Episode 288: Witches of the Revolution


Release Date: Mar. 16, 2018

Download: PDF

Designer: M. Craig Stockwell

Publisher:  Atlas Games

1-4 pl  30-60 min  ages 14+  $40



The American colonies were a refuge to those seeking shelter from religious persecution. When the rallying cries for independence from England began to ring out, many answered the call for open revolt, including the witches.

These are the untold stories of a few brave covens of witches who fought for freedom, silent authors of American history along side the Founding Fathers.

Witches of the Revolution is a cooperative deck-building game. Players each lead a coven recruiting allies and weilding magic to overcome a constant wave of threats and complete secret missions. Complete enough missions before tyranny overwhelms the land, and you’ll help forge a new nation!

Written review continues after the break.

Witches of the Revolution     Official Site  |  BGG  |  Buy

The Concept 

The American colonies were a refuge to those seeking shelter from religious persecution. When the rallying cries for independence from England began to ring out, many answered the call for open revolt, including the witches.

These are the untold stories of a few brave covens of witches who fought for freedom, silent authors of American history along with the Founding Fathers.

Players each lead a coven and work as a team to recruit allies and wield relics to overcome a constant wave of threats and complete secret missions. Complete enough missions before threats or tyranny overwhelm the land, and you’ll help forge a new nation!

The Components

Witches of the Revolution is a deck building card/board game.

There are three main types of cards: coven, event, and objective.

Let’s start with the coven cards. Each player starts with a deck of coven cards each featuring 15 Seeker cards. Seekers are your basic witches. Each witch will be versed in specific forms of magic depicted by colored icons along the side of the card. In addition, each witch card has a specific value/cost listed in a line by a number of pentagrams. Your starting Seekers are each value 1. Each Seeker also has a special ability which is listed in a banner at the bottom of the card.

There are 30 additional coven cards which make up the Recruit deck. The majority of the cards in this deck are more powerful witches which you will hope to add to your deck to fight for the cause. These witches have more magical talents (more colored icons), have a higher value/cost, and possess a wide range of special abilities.

There are also Relic cards in the Recruit deck. Relics do not have a cost and have powerful magic but are one use only.

There will also be 3 Blessing cards shuffled into each third of the recruit deck. Blessings offer players a special boon when drawn.

Event cards represent the constant wave of threats the witches will face collectively throughout the game. There are 80 Event cards - 8 different categories of events with 10 cards in each category. There are 5 basic events and 5 more challenging events in each category. One way you can adjust the difficulty is by swapping in more challenging events in place of the basic ones. 

Objective cards are the secret missions the witches must complete to win the game. There are 16 cards in total split into 4 categories. The group will draw one objective card from each category to set the goal for the game.

The board is used primarily to keep track of various aspects of the game. There’s a recruit area with space for the Recruit deck and a line of spaces for three recruits and a discard. There’s an event area with a space for the Event deck and ten spaces for event cards. There’s an objective area with spaces for the four objectives that form the goal for the game.

There are two additional tracks - the moon track and the liberty track with a matching token to slide up and down the track. The moon track will modify the game in fun and frustrating ways. The liberty track will add penalties as it shifts toward tyranny and will signal the end of the game if it gets all the way to the end!

Last of all there are magic and catastrophe tokens. The six types of magic tokens match the icons depicted on the witch cards: brewing, channeling, enchanting, familiars, hexes, and rituals. There are two types of catastrophes: skulls and moons. There are four of each type of token in the game.

The Mechanics

As mentioned earlier, Witches of the Revolution is cooperative. You and your fellow players must work together to collect the right combination of magic and catastrophe tokens to complete four objectives. This is the only way to win the game.

Unfortunately, there are three ways to lose! If the marker on the liberty track makes it all the way to the tyranny end, you lose. If a number of event cards (depending on the number of players) are left unresolved on the board, you lose. If the last card of the event deck is played, you have one final turn to win or, you guessed it, you lose!

Each turn one player will complete four steps in order, followed by the next player and so on until the team wins or the game beats you.

On your turn you will: add a recruit, add an event, act or recruit, and then discard/draw.

Adding a recruit is as simple as it sounds. draw the top recruit from the deck and place it in the first space next to the deck on the board. if there are other cards on the board slide them down. This means recruits can get bumped into the discard pile during this step. Adding an event, just as easy. Draw the top card and add it to the first space, sliding other unresolved events down one space. Remember this could trigger the end of the game if there are too many cards in this line!

Now we have reached the meat of the game. Each turn comes down to a choice: do you want to recruit a new card into your coven deck? Or do you want to try and Act, meaning try to resolve an event that is threatening the group. You will want to do both but you can’t! The challenge and fun of the game is built around the discussions you will have at this point in your turn, trying to decide not only what you should do but how your decision will effect the next player and the next. The more you plan ahead, the better your odds of success!

Recruiting is straightforward. Each recruit has a cost listed in pentagrams. In order to add that card to your deck, you must spend cards with pentagrams from your hand equal to that cost.

The new recruit will go on the top of your deck OR… the top of ANY player’s deck! So, you can buy a new card for someone else on your turn.

But here’s the rub. The cards you use to pay for the new recruit are spent and gone! They are placed in the recruit discard pile on the board and are effectively out of the game.

Gaining access to these new cards will add new abilities and extra magic icons you desperately need but you must be mindful of the fact that every purchase will deplete your deck and make it smaller. This might not seem like a big deal right now, but it will be, trust me!

Acting is your other choice each turn. An act is playing cards from your hand in order to overcome an event card in the event line on the board. Each event lists a number of magic icons on two lines. Each of these lines is a separate recipe for defeating the card. For example if the event is Dagon Zealots Arouse Terror, there’s a line with 3 blue icons and 3 yellow icons.

If I choose to act, I could play cards from my hand with a total of 3 blue or 3 yellow icons to remove this event from play. I can also ask other players for help when I act. However, their help is limited. Any cards I play, all icons that match the event recipe count. If other players want to contribute, they can play a single card and only one icon on this card can be used to assist.

Some events are modified by special text or their position on the board, making the recipe tougher to complete (and therefore harder to overcome). In general, the earlier you can deal with an event on the board, the easier it might be to defeat it.

Obviously keeping events in check will keep you from losing, but there’s added incentive beyond this. Each time you overcome an event, you get to claim a magic or catastrophe token that matches one of the recipe lines on the card. These tokens are used to complete the objectives and win the game. Each objective lists a recipe showing a number of tokens needed to complete it. So by defeating events, you gain the currency needed to win the game.

Normally you will be limited to a single action on your turn but there are combinations of witches abilities that can allow you to act multiple times in a single turn. One of the joys of the game is experimenting with different combinations of witches within your coven deck and getting their abilities to dovetail for even better results.

At the end of your turn, you have the option to discard any number of cards from your hand and then draw to fill your hand to five cards from your coven deck.

This decision is not always an obvious or easy one. There will be several points in the game where you may choose not to discard or draw to keep from reaching the end of your deck.

This may seem counterintuitive BUT… this is one of the things that sets Witches of the Revolution apart!

What Sets This Game Apart 

We need a little context to understand this first way Witches sets itself apart.

Many if not most deck building games are built around shuffling. It might seem silly to say, but it’s true!

Your goal when building your deck is to enhance a very basic set of cards by purchasing advanced cards. With a typical deck builder, each new card purchased is placed in your discard pile. When you have played through your initial cards, the new cards you purchased will get shuffled in and you will have access to them from that point forward. So each reshuffle represents a newly built deck. And the more times you are able to reshuffle your deck, the more it improves.

Witches of the Revolution makes enhancing and reshuffling your deck into an agonizing decision instead of an automatic one!

As mentioned earlier, the new recruit cards you purchase are not placed in the discard pile. They go to the top of your deck or even another teammates’ deck. You get almost instant gratification but at what cost? The cards you pay with are gone from the game.

Each time you reshuffle your deck in Witches of the Revolution, the marker on the moon track will move up once space. There are numbers listed on each space of the track. This number is not good news. From now on, when trying to overcome any event, you must add this number to the total number of magic or catastrophe icons needed to defeat the card! If the moon track is on 1, you must spend one extra icon. If the moon track is on 2, you must spend an extra 2 and so on.

Oh, and as an added bonus, with each reshuffle, you add ANOTHER event to the line!

So, every time a player reshuffles, the game’s difficulty ratchets up.

So let that settle in for a second. The thing you normally want to do. The thing every player will in fact HAVE TO DO at several points in the game will make the game harder to win!

Suddenly the discard and draw part of your turn is not a trivial thing! You might choose to limp along with less cards just so you dont have to reshuffle yet. You need cards to be effective and help the team, but the closer you get to the bottom of your deck, the closer you are to a reshuffle which will add an event and make each event that much harder to overcome.

This makes Witches of the Revolution into an ever-morphing puzzle of ultra efficiency. How can you do the most good with the least number of reshuffles? How many new recruits can you afford to add to your deck?

The constant challenge put forth by new events pushes you to improve your deck, but the game pushes back in another way. If you buy too many amazing recruits, you’ll find yourself having to reshuffle way too often and possibly push your team closer to defeat.

Put simply, you cannot approach Witches like other deck building games. It plays with some of the most basic assumptions built into the genre and asks you to set them aside. This is one of the central challenges of the game - it’s a source of fun, frustration, and requires teamwork and consensus to find a path to victory.

Other elements that set Witches apart are the magic and catastrophe tokens. They are currency you gain from defeating events and you can spend them by placing them on objectives. When the right mix of tokens is present (based on the recipe listed on the objective), the objective is complete and you’re one step closer to victory.

The tokens, however, are also currency when purchasing recruits. For every two tokens you spend, you can reduce the cost of a new recruit card by one. Normally you must spend cards which are gone forever to obtain new recruits. Spending tokens in this manner allows you to conserve cards but only at the expense of giving up the very thing you need to help win the game! This makes for another painful but fun set of decisions each time you gain tokens. How to spend them? One way is a direct path to victory, the other indirect, but there are times and situations where the choice may not be obvious or clear.

Final Thoughts 

So far I have talked about Witches of the Revolution from a very analytical and mechanical perspective. And all the elements I have chosen to highlight are praiseworthy and fun.

But what really seals the deal for Witches as a game worth of our award is its thematic integration.

These clever mechanics are put in service to an engaging game world that is reflected in a fun mashup of real history with a supernatural twist.

The event cards and objective cards specifically add wonderful thematic elements to the game.

Your objective might be to ressurect Ben Franklin or Imbue the Liberty Bell with Power or Help Washington rescue the Naiad of the Delaware River or (my personal favorite) cure Paul Revere of Lycanthropy. The famous silversmith was a werewolf… who knew?!

Likewise each category of events depicts a fun blend of forgotten and fantastic history. Enraged Gryphon Slaughters Livestock. Granary Burial Ground Desecrated, Town Beseiged by Nocturnal Assailants, Witch Hunter Scherer Menaces The Innocent, Rain of Frogs, Tempers Boil in Boston, Enchanted Cannon slips into Enemy Hands, Benedict Arnold’s Treachery.

These events and objectives demonstrate the designers love of the period and a desire to build a world worth exploring beyond its clever mechanics.

At its core the game is focused on recipe filling - events and objectives list icons you must collect and play to clear cards and place tokens.

But these mechanisms fade into the background as a story begins to unfold with each new event added to the line. Certain objectives may become a focus of the group not because they are the most direct path to winning but because the group wants to make sure they bring Ben Franklin back to life. Even the order of the events as they begin to stack up in the line on the board suggest a story unfolding with beginning middle and end. But it’s up to you and your team to decide the order in which the story plays out.

Witches of the Revolution is fun and interesting when stripped to its essential mechanisms. The odds are stacked against you and you must be ready to engage the hive mind to find a way through to the end.

But what makes the game inviting and fun to play again and again, even after several losses are the stakes set by the world of the game. Win and you become the silent authors of American history. Lose and a nation is never born. Tying the game to pseudo historical events gives each choice we make more meaning. You didnt just fall one icon short of filling a recipe, you let a mysterious contagion spread through the colonies! Your choice to recruit a powerful witch using tokens might yield amazing results later but those same tokens could be used to summon fog over the east river for general Washington.

Put simply, context matters. And Witches of the Revolution puts each decision your team makes in an engaging and thematic world that adds meaning to the choice you make.

Of course it’s fun to win. But what you really want with a good cooperative game is a challenge and a story. The thing I value the most in games of any ilk are the stories that last well beyond the table. Remember when we cured Paul Revere’s werewolf problem? Those memories last long beyond who wins or loses. And I think Witches of the Revolution balances challenging and fresh gameplay with a fun and thematically rich world to ensure you’ll come back for many tries, hoping to tell the story of how you all helped tip the balance in favor of the Stars and Stripes.