WBG Score: 7.5/10
Player Count: 2-5
Published by: Alderac Entertainment Group
Designed by: Erik Andersson Sundén
I have spoken a lot recently about judging a book by its cover, or not as the case may be. Whirling Witchcraft is a great example of this. When I first looked at the box art for this game, I thought this was going to be young-adult fantasy game. The art is quite striking! The game is actually a rather light take-that game suitable for all ages and a lot of fun. It offers some very interesting mechanisms and incorporates the take-that mechanic in a really innovative way. Let’s get brewing!
OK, before we do that. We probably need to talk about the Quacks sized elephant in the room. It does feel a little like this game is AEG’s answer to the hugely popular push-your-luck game of potion brewing, The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Thematically there is some similarity and I understand the comparison. But Whirling Witchcraft is completely different mechanically. There is no push-your-luck in Whirling Witchcraft, but there sure are a lot of magical mixtures being concocted.
It certainly seems appropriate to me to try and make a good game like Whirling Witchcraft, to be as universally attractive and deliver as high a profit return as possible. If this means using a successful theme from another game, really what is the issue? But really, what theme could you use now-a-days that wouldn't lead to someone accusing you of taking it from somewhere else?
With that done, let’s talk about the game!
In Whirling Witchcraft, each player is given player board, cauldron, personality card, and four recipe cards. When the game begins, players are looking to add as many of their recipe cards as possible to their tableau of completed recipes. The recipe cards allow you to take ingredients from your player board and add ingredients to your cauldron. You want to do this for a very interesting reason!
All ingredients added to your cauldron are given to the player to your right, your nemesis. They must add them to their own player board. If there are any ingredients that cannot be placed on their board due to their capacity being reached then they must be handed back to you to place in a separate area on your player board, your Witches Circle. The first player to get five ingredients in this space wins the game.
It takes a few turns to get your head round this mechanic. You are trying to get ingredients into your Witches Circle, by completing as many recipes as possible. In order to complete your recipes, you need available ingredients from your player board. But you cannot have too many ingredients there as you may explode when you are given extra ingredients. But you also cannot have too few as you will then not be able to complete as many recipe cards. It is a delicate balance.
But this is not about pushing your luck. You don’t get to control how many ingredients you have. You are always trying to cut them down as much as possible by completing as many recipe cards as you can. There is no point in the game where you are thinking about weather you will complete one more recipe card or not. If you can, you generally always will. This is more about the efficient use of recipe cards.
At the start of each new round you will be given the unused recipe cards from the player to your right. Each player will then draw back up to four recipe cards. You will then need to see how many of the recipe cards you can do this round, and most importantly, in which order you will do this. The order is important as the ingredients you have available on your player board may not allow you to complete all the cards. But in one set order, you will most probably have more opportunities than others.
The recipe cards have a top and bottom section. The top section shows you the ingredients you need to add to the card in order to fulfill it. The bottom half shows what the card will produce when completed. The produced ingredients are taken from the main supply, you don’t need them, you are producing them. Anything left on the bottom half of your recipe cards at the end of this round will be added to your cauldron. As such, you want as much put on the bottom sections as possible.
If you don't have the required ingredients on your player board, you can take the ingredients from the bottom section of a completed recipe card. Hence the order you activate the cards being important.
You may also want to do this as you can see the player to your right to whom you are passing your cauldron to, is closer to exploding on one particular ingredient than another. You may be able to use one ingredient you have produced on one recipe card that they are doing well on, to help you produce another ingredient on a second recipe card in which they are close to maximum capacity on.
You need to pay attention to how your opponents are doing throughout the game. Equally, in regards to the player to your left who is passing you their cauldron, you need to see what you think they may be passing to you come the end of the round. And in turn, try and make sure you have enough room for what they may be passing you. This juggling act is highly enjoyable when you are in the midst of it!
What I have explained so far alone would make for a decent game. There is a nice race element, mixed with the development of your recipe cards to keep most players interested. This is a short game. Most experiences I have had were completed in around 20 minutes. But there are two other elements that add a nice layer to the game without any more length. The personality cards and the arcana powers.
For the personality cards; the game encourages you to only add them in once you are more familiar with the overall rules, and use generic personality cards for your first game. The arcana is included in the base rules, but something I feel would be better suited as a modular expansion instead. The game still works perfectly well without it, but becomes more accessible to younger players with this removed.
With the arcana included, each player is given a arcana card and three arcana tokens. On top of some of the recipe cards there are arcana symbols printed, showing you when you can activate that particular arcana power. The arcana card shows two rows of numbers going from one to six, with the odd on the left side and the even on the right. When ever you play a recipe card with an arcana symbol on, you can move the arcana token one position forward. Whenever it is on one of the even spaces you can activate its power.
The Cauldron allows you to add one ingredient from the general supply directly to your cauldron.
The Crow allows you to remove up to two ingredients from your player board.
The Spell Book allows you to take a specific type of ingredient from the general supply to use in your recipes as many times as they need it that round. This is a little vaguely explained in the rules so caused some debates in our household!
When used well these powers can significantly increase the amount of recipe cards you can fulfill, and in turn, the amount of ingredients you are passing to your neighbour. It is great addition once you have played the game once or twice, but I found it useful to remove from the game for new players, despite this not being suggested in the rule book.
The card you track your magic on is a little disappointing, the tokens tend to slide about a lot and it can become tricky to keep an accurate track of your available arcana if you knock it. But the actual idea is a lot of fun.
The personality cards are a nice added element to add to the game. It gives each player a slightly different set-up and some minor asymmetry to their player powers. The change from these being added does not feel as significant as the arcana, so I find it interesting these are an additional add in and the arcana isn’t.
Playing Whirling Witchcraft is an enjoyable experience. My children enjoy the slightly removed take-that mechanisms deployed within this game. You are constantly trying to get your opponent’s player board to explode so you can get the necessary ingredients in your witch’s circle. But as all players are always doing this to each other in a circle around the table, it does not feel cruel.
It’s not like when you play a card in a typical take-that game, and have a choice who to play it against. In Whirling Witchcraft, you can only ever do this to the player to your right. And all players are always doing it. It’s not a choice of action, nor is it a choice of whom you do it to. You still get the fun that comes from take-that, but none of the meanness or sense of having to pick on someone.
For this interesting use of take-that, I feel this game must be highly rated. It offers something unique for me, whilst delivering an engaging and enjoyable experience suitable for all ages. I would like to see some pimped-up components for the ingredients over the standard coloured cubes, and perhaps a duel layered board to sit the cubes in. But the fact I am thinking about upgrading this game already does suggest it will get a lot of plays from me!