24 Feb 2014

First Time Playing: Witch of Salem

Not that long before Christmas, someone in my gaming group was selling off a bunch of games, so I ended up buying six of them, all of which I hadn't played before, and most of them I hadn't even heard of. Witch of Salem was one of the games I bought, and apart from hearing the title in passing, I really didn't know anything about it, except it sounded interesting. When I opened the box and looked through the components, I was convinced this had to be the first game I tried. The artwork was absolutely stunning, the theme was right up my alley, and I'm also a person who enjoys co-operative gameplay.

In this game, you play as a group of people looking to help the witch of Salem prevent a necromancer from summoning the Great Old One into our world. You do this by travelling across Arkham city, banishing monsters, closing portals, revealing the old ones before having one player travel to R'lyeh to hold the Great Old One off while another player closes the final portal found at Miskatonic University.

The way the game is played is that at the beginning of every round, the first player reveals what monsters will appear from the creature deck. If there are two players, only one monster card is revealed, if there are three players, you alternate between one or two cards, and if there are four players, you always reveal two cards. If that monster card is already located on the player board, the consequence on that card comes into play, which can be anything from giving up items to prevent the Necromancer from advancing towards the portal rift to the portal tiles being shuffled and redistributed. If that monster card isn't already on the board and there are still open card slots, the card is placed at the first available spot (all locations are numbered), if all slots are taken, the card is discarded without effect.

Each player has a deck of location cards and start their turn by playing a location they wish to travel to (this means they periodically have to travel back to the Miskatonic University in order to retrieve their location cards). Once there, players have to roll a consequence die if the location has a monster (unless the witch of Salem is at that specific location), which can mean anything from losing an item (if they have the item they rolled), losing sanity or advancing the necromancer. If the player then has the necessary items to defeating the monster in the location (specified on the card), they may choose to do so (the player does not have to discard these items).

If the location has other players, they may choose to give, receive or trade an item with one of the other players. Then they may choose to use and discard an item (potion restores sanity, magic glasses allows them to look at the portal in the location, the necromicon reveals the next great old one, and the dagger kills a monster if it's in the same location as the witch of Salem) or use an artefact to close the portal in the location (artefact has to match in colour with the portal in question). Finally they may choose to take one of the items (or artefact) from the location. Some item slots are free, others means anything from losing sanity, advancing the Necromancer, drawing event or monster cards.

After all players have taken their turn, the final player draws an Event card. These cards can have anything from positive effect, to no effect, to negative effect. Each card also have a specific number which tells us where the witch of Salem will travel next.

There's only one way to win the game, namely to close all portals, have one player successfully travel to R'lyeh to hold off the Great Old One while one of the other players travels to Miskatonic University and closes the final portal. However, like in any other co-operative game, there are several ways to lose the game, like;

- If the Necromancer reaches the corner before all the Old Ones are revealed.
- If the Necromancer reaches the portal rift before the Great Old One is defeated.
- If there are still open portals when the Great Old One is banished.
- If a player used an artefact to close a wall instead of a portal.
- If only one player is left alive (you need two players to banish the Great Old One).

The group I played with lost the game as the Necromancer suddenly reached the corner spot before we had a chance to reveal the final Great Old One, which didn't really surprise me all that much as I kept losing necessary items to really unfortunate dice rolls.

As for how newcomer friendly this game is, I have to mention two specific things. Firstly, this was one of the games I had to teach myself through reading the rules and playtest it by myself before my friends arrived, so that I had a grasp on the mechanics when we played. It will always be easier to learn a game if someone else in the group has already played it and knows the ins and outs of the game. And secondly, this game contains a rule which I've come to understand a lot of players choose to ignore; when a player looks at a portal tile they are not allowed to reveal to the other players whether that tile contains a portal or not. It's a very unpopular rule and it makes no sense (seeing as this is a co-operative game), and I will most definitely ignore this rule in future play-throughs as the game doesn't really need anything to artificially increase its difficulty, it's already hard enough to beat.

I definitely think this is a game that you can be introduced to without too many games under your belt if one of your fellow players knows it well enough to teach it. Co-operative games are some of the easiest games to get into as an inexperienced gamer as the other players are more than willing to give you the help and tips you need to make good moves. And this game urges players to discuss and plan their rounds as a group before taking their individual actions.

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