Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Tuesday 8 September 2015

Three, that's the magic number:- The Witches

Game Title: The Witches

Designer: Martin Wallace

Manufacturer: Treefrog Games

Year: 2013

"There are some things you two need to learn about witching. Magic is not a tool, it is a stampede of power, necessary sometimes, but don't let it be a crutch, it always takes more than it gives. People will celebrate a good which who solves all their problems, but don't let that be you, solve their problems and they'll come back to you for everything! Sometimes you have to make things a little worse to get people to make things better themselves. That's headology that is! People may curse your name, call you wicked, if it gets too much for you remember my cottage always has a kettle and fresh tea leaves. Well now, only one thing left to be said, when shall we three meet again?"

"Oh and cultivate a good wart, people respect a good wart!"

The witches is a 1-4 player semi-cooperative game with a winner. In it you wander around the fictional country of Lancre and solve problems varying from helping a woman give birth to fighting off elvish incursions. You take the role of one of 4 trainee witches, each with their own special ability (can you call going first a special ability?) and enlist the help of various characters from the Terry Pratchett universe, both infamous and obscure.

The game is fairly easy to explain, each turn you draw a card which tells you where to place a new problem (if you draw one where there is already a problem then you put a +2 difficulty token on it), then you take two actions. Each action you can move 2 spaces along the paths on the board, stopping to interact with any witches or problems you face. If you meet another witch then you stop to have tea, which is generally a nice thing to do, it gets rid of Cackle tokens, however you can also use this to your advantage to block other players movement. If you encounter a problem then you roll the dice, first you roll 2 six sided dice, then you play any cards you think you need, then you roll the last 2 dice. If your total is above the problems difficulty then you have solved it and you place it on your player card. This is made a bit trickier by the ones on the dice counting as zero and you get a Cackle token (these aren’t that bad, but if there are none left in the game and you have the most of them when you have to take one then you get a Black Alice token which costs you 1vp).

One of the best parts of this game is that your player card acts as a track of your witch training. If you solve small problems like sick pigs then you get experience that allows you to hold more ally cards, however when you solve the hard problems you get experience towards your basic ability, every 2 hard problems you solve you get a permanent +1 to every dice roll. You’ll need these bonuses if you want to take on some of the tougher hard problems, and since you place them on the board face down you never quite know what you are going to face. At the end of the game you add up all of the points on your completed problems and the person with the highest is the winner.

The 4 witches on thier player cards where you place the tiles of solved problems and gain power.
A problem that I have with the game is its inverse difficulty curve; if you want a coop that you’ll struggle to win look the other way now. The game starts with a large number of problems on the board, but you only add 1 every turn, since you have the potential to take two off the board each turn you will often find that near the end of the game the map is pretty empty. The actual loss conditions are actually pretty hard to meet too, one of them is if too many elves are on the board then you lose. But this only counts elves that are face up and as you’ll generally ignore the purple tiles until you think you can take them on, and since elves are some of the easiest purple tiles, you’ll rarely even have 2 face up. Honestly I feel the game would be much improved if you started with less problems on the board and drew more problems as the game goes on (there are 4 stacks of problem tiles that you draw from, but the stacks seem to mean very little, perhaps you could use them to indicate how many tiles you draw a turn?).

Of course the game isn’t a pure coop so the other factor to consider is if you are beating your opponent. At least with 2 players you’ll find it hard to be too competitive though as the map is so big and movement is limited, you’ll often split up onto separate forks and not see each other until mid-way through the game. Perhaps this would be improved by having more players, but I’ve only played 2 player myself so I can’t comment. Strategies become apparent like blocking paths and have set counters such as the broomstick cards to fly anywhere you want, but it feels too difficult to actually be in the right location, and since everyone has 2 actions a turn you end up being able to have tea and then advance onwards anyway.
The game set up ready to play, one thing that can be said for this game is it is absolutely beautiful.

The cards you draw are all of varying use, at the top they have a symbol which donates a standard ability, these vary from broomstick rides to dice roll boosts (‘headology cards give you +1, magic cards give you +2 but you take a Black Alice token). Then there is the card text, this is a special power of the card which can be boosts against certain problems, like the frying pan that is extremely powerful against elves, or re-rolls or even dice roll boosts that you can play after rolling the second pair of dice. Finaly there is the power of three, everyone knows witches work best in threes and if you have three witch cards in your hand then you can use them all at once to solve any one problem instantly instead of rolling.

I think the main problem I have with The Witches is the disappointment factor. I’m a huge Terry Pratchett fan, I probably have around 75% of his books on my shelves. His worlds inspired me with a child and taught me that reading could be fun. When I was given a signed copy of the collector’s edition of this game there was nothing I wanted more than to love it, I wanted it to be my favourite game, I read through the rules a few times, each time thinking I must be missing something. But I wasn’t, and it isn’t my favourite game, not by a long way. There is a good game in their fighting to make its way out, and if I were to attack the rulebook with some tippex and a biro I might create something I love but the game out of the box, rules as written, it’s just not enough fun.


P.s if I have somehow completely misunderstood the rules and there is a great game in there somewhere then please let me know, I really want to enjoy this one!

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