Use your cauldron wisely to multiply actions because the more you do, the better.
As established representatives of your guild, you gather around an ancient sacred stone, the significance and magical powers of which are known to adepts only. Each player occupies one of the four towers around the Witchstone and starts from there. Create your magic spells with the help of your cauldron, and put a network of magic energy around the stone. Send out your witches, scoop the magic crystals out of the cauldron, make use of the pentagram and the magic wand, and keep an eye on the prophecy scrolls in order to ensure victory.
Not all options are always available to you. Only if you cleverly make the most of your opportunities will you have the chance of accumulating the most victory points over the eleven rounds and thereby win Witchstone.
Each player starts the game with 15 action tiles, shuffles them and places 5 tiles face-up behind their player screen. Witchstone is played over a series of rounds in which players place one of their face-up action tiles in their own personal cauldron. Each action tile shows two magic-icons, by placing the tiles in their cauldron they try to make groups of matching icons. The larger the group of matching symbols the more powerful their actions will be. After placing the tile they get to perform the two actions associated with the magic icons.
Connect locations on the central board and earn 1, 3 or 6 victory points (VP) for completing connections. Each player starts the game with a tower on the central board which acts as their starting location for their network. This also lets you later move witches along those connections. The number of connections tokens you may place depends on the number of matching icons in the action group.
Lay witches next to your tower and move them from there to other connected locations. At the other locations you earn 2 VP and if you're the first there you also receive the magic chip which can give you an additional action or even more VPs.
Advance on the pentagram and obtain Owl tiles (3-7 VPs) and special action tiles. When you receive a special action tile you need to choose between using the action tile once: carrying out one of the two actions twice; or permanent: placing it in your cauldron to provide extra symbols when later placing new action tiles in your cauldron;
Each player starts the game with a number of crystals in their Cauldron. These block placement spots for your actions tiles. This action lets you move Crystals in your Cauldron and activate additional actions by moving one or more Crystals out of the Cauldron through one of the exits. Crystals still in your cauldron at the end of the game are worth negative VP.
Magic Wand Action
Advance on the Magic Wand and obtain bonus actions as well as VP. The player ahead receives extra bonus actions.
The scroll action lets you take 1 scroll from the display. There are two different types of scrolls: Reinforcing Spells: that improve your actions; Prophecies: are task cards that, when completed, grant you extra VP at the end of the game.
The game ends when the players have only 4 out of 15 actions tiles left. Some final VP are awarded to the players and the player with the most VP is the new Master of the Witchstone!
I really respect Reiner Knizia as a designer, since he co-designed Witchstone, this game has been on my radar since it was released. The ease of play and the elegant flow in his games are some of the best out there. Does Witchstone also live up to this?
After playing Witchstone at a local meet-up I was eager for more, so I decided to straight-up get my own copy. And let me tell you why.
If I wouldn't have known the designers beforehand I could've probably still told you that Knizia is involved. His influence and game design really shines through with balanced strategy paths and smooth gameplay. Once you know the rules you're rarely looking up rules in the rulebook. I like to call games likt that learn once, and play forever (if you play it at least once every few months).
The action selection / placement is brilliant and offers a lot of decision making. You also need to plan ahead so you can make the most of your actions by creating large matching icon groups. Once you know the available actions tiles (one tile exists for each action combination) you can really start to plan your strategy around that.
While the artwork and theme is beautifully illustrated it does not really shine through in the gameplay as I think this could've easily themed differently. Not that big of a problem for me, but if you need that in your games this is something to consider.
With all the different areas you can focus on there is plenty of replay-ability, but I do think that you can't ignore certain areas (for example the network building). This makes the replay-ability a bit less then preferable, but still pretty good I think. Since all areas seem well balanced I think you wont find any strategies that are more strong than others. Sometimes I do feel that maybe the game is too balanced (if that is even a thing) because it doesn't really matter what you focus on, it will grant you points anyway.
You also need to keep an eye on your opponents as most areas grant you benefits for being first. So if you let someone roam free in an area, it's possible they'll score a lot of extra points.
Another aspect I really like about Withstone is the combo's you can build during your turns as there are various ways to earn additional bonus actions. For example: advance at the Cauldron, which lets me move my Witch, which in turn lets me move up on the Magic Want track. I've really come to like these combo chaining mechanism in games
👍 Perfect light-medium gateway game with approachable rules and theme
👍 Brilliant action selection / placement mechanics
👍 Multiple viable strategies, also keep an eye on your opponents!
👍 Artwork and iconography is perfect
👍 Combo-breaking galore!
➖ Theme is pasted on
➖ Game feels almost to balanced
Witchstone is an almost perfect game that is easy to get into and flows really elegant. The action selection is really well executed and the artwork gives the game a beautiful table presence. It has some flaws but given the positives I'm willing to overlook those. Another brilliant design that can be added to the Knizia line of games.
Rating: ★★★★★★★★☆☆ (8/10)
Looking for alternatives or similar games? Have a look at Bonfire if you would like a tougher challenge!