Ender Wiggins
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Introduction

Given that Witch's Brew is part of the Alea medium box series along with games like Louis XIV and Augsburg 1520 we might be forgiven for being a little nervous about this new game from Alea, recently made available in English by Rio Grande Games. With a title like "Witch's Brew", what kind of game concoction are we to expect inside the box? But not to worry, it's all fun and light! Witch's Brew provides the same bright spark of rollicking fun to the Alea medium box series, as Rum & Pirates did to the Alea big box series. It has the role-playing elements of Citadels, but without the nastiness and without the buildings.

Tantalize yourself with some comments on the game like these:
"Emphasizes fun, risk-taking, and cool little powers (three things I really like). The game isn't very strategic/tactical but it has a good amount of interaction and plays quickly."
"It is a fun idea that is well executed and a blast to play. The theme is boring, but if you like group-think/double-guessing games with some screwage you can't go wrong."
"Fun game of double guessing and resource management. Deceptively simple, but very dependent on keeping track of the player order and timing your card play successfully."
"Much better than expected. It's chaotic, but not overly so. It's a game of resource management, mini economics, bluff, and double-bluff."
"A fun role selection game where you can take a small prize or gamble on the full action. Can you out guess your fellow players?"


Having played the game, I think these comments are spot on. Let's face it, if it was good enough for the judges to be a Spiel des Jarre nominee, then it certainly has to be worth checking out, to see if this game will work its magic for you! So what's it all about? Let's dive into designer Andreas Pelikan's cauldron and find out!



The Box

We start with our typical Alea medium sized box.



The back of the box shows some of the lovely cards, and introduces some of the roles.



So what's inside the box? The first thing we find is a rulebook and a counter sheet, which has chits for gold and potion vials.



Inside is a good quality tray for storing the components.



There's a ziplock bag of red, white, and green drops ("ingredients" for making potions), and a shrinkwrapped deck.



There's lots of goodness to come when we open that deck of cards, so don't go away!

The Rulebook

The Rulebook consists of only 8 pages, and is clearly laid out.



As we've seen more often with games from Rio Grande, there's bold text in the borders that serves as a summary for experienced players looking to refresh themselves quickly on the main points of the game. Very helpful!

The heart of the rules is a section that's less than four pages, so it really doesn't take long to learn the game. The rest of the rules book merely gives an explanation about how to use specific cards. So once you've learned the game, you can easily teach it in a very short time. In fact, I taught it to a group of children (the youngest was 8 years old) in under 10 minutes, and none of them had any difficulties grasping the concepts or playing the game.

The essence of the game can be explained in just a few sentences: Over several rounds, players take on different roles and use a combination of ingredients (wolf blood, snake venom, herb juice) and gold to try to get victory points earned by brewing valuable potions. For each round, all the players each select 5 role cards from 12 different ones that they all have available. These 5 cards are played one at a time, with players competing to be the one who gets to use the more risky full action of the role, or settle for the minor benefit or "favour" granted by that role.

Components

So here's our complete list of components.

60 ingredients

We open the ziplock bag, and find a stash of 60 red, green and white "ingredients" (20 of each), made out of wood.



These are in the shape of drops, and represent wolf's blood (red), herb juice (green), and snake venom (white) respectively.



45 potion vials

These are some of the smaller potions we'll try to brew, and are worth one point each at the end of the game.



Looking at them a little closer, it appears that they are test-tubes of some type:



24 gold nuggets

Gold is one of the resource we'll need to buy ingredients or pay for more expensive potions.



99 cards

Finally, we get the deck of 99 cards.



We can't wait any longer, it's time to bust open that shrinkwrap!

Cards: Role cards

The first thing we discover are 60 "Role" cards. There are 12 different roles, and each player gets their own mini-deck of 12 cards. To distinguish the role cards for each players, different card backs are used:



The lovely artwork on the back of these cards actually deserves a closer look.





But if you think that's good, wait till you see the other side of these cards! Let's pick a colour and check out the 12 role cards. You said Blue? Excellent, that's precisely what I was going to choose. Not that it matters, each colour has exactly the same 12 role cards anyway! We spread them out in a fan:



Let's pick one at random... good choice, you selected "Wolfie" the wolf keeper!



His role has the ability to get three red drops, or alternatively, just one red drop.

So what are all the 12 Roles? The names of the roles are conveniently written on the side of each card.



And to add to the theme, each Role has a character that is named appropriately for that role. There's great humour here! We have characters like "Rattles" the Snake hunter (get it?), "Gimme" the Begging Monk, "Kleptic" the Cut Purse, "Yessir" the Assistant, "Knowitall" the Fortune Teller, and so on. Even children will catch on to these puns, and it just enhances the silliness and fun of the game.



The artwork is great too. "Wichita" the Witch is the main character featured on the cover of the box, although if you look carefully you'll also see "Wolfie" the Wolf hunter and other characters too.



So how do the Role cards work? The most important thing to know is that each role card has two abilities:
1. a full action, which is the main text on the card
2. a favour, which is the text towards the bottom of the card, and is basically a similar but less powerful ability than the full action.

When playing, you'll prefer the full action, but the fun part of the game is that only one person gets to take the full action for each role in a round! So from your deck of 12 role cards, if you have picked the Witch as one of your 5 cards to play that round, and if your opponent has also picked the Witch, only one of you will get to play the full action! If you are last in the turn order, you can play that role and be sure that nobody will "steal" it from you. But if you are earlier in the turn order, you don't know if another character has the Witch or not! So do we want to play risky and hope we'll be the only one playing the full action, and get big rewards but possibly get nothing if another player plays the same role that turn? Or do we want to play conservatively and opt for the favour, with less rewards but definite results? We'll see how that works in more detail later. For now let's look more closely at the different role cards.

The green role cards: these are used to get new ingredients.



The gold role cards: these are used to take or use gold nuggets.



The blue role cards: these are used to get point-scoring cauldrons.



The red role cards: these are used to get point-scoring potion shelves



The grey role card: this is used to cast the spell shown on the Spell book cards, which we'll look at next.



In gameplay we'll see how players get to select 5 of their 12 cards, then play them, getting either the full action, the favour, or nothing at all.

Cards: Spell books

There are 8 Spell book cards, which are used when the Warlock's role is played. Here's a list of all eight cards:



The artwork on the back of these, by the way, is magnificent:



The front of the cards not only has the Latin names, but also the effects are clearly written on the cards.



If you really want to get into the theme, you can even have the fun of reciting the spell in Latin when casting it! Let's admit it, we've always wanted to say things like "Coqueo potum, potum magicum!" and "Sapa herbarum, mutare!" in a loud voice when playing a game!

Several of the Spell books have similar effects, with minor differences, like these three:



These three also have similar effects to one another:



And for completeness, here are the last two Spell books:



The current Spell book card is replaced with the next one on the pile at the end of every round of 5 cards played.

Cards: Potion cards

So how do you win? Well points are equal to the number of potion vials you have at the end of the game (the little chits we punched out, remember?), and the points on the "Cauldron" and "Potion Shelves" cards that we earn. There are 31 of these altogether, and they have lovely artwork on the back:



Let's look at them a little more closely.

21 Cauldron cards

The Cauldron cards are obtained by paying the cost of the ingredients on the top of the card, when using either the Witch, Wizard, or Druid roles. There are three types (copper, silver, and iron), which look like this:



Each type has seven cards with different costs and points. The numbers on the bottom right indicate the points these are worth at the end of the game.



To illustrate: we might play the Wizard role, which allows us to pay to pay 2 white drops and 1 red drop and get us this potion card featuring a copper cauldron, which will be worth 4 points at the end of the game.



Or we might play the Druid role, which allows us to pay 2 green drops and 1 white drop and get this potion card featuring a silver cauldron, also worth 4 points at the end of game.



Or we might play the Witch role, which allows us to pay 2 red drops and 1 green drop and get this potion card featuring an iron cauldron, also worth 4 points at the end of the game.



There's one special rule to mention: players can play one ingredient more than the cost of the card, and in exchange get a potion vial chit (worth 1 point at the end of the game) - this is a way to score extra points, and you'll often want to use the opportunity to do this!

10 Potion Shelves cards

The Potion Shelves are obtained in a similar manner to the Cauldrons, but with a small twist - the cost is paid by other players rather than yourself! There are two types, which look like this:



The amount of gold or ingredients listed on the top of the card indicates the cost required to get the Potion Shelves. There are five of each type, and once again the numbers on the bottom right indicate the points these are worth at the end of the game.



You can earn these by using the red Role cards (Cut Purse and Begging Monk), which work slightly differently than the blue Role cards (Wizard, Druid, Witch).

To illustrate: we might play the Cut Purse role, but in this case you don't pay the gold yourself, but get it from the other players (as explained on the cards). If you end up with enough gold on the Potion Shelves to pay the cost, you can take the card, otherwise you can either make up the difference yourself, or leave it on the card for another player to take advantage of later in the game.



The Begging Monk works in a similar fashion, but with ingredients.



Gameplay: Set-up

So that covers all the components, now it's time to play the game!

Each player gets a starting deck of 12 Role cards, along with two Gold, and one of each drop.



The Spell books are placed face up on a pile, along with the rest of the Gold, the ingredient Drops, and the potion vial chits, in the middle of the table.

Now for the Cauldron and Potion Shelves cards. These must be arranged carefully in piles according to their type, as follows:



Importantly, they must be placed in order, from the cheapest to the more expensive ones:



In other words, as the game progresses, these point-scoring cards will slowly cost more and be harder to get.

The result should be a setup which looks like this (example shown is for five players)



Now you're ready to play!

Gameplay: Flow of Play

To win, you want to get points from cauldron cards, potion shelves cards, and potion vial chits - using the role cards. Here's how the flow of play works:

Select role cards

Each player begins by secretly choosing 5 role cards from their set of 12.



Play role cards: flow of play

The starting player selects one of his five cards, and announces his role by reading the main text on the card aloud. Let's say he selects "Herbie" the herb collector.



He would play this card face up, and say:, e.g. "I am the Herb collector!". This is an attempt to get the full action and get three green drops. But it is risky, because another player can steal the full action! Play then goes around the circle to the next person; if he does not have a Herb collector card he says "pass", but if he does have a Herb collector card he must play it, and now he must choose from one of two options:
a) He can take over the full action from the starting player by saying "I am the Herb collector". In this case, the starting player must turn his card face down, and doesn't get to execute the action. Or:
b) He can settle for the minor favour by saying "So be it!" and taking one green drop. In this case the starting player remains the one entitled to take the full action.

Play goes around the circle, until everybody has had the opportunity to play the Herb collector card if they have it, either competing for the full action, or settling for the minor favour - which is immediately applied. (Obviously if you are the last player in the turn order and have that role card, nobody can trump you, so you opt for the full action!) The last player who selected the full action will now get to execute that action. He then begins the next round by playing a different Role card from his hand, announcing it by saying, e.g. "I am the Fortune teller."



Play role cards: an example

An illustration: Let's say Player 1 announces "I am the Warlock" (see card pictured below).
Player 2 has the Warlock and plays it. But now he must choose - because if he opts for the full action, perhaps Player 3, 4 or 5 will play the Warlock, and then he'll end up with nothing! He opts to play conservatively, and says "So be it!", and immediately executes the favour (in this case: the minor action of taking a gold).
Player 3 didn't choose the Warlock as one of his five cards this round, so he says "Pass".
Player 4 has a Warlock and plays it, deciding to take the risk that Player 5 doesn't have one, and says "I am the Warlock". Now Player 1 must turn his Warlock face down, and gets nothing.
Player 5, as it turns out, doesn't have a Warlock and says "Pass."
So Player 4 gets to execute the full Warlock action. So he can use the current Spell book card, which would allow him to get 2 potion vials in exchange for one green drop:



In practice, that round of play would sound like this:
"I am the Warlock"
"So be it!" (takes 1 gold)
"Pass"
"I am the Warlock!" (Player 1 in the turn order groans and turns his Warlock card face down)
"Pass"
At this point Player 4 pumps his fist, and exchanges one green drop for 2 potion vials.

He is then the starting player for the next round, which might go like this:
"I am the Herb collector."
"Pass"
"So be it!" (takes 1 green drop)
"I am the Herb collector!" (Player 1 in the turn order groans and turns his Herb collector card face down)
"I am the Herb collector!" (Player 4 says bad words and turns his card face down, while Player 5 whoops and takes three green drops.)

For a more complete example of a round of play, see my session report:
The Masked Man makes merry brewing magic with the help of some ugly long-lost cousins
http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/365424



Another set

After all players have played their 5 Role cards, the same process is repeated. Once again all players select 5 from their 12 role cards (they may choose the same cards again if they wish). They then play them in turns, either choosing to go for the main action by saying "I am...!", or choosing the safer minor favour by saying "So be it!" and taking the favour action immediately, or passing if they don't have that role card.

End of the game

In each of the piles of Cauldron and Potion Shelves cards, there are two cards with Ravens on them.



As players earn these cards, eventually the ones with Ravens in the artwork will also be earned. When four of these cards have been earned by players, the game concludes at the end of that round, and the points are totaled.



Scoring

Points are awarded for each potion vial that a player has at the end of the game, as well as the points on the Cauldron and Potion Shelves cards. In this example, the winning player scored 15 points: 4 points from potion vials, and 11 points from the cards.



As a handy guide, here's a short list of the role cards that will earn points:
Fortune teller: get two potion vial chits by paying a gold
Druid, Wizard, and Witch: get Cauldron cards by paying ingredients
Cut purse, and Begging monk: get Potion Shelves by getting other players to pay gold or ingredients
Warlock: get Cauldron cards with the Magus, Strix, Sanatio, and Optio spell books, or potion vial chits with the Lupus, Serpens, Herba spell books.
The other role cards are used to get ingredients or gold.

And now you know how to play Witch's Brew!

Final Thoughts

In the final analysis, Witch's Brew is a great combination of resource management and fun psychological interaction.

Resource management

So how does it work? All of the above mechanisms come together rather nicely. Optimal play is a matter of best managing your resources, and understanding the following:
Step 1: How do you win? - get point-scoring potion vials, and potion cards.
Step 2: How do you get vials and potion cards? - use the role cards to exchange resources (gold, and the three types of ingredients) and turn them into potion vials and potion cards (suggestion: re-read the section on "Role Cards" above, and look at the text on the 12 role cards carefully).
Step 3: How do you play the role cards? - the flow of play involves selecting 5 of 12 cards, and playing them by opting for the riskier full action or the safer minor favour.
The heart of the game revolves around playing the role cards, deciding which ones to use, and outguessing your opponents in making decisions about the full action or minor favours.

Psychological interaction

Steps 1 and 2 involve typical euro mechanisms of resource management and hand management, and finding the optimal way to get points. But the heart of Witch's Brew is Step 3: playing the roles, deciding to play risky or conservatively, and trying to guess what roles other players might have or how they might play. It is this element that really cranks up the fun factor of the game. Not everybody will enjoy this, it has to be admitted, but most people will find the game light and quick enough to be tremendous fun. There's a real sense of fun in playing a role early in a round and successfully taking the risk to get the full action. Just as there's an almost satisfying and joyful frustration when the person after you steals the role that you were hoping to play when you were taking a risk, or when the last player in a round steals a role from the player who went second last.

Strictly speaking, there's no randomness whatsoever, because the game is all about psychological interaction. If you enjoy that, you won't want to miss trying Witch's Brew. There's usually lots of laughter as a result. Especially when it's played quickly by players who are familiar with the cards, the game doesn't take much more than 30 minutes, which is an ideal length for this type of gameplay.

Theme

I can't say I was enthusiastic about the theme initially, but when you take it for what it is - goofy and silly - I really don't think it's an issue. Given that it's not complex to play once you're familiar with the roles, plays quickly, and probably has the biggest fun factor in the Alea medium box series, I'm happy to have this as part of my collection! No, it doesn't have strategic calculations of many of the other Alea games, but the high fun factor means it's not lacking in replay value when played with the right people.

Final word

Is Witch's Brew a game for you? Well that depends on your taste. But I think Chris Farrell is correct when he observes elsewhere: "This is a game that’s easy to dismiss as a light, chaotic game when you first look at it ... But as I got into it, I found there was more scope for bluffing, guessing, and second-guessing than you might think. While everyone starts with the same set of roles, ingredients, and money, the fairly strong role powers guarantee that holdings will rapidly and strongly diverge, and so you can get a pretty good read on what people would prefer to do, what order they might like to do it in, and therefore what roles they might be taking and how they might come out. From this comes a neat little game of planning, anticipation, and evaluation, both when choosing which roles to play, and in how to play them. It's not hugely strategic, but it is quick-playing and simple and there is more here than meets the eye."

Chris hits the nail on the head. But not only is there more depth than might first seem, it comes with a huge dash of fun, and that's the key ingredient that really makes the game what it is! Our games so far have been a pile of fun, and everyone who has played has been eager to play again! Now that's magic!



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The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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Chris Bailey
United States
Broomfield
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Fantastic! cool
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Guy Riessen
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I wish you would have included some more photos so I could see what you're talking about! laugh

great review for a great game!

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Bob
United States
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Yes, that's a Japanese CTR ring shield cut in half...
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Wow!
 
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Medievalbanquet
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Wellesley
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And if you never have, you should. These things are fun and fun is good.
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Wow is right. Endersgame needs to be locked up for this effort. Its too benevolent and thorough... wait, Alea must be paying him..


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Ubergeek
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Camas
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I spent 100 Geek Gold and all I got was this lousy overtext message!
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Keep pushing out reviews of this caliber and you'll soon be the new review KING.

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Sheamus Parkes
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Crap. Now I wanna buy it
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Mark Haberman
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This is the best review I've ever seen on here, except you've robbed me of the joy of opening the box and looking through the components. soblue
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A. B. West
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Beech Grove
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Why aren't you PLAYING a game?
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Walt Mulder wrote:
Keep pushing out reviews of this caliber and you'll soon be the new review KING.

thumbsupthumbsupthumbsup

Agreed!

I now demand every review be of this quality. So be it!
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jonathan schleyer
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Probably the best review I have ever read. The visuals REALLY help! Thanks so much. You may have convinced me to get this game.
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Harvey O'Brien
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...easy ...easy ...eeesay...
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Very nicely photographed. Fantastically well illustrated. Thank you. Of course, reviews like this are damn-near fatal for 'stuff' addicts like me.
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Alfredo Estuar
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Agreed. Totally excellent review. Enjoyable to read.. and... I think I want to buy the game. *sigh*

 
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Carl Koivisto
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Very nice review Now I want this game too
 
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Nick Bah Doo
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Excellent review, thanks!
 
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Fabio Banin
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great review!!!
played it this sunday, twice, and its a really good game, really fun!
 
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Dany Simard
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Great review!

I wait mine in the next day...
 
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Toasted Jones
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For some reason, I now wanna go and read a Terry Pratchett novel..
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Jacob
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Henrico
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My awesome son =)
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the theme of this game really turns me off. i'm not really into the whole spells and witches thing.
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Brad Fuller
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One of the best reviews I have ever read as well. I'm sold
 
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Ed Dexter
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Lynn
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Fantastic review!
You are the review wizard!
 
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Belgium
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Dammit, now I want this game!


Thanks for posting this
 
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Louis Brenton
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Dude...this is the biggest, best, most comprehensive review of all time. Well done, and I look forward to reading more from you.
 
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Craig Somerton
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Mate. You've set a new standard for reviews. The attention to detail and depth is amazing. Sensational.

Can we have some more... please!
 
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Mike Stevens
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Well everyone else on here has used words such as WOW, GREAT, FANTASTIC, WONDERFUL, BEST, to describe your review of Witch's Brew and I can't dispute any of those descriptions. If in fact, you do not work for the company that publishes that game or are best friends/relative of the game designer the they should higher you! Although I don't think this is a game I will purchase, your review certainly makes me want to try it once or twice. Hopefully a friend will buy it and I can play it then.

Please review any other games that you have and use the same format for those reviews. Perfect number of photos and examples. Thanks for the review and keep up the good work.
 
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Magic Pink
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fullerbd wrote:
One of the best reviews I have ever read as well. I'm sold


Ditto, best review on this site I've ever seen.
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