Full disclosure: A review copy of Witches of the Revolution was provided by Atlas Games.
Two (of a lengthy list) things that I love are deckbuilders and games with weird themes. So, you can imagine my delight when I was contacted about writing up a game called Witches of the Revolution, taking place in an alternate history where instead of burning witches at the stake (or drowning them or crushing them under rocks; seriously, the history of witch trials in the US is really gross), witches were asked to help American revolutionaries break free of British occupation and control. I was like, “that’s a weird theme, so, sure, why not?” And here we are. As a coven of witches, can you throw off the tyranny of England? Or will your insurrection prove insufficient?
So the nice thing about this game is that it’s got a big board:
Set that out, first. Next, give each player a set of Seekers. That’s going to be your starting deck:
Place the Moon Tracker and the Liberty Tracker on their respective start spaces:
Next, take the six Blessing cards:
Set three aside. Shuffle the Recruit deck:
And place three cards face up on the Recruit spaces on the board. Split the remaining cards into three piles and shuffle one of the Blessings into each pile, then re-stack them, Pandemic-style.
Now, shuffle the four sets of Objective cards and reveal one of each set:
Add those to the four Objective spaces on the board. You’ll want to grab Objective markers of the same type (and number) pictured on the cards:
Put those below the Objectives. Now, for the Event Deck. There are eight different types of Events, and within those types, Easy cards and Hard cards:
The Hard cards have the blood spatter on them. Depending on your desired difficulty level, you’ll want to use all of the Easy, a mix of Easy and Hard, or all of the Hard cards. Either way, you’ll want five of each set of events for a total of 40 events. Shuffle it and place it face-down on the space.
Choose a player to take the first turn, then have each player shuffle their deck and draw five cards (six if you’re playing a solo game). Once you’ve done that you’re all ready to start!
So, this game plays much like your standard Dominion / Paperback / Flip City deckbuilders. On your turn, you can do the following:
- Add a Recruit. You’ll skip this step on turn 1 of the game, but other than that, every turn you flip the top card of the Recruit deck and, if it’s a Witch (not a Blessing), slide adjacent cards in the Recruit row one space to the right. If there are too many cards, the rightmost card will be moved to the garbage (and will not return, so be careful about that). If the Recruit deck runs out of cards, don’t do this step for the rest of the game.
- Add an Event. Flip the top card of the event and advance cards in the Event line to the right, filling gaps as necessary. Like recruits, however, only push cards if you need to. These are generally bad and often have “When Flipped” effects that resolve immediately.Some cards will be Liberty events (with the bell) or Peril events (with the gun):As they move through the Event Line, Liberty events will, when passing a Liberty Space, move the Liberty Tracker one space towards Tyranny. Peril events will force you to Banish a card (discard it from the game) from the Recruit area when they pass a Peril Space.
- Act and / or Recruit. At this point, you may either Act (play Witch cards from your hand to Overcome events) or Recruit (Banish Witch cards from your hand to gain Witch cards from the center).If you play a Seeker card, you may gain another Act on your turn (which allows you to Overcome another event). You can’t use it to gain another recruit.When you Act, you play Witch cards from your hand such that the magic icons (icons in the top-left corner) played meets or exceeds the event’s cost (the magic icons on the event). You generally have two options as far as magic icons go, except for Catastrophe (skull) and Unaligned (moon) events, in which you can spend any combination of magic icons that you want. You must meet one of the card’s costs (not both, if it has two) to Overcome it.When another player Acts, any (and all) players may Assist them by playing a Witch card from their hand. When that happens, each player may contribute one magic icon from that Witch card (and only one). Relics, however, contribute all of their icons, but are immediately banished after use.
When you Overcome an Event, you may take one of the Objective Markers matching either type of magic icon on the card (even the one you didn’t spend to Overcome it) and add it to your stash. These magic icons may be spent as magic icons to overcome future events, or a pair of magic icons may be spent to decrease the cost of a Recruit card by one. If you pay double the Event’s cost, you may claim two Objective Markers. When you overcome a Liberty event, move the Liberty Tracker two spaces towards Liberty.
For Recruiting, you choose a card, pay its cost, and then add it to the top of your deck. That way, you’re all but guaranteed to draw it next turn. Cards have stars as their cost (and their value), so 1-star Seekers are less valuable than 4-star Stewards. Some cards (or board effects) modify recruit costs, such as the middle Recruit space, where that card is one star cheaper if a card you spend has a magic icon in common with the card on that space. The rightmost Recruit space is always one star cheaper, unless otherwise stated.
The problem with Recruiting is that when you Recruit, you banish every card you used to recruit, so it’ll make your deck smaller very quickly. Thankfully, Relics are free, but single-use.
- Discard. You may discard any number of cards from your hand, if you want.
- Draw. You may either skip drawing, or draw until your hand is full.If you run out of cards in your deck, the following happens:
- Shuffle your discards to form a new deck.
- Advance the Moon Tracker one space. The + values there are permanent increases to the cost of Events.
- Add an Event. Just like the Add Event step.
- Keep drawing. Draw until your hand is full.
Keep playing until any of the following end-game conditions happen:
- You complete the final Objective. You win! Your spot on the Liberty Tracker is your score for the game.
- The Liberty Tracker hits “Tyranny”. You lose!
- The Event Line moves too far to the right. You lose!
- The Event deck runs out and players don’t win that turn. You lose!
Player Count Differences
I think it’s a bit easier at higher player counts because of how much assisting you can do for other players — you essentially can laser-target Events and focus on clearing Objectives to get a free reshuffle or something. At low player counts, you have more trouble with Events, sure, but you have far fewer reshuffles, so events don’t become gradually worse. I wouldn’t say I have a strong preference for any particular player count — I’ve tried it at 1, 2, and 4. It’s nice how the game has a bit of difficulty balance between various player counts.
- Keep Liberty high. You really don’t want to start taking all the Tyranny penalties. This generally means you want to take out Liberty Events as soon as they’re flipped.
- Don’t spend too much too early. You don’t want to thin your deck before you have a few Events Overcome, especially because reshuffles both make Events more expensive and add more Events to the Event Line. Generally, focus on beating events and using the Objective Markers to reduce Recruit costs.
- When recruiting, try to get upgrades. Try to avoid spending Seekers that have no magic icons in common with whatever you’re picking up. You basically want to think of it as maintaining balance, otherwise it’ll be very hard to defeat certain events if you, say, got rid of all your Ritual magic icons (the cups).
- You really don’t want to lose Stewards. Not only are they a TON of icons, you can banish them to remove (and keep!) Objective Markers, pushing you towards game completion. It’s not a bad flourish to win the game with.
- Dedicants are great early-game. They’re not super powerful, but they can let you do a double-assist on another player’s turn, which is always nice.
- Stewards are great for doubling an Event’s cost, as well. Just watch out for Events that specifically prohibit Stewards from Overcoming it.
- Assisting is great, but don’t shoot yourself in the foot. You still want to make sure that you can do something on your turn, otherwise you run the risk of getting overrun with Events or other bad effects.
- Don’t forget about the Moon Tracker. That will increase Event costs and generally make your life more difficult, and Events will push up the cost. You really want to make sure that you’re getting rid of Objectives, when you can.
- Don’t stall. The longer you stall, the more Events will cost to complete and the harder the game will get. If you can push for the win, take it, generally speaking.
- Communicate with your teammates. You’re all playing to win, so try to devise strategies and combos to get rid of as many Events as possible, when you can.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- Cool theme. I mean it’s completely random and excellent, which is fun.
- Seems expandable. I would be interested to see other alternate histories using this sort of system, or witches in other historical events.
- Good diversity among the Seekers. I appreciated that.
- Solid difficulty level. I appreciate the beginning difficulty level and that you can make it much more difficult as you gain experience. There’s a good ramp for players to improve as they play more games.
- I really can’t tell the difference between the Brewing icon and an upside-down Android icon. I’m not sure if that’s a Pro, but it’s there. It’s just kind of a statement. It amuses me a bit, so it ends up as a pro.
- The insert does not support vertical storage at all. It’s a nice insert provided the box is flat, but as soon as you stand it up there are pieces everywhere. As someone who mostly does vertical storage, these days, whoops.
- Somewhat vulnerable to one player taking over. If you’re playing in a group with a player who wants to run everyone’s turn, just play closed-hands. Players can ask if another player can Assist them with a certain event, but that’d be it. It’s decently manageable, for a co-op.
- The way the rulebook opens is super weird. It’s like a trifold but it opens to the right, rather than the left? Honestly, it’s kind of confusing.
- Not … a ton of cards. There are only five kinds of Recruits (Seekers, Dedicants, Celebrants, Stewards, Relics), and they all have the same art within type (except Seekers; they’re one of four types), so you end up seeing a lot of similar-looking cards, which for a deckbuilder is kind of disappointing.
- The whole way to set up Event cards is somewhere between annoying and frustrating. I got the Event cards out of the box and they were all mixed up, so I had to separate them by Event type (which isn’t incredibly prominent) and then had to further subdivide them by Easy or Hard. Then you have to do this pretty much every game as far as setup and teardown are concerned, and the cards are tiny. I think having bigger Event cards or only four Event types would have eased my frustration considerably.
Overall: 7.5 / 10
Overall, Witches of the Revolution is a solid cooperative deckbuilder. It’s got neat mechanics, a solid theme, and can be egregiously difficult if you’d like to push it to the highest available difficulty level, all of which are nice. As of writing, I haven’t had a chance to try either of the big co-op deckbuilders, yet (specifically talking about Aeon’s End or CLANK!), but comparing it to (base) Marvel Legendary I think it does a few things more interestingly than Legendary, especially around making players really think about managing deck size and being able to do things when it’s not their turn besides waiting for their turn. If you’re looking for an interesting foray into cooperative deckbuilders, Witches of the Revolution may not be a bad place to start!