Reviewed by Herb Levy
WHIRLING WITCHCRAFT (AEG, 2 to 5 players, ages 14 and up, 30 minutes; $39.95)
As this issue goes to press, Halloween is just around the corner: a time filled with ghosts, goblins, things that go bump in the night and, of course, witches. In this new game by Erik Andersson Sundén, we have witches – a bunch of them – all competing to create the best magical recipes, all “helping” their fellow witches by flooding them, not with best wishes but with excess ingredients so that only one will emerge victorious in Whirling Witchcraft.
All of the players in the game start with a cute cardboard cauldron and a “workbench”. Each workbench (board) can hold the five different ingredients of the game: 3 “Hearts of Shadow” (black cubes), 4 “Mandrakes (white), and 9 each of Mushrooms (red), Spiders (blue) and Toads (green). The workbench has a “Witch’s Circle” too. Players also receive a tracking card (for arcana), a hand of 4 Recipe cards and a “Personality” card which shows the starting resources a player has as well as a special ability (in the Basic game, all players have the same ability – to discard their hand of cards and draw four new ones, in the Advanced game, abilities are unique such as an increased hand size and more).
All players choose one card (the rest of the cards are passed left). Chosen cards are revealed and their effects carried out, the first effect to be resolved involving arcana.
Three types of arcana symbols may be found on cards: a cauldron. a raven and a book. Each time one of these symbols appears, it is noted on that player’s tracking card. When the number of symbols meets (or exceeds) an EVEN number, that arcana effect is activated. (Cards may or may not be used at once but they cannot be saved for later use.) Activating a cauldron allows an ingredient of ANY type to be added directly to their cauldron, a raven allows for the removal of TWO ingredients from that player’s workbench and a book allows a player to take from supply ANY ingredient in fulfilling recipes. The value of arcana becomes apparent in the next, Brewing, phase.
Recipe cards show arrangements of ingredients that can be used to produce other ingredients. Some cards require specific items be used to generate other specific items but many cards allow you to “switch” (for example, turn a Mandrake AND a Toad into a Heart of Darkness OR turn a Heart of Darkness into a Mandrake and a Toad). Ingredients from the workbench (or ingredients produced by other cards in that player’s area) are placed on the card to activate it. Ingredients produced from that activation are placed on the card from supply. When as many recipe cards as a player can or wants to activate are filled, ingredients used to activate them go back to supply, Produced ingredients go into that player’s cauldron – and that cauldron is passed to the player on the right! Now this is where it gets interesting.
The player receiving the cauldron must empty the cauldron onto spaces on their workbench. As long as there is room for these ingredients, everything is fine and everyone draws back to 4 recipe cards to hold. But any overflow goes straight into the Witches Circle on the board of the player who gave that player a cauldron. Get 5 or more ingredients (cubes) into your Witches Circle and you win! (Tie? Then the witch with the most different types of ingredients in her/his Circle can claim the win! Still tied? Then the player with the fewest leftover ingredients on the workbench gets the nod. And if that still doesn’t break the tie, then victory is shared.)
Whirling Witches is a light game that makes good use of the witchcraft theme. The cardboard cauldrons provided (that you need to put together) add to the atmosphere. The game serves as a good introduction to building card combinations as the trick to the game is to conjure up cubes in the colors that your opponents have enough of already by using one card to help power a second which will help power a third. (Cards can be used in any order and not all cards need be used on a turn.) It is uncommon to see such passive/aggressive behavior in a game so richly rewarded! After all, you are not attacking your neighboring witch, you are helping your erstwhile nemesis by forcing upon that witch more and more ingredients that cannot be used! There is a mild and subtle “take that” element here. And I’m not sure Whirling Witches is the best title. No witches whirl in this game. A more accurate title might have been Cauldron Calamity as a deluge of ingredients for your opponent at the proper time will mean victory for you! Here, too much of a good thing is NOT wonderful!
The game works with 2 players but, in games like this, the more the merrier. Despite the age 14 and up designation, younger folks should have little trouble in mastering play. While adults can appreciate the charm, experienced gamers will discover that the game ends too fast! The desire to create more and better card combos is a big draw in games of this type and can be better met if the winning condition is raised from 5 cubes in a Witch’s Circle to 10.
Whirling Witches is an excursion into magic and magical recipes that can serve as a charming gateway game experience.- – -Herb Levy
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