Thanks to AEG for providing a review copy of this game.
OK, so I’m a little late for Halloween. But here’s my review for
Whirling Witchcraft is a 2-5 player game from designer Erik Andersson Sundén, published by AEG. In the game, you are a witch trying to concoct recipes that will transform into ingredients that will then be given to your neighbor. Send too many ingredients, and you’ll get some back. Get enough back, and you’ll win the game.
At the start of the game, each player gets a player board (called your Workbench) and a cauldron. The colors of these don’t have to match as the cauldrons will be passed throughout the game. Each player also will get a Personality card with a special power – for your first game, you’ll get an Initiate, which allows you to discard your entire hand once, but in future games, you’ll get to draft a unique power. On the back of this personality, you’ll find your starting ingredients, which you’ll put in the appropriate spaces on your Workbench. Each player starts with a hand of four recipe cards, as well as a reference card with the Arcana tracker on the back.
A round of Whirling Witchcraft consists of two phases, each of which are broken into their own steps. The first phase is the Study Phase, where players will gain new recipes. The steps here are:
- Play a recipe card from your hand face down. Some cards have a definite top and bottom, while others are marked with a kind of S symbol in the middle. This means that either side can be the top, but you need to decide now. You can’t change the orientation in the next step.
- When everyone has chosen a recipe card, everyone reveals.
- If there are any arcana symbols on the card you played, adjust your arcana track by pushing the matching token up one space per occurrence of the symbol. Each time an arcana token reaches an even number, an arcana effect is triggered and must be resolved immediately or it is lost. The cauldron lets you add an ingredient of any type to your cauldron from the supply. The raven allows you to remove two ingredients from your workbench. The tome allows you to choose one type of ingredient and add it to recipes from the supply to recipes during the round, rather than from your Workbench.
Next is the Brewing Phase.
- First, produce your ingredients. Look at the top of a recipe card, then take the matching ingredients from your Workbench and place them on the top of the card. When all necessary ingredients have been added, look at the bottom of the card and take the matching ingredients from the supply, placing them on their matching spaces. You have to completely fulfill the top in order to produce anything with a recipe.
- Once your ingredients have been produced, put them in your cauldron. All ingredients used at the top of the card are discarded back to the supply.
- Once everyone is done with this, pass your cauldron to the right. From the cauldron you get, take out all of the ingredients and place them on your Workbench. Each ingredient must be placed on an available space. If you have no available space for an ingredient, you must give it back to the player on your left. That player places it in their Witch’s Circle.
- Next, check for winners. If anyone has five ingredients in their Witch’s Circle, they win. Ties are broken by having the most different types of ingredients, then by whomever has the fewest total ingredients left on their Workbench.
- If there’s no winner, pass your hand to the left, then draw back up to your hand limit of 4.
The components in this game are very well done. The illustrations are done by Weberson Santiago, who also did the art for games like The Bloody Inn and Coup. He’s got a pretty distinctive style, and it works pretty well for this game. Graphic design was done by Luis Francisco, and the game is laid out very well. There’s no real confusion on the cards or boards about where things go, so that’s nice. Probably the first thing you’ll notice about the game when you see it laid out on the table, however, is the cauldrons. It’s a nice little 3D addition to the game that, to be completely honest, really didn’t need to be there. There are probably plenty of other solutions that would have saved AEG some time or money to do instead. But, it’s a little aesthetic enhancement that makes the game have an interesting table presence, so I’m not complaining about it. The insert in the game is pretty well designed to keep the cauldrons from shifting everywhere when the box is in transit.
My only component complaint is the reference cards. Theres an outline of the steps to a round on each of five reference cards included, which is nice. However, on the other side of these cards is your Arcana tracker, which makes the reference side completely useless. You can’t refer to it during the game because you’re moving tokens around on the other side. Unless you have a glass table, maybe. Also, there’s no reference to let you know what each Arcana token does. Would it have been so difficult to put the Arcana tracker on the Workbench so you could actually use the reference cards? This issue is partially addressed on the AEG website, where you can print out Arcana reference cards. Still, I think this was an oversight.
That’s really one of the only things I have a problem with in this game. Overall, it’s a pretty interesting take on the recipe fulfillment/engine building genre of games. Having witches brewing potions is a fairly generic theme, but having them then use those potions to attack their neighbor is a more unique take. You’re using your own ingredients to brew the potions, which produces other ingredients that you then hurl at the next player with the hope of blowing up their workbench. But if you don’t, they now have those ingredients available to try and attack THEIR neighbor.
One of the most intriguing things about this game works is how you have to keep an eye on your direct neighbors at all times. This is of course not a new idea. 7 Wonders springs to mind as another game that has this neighborly interaction, as you can purchase resources from your neighbors and try to conquer them with your military. Here, you’re specifically trying to attack the person on your right, so you want to keep an eye on them to see what they’re getting too much of. At the same time, you want to watch the person on your left to see what they’re sending you so you can make room. There are probably those who will say that you don’t care at all at what the player on the other side of the table is doing (in a 4- or 5-player game). This is a common complaint in 7 Wonders, and to this I say hogwash – the decisions those players are making are going to affect the decisions your neighbors are making, so you should absolutely pay attention to the other side of the table.
Another thing that makes this game pretty enjoyable is the different Personality cards. The rules suggest that you play your first game with an Initiate, and I agree with that – as you’re getting your head around how you have to pay attention to what others are doing, you don’t need to be thinking about a special power that bends the rules. But by the second game, you should be ready to try out a few of the special powers, which bend the rules in interesting ways – give you a larger hand size (which means your neighbor won’t ever be drawing new cards); rotate any card when you play it (not just the ones with an S); randomly choose a card from your hand to play in order to trigger any Arcana effect; or even give you special powerful recipes. And more. They really add a new element to the game that makes play feel fresh and different every time.
In terms of scalability, all action takes place at the same time so having more players does not add to your play time. What it does is give you more people to pay attention to. A two-player game is a head-to-head, you vs. me battle where you’re both the aggressor and defender against the other person. More than that, and you have to be looking both ways at once. It’s really cool how the game scales. There’s no solo option in this game and I don’t really know how you would do that. Maybe have a bot that plays a random recipe each time, fills them left to right as they can, then shoots them at you. That might be worth trying out.
IS IT BUZZWORTHY? I think Whirling Witchcraft is a great game. Rounds are quick, you have to focus on what others are doing, and it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great game to bring out at Halloween, or any time, really. I definitely recommend this one.
Thanks again to AEG for providing a review copy of this game, and thanks to you for reading!