Review: The Witcher Adventure Game17 Dec 2014 0
The Witcher Adventure Game is a strange mix of really bad and the really average. None of its positives will blow you away, but its negatives? Woof.
The Witcher Adventure Game is based on a board game that was released simultaneously with the digital version and, as a board game, it’s okay. It’s from designer Ignacy Trzewiczek, who’s done some brilliant designs like Imperial Settlers and Robinson Crusoe and is known for making strongly thematic, story-driven games. That's not the case here, but the game itself isn't terrible. It's just a tad dull.
The app that brings the board game to us in digital format, however, is a problem. Actually, it's littered with problems ranging from bugs, poor AI, and some inexplicable choices regarding game saves.
The Witcher Adventure Game is based on a series of computer RPGs that I’ve not played, and such, they will not be mentioned again in the review. It’s an adventure game along the lines of Talisman or Runebound, which means you’ll spend your time walking around, solving quests, and fighting monsters. Unlike Talisman or Runebound, where everyone is trying to be the first to accomplish some major quest, the entire point of The Witcher AG is to tally up victory points, which feels less like heroic derring-do and more like fantasy accounting.
Victory points are acquired by completing quests and occasionally fighting monsters. The main mechanism is the quests, one of which each player will draft at the beginning of the game, and will only draw a new one when the Main Quest on that card is completed. Quest cards are divided into sections detailing the Main Quest, side quests, and support quests. All of these will snag you victory points. The Main Quests are the hardest to accomplish, but will net you a large amount of points all at once. The side quests are optional, and can get you 2-4VP for completing them. The side quests are very simple and require merely to travel to a location on the board or to spend a relatively small number of tokens. Support quests are quests that other players can fulfill on your quest card, and if they do both of you will gain some VP.
So far, it doesn’t sound bad—run around, quest, victory points!—and it’s not. It’s not incredibly exciting, but it works. Part of the problem is that the quests are sorely lacking in variety. Quests are divided into 3 decks, Diplomacy, Combat, and Magic which correspond to the colors purple, red, and blue respectively. There are also Investigation Tokens in these same colors. Solving quests involves collecting tokens of the appropriate colors and converting them to “proofs". To collect tokens, you enter cities which will give you a free token just for visiting, or you can do an Investigation action, which we’ll get to in a bit. The big take-away here is that solving quests involves collecting tokens and turning them into proofs -- it's hardly the stuff of high-fantasy legend.
Each of the four heroes specializes in a different color of token (except the dwarf, who treats all tokens equally), and can convert one color into a proof more easily than the others. For example, Geralt of Rivia only needs 3 red Investigation tokens to create a red proof, but he needs 7 purple Diplomacy tokens to create a purple proof. Main quests from the Combat deck (where Geralt would be picking) involve collecting 1 or 2 red proofs and 1 or 2 proofs of the other colors. Is this starting to sound dry? It is. Very. Remember the early quests in World of Warcraft where all you had to do was run around and collect items and it felt like a grind? Welcome to questing in The Witcher.
Now, luckily searching for tokens isn’t the only thing you do on your turn. You have 2 actions to spend, and 6 actions to choose from. Each character can perform the following actions: movement, fast movement, investigate, develop, rest. Move allows you to move one space on the board, whereas fast movement allows 2 spaces to be crossed, but for a hefty price. Investigate allows you to pull an Investigation Card. These are random cards that can award you more Investigation tokens, but can take them away just as easily. There’s nothing more fun than losing stuff you just spent the last 20 minutes collecting, especially when you need it to, you know, win the game. When you're wounded, you need to cover up actions with wound tokens and the Rest action lets you remove some of these. Lastly, Develop is the “level-up” mechanism in the game. Yes, you can just choose to level up each turn, presumably by settling down with an Elven self-help book and doing some quiet introspection.
You draw 2 Development cards and keep one from your character’s develop deck. These cards allow you more dice in combat, or ways to manipulate dice in combat, or other such things to make your character better. There is no reason to not take this action every single turn at the beginning of the game, and I found that all my games followed the path of developing like crazy at the beginning of the game and amassing a great deal of development cards and then never using this action for the rest of the game.
After you take your 2 actions, you have to deal with something miserable in the region your in. This can take the form of a creature or something called a Foul Fate (an awful encounter you just want to avoid as a rule). Creatures come in bronze, silver, and gold strengths, but are all basically the same other than their difficulty. You must roll battle dice and some of your character dice to try to match a certain number of swords and shields for the monster. If you roll enough shields but not swords, the monster lives but you take no damage. If you roll enough swords but not shields, you kill the monster but also take damage. Each creature can have a reward for either matching the shields or swords, such as a victory point or gold. Combat, actually, is very well done in the game and adds much needed spice to the rather boring main game of token collecting. Using all your development cards to flip dice or bring out new dice during combat is a fun little mini-game that’s probably my favorite part of the whole thing.
So, that’s the entire game. Move around, collect tokens, fight stuff. Repeat over and over. It’s not an incredibly exciting game, but, despite the repetitiveness I found myself wanting to complete the quests and try my hand at some dice rolling to defeat a beast or two.
Now lets talk about this two-headed monster that is the app itself. As you would expect from anything related to producers Fantasy Flight -- it’s remarkably beautiful. The board has a pseudo 3D effect, and simulates different weather as you scroll across the board. It is truly stunning to look at. The UI is fine, and it brings everything for each character front and center, making the action selection incredibly easy and intuitive. There are a lot of buttons to push, but it's a minor quibble.
And then there's the other head. The game doesn't save if you leave the app for some reason. Now, I know that BattleLore: Command has been getting hit for the same problem but there’s a difference. BattleLore missions take 30 minutes at the most. Lose a save and you’re out a half hour -- annoying. Match that with The Witcher which never saves your game and can easily have games of 4-players running 2-3 hours in length. Once you start a Witcher game, you’re there for the entire running time or you lose everything. That's far beyond and annoying and into unprintable territory.
The same issue regarding saves applies to the multiplayer portion of the app. You can play online multiplayer, but good luck finding a random game. The PC, Android, and iPad versions are not cross-platform, so you’re looking at a pool of players on your device type only. Not that you’d want to play an online game anyway, seeing as you can’t leave your tablet for the next couple hours.
The in game rules refer to things in the cardboard version, and the tutorial is done completely with videos. The videos are all well produced, but are a fairly terrible way to learn a game. Learning requires tinkering, but you’ll have to just try and remember everything for when you go and launch a game. It’s passable, but my first several games were a complete joke of not knowing what was going on.
The Witcher Adventure Game is the first board game adaptation in a while that hasn’t been right on target. The board game its based on isn’t fantastic, but it’s definitely playable and could be something you could go back and try in small doses if you were allowed to save the game. It's that absurd technical oversight that is really its downfall. If this was a 20-30 minute game, maybe, but clocking in at over 2 hours and not being able to save is a death sentence. Knowing that the odds are stacked against finishing a game doesn't give me much incentive to start one.
The Witcher Adventure Game was played on an iPad Air for this review.