After the stories (and games) about Salem in the 1690s we all thought of colonial America as a notoriously unsafe haven for witches. According to Witches of the Revolution, however, nothing could be further from the truth. In this game, it is (surprise, surprise) only the Brits that are persecuting witches. The witches in this game are working alongside George Washington and the Continental Army to free the American colonies from British tyranny and oppression.
Witches of the Revolution (Atlas Games) is a fully co-operative deck builder where players are working together to collectively achieve the four objectives selected at random at the start of the game. En route, they have to deal with a succession of events that throw up crises and catastrophes that become all the more threatening the longer they remain unresolved. The crises mount and the game’s liberty track acts as a timer against which the witches are racing. Meanwhile a separate moon track acts as a second timer, moving on every time a witch’s discards are shuffled and making things harder for the witches the further it advances. This aspect of the game is bound to remind you of Pandemic and a dozen other co-operative games.
The novelty here is in the combination of deck building with a co-operative game, and doubly so because the deck-building opportunities can be a mixed blessing in this game. Although players will want to acquire the more powerful cards and add them to their deck, they are likely always to have to sacrifice two or more weaker cards to obtain a stronger one. That of itself is not unusual in a deck builder, but here it throws up a dilemma for players because it hastens the exhausting of their individual draw deck and with it the need to reshuffle. This will advance the moon track and risks making the rest of the game more difficult for all the players…
More flavour text would have helped to better ground this game in its Revolutionary War setting but the supernatural theme comes through even where the historical context feels thin. The biggest issue in this game is that players’ choices are often dictated by the cards that are laid out on the board. Even more so than in other co-op games like Pandemic, you are likely to find your range of options severely limited by the immediate demands of fire-fighting to avoid imminent defeat. At its worst, this can leave you feeling that the game is playing you rather than the other way around.
As the moon and liberty tracks advance, the games’s difficulty ratchets up. This contributes to the requisite tension in Witches of the Revolution. It also helps to distract players from noticing that they are mostly doing more of the same all through the game. In Witches of the Revolution, you are not going to be developing an engine or an overarching strategy. That’s not necessarily a damning criticism; just be aware that this is a game where you will doing essentially similar things from start to finish.
Like most fully co-operative games, Witches of the Revolution is playable as a solitaire game, and the rules offer an option that compensates solo players for being unable to share cards with others. The rules also include options and suggestions for varying the level of difficulty. This will be especially welcome to those taking advantage of this game’s accessibility to use it as a gateway game.
You are probably not going to be playing Witches of the Revolution time and time again, but it’s worth checking out for its relatively unusual combination of mechanics and if either the supernatural or historical themes appeal to you.