Last week my friend Jessica invited me over to her place to try out her newly purchased copy of The Witcher Adventure Game. I’m aware of the video game series, and I’ve seen one or two videos of it being played online but I’ve never actually played it myself. Lacking familiarity with source material has never stopped me from trying out a game though, and I dove into it with my usual excitement.
The game is made by Fantasy Flight, and as you’d expect the production quality is very high. It comes with four plastic miniatures of the characters you can play as, as well as tons of well illustrated little curiosities one would expect from a Fantasy Flight game. The most striking visual element to my mind is the board itself, which is vast, highly detailed, and sets the tone for the world perfectly. Seeing our miniatures darting between these locations made me feel like we were engaged in an epic adventure.
So what the heck is The Witcher Adventure Game all about? Well players take on the roles of one of four characters from the video game: Geralt of Rivia (The Witcher), Yarpen Zigrin (Dwarf), Tris Marigold (Magic User), or Dandelion (Bard). Each of the characters are entirely unique, and they play radically differently so your experience will vary if you play Yarpen one game and Dandelion the next. Yarpen is a combat machine, able to deal out more punishment than any of the other characters on the board. Yarpen employs four unique companions that allow him to utilize a number of mechanics to shape the playing field in his favor, Tris commands powerful magic that make her unpredictable and highly effective (She killed a dragon, one of the most powerful monsters in the game.), and Dandelion is just plain tricky.
During your turn you can take up to two actions which are divided between traveling, investigating, developing your character’s abilities, resting, and a unique action that varies depending on which character you choose to play. Traveling is exactly what it sounds like, moving between any two adjacent locations. Resting allows you to heal your injuries and recover to ensure they don’t worsen. Developing allows you time enhance your character with potions, items, abilities, or spells by choosing cards from their unique decks.Investigating allows you to draw from the investigation decks, there are three, and gives you another chance to earn victory points. You could draw anything from a card that gives you additional VP for defeating a monster to more complex cards that given you additional quests.
The player’s primary goal is to complete the quest cards they choose at the start of the game, you begin with one and depending on your preference the game ends when any player completes either 3 or 5 of their quests. If you want a longer game go for 5 quest cards, but we ended it with 3 and our game lasted several hours. The cards in the quest decks detail dozens of unique adventures for the characters to embark on during the game. You might be breaking up bandit hoards, investigating lost ships, or trying to kill an evil mage. The flavor text on the cards creates an interesting story for your game so there is a great deal of replay value. Aside from your primary quest the cards also have side quests, which allow your character to earn the victory points they’ll need to win. Some are as simple as visiting a certain location, others require your to invest resources, and others ask you to do both. You can complete a main objective without doing any side quests, but you’ll only earn a fraction of the possible victory points. Each of the characters, except for Yarpen, have their own unique deck of quest cards. Yarpen gets to pick his cards out of Geralt and Dandelion’s decks, so he has a bit of an advantage there.
Now there’s more to the game then just running around and completing quests. There are all sorts of perils that are going to get in your way as you make your way across the board. Monsters that are divided into bronze, silver, and gold based on their difficulty roam the land attacking travelers and making menaces of themselves. Mostly you’ll encounter the bronze monsters, and the silver ones will appear from time to time, gold monsters almost never make it onto the board and when they do you’ll see why. They are hugely powerful and can easily defeat you if you are unprepared. The Witcher will have the easiest time with gold monsters, but as other characters grow in power any of them can tackle a gold with a bit of luck.
There are also perils that you will have to contend with. A lot. Whenever your character is forced to face a peril you’ll draw from a deck of cards for a random effect. Fantasy Flight did a great job here as there’s a lot of variety in these cards, if they were all just “Lose 2 VP” the game would have suffered greatly, but they aren’t. Some just force you to lose resources, others place tougher monsters on the board, and there are even a few that have no effect. If you choose to travel twice in one turn you will be forced to contend with one of these cards, so it limits travel and adds a nice push your luck mechanic to the game.
The Witcher Adventure Game is a very well put together product and it employs several mechanics that work well in other games. The monsters popping up and piling in certain locations were very reminiscent of Arkham Horror and Elder Sign. The victory point tracker and the quest cards reminded me of the similar mechanics employed in Lords of Waterdeep.
While this is a great game out of the box there are a couple of suggestions I’d make to help improve it. This game begs for expansions. Adding monsters would be my first suggestion as the bronze monsters left everyone at the table feeling less than impressed. Defeating them wasn’t very difficult, and they just weren’t very interesting to engage with. A few of the players in our game also voiced the opinion that they’d like to see more characters from the video game made into playable characters for this game. It might also be interesting to see a cooperative quest mechanic added, give all of the players a shared responsibility on epic quests that will earn all of the victory points, but will change the rest of the game drastically should they fail. There should also be more of a downside to suffering wounds. Death has no teeth in the game, in fact characters can’t even die. The player controlling Tris Marigold suffered some severe wounds in an early round of our game and spent the next few rounds recovering, but that was about the worst any of us ever suffered. You can carry around wounds for the entire game, and never really take any backlash for it. Adding a mechanic as simple as “Fester” to the peril deck that causes you draw a peril card or something for each wound on your character card will make people prioritize treating their injuries. Death wouldn’t really work as it would force characters out of the game for the night.
Overall The Witcher Adventure Game is a fun way to spend and evening, and a fantastic primer for some more involved games like Arkham Horror and Lords of Waterdeep. For fans of The Witcher this is a must play, for everyone else I’d still suggest trying it out as I enjoyed the hours we spent playing immensely.