Image originally from https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/1887424/witcher-adventure-game
The Witcher Adventure Game (BGG) is a relatively new game by Ignacy Trzewiczek based on the highly successful series of Witcher stories by Andrzej Sapkowski as well as the video game adaptations by CD Projekt RED. The game plays between 2 and 4 players and depending on the ‘quest goal’ that you wish to use, the game can take anywhere from about 15 minutes to 2 hours to play. In addition to the physical board game which can be purchased, The Witcher Adventure Game has also been released as a video game which can be purchased for about $10.00 through Steam or GOG.com and it is a direct copy of the board game, allowing for play against AI opponents or against other owners of the game online. I will add a disclaimer here that my review is written from having played the PC game only (so far), however the mechanics and components are exactly the same between versions.
As the game begins, players will choose their desired hero from the Witcher series and will then determine the number of quests that must be completed in order to trigger the game end; 1, 3 or 5. Each of the 4 different characters begin in a different city and then select their first Quest by drawing 2 quest cards and discarding one of them. The quest cards provide a considerable amount of information; lore, overall goals, side-quests, final challenge as well as quest rewards. Once the quests have been chosen, players will begin working towards completing them, primarily by moving from city to city in order to collect Clues (each city will display between 1 and 3 different colours, representing which clues can be acquired for visiting) and then converting those clues into Proof. Sounds pretty standard, but the extra mechanics sprinkled over the whole of the game are what really make it interesting.
Image originally from https://www.boardgamegeek.com/image/2078131/witcher-adventure-game
At its heart, The Witcher Adventure Game is a race – the player who completes the required number of quests first will trigger the end of the game and (in my experience) is almost guaranteed to win by having the most points. This by itself wouldn’t really make for a fun game, however the various additional actions and challenges that present themselves as the game progresses are really what makes this game click and work – the game is less about the race and more about the obstacles that you leave in your wake that disrupt the other players that really brings this game to another level.
On each turn, players can choose 2 of 6 different actions to perform:
- Travel – Move to an adjacent city;
- Fast Travel – Move to an adjacent city and then move again but draw 1 Foul Fate card;
- Investigate – Draw a card from one of the 3 Investigation decks and resolve it;
- Develop – Draw 2 cards from your character development deck, choose one to keep;
- ‘Special’ – Activate the special ability of your character, which is slightly different for each;
- Rest – Remove 2 wound tokens or 1 major wound token from your character.
Moving is not a ‘free’ action, however, as each turn that passes will advance the War Track, resulting in either a Foul Fate card or a monster token be added to an area, one of which must be resolved at the end of each turn. While moving to most cities will automatically provide a choice of clue, players may also choose to use the Investigate action to try and accumulate clues at a faster rate. When choosing to Investigate, a player draws a card from 1 of 3 decks corresponding either to Combat, Diplomacy or Magic. There are several types of Investigation cards, all considerably different depending on which deck they are drawn from. Many of them will present a challenge to overcome in order to acquire additional clues, others will give special one-off abilities, while others could be negative effects that cost the player resources rather than granting them. As players proceed to move around the map and gain clues, the board becomes more and more populated with different Foul Fate and monster cards, travelling can become dangerous and dramatically slow down a players progress.
At the end of a turn, after you have selected and executed your 2 actions, a player must check and see whether there are any Foul Fate or monster cards in their zone, and if there are they must choose which of them to try and Resolve. In the case of Foul Fate cards, they can vary from negative victory points to automatic wounds (or upgrading regular wounds to serious wounds) to losing resources of different types. In the case of monsters, they typically have an Attack and Defence value, which are the number of combat dice that must be rolled to either defeat them (in the case of the Attack value) or negate their attacks against you (the Defence value). Monsters come in 3 strengths, Bronze, Silver and Gold, and can come with some severe penalties for losing battles with them, be they lost victory points and resources, additional Foul Fate tokens attached to different abilities or Wounds, which disable certain actions until you rest, effectively costing you time.
To grow stronger and defeat these monsters that populate the map, players may use the Develop ability to draw 2 cards from their character development deck and choose to keep one of them. These cards are different between characters and work to enhance what they specialize in, be it Combat, Diplomacy or Magic. As these development cards are acquired, players can use their special ability to add charges to them for later use, which is the primary way of overcoming the silver and gold monsters for most of the characters. Geralt, for example, will draw various Witcher Symbols and Potions which can be readied through is Brew action, allowing him to make use of them later on during combat to provide additional attack or defence power.
Once the required number of Proof has been accumulated by a player, they will need to travel to the indicated location on a Quest card in order to resolve it, overcome the final challenge (where applicable) and then finally receive their rewards, regardless of whether the challenge was completed or not. Quests have both Side quests and Support quests on them, which can be completed for additional victory points, however they are not required to complete the main quest itself. Side quests tend to be smaller in scope and will often require the spending of a few clues or gold or even just travelling to an indicated location. Support quests, on the other hand, can actually completed by other players when you are both in the same location. Most Support quests require the spending of clues or gold by the other player, which grants them 6 victory points and 3 to the owner of the quest. This is as close as the game comes to having co-op features, and although in my experience they are rarely worth going out of your way to do, they can be ways to dump clues you have no immediate use for in order to get a jump in victory points.
To be completely honest, considering my heavy preference for Euro-style games (my favourites at this time are Panamax (BGG), Agricola (BGG) and Terra Mystica (BGG)), I’m rather surprised by how much I enjoy The Witcher Adventure Game. I can’t help but compare it to similar games I’ve played in recent memory, namely Betrayal at House on the Hill (BGG), but for me The Witcher Adventure Game is more than just randomness of dice rolling and card drawing that’s seeped in lore. This game is a race right from the very first turn, and while you can not attack your opponents directly, leaving obstacles and pushing your luck with the Investigation decks can not only give you a boost, but also leave behind negative effects that will set back opponents.
My only real concern with the game at this time is with regard to the replayability, as it can seem to run a little long towards the end (my first game with 4 players lasted roughly 40 rounds and took over 2 hours), but all of the quests essentially boil down to converting clues into proof, then cashing the quest in. Luckily, the format of the game just begs for expansions, be they additional characters, quests, monsters or simply cards to mix in with the Investigation decks. Considering other similar games put out by Fantasy Flight Games (namly Descent: Journeys into the Dark (BGG) and Arkham Horror (BGG)), an expansion to coincide with the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt game in early 2015 seems likely.
While The Witcher Adventure Game may not win any awards for innovation, it is a mechanically solid adventure game that is enjoyable for most audiences and has appeal beyond the board game crowd. I feel like this game will be a solid gateway game to introduce designer board games, and has a bit more curb appeal than Settlers of Catan (BGG) or Carcassonne (BGG). There’s a good amount of game here – particularly if Fantasy Flight Games ends up releasing additional content – and fans of The Witcher novels or series of video games should appreciate the attention paid to the lore of the game.