Boardgame Reviews

Witches of the Revolution Board Game Review – Hocus Pocus

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Designed by: M. Craig Stockwell
Published by: Atlas Games
Players: 1-4
Playtime: 30-60 Minutes

Review copy supplied free of charge by Esdevium Games

It’s a little known historical fact that the American revolution was supported, and mostly won, by witches whose magic was capable of turning the entire tide of war. It’s a shame that the history books so rarely mention these brave folk who wielded arcane forces, yet their sacrifices for the cause were great. I mean, who else could possibly have dealt with the fact that Paul Revere was actually a werewolf? It is these facts that are so stupidly kept from our children in school in favor of teaching them utter rubbish like maths. Who the hell even uses maths!?

At least, this is the history that Witches of the Revolution portrays, a co-operative deck-building game where you control a coven of witches and must recruit new members and handle a steady stream of events in a bid to complete your overarching objectives in aid of the American revolution. Many of the standard deck-building concepts apply here, so all players involved will get a starting bunch of fifteen cards made up entirely of the most basic Seeker witches, and will spend turns doing two things: bringing new members into the coven at the cost of old ones, and attempting to combat events. You can do one of these things or both in any order you please.

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It’s a pretty cool idea for a theme and the game boasts some rather lovely artwork to go with it. A little surprisingly, though, the text om cards is kept to a minimum which is a real shame as I found myself wanting to know more about this strange version of American history. You might find yourself helping to retake bunker hill from the British or summoning fog over the East River or even imbue the Liberty Bell with power! Sadly, however, the theme is merely a thin layer spread atop a symbol-matching game and before too long everyone at my table had pretty much forgotten the details of what we were doing.

The way you win the game is to complete the four randomly chosen objective cards sitting at the top of the board, done by depleting the piles of tokens sitting underneath them. Like many other co-op games though, while there is a single way to win there are a few different ways to lose, and while this might not be the hardest game out there it can still pose a decent challenge, especially if you use the harder cards. Yup, there’s adjustable difficulty, although it can be a bit fiddly.

You kick off the game by grabbing five cards from the top of your deck. Each turn a new witch from the recruit deck will be added to the recruitment track, shifting any existing cards over the right where they eventually get discarded in the banishment pile, never to be seen again. Two of these three spaces offer up a bonus, with the second slot giving you a discount if you spend a card with a symbol matching the witch you want to nab and the third providing a permanent discount no matter what. In other words, waiting means cheaper witches. It’s a bit like patiently waiting for a heavy sale on the item you’ve been waiting for or just saying, “ah, to hell with this!” and buying it right now.

Grabbing a new member for your friendly coven is a simple case of spending a card (or cards) from your hand with a total value matching the witch you want to recruit. These spent cards don’t go into your personal discard pile, though, instead they’re placed in the banishment space meaning they’re out of the game permanently, aside from a few special effects.  Since even the cheapest recruit costs two points and your basic deck is full of witches worth just one you’ll almost always be trading one card for another, although with special effects it’s possible to snag some free cards along the way.

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You need to be careful about blithely inviting new witches into your coven because while other deck-building games typically encourage you to slim down your deck in order to quickly access the best cards, Witches of the Revolution makes this a dangerous plan thanks to the Moon track on the left of the board. Each time you have to shuffle your discard pile to reform your deck the Moon token must be moved up the track, and as it goes it makes completing event cards harder by increasing the number of symbols needed to beat them. We’ll get to events shortly, but all you need to know is that making them harder to deal with is bad news for everyone. It’s a neat idea, forcing you to balance your deck so that the useful cards come around often enough to help win the game but so that you aren’t having to shuffle your discard pile too much.

As for the new witches you add to your deck they come in a few different forms; Seekers are the most basic and you’ll start with a bunch of them, but they do have a special skill which lets you discard them to perform a bonus action which can be very, very useful, although it does mean having to cycle through your deck a little quicker. There are Dedicants, too, who are good at assisting other players, a mechanic we’ll come back to later. There’s Celebrants and Stewards, too. But I have to admit that there isn’t a strong variety of cards to add to your deck, especially compared to other deck-builders on the market, although to be fair the likes of the Legendary series have official licenses to help them out. I mean, recruiting Thor is a bit more memorable than bringing yet another Ascendant. A few more interesting special abilities and unique cards could have gone a long way to making each game of Witches of the Revolution feel different.

Now that we’ve tackled the delicate ins and outs of recruiting witches for all sorts of hocus pocus let’s chat about the events. After you’ve tossed a new recruit onto the board with a disdainful whip of your wrist you then take the top card from the event deck and add it to the event track in a bid to make your witchy life even more miserable, possibly even triggering an immediate flip effect that, you guessed it, makes your witchy life even more miserable. This new card potentially shifts existing event cards over the right, slowly moving them toward a space that triggers a loss. But they can also cause problems well before that if a card with a Liberty or Peril symbol ends up in a matching space. In the case of the Peril icon a recruit must be permanently removed from the game, while the Liberty icon results in the Liberty token being moved up its track, something that will increase the cost of recruitment or even make it entirely impossible. Should the Liberty token reach the very last space on its track it’s game over. In other words, the loss of Liberty is bad news, a piece of irony I can’t help but giggle at given the current state of America, but don’t fret because each time you successfully beat an event card with the Liberty icon you get move the token two spaces back up the track.

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To cull the tide of event cards what you need to do is discard enough witches from your hand bearing one of the two symbol types shown on the event card. You can use as many cards from your hand to match amount shown as you want to do this, although some events can only be beaten using under a certain amount of cards or even by a specific type of witch, and of course the more cards you have to use the quicker you’ll work through your deck. Other players can lend some aid by playing a card, too, with the basic Seeker witches adding a single symbol to the pool and other types being able to do a bit more. There are even relics which can add a whole bunch of symbols when used to assist another player. Of course, the catch is that the assisting player will now have one less card to use on their turn, so communication is key, just like it should be in a co-op game.

Whenever you beat an event card it simply gets tossed in the discard pile, but importantly you get to remove one symbol from underneath an objective card matching one of the symbols shown on the event card you just defeated. It’s in this way that you ultimately beat the game, so naturally you want to target events that will help you chip away at objectives, especially since completing objectives provide handy little bonuses like being able to recruit someone at no cost. However, there are going to be a lot of times when you just have to complete events to stem the tide.

That’s where the game’s biggest weakness probably lies; there were times when the pace of the whole game would dramatically slow down because you’re just waiting for the right events to pop up while going through the motions to defeat all the other ones.

The tokens you remove from underneath the objectives also serve a purpose as you can use them when completing events, throwing away as many as you want in order to generate symbols of the same type. During recruiting ALL players can spend tokens in order to reduce the cost of a witch, with every two tokens spend reducing the cost by one. Isn’t having friends great?

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And that’s your lot. When you bring everything together it’s a good co-op game. Whenever me and my friends played it there was plenty of discussion surrounding who would handle which events, who should grab which witches and whether we should chip in with assist cards or save them for other things. It’s exactly what a co-op game should do, although with that said I wouldn’t have mind one or two more direct ways to get involved with other players.

You can even play the whole thing on your lonesome with a few changes and it’s quite fun to do so. However, without other players there are no assists to be found, so it can be fairly challenging.

Although it’s simple and its theme may not come through as strongly as I’d have liked Witches of the Revolution is nonetheless a pretty fun deck-builder. It’s unique premise and easy-to-learn rules make it a good choice for introducing newer players to the genre or to the world of board games in general.

Now we just need to wait for the Harry Potter expansion. That’s going to be a thing, right?

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