns, and thus three Danger Deck draws, before they can heal someone.
In this way, the player count can also affect the difficulty. While it seems like this game should be balanced at all player counts, after all, you do a bad thing then act no matter how many players you have, how long it takes to get back around to a specific player can impact your chances of winning. As far as we can tell the easiest way to win is to play with two players and include Timon & Pumbaa as one of the two sidekicks in play, just for their healing ability. Abu is a good second character choice as he lets you skip over Danger Cards, which can be a game saver when those “place one token here and one in each adjacent space” cards come up.
All of that said, Disney Sidekicks can still be quite fun, as long as everyone knows what they are in for when they sit down to play. Making sure all of the players clearly understand the various losing conditions and having everyone cool with trying multiple tiles to win, and expecting to lose more often than not, you can have a lot of fun with Disney Sidekicks.
My biggest concern about this game is who it seems it has been marketed for. This is a Disney themed game that is sold in mass market stores which is most likely going to be bought by Disney fans or as gifts for Disney fans, who are most likely going to be young kids.
Disney Sidekicks is not, in any way, a kids’ game. While the box says ages 8+ on it, I don’t know many eight year olds that could learn this game on their own, nor many who would enjoy the fiddliness and difficulty of this game. To me, Disney Sidekicks is a difficult cooperative game best enjoyed by experienced gamers, and that’s not how it’s being marketed.
If you are an experienced gamer who enjoys cooperative games and loves a challenge you may want to pick up Disney Sidekicks, especially if your group enjoys the Sidekick theme.
If you are a fan of difficult cooperative games like Ghost Stories, which for years has had a reputation for being one of the hardest co-ops out there, you will probably enjoy Sidekicks as I found it to be even more difficult than Ghost Stories.
If you are a Disney fan looking for a fun game to play with your family, I recommend checking out Disney Villainous instead for a game that the entire family can enjoy. While Disney Villainous is still not a kids’ game, it is easier to approach than Sidekicks.
If you are really hooked on the theme of Disney Sidekicks, I would recommend finding a way to try before you buy before rushing out to grab this one.
If you just want some cool Disney miniatures, this box does indeed include some very cool ones. As a bonus, you get a game you may end up enjoying. Just don’t expect to win it very often, if at all.
For everyone else, I’m sorry to say that this is a skip.
Disney Sidekicks is a game that seems to have missed its mark in a number of ways. It’s a game that is confused with both its target market and its component quality. While there’s some neat stuff going on here, the way it’s all put together keeps me from giving it a general recommendation.
I have to admit I was disappointed by Disney Sidekicks. After the success of Disney Villainous with our family and friends, I was really looking for another engaging Disney experience and sadly Disney Sidekicks did not deliver. While the game has some neat concepts, the overall difficultly and fiddliness was just too much for us to really enjoy it.
What’s the last game you tried that disappointed you? Let us know all about it in the comments below!