Note: This review was written in cooperation with The Idiosyncracy of Life in Words‘ editor bino32.
Soon, CD Project RED will release their much-anticipated RPG The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. With The Witcher Adventure Game, a multiplayer-focused adaptation of the board game, one can already spend some time in this fantasy world.
Story à la card(s)
It’s difficult to talk about story in the strictest sense of the word when playing this board game, as quests and therefore plot development depends on random distributions. If one has played a Witcher game before, then there will be many references to existing characters, monsters and locations. But it’s not necessary to know the universe Andrzej Sapkowski created with his novels and CD Project RED build the RPG series around.
The quest descriptions and occurrences in-game still evoke a feeling of adventure set in a fantasy world without excluding players not familiar with the franchise. Still, it has to be said that the nature of the game with its many random and therefore incoherent cards makes immersion in the world less successful. One isn’t given the time necessary to connect to characters, their goals and the world they live in, something many board games apparently share.
On a journey you must go
Gameplay revolves around 1-4 players moving around a map and solving various tasks in order to gain/earn Victory Points (VP). These tasks depend on what the individual quests require, and it’s here that things start to get interesting but also a bit complicated. At the start of each game, one can choose how many quests have to be completed and how long turns can take. A time limit can of course make things faster, but this is certainly no game finished in less than 10 minutes, in contrast to what the descriptions suggest. Playing more than one main quest, though, is closer to the estimate due to having advanced in the game and not starting from scratch with each new task.
Without going too much into detail, one can decide if one wants to go on an investigation, persuasion quest or a battle journey. Fight you must, as Yoda so adeptly put it. Still, having different goals for each player makes it far more interesting to build strategies. Unfortunately, the quests become rather repetitive over time. There are main quests and side quests, while support quests can only be completed if one stands on the same platform as the other player and solves his/her problems, which is a bit confusing, because one has to look at the other person’s goal and not one’s own.
But still, this is the only time that positive interaction between players takes place as one usually suffers from the others drawing Foul Fate Cards. It’s a nice feature to help each other out and have both players earn some extra VPs. Side quests, as strange as it sounds, are a really important feature, as collecting leads to gain proofs involves a lot of traversing the fantasy world. Completing side quests when going from place to place really keeps one going. It also gives the short or longer trips meaning and adds to the fun. Gaining as many VPs as possible is also the way to go, as completing quests (or rather the game) first doesn’t necessarily mean that one wins.
Confused you’ll be, so much to learn you have
When being thrown into the game, confusion will be felt throughout the first couple of hours. Sure, there are some tutorial videos, but the number of rules and intricate gameplay are only revealed by constantly playing, experimenting, and also interacting with other players. Maybe this finding out about various strategies of the game is what makes it so much fun. The chat function in-game works really well if used appropriately with someone one knows. It’s a good feature to have the chance to create private lobbies so that inexperienced players can work out the game together without anyone “disturbing” them.
Gameplay doesn’t come without its balancing problems though, as e.g. Geralt, the main protagonist of the Witcher series, is the best fighter with starting conditions being much better than those of other characters. For him as a warrior, it is easier to win against enemies at the “Resolve” stage of each turn. Those who play Geralt can roll 6 dice while other characters have fewer. In combination with certain development cards, this makes it nearly impossible for Geralt to lose a battle and thus receive wounds or Foul Fate Tokens which so often hinder other players. At some point in the game the Foul Fate Tokens can become pretty annoying and thus take away some of the game’s fun. Exchanging leads for proof, each character has the advantage on his/her field of expertise, i.e. fighting, magic etc..
Roaming and exploring a fantasy world with a buddy
The game is clearly targeted at local or online co-op play with no connectivity problems and without too many confusing option menus. This also becomes apparent when trying out matches against the A.I. which is just bad at solving problems and completing tasks, e.g. A.I. characters sometimes travel about the board aimlessly although a quest can be completed with one simple draw. Maybe having the option to change the difficulty setting would have been better for solo players. It’s also disappointing that one can’t bring in another A.I. player when playing co-op, so it’s either finding 2 more friends or others online.
Feels like sitting at the table, listening to medieval tunes
The presentation of the game is limited to what a board game can do, i.e. there are a few nice details in the background like snow falling in the mountains, smoking chimneys, or a flying monster which make the setting livelier. The cards are also nicely drawn, as they show the artwork behind the Witcher games (although a few contain spelling mistakes). Scrolling the mouse wheel changes one’s perspective so that the flat board becomes closer to 3D, i.e. while normally one sees the board as if sitting on a chair, one then feels like seeing it from the edge of a table. However, the lack of cutscenes in addition to a real story makes it less involving than the series it’s based on.
The orchestral soundtrack is quite good with varied fantasy tunes and various instruments, although there are also some instances when the music suddenly stops. However, it conveys a certain medieval atmosphere that fits the game and one can imagine the characters roaming through a fantasy world set in the time of the Dark Ages. Music becomes more frantic when one has to fight a battle while it is quieter when simply traveling. The sound effects of achievements, like collecting certain clues, are quite satisfying and the rolling of dices or movement of figures just sounds right enough as if one plays it for real.
A different board game experience
The Witcher Adventure Game isn’t an easy game to immediately fall in love with due to its complicated rules which require some learning. But like any good board game, the more one plays, especially with a human opponent one knows, the more fun it is. Despite the lack of real story progression or relatable character development as in the original Witcher games, the gameplay becomes addictive and even with each game presenting as many frustrations as successes, one still wants to have one more go at it.
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