Thursday, 5 February 2009

Witch's Brew

Carcasean boardgame cafe, 1 Feb 2009. Witch's Brew is a game with some similarities with Citadels. Players all start with equal resources, and compete to gain the most victory points by brewing magic potions, acquiring bookshelves of (I assume) spellbooks. The theme in this game doesn't really matter. It is just for flavouring. The game is all about double-guessing your opponents.

Every player has 12 cards, which allow you to do different things, like collecting ingredients, earning money, brewing potions and buying bookshelves. However every round you can only choose five cards (or five roles). The start player declares which role he wants to play. The next player, if he has that role card in his hand, can decide to usurp the role to reap the full benefit, or let the previous player keep the role and settle for a lesser benefit. The reason for doing the latter is there may be other players behind you who may also have this role card. If you settle for the lesser benefit, you gain it immediately and do not need to worry about the role that you have just robbed from the player before you being in turn taken away from you by the player after you. Of course if you are the last player and you have the role card being played this round, you would (normally) usurp the role from the previous holder of the role. There is noone else after you to worry about. This is the gist of the game. It is about guessing what roles you opponents would choose, by studying what resources they have, and what potions and bookshelves are available on the table. It is about how to choose the roles yourself. Sometimes you may want to pick the same roles as your opponents (so that you can spoil their plans). Sometimes you may want to pick different roles, so that your own plans will not be interfered with.

As I played the game, I found yet another layer of thinking. When you "win" a role, you become the next start player, which is the most vulnerable position to be in. The role that you play when you are the start player has a high chance of being usurped by another player. So sometimes maybe you don't want to "win" a role, because it would make you the most vulnerable the next round.

There's more. When choosing your five roles, you can think of choosing offensively and defensively. Some roles can be bait. Let someone else win it and put yourself in a better position to usurp another role which you want to win.

Sometimes taking the lesser benefit can be better than taking the main benefit of a role, because the lesser benefit is effective immediately, while the main benefit is only gained after the round completes. Only at the end of the round, after every player has had the chance to show whether he has the role card, the final winner will be known.

The rest of the game is resource gathering and management, and converting them into victory points. Nothing very special about that.

The three types of potions and two types of bookshelves that can be won. The liquid drops and coins on top of each card are the cost, and the numbers in the lower right corner are the victory points.

One of the spellbook cards. With every set in the game (a set is when every player chooses 5 cards and all chosen cards are played), there is a new spellbook card. One of the 12 roles allows you to make use of the power on the spellbook card.

Five cards that I had chosen for one of the sets in the game. I like the artwork. The iconolgy and design are functional. The colour coding also helps. The green ones let you collect ingredients. The yellow ones let you do something related to money, e.g. the one here lets you buy vials (which are 1VP) using money. The blue ones let you brew potions. The red ones let you buy bookshelves.

The game that we played was quite fast. We enjoyed saying "我才是!" ("No, I'm the one!") dramatically every time we usurp a role. There were sometimes very little overlap among the roles we selected. I'm not sure whether it's because we just so happened to have chosen mostly different roles, or three player games tend to be like that. 12 roles sounds like a lot to choose from, but by looking at what resources your opponents have, there are ways of guessing what he will likely do. But then he may guess that you'd think that way, and intentionally choose to do something that is suboptimal or unusual, just to counter your move. There can indeed be a lot of double-guessing. However I think this can and should be played as a light game.

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