The Witches

3 - 5

Number of Players: 1-4

Year of Publication: 2013

Creator(s): Martin Wallace (designer) and Peter Dennis (artist)  – Based on the books of Terry Pratchett

“Progress just means bad things happen faster”
Terry Pratchett’s The Witches

Lancre could probably be considered a bit of a backwards country, and, complete with all its quirks and oddities, is the setting for The WitchesWhich is a fantastic board game based on part of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. As this month is Pratchett month we decided to post the games up in the order that they were published, so The Witches, having only been published last year, is the most recent, and therefore the last post. Guards! Guards! and Ankh-Morpork were published in the same year, and so were tied for second place after Thud.
The Witches is currently the only one of the four Discworld board games that have been published that’s suitable for one player. You can travel around the mountains of Lancre solving problems and fighting monsters all on your lonesome – or you can play with up to three other witches and meet up for tea and a chat!

What’s in the Box:

The Stuff.
The Stuff.
  1. One Playing Board.
  2. One Rule Book.
  3. One Player Aid Card.
  4. Four Trainee Witch Displays.
  5. Three Advantage tiles – one Invisibility tile (blue), one Cure Sick Pig tile (green) and one Magic tile (red).
  6. Four Witch pieces.
  7. Four 6-sided Witch dice (notice here that two of the dice are showing a witches face, this is because these dice do not have the value for 1 on them. The witch face represents a Cackle, which is equal to a score of 0).
  8. Twelve Crisis counters.
  9. Fifty-five Game cards.
  10. Sixteen Cackle counters.
  11. Twelve Black Aliss tiles.
  12. Thirty Easy Problem tiles (green).
  13. Seventeen Hard Problem tiles (purple).

Playing the Game:

Objective: To solve more problems than the other players, and therefore score the most points at the end of the game!
Setting up the Board:

The initial set up for the board is very simple in this game, you simply shuffle all your Hard Problem tiles, and place one face down on each square on the board with a purple square in the top left corner of it, and do the same with the Easy Problem tiles. You then refer to the rules to see how many of remaining tiles from both Hard and Easy are set face down on the spaces in the bottom right of the board. If you look closely at the picture you can see that, if you don’t want to go back to the rules, the board actually tells you how many of each type of problem to put in each square, depending on the number of players.

So in the first stage of setting up the board, it should look like this. We had three players this time that we played, and so the number of tiles in the bottom right of the board are set accordingly.
So in the first stage of setting up the board, it should look like this. We had three players this time that we played, and so the number of tiles in the bottom right of the board are set accordingly.

Once all the tiles are laid out like this, all the Easy Problem tiles can be turned face-up. All the Hard Problem tiles remain face-down on the board until a player moves to deal with one, then it’s flipped for everyone to see. Next you need to shuffle the deck of Game cards, and deal three to each player, the rest are placed face-down next to the board.

Lastly you should assign characters. To do this each player rolls all four Witch dice and the player with the highest total roll is allowed to choose their preferred Trainee Witch display. Note: rolling a Cackle counts as zero here, and in the event of a tie, both players re-roll all the dice. Once the highest rolling player has chosen their Trainee Witch Display, then player who had the next highest total chooses… And so on.

You then take the Witch piece of the correct colour for your persona for the game, and, if your Trainee Witch has one, also your Advantage Tile. Tiffany, Petulia and Annagramma all have these, Tiffany’s is blue and is an Invisibility tile, Petulia’s is green and is a Cure Sick Pig tile, and Annagramma’s is red and is a Magic tile. I’ll explain the benefits of these tiles later on. Annagramma also starts with one Cackle counter, if she’s in play. The last Trainee Witch that can be chosen is Dimity Hubbub, her special ability is that whichever player chooses to play as her, gets to play first. If she’s not in play, the player who chose last goes first, and play then proceeds clockwise around the board. Finally, each player (starting with she/he that chose last) should place their Witch piece on any empty space on the board.

The board should look like this just before the first player takes their turn:

Complete starting set up for three players - as you can see, Dimity Hubbub is not in play in this game.
Complete starting set up for three players (although the Easy Problems in the bottom right section are supposed to be face-up too, whoops!) – as you can see, Dimity Hubbub is not in play in this game.

The Rules:

Playing the game is very simple. A turn consists of three phases, placing the next Problem tile, moving you Witch, and drawing cards. The first thing you do during your turn is draw the top card from the deck and place it face up beside the board. Each card in the deck has a location written on it, if there’s no Problem tile or Witch in the location on the card you draw, the top Problem tile is taken from the leftmost stack, and placed face-up in this location. If there’s already a problem here however, a Crisis counter is placed on top of it. These add two points to the difficulty of the problem and look like this:

A Crisis counter on top of an Easy Problem tile, this adds two to the difficulty of the problem.
A Crisis counter on top of an Easy Problem tile, this adds two to the difficulty of the problem.

If there’s a Witch in the location you draw then a problem cannot be placed there, and if they’re in either Lancre Castle or Lancre Town, where there are multiple spaces available, you do not place Crisis counters on problems existing there. If a Witch is present, Crisis cannot happen and problems do not occur. If you place a Crisis counter on a problem, you must continue drawing cards until you find an empty location in which to place the next problem. You may then continue with your turn.

Next you move; a Witch can move up to two connections per turn, unless they have in their hand a card with a broomstick symbol on it. If they choose to play this, they can fly to anywhere on the board and it counts as one of their movements.

Lastly, you tackle problems! To beat a problem you have to roll either equal to or higher than the number shown in the white circle on the problem tile, you must also factor in the Crisis counters, if there’s one on the tile. To beat a problem you roll all four dice, but not together. You roll two first and can then decide if you want to play any of the cards in your hand. The text is often useful for solving problems. Once you’ve decided, you roll the next two dice. Note: if you roll enough on your first roll to beat the problem, you must still roll the second set of dice to see if you get any Cackles. If you roll any Cackles, you take one Cackle counter for each Cackle rolled.

Rolling to solve a problem, this player must take one Cackle counter for their roll.
Rolling to solve a problem, this player must take one Cackle counter for their roll.

If you fail to beat a problem, you must run away, and if it was a Hard problem, you must face the consequences! There’s a lot of variance in consequences however, so I won’t go through them.

At the end of your turn you discard any cards you played and refill your hand to the maximum number of cards you can hold. If the deck of cards runs out, the discard pile is shuffled and flipped, and play continues, the game comes to a natural end at the end of the turn of the person who places the last problem tile on the board.

Lastly I’ll explain the Advantage tiles I mentioned earlier. Tiffany has a blue Advantage tile, which is invisibility, this allows her to go onto the same space as a Hard problem tile, look at it, and then choose either to solve it, or go somewhere else. Everyone else has no choice but to try and solve the problem, no matter how hard it may be, if they enter the same space as it.
Annagramma has a red Magic tile; there are three different symbols that appear on the top of each Game card; either a broomstick, a star, or a pair of glasses and a mustache (also known as Headology). Of these three symbols, Magic and Headology can be used to your advantage when solving a problem. Magic gives you a plus two bonus (but you must take a Cackle counter for every Magic card played) and Headology gives you a plus one bonus. Annagramma’s Magic tile can be played for the plus two bonus when solving one problem at some point in the game.
Petulia has a green Cure Sick Pig tile. This is fairly self-explanatory; when Petulia enters the same space as a Sick Pig problem tile, this Advantage tile can be used to automatically solve the problem.

Petulia's Cure Sick Pig tile in action!
Petulia’s Cure Sick Pig tile in action!

All three Advantage tiles can only be used once in the game. They must then be discarded by the player that used them.

Strategy:

There’s not a lot to be said for strategy for this game, as it mostly comes down to the roll of the dice. But it’s good to have tried to solve a variety of Easy and Hard problems throughout the game, not only do Hard problems usually score more points than Easy ones, they also give you a different benefit the more of them you collect.

History and Interesting (or just other) Things:

There isn’t much history to this game (and even less that’s interesting enough to write about) so have some things about the fictional Discworld country of Lancre instead:

  1. Lancre is good Witch country, there’s a high level of background magic, and the country has always been renowned for producing some of the best Witches and Wizards in the history of the Discworld.
  2. It’s shown to be about 40 miles by 10 miles in size, but this isn’t the truth. Because of the background magic some areas of Lancre have been known to take on other geographical properties.
  3. It has Gnarly Ground. This is a place, on the Lancre Moores, where reality has become folded, and so two places may appear to be right next to each other, but are actually miles apart. Crossing it (or flying over it) is not for the faint-hearted.
  4. It is the physical location of, certainly one, but possibly two, gateways to Parasite Universes, inhabited by Elves.
  5. The current King of Lancre is Verence II. He is believed to be the illegitimate son of Verence I; he was the castle Fool until his half-brother, Tomjon’s immediate abdication after being offered the crown.
  6. Lancre is technically as constitutional monarchy, in that Verence II has set up a parliament, but mostly the people aren’t interested.
  7. Regicide is an accepted method of becoming King in the history of the country.
  8. The population is only 500.
  9. The Lancrastians generally aren’t particularly religious, but they do believe in services for births, marriages and deaths and know exactly what they believe religion should sound like, which is more or less a Latin Roman Catholic service.
  10. The climate there goes to extremes, with burning summers, unbelievable storms and masses of snow, respective to the time of year.

More information on the country can be acquired by reading A Tourists Guide to Lancre.

Different publications of the game:

There is a collectors edition of this game, which is the same in rules and gameplay to the edition we’ve got, but with the addition of sculpted pewter figurines, instead of small wooden witches hats as your playing pieces and a different shaped box and artwork, and a bonus A1 poster.

Further Reading and Conclusion:

Although Dave recommended (amongst other things) all Pratchett books in the Update post for this month, there are actually only a few that you need to read to really understand all the goings on in this game, and they are: Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Carpe Jugulum, The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith and I Shall Wear Midnight.
I realize that I said “only a few”, but 10, when looked at in context of all the available books by Terry Pratchett, is actually not that many.

I’m personally of the opinion that Ankh Morpork is the best Discworld board game so far, and I believe Dave agrees with me. However, this game is also brilliantly conceived. It’s more laid back than Ankh Morpork, in that, you’re not really trying to one up any of the other players, or double-bluff them into not knowing your objective, or anything like that, because you’re all sharing the same objective and there are plenty of problems on the board, so you don’t usually ever have to go for the same one as another player!

It’s also great because you can play it as a 1-player game, just to fill a rainy afternoon. I highly recommend this game, to everyone, but also specifically to people who prefer games that aren’t super-competitive!

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