Gaming Unplugged: Witch’s Brew

October 25, 2009

The goal of Witch’s Brew is to concoct the most potent potions from the traditional ingredients of wolf’s blood, snake venom, and herb juice. Each player begins with one drop of each, plus two nuggets of gold. More importantly, each player also receives twelve role cards which form the real meat of the game.

Each card represents a specific role: witch, wizard, druid, assistant, fortune teller, alchemist, cutpurse, begging monk, warlock, wolf keeper, snake hunter, and herb collector. Every round each player selects five of these roles. Whoever goes first (usually whoever claimed the most recent role) announces one of his selected cards, and then each player who also selected that role has a decision to make. Every card has a reward associated with being able to assume that role; this ranges from brewing a potion, doing something gold-related, stealing/begging gold/ingredients from other players, casting each round’s randomly-determined spell, or collecting ingredients. The trick is that only one person can get to assume a given role each round; only the final player to announce a role actually receives that honor, and everyone else who tried to claim it gets nothing. However, each card also has a lesser assistant’s bonus (“so be it…”) for which a player can opt if he suspects a later player will try to usurp the role (the starting player of each hand has no such luxury). 

The strategy in Witch’s Brew comes from trying to out-guess and bluff your opponents while simultaneously managing your ingredients in order to brew potions. Do you go for the big reward of the role and risk getting nothing, or do you take the sure thing at the risk of nobody else claiming the role that could have been yours? Potions become more difficult to brew — and thus more valuable — as easier potions of their type are collected, further constraining your decisions. Extra points can be earned for vials, which are obtained either via the Fortune Teller role (at the cost of a gold), via three of the Warlock’s spells (at the cost of a specific ingredient), or when brewing a potion (at the cost of an additional ingredient of your choice) via either reward of the three brewers’ cards. The game ends at the end of the round when the fourth potion cards depicting a raven has been collected.

Witch’s Brew is a quick-playing game for three to five players. There are some basic reading and math skills required (the begging monk role collects 1/4th of each other player’s ingredients, rounded down; the cutpurse is similar but 1/3rd of gold). There is occasionally some confusion as to which role brews which potion, but other than that the artwork on the cards is well-done. My biggest problem with the game has nothing to do with the game at all: Rio Grande Games apparently has an issue when it comes to providing primarily card-driven games with boxes that aren’t twice the size required for the materials (Race for the Galaxy had similar issues). Aside from that, Witch’s Brew has won several awards for designer Andreas Pelikan and would be a great addition to any gamer’s collection.