When I first heard of Whirling Witchcraft, I wasn’t sure how excited to be. I did think there was a need for more Halloween themed games, and I know Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG) has been on fire releasing great games. What I wasn’t prepared for was just how amazing the gameplay for a halloween themed game this was. Whirling Witchcraft is a card drafting engine building game that is also a surprisingly deep and strategic game. AEG adds another masterpiece from brand new designer Erik Andersson Sunden to their amazing list of titles this year including Cascadia, TEN, Cubitos, and even a new expansion, Ecos: New Horizon. So if it be this year or a future year, Whirling Witchcraft game should be on the top of the list for games in October.
What’s In The Box?
- 60 Recipe Cards
- 17 Personality Cards
- 170 Ingredient Cubes
- 15 Arcana Tracker Tokens
- 5 Cardboard Cauldrons
- 5 Reference Cards
- 5 Player Boards
- 1 Rulebook
How’s It Play?
Each player has a board with slots for each type of ingredient they might need to make a potion or a brew of some sort. Players use these ingredients to then place them on their recipe cards that will cause ingredients to change to other ingredients. The new ingredients are then sent to the player to the right, and all recipe cards from your hand are sent to the player on your left. The goal is to send ingredients to other players so they have too many. When a player gets ingredients and doesn’t have any open slots on their player board to place them, the ingredients are returned to the player that sent them, and they are then counted as points. The first player to score 5 points, wins the game.
The game is played in rounds. In many of the phases, players play at the same time. For example, the first phase is the study phase where players look at the 4 recipe cards they have in their hand. Each player chooses one they want to add to their tableau, placing the card face down and waiting for all remaining players to choose their one card.
The Brewing Phase then occurs and players produce ingredients at the same time by placing their ingredients from their board onto their tableau of cards to convert them into other ingredients to be sent to the player on their right. Players will also need to look at their own player board to make sure they can use the ingredients to use that recipe card, but also to see if they can use ingredients that they might overflow with, because they will be giving the player to their left points if they run out of slots to place ingredients.
In addition during each study phase, each card that players place to their tableau has one or more arcana listed soon the top. Each arcana will move the matching token on the player’s Arcana card. Whenever the token is moved on top of the 2, 4, and 6, the arcana’s effect is triggered. The caldron lets you add a specific ingredient to yours, sending it to your target. The crow lets you remove up to 2 ingredients from your player board, and the book lets you choose a type of ingredient that they can take from the general supply for that round to use for any of their recipes.
The brewing phase occurs after the study phase and consists of players producing ingredients from their tableau, passing their cauldrons full of new ingredients to the right, checking for winners (a player with 5 or more ingredients in their witch’s circle), and then passing the remaining 3 cards in their hand to the player on their left.
The player that overloads the others to the point that they get to 5 or more points in doing this wins the game.
The last thing to mention is each player has a personality card that gives them a special action or bonus that other players don’t. Plan your strategy around these cards as they can really help you form an early strategy. But also know that whoever adapts to the ever-changing supply of ingredients on their own player board will most likely be the most successful.
This game was one of the best surprises I have had this year while reviewing board games. The theme didn’t seem too exciting for me, the art didn’t pop my interest, but the gameplay in this game definitely got my attention, and I want more of it. I do hope that Erik Andersson Sunden continues to design games, because if this is his first shot at it, I just can’t wait what his 10th shot might be.
The strategy in this game is deep, and to do well you have to keep making the right decisions because the game changes so fast and your have to change with it. What I mean by this is that you are trying to manage your resources to use them to convert them to others to send to another player. If you don’t have resources yourself, you can’t perform recipes to send over ingredients to another player. And overloading another player with a certain ingredient is how you score points. They will also be defending your attacks, so to get points you will need to adapt to that player’s board with your attacks.
The timing of each of the arcana effects can hugely help defensively or offensively, so planning and having the opportunity to perform those bonus actions can help immensely. Each arcana also does something different, so you can get yourself out of a jam whenever you don’t have a good hand of recipe cards to use its stated recipe for the ingredients you have.
The game is easy to play, and players pick up on how things go in the game. The strategy however can take some time to pick up on as its hard to keep track of ingredients in so many different places. Also, you’re passing your cauldron full of ingredients to your right, but then passing your cards to your left. So you will need to plan out what cards you don’t want to pass to one player, but then plan what card you want to use so you can overload another player with ingredients.
The simultaneous play lets the game flow very well and players aren’t waiting on other players for a long time. This causes everyone to have their attention focused on the game. In turn, the game doesn’t take all night to play, and the time feels like you actually achieved something while playing the game. Although everyone is playing at the same time, you will be interacting with others by looking at their boards and figuring out an attack for them or a defense for another, yet players are all creating their own creation in front of them. I like that interaction, not too much yet it’s not nothing. I also love the drafting direction how you focus on one player for what cards you are giving them and focus on another player as to which ingredients you send them.
Circling back to the art. I don’t have any problems with the art, it just has a look that for me personally doesn’t bring me in, similar with the theme. In fact, I was a little off put on witchcraft being in the name of the game. This made me a little nervous, not knowing what was in the box or what the game is about, even though the art softens those feelings a little.
The components are great though. Each player gets a card board cauldron that isn’t necessary in the game, but really adds to the theme. It also makes it really easy to pass the ingredients to the next player without dropping cubes all over the place. The cubes have enough space on the player board so you’re not knocking cubes all over. There’s also enough room for fingers between ingredients and between cubes of the same ingredient.
Again Whirling Witchcraft was the biggest surprise for me this year. AEG has been solid this year with games, so add this to your collection if you like what you see here, and check out AEG’s current titles for the year and for the coming year.
Images Courtesy of Alderac Entertainment Group
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