Whirling Witchcraft Review
Engine-building sounds like something reserved for car mechanics, but in the cardboard world of board games, it means something different. Whirling Witchcraft is the latest in a proud line of games which let you build a tableau, your ‘engine’, on the table in front of you. Rival witches are aiming to wield magic so powerful that they simply overwhelm their neighbours, claiming victory in the process.
Double double, toil and trouble
The setting for Whirling Witchcraft is a bright, friendly battle between witches. Each witch has their own spell cards which let them transmute ingredients into other ingredients. In each round you add a recipe card to your tableau from your hand, take the ingredients from your workbench, and add them to the various recipe cards. If the recipe shows a toad and a spider makes two mushrooms, that card produces the mushrooms and they sit on the card.
The ingredients you produce can either be used as the sources for other recipe cards, or added to your cardboard cauldron. The cauldrons may be unnecessary, but they’re really good fun, and lend to the table appeal of the game. The loaded cauldrons then get passed to the player to the right, while the unused recipe cards go to the player on your left. When you’re given a cauldron, you have to take the ingredient cubes from it and add them to your workbench. If there’s no room for some, they go back to the player that gave them to you and get added to their Witch’s Circle. The first player to get five cubes in their Witch’s Circle wins.
One of the things you’ll realise very quickly is that the person you’re passing recipe cards to is the same person handing you their cauldron. If you’ve got your brain engaged, you’ll be able to see what kind of ingredients they’re trying to use, and try to avoid giving them a card that’ll definitely land you in trouble further down the line. Yes, it might mean you have a sub-optimal turn, but that’s where a lot of the fun of the game comes from – whether to give yourself a boost to attack the player to your right, or to take one on the chin and ensure you don’t give the player to your left another broomstick to beat you with.
Fire burn and cauldron bubble
The first game Whirling Witchcraft reminded me of is It’s a Wonderful World. The process of passing cards, playing one, using cubes to generate other cubes – it was immediately familiar. It doesn’t take too many turns to realise there are some fundamental differences between the games. The most obvious is the once I mentioned above, the way you take and pass your generated cubes from and to your neighbours.
There are other things too which make this game stand alone. I love the way some of the recipe cards can be played either way up, so the cube generation can work in either direction, depending on which way you want to play. There are character cards that you can use which give each person slightly different special abilities, although the thing I like most about these cards is being able to play as a Frog Whisperer!
Whirling Witchcraft is a game which rewards repeated play. Once you get the hang of what you’re trying to do, and what you need to do to make that happen, the game opens up properly. That’s not to say it’s a difficult game to learn – it isn’t. I taught it to my wife and son who were both able to play very quickly. When you spend as much time eyeing up your neighbours as your own workbench and recipes, then the proper game reveals itself, with the interaction between the players.
Erik Sundén has designed a really nice twist on the tableau-builder with Whirling Witchcraft. The ‘take that!’ aspect doesn’t feel as confrontational as it can in many games, which makes it feel well-suited for family play. There’s a ton of variety with the various different personality cards and recipes on offer, and it’s another game like Between Two Castles, where simply swapping seats with other players can affect the meta around the table.
The player boards are pretty basic, and a bit slippery. It’s a game dying for socketed boards, but a lot of the budget has gone into the little cauldrons. Yes, they’re gimmicky, but it makes the game so tactile and enjoyable. There’s something indescribably satisfying in handing your neighbour a cauldron full of cubes that you know they can’t take, knowing it’s going to score you points. As Kryten would say – “Ah, smug mode”.
If you prefer less interaction, and more focus on building an efficiency engine, have a look at It’s a Wonderful World or the recent sequel, It’s a Wonderful Kingdom. Otherwise, Whirling Witchcraft is a great game. Even as a grown man, I love handling the cauldrons. For me it sits it that same sort of space where games like The Quacks of Quedlinburg lives. It’s family-friendly, engaging, fun, and won’t bore hardcore players too quickly. Witchy fun for everyone.
Review copy kindly provided by Alderac Entertainment Group. Thoughts and opinions are my own.
Whirling Witchcraft (2021)
Designer: Erik A Sundén
Publisher: Alderac Entertainment Group
Art: Luis Francisco, Weberson Santiago
Playing time: 30 mins