As a huge fan of both Andrzej Sapkowski’s books and CD Projekt Red’s video games, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on The Witcher Adventure Game. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but had faith Ignacy Trzewiczek would stay true to lore and not produce a lemon.
Positioned somewhere between the novels and the video games, The Witcher Adventure Game pits two to four players against each other in a race to complete quests and earn victory points. While borrowing much from both the video games and the books, this is very much a game in its own right. You don’t need prior knowledge of the series to play and it’s accessible enough to appeal to anyone that enjoys strategic board games. With that said, anyone who has knowledge of the Witcher lore will find this game very rewarding as it’s clearly well researched.
Players may choose from four characters, each of whom play relatively the same. However, to use them well, different strategies must be applied to each. Geralt’s strength lies in fighting monsters, Dandelion’s best at paying his way out of situations, and Yarpen has a team of companions to help out. Triss has… well, I never really quite figured out how to play Triss. She didn’t seem to have any particular skill or development that gave her an edge like with the others.
The game works on a very simple premise: complete main quests until the required total is met (three for a standard game, five for epic). Once a player completes the required number, the round is complete, and whoever has the most victory points is declared the winner. Whether this earns a gratuitous sex scene or not is up to you (That’s a Witcher video game joke… not an official rule of the board game). Victory points are gained by defeating monsters and completing quests. While completing all main quests may seem like a fast track to victory it’s not always the case. Each main quest comes with three side quests, each of which offers additional victory points upon completion. Sometimes this is as simple as visiting a location or paying a fee, other times you’re required to do something a bit more complex. No matter what the task is, they’re often worth attempting and can often net you quick points, making them a viable means of winning if another player is rushing to complete their mains.
As the title dictates, The Witcher Adventure Game is meant to be an adventure. It achieves this by focusing on game story and resource gathering in lieu of more traditional adventure game elements – a la dungeon crawlers like Hero’s Quest or D&D Wrath of Ashardalon. All quests and event cards are story driven, with actions modelled on The Witcher video game series. When viewing a card, players are presented with a brief paragraph detailing their objectives as well as story components for each of the associated actions. In this way, each player is provided with a unique story as they progress. For example, you might have a primary quest requiring that you head to Oxenfurt and slay a bruxa. Before doing so, you must gather proof of its existence and, if desired, travel to Kaer Morhen for some vampire oil, gather intel, and learn how to protect yourself from the bruxa’s shriek. Unfortunately, these side quests have no impact on your primary goal, which left me with the feeling that they weren’t an integral part of my story. Sure they gave extra victory points, but learning how to avoid the bruxa’s shriek or obtaining the vampire oil didn’t make the final battle any easier. It reminded me of the first Assassin’s Creed game, where you researched the best way to perform an assassination, but then had to perform it the same way regardless.
Much like the video game, quests revolve around resolving issues and collecting rewards. Regardless of the mission selected, the core process of “acquiring proof” remains consistent. Proof isn’t strictly story related and, put simply, is just performing tasks to gain lead tokens that may be exchanged for proof. For example, if Geralt needed two red “proof tokens” in order to complete his main quest he’d have to acquire enough red “lead tokens” to facilitate the exchange. Over the course of collecting these leads or completing tasks he’d be drawing investigation cards, foul fate cards, and good fortune cards; each of which has a side story he would build into his main quest. Maybe Milva gave him some archery training, or perhaps he was injured by a runaway wagon – or maybe he just took a breaker and lost some coin lying with a lady of the night.
This story element is a feature that, in my experience, makes or breaks the game. If you have a group of interested players who will get involved with the role-playing element, it can be a lot of fun. However, if you play with people who ignore the story and just skip to their objectives, the simplicity of the core gameplay is revealed and it’s not as enjoyable. In fact, if you’re not interested in the story (or prefer a more gameplay-oriented title) you’d probably be better off playing something like Descent or Super Dungeon Explore instead. Without the story component, The Witcher Adventure Game is just a unique, yet simplistic game.
That said, I must say the combat in The Witcher Adventure Game is both distinctive and very interesting. Monster cards provide the requirements for a successful attack or defence against a particular monster and show the penalties (if any) of failure. You then have a single roll to determine the outcome of your battle. This feels basic and weighted against the player at first, but as you develop your character, you gain more opportunity to alter the result of the dice, thus changing your fortune in battle. If interested in the details of this mechanic, be sure to check out our “How to Play” article or video series. It’s a very enjoyable system and a nice change from the usual hit or miss mechanics.
On each turn, players must think strategically, as choices they make can greatly affect their chance at long-term success. On any given turn, a player is permitted to perform two actions – they may either travel, investigate, develop, perform a character specific action, and/or rest. As the name implies, travel is simply the task of travelling between locations. The Investigation option involves drawing and resolving investigation cards – a task that, sometimes, provides leads to help resolve your current quests. Unfortunately, investigations never felt fairly balanced, so I often chose other, more certain means of attaining leads. For example, travelling to Wyzima grants you a purple lead simply for arriving. Drawing a purple investigation card may provide you with purple leads, but there’s a good chance you’ll suffer ill fortune instead. So is it worth the risk?
The development task is extremely useful in preparing yourself for the mid-to-late game. This task merely involves drawing two development cards and choosing one to assign to your character. Development cards are all character specific and vary significantly to allow different play styles. Geralt’s cards relate to potions, witcher signs, and gear – all designed to modify combat results. Triss has a variety of spells and magical objects, affecting both combat and game actions. Dandelion’s revolve around avoiding combat or paying for modifiers, and Yarpen has a mixture of them all. Each player also has a character-specific action they can perform, each related (mostly) to their development process. For example, Geralt can brew potions, Triss can prepare spells, Dandelion can sing for gold, and Yarpen can – once again – do a mixture of everything. The way you develop your character directly impacts the speed and efficiency with which you can resolve quests, so you need your actions if you want to remain competitive.
A fantastic feature of The Witcher Adventure Game is that you can’t die. The game ends when the first player reaches the primary quest requirement, but before then – there’s no way to lose the game. When taking damage, characters place a wound token on their character sheet beside one of their actions to indicate that action cannot be performed. Wounds are removed by performing a rest action on your turn and, not surprisingly, a wound cannot be placed beside the rest action. In this way the game cleverly reduces the immediate impact of injury without taking away its importance.
All in all, The Witcher Board Game is a fun experience that demonstrates deep knowledge of Witcher lore. It should prove an enjoyable experience for newcomers to the Witcher world, but far more rewarding for fans of the series. That said, I do feel that it will age poorly and, without something to vary or expand on the stories, will become something played for the novelty rather than the experience. It’s not a bad game by any means, just not a great one either. The game hosts many great ideas, but not enough to rate it high on my list of recommendations.