The Witcher is a very popular franchise that has seen a cult following in the fiction world, grow into a pc, console and online gaming phenomena.
Fantasy Flight Games have now brought this fantasy setting to the world of board games. The Witcher book series started from the first, poorly translated – it’s really called The Hexer, book of short stories by Andrzej Sapkowski. This then became a continual series of novels based on the adventures of Geralt of Rivia and his friends. Fans of the console and PC titles will be immediately familiar with the other characters in the game and their association with Geralt.
Ignacy Trzewiczek …On to a Winner???
In producing the game, CD Projekt RED turned to Polish game designer Ignacy Trzewiczek, who has created such games as Robinson Crusoe, Stronghold and Imperial Settlers. At the moment this creative game designer is one of the most looked out for designers in the board gaming community. So I must admit I was personally looking forward to seeing what he could do with the Witcher.
Since the forerunners of the fantasy adventure genre are thirty year old – Talisman and Runebound with its ten year old second edition. The question that has to be answered is – Is The Witcher Adventure a match for or better than its predecessors?
Ignacy Trzewiczek describes The Witcher as an adventure where you are trying to complete three or more quests. During this adventure you battle monsters, develop your character and interact with other players. He actually states players should help each other. However, I’m personally not sure which group of players he played the game with, because helping each other is not exactly how I would put it!
Geralt and his…Not so Friendly Friends!!!
The production value for The Witcher is beautiful! There’s a large map board, quality figures, counters, cards, tokens and dice. The artwork is stunning and colourful throughout and really adds to the theme. Also included in the box is a Learn to Play booklet and Rules reference guide which makes it easy to learn and play the game. Yes there might be some initial use of the reference guide, but that’s true of most games.
When the board has been set up and the various decks shuffled, players select which character they are going to be. Each player gets a hero board to monitor their actions and wounds, starting gold and two quests. One of these quests is kept and the other, discarded. The hero board helps you decide which type of quest you should take, be it combat, magic or diplomacy. Finally, the characters each receive a hero die , Geralt gets three, that reflect each characters special abilities.
Questing…That’s Why We Came Here!!!
The Quest cards are made up of a Main quest, Side quest and Support quest, each of these generates victory points for the player who owns the card. However, the support quests are completed by other players and provide both the card holder and the person who completes the quest with shared victory points.
The timer for the game is the player who finishes the third quest first, the other players then have one more turn before the points are added up and a winner crowned. For our first game we only played two quests and thereafter with three, I would suggest this with groups that don’t have all evening to play one game. There is an epic variant where you can play five or seven quests; this would be a mammoth session.
The Quest cards inform you how many proofs you need and where you need to be in order to fulfil the Main quest. In order to get these proofs, you have to acquire a certain amount of leads (or clues), it will be different for each character, so for Geralt as he specialises in combat, you only need three combat leads to gain a combat proof. Since he isn’t the most diplomatic of guys, he would have to acquire seven diplomacy leads to gain one diplomacy proof.
The Foul Fate Deck…Where You Run into All Sorts of Trouble!!!
Each of the cities on the board have specific leads, some have two different types, a couple have none and others let you can heal yourself for free. Movement between cities is the main thrust of the game as besides allowing you to gain leads, it fuels the war track. The Cities are grouped in regions by their coloured banners, and whenever someone defeats a monster, completes a foul fate card or moves three spaces instead of two, the war track moves on and will either place a monster or foul fate card in that region, if any other player lands in a city in that region they have to encounter the monster token or foul fate card. The monsters come in three colour codes, bronze, silver and gold, with increasing difficulty in stats to defeat them.
The foul fate deck is a similar approach found in the Firefly board game, with a character being able to move naturally between two cities, however, if they want to move between three, then they receive a foul fate token and put it next to one of their five action abilities, if they want to use that ability, they must first remove the foul fate token and encounter a card from the deck. These range from nothing to something that effects every player. Even battling some of the monsters can force you to put a foul fate token on your character board and there will be times during the game where your board is almost full.
Hero Character Board… Is This a Resource Management Game??
On the other side of the foul token track on your character board is the spaces where you place your action tokens declaring the actions you plan on making on your turn. It’s also where you put your wound tokens, meaning you have to heal to be able to perform that action again. This might seem very constraining, but if you push your luck in this game, it kind of beats you down, so you have to rest and heal up often.
Every turn your character has two action points to perform on their character board, unless they have failed badly at an encounter and have been delayed. A delayed player turns their figure its side and has to use an action to right it again. Character actions are more or less the same, with a few major differences.
- Travel – Your character can use an action to travel up to two spaces, three if you are willing to take a foul fate card.
- Investigate – Each character can investigate, there are three decks, combat, magic and diplomacy which usually helps you with extra leads or tasks that give you a bonus reward. There are some setbacks, which although annoying are not as bad as some of the foul fate encounters.
- Develop – Your character can develop by drawing two cards from their development deck, keeping one and discarding the other. The flavour of these development cards are what sets each character apart. Geralt gains battle developments that add to his hero dice in combat. Triss has powerful spells and magical objects that help her in combat and travel. Dandelion makes friends, who he can bribe to earn extra victory points, battle or investigation bonuses. Yarpen gains items that help him in battle, draws more cards when investigating or heals faster.
- Command – Each character has a specific action although they are generally quite similar but relate to the character’s abilities. For example, Geralt brews potions, Triss prepares spells, Dandelion sings to gain two gold, which he will use to bribe his friends at some point, and Yarpen starts the game with four companions, two of which – per turn – he can command to use their abilities.
- Rest – Your Character can rest, where you can remove two wound tokens or one severe wound token.
When your actions have been made you resolve your encounters, be they foul fate, gaining leads or resolving quests, there is no action needed to do any of these. Monster tokens enter the game face down, only remaining face up if they are undefeated. Each monster has an attack and defence value which you must match or beat to defeat them. Some have rewards if you win, especially the gold monsters, and all of them have penalties if they defeat you, including foul fate token and or wound token.
Gold Monsters…I Need Help with My Dice!!!
Combat is resolved through the dice and besides a common pool of three dice, each character adds their own dice. The hero dice rolls can be affected or aided through the development cards, so one has to strike a balance throughout the game. You are not going to overcome the gold monsters if you do not use your development deck, but overuse of the development deck will see your character fall behind in completing the quests.
A little note on the dice here, I personally found them a little small, especially since they had this fancy scrolling on them. I would have preferred either larger dice or the scrolling removed and the symbols etched in a larger font, it would have just made it easier on the eyes.
On the right-hand side of the board there’s a track where you place foul fate tokens and monster tokens for each region, it can stack up pretty quickly towards the end of the second quest so you have to be aware of what you’re running into.
With The Witcher, players quickly groove into a gaming rhythm that results in very little downtime. It’s a game where you have to be aware of how other players are developing their characters, where they are moving to and what you need to do to complete a support quest with them. At the same time you have to realise that it’s a race game – Do you push your luck for early gains and risk potential consequences that could delay you? Or do you play the steady game?
Finally, after completing a main quest, you get to draw a “good fortune” card that can give you a healthy boost. This leaves you with another decision… Do you try and complete a 16 point quest or one worth 8 points for an extra fortune card? Whatever your choices, by the end of the game, you’ll be painfully aware of their impact on your score.
Summing Up…Or Adding Up The Victory Points!!
Having played both Talisman and Runebound it would be easy to compare The Witcher to them on a like for like basis. However, in doing so, I believe I would be doing The Witcher a great disservice. Firstly there is no amount of argument that is going to persuade a player who has been playing Talsiman for years and years that he should move over to this game. It’s just not going to happen! Likewise for Runebound, however, in saying that. The Witcher is very similar to a game I reviewed some time ago Lost Legends, it feels like a eurogame has been tacked onto an adventure game somehow, for traditionalists this is a big no-no, sadly for them I think they are missing out.
Yes the main board could have been more adventurous, yes there could have been reduced places on some of the cities to hinder players, etc. But the game itself is solid, you still feel as if you are having an adventure, it might not be as player-interactive as you might have hoped for, but is Talisman that interactive? Not really… apart from throwing some spells at players to try and hinder them, there really isn’t all that much interaction.
The thrill of Talisman and Runebound is watching the other players get into a right mess, if you are part of the cause of that dilemma then it’s even funnier. The Witcher has this core gaming delight built into it! At some point, players will push too hard and they’ll end up delayed, seriously wounded and foul fate riddled enough that they have to hide away in some town licking their wounds in an attempt to get back into the game.
Each hero has a very unique and different feel about them and they all work, Dandelion looks so weak on paper, but his ability to earn the gold to bribe his friends is really strong. Yarpen and his four companions make a powerhouse and Triss really is a strong magic user. Initially only four heroes seems a bit lacklustre, but in playing one hero you will acutely be aware of the power of the others and believe me the other players will be thinking the same. So while it would have been nice to have had more characters, four is a good balance. All of The Witcher sessions I’ve played in have ended in a tense finale, with the player who has completed the most quests having the win stolen from them during a players final turn. For me, that is a sign of good game!
If you haven’t invested a bucketful of money in Talisman or can’t get your hands on Runebound 2nd edition and the very rare expansions, then starting your adventure gaming with The Witcher would be a good choice. It is easy to learn, easy to play and a lot of fun!
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Paul Matthews is a Sales Manager for Gamesquest Ltd, as well as a part-time Board game Demonstrator and Blogger. After several years playing Yu-gi-oh at Tournament level, his latest passion is all things board gaming. Besides playing board games, Paul is a part time author and enjoys reading and archery. Paul has a Degree in Humanities Psychology/Counselling and several Life-skill Degrees in Parenting, Horse Management and Ecommerce.