Dale Yu: Review of Whirling Witchcraft

Whirling Witchcraft

  • Designer: Erik Andersson Sunden
  • Publisher: AEG
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 14+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played with review copy provided by AEG

whirling-witchcraft

The quick and dirty from the rulebook – Being a witch is all about wielding powerful magical ingredients. The more powerful, the more brilliant magic they can produce. But be careful, a witch can only wield so much power before everything blows up in their face. This is a fact you’re willing to use to your advantage when you’re trying to destroy your nemesis. However, while you’re brewing the ingredients to get the job done, someone else is trying to do the same to you!

Whirling Witchcraft is the first published design from Mr. Sunden, but it comes highly acclaimed, already having been given the award for Best Game at Fastaval 2019, which I’m sure you’ll remember is one of Denmark’s premier boardgaming conventions, held each year around Eastertime.

Each player starts the game by getting a cauldron and a player board.  The bottom of the player board has room for the ingredients (3 Hearts of Shadow, 4 Mandrakes, and 9 each for Toads, Spiders and Mushrooms).  Each player also gets a personality card and a hand of 4 recipe cards.  Each player gets starting ingredients as shown on their personality card and then the other side (ability side) is left face up.

whirling witchcraft in play

The game is played in a number of rounds until the victory condition is met – that is when at least one player has 5 or more ingredients in their Witch’s Circle at the top of the player board.  Until that point, rounds are played, each with 2 phases – The Study Phase and then The Brewing Phase.

In the Study Phase, players secretly and simultaneously choose a recipe card from their hand.  When they are revealed, each is resolved. Note that some of the recipe cards, with an S in their center, can be reversed in direction.  If the recipe card has an arcana symbol on it, you increase your arcana tracker on your reference card; each time you hit an even number of arcana symbols, you can trigger an arcana effect that turn (add an ingredient to your cauldron, remove up to 2 ingredients from your workbench, choose an ingredient to take from the supply as if it was on their workbench).

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In the Brewing phase, first all players produce ingredients; they can use any or all of their recipe cards, putting ingredients in all the input spaces (from their workbench or output spaces of previously used cards) and then filling all of the output spaces.  A recipe card can be used no more than once each round.  When the player is done using all the cards he wishes, any ingredients left on output spaces are put in their cauldron.  

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Then, all players pass their cauldron to the player on their right.  All of the ingredients in the cauldron are added to the ingredient spaces on their workbench. Any ingredients which cannot fit are placed in the Witch’s Circle of the player who passed the cauldron.  Now check to see if the game ends (if at least one player has 5 or more ingredients in their Witch’s Circle).  Otherwise, players pass their recipe cards to the player on the left, and everyone draws back up to 4 cards in hand.  Play another round.

The game ends when at least one player has 5 or more cubes in their Witch’s Circle.  The player with the most cubes in their  Witch’s Circle wins.  If there is a tie, the player with the most different types of ingredients in their Witch’s Circle wins.

My thoughts on the game

Whirling Witchcraft is a sneaky engine building game.  While not in the traditional sense of an engine, each turn you add a spell card to your area which is essentially your “engine”.  Your goal is to produce cubes, though the number and types of cubes you want to produce may change from turn to turn based on what your neighbor has going on.

You score victory points by passing cubes to your neighbor that they can’t house.  Of course, their cube inventory changes from round to round, depleted by the spells that they choose to power themselves.  We came to a group decision that players should just concentrate on their own area rather than trying to wait and see what the opponents were doing so that you could min/max the cube decision.  

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I find that I do try to study my opponents spells before the brewing phase – trying to figure out what resource the opponent has the hardest time using; this might lead to the largest backlog on the workbench, and therefore the best chance to overflow…  Likewise, when it’s time to choose a card to play, sometimes I base it on what cubes I want to produce – but there is also a bit of defense that can be played here, finding a card that lets you burn a particular ingredient that you are storing too much of between rounds…

The arcana events are not to be ignored.  They can be a huge boon, though you do need to try to time them to best effect.  They can help your defense (removing 2 ingredients from your workbench) or can make your offense more potent (adding an extra cube to your cauldron or giving you an essentially unlimited supply of one resource for the turn, allowing you to power a bunch of spells).

The passing of hands is an interesting mechanism here.  While you often know what sorts of cards might be in the hand coming to you, you pretty much look at each hand as if it is new, trying to assess which is the best card for you this turn.  Then, if you don’t find a clearly superior one, maybe you should look at what your neighbor wants and hate draft against him just to deny him the card he needs?

Each round moves fairly quickly.  While you do need to consider all your options when choosing which card to play – generally the decision is made without too much torment; and then in the brewing phase, as long as everyone is focused on their own spells and cubes, that should also move without too much delay.  The passing seems a bit confusing in the first few rounds (as you have to get used to passing your cauldron one way and your hand the other), but it feels natural by the end of the game.

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The art is distinctive, done by Weberson Santiago. While I couldn’t remember the name of the artist at first, as soon as I saw the box, I knew that it was done by the same guy as The Bloody Inn and Kings’ Struggle.  It is definitely a distinctive style, and he definitely is the pre-eminent artist in the creepy cartoony style.  It’s not really to my tastes, but the art is mainly there for flavor.  The icons on the cards are clear, and the graphic design of the game is quite use-able.

Whirling Witchcraft is a nice light drafting / resource management game.  I like the way that you can tweak your spell engine once a turn as you need; and you have to focus on both the offensive and defensive parts of the game.   I have played with 3 and 4 players, and I must say that I personally prefer the game with 3 because you are directly connected to both opponents on each turn.  When you play with 4 (and I have the same issues with 7 Wonders), you only interact with your LHO and RHO, and it’s weird not having any direct interactions with the other side of the table.  

Thoughts from other Opinionated Gamers

Greg S:  Ted Alspach of Bezier Games was anxious to introduce us to this new release.  He had played numerous times and found it fun and engaging.  Sadly, my reaction wasn’t nearly as favorable as his.  We played twice in succession and, for me, the game played much too quickly and was over before I could really get any sort of engine developed and operating.  Now, that is likely my fault and I would probably improve with more practice.  Still, the game felt abrupt, and it was not a satisfying experience.  I’d try again, but am not anxious to do so.

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers

  • I love it!
  • I like it. Dale Y
  • Neutral  John P, Greg S.
  • Not for me…

About Dale Yu

Dale Yu is the Editor of the Opinionated Gamers. He can occasionally be found working as a volunteer administrator for BoardGameGeek, and he previously wrote for BoardGame News.
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