How can Death be an “easy” problem?
After the sad news of the death of Terry Pratchett this week, it seemed only right and proper to play a game based on his work. Miss B has read one of his novels, The Wee Free Men (one I haven’t yet read), and so has been introduced to the character of Tiffany Aching and the environs of Lancre, so was interested in playing The Witches, a game which features Tiffany and other trainee witches trying to deal with enough problems to keep their homes from descending into chaos.
There are a number of interesting things about The Witches. One, which probably won’t surprise Discworld afficionados, is that all of the player controlled characters are female. It’s sad that this is worth remarking on, but this game is unique within my collection in this respect. Another is that, while there are bad guys to defeat, most of the challenges are mundane things like dealing with a farmer’s sick pig, or helping with a pregnancy. Also that you have to be really careful in using magical powers for fear of the cackles that lead you into darkness and becoming like Black Aliss, but take comfort that having a cup of tea with your fellow witches can help you keep the darkness at bay.
This is basically an adventure game where you wander about and deal with challenges around the board (which increase in number each turn if you aren’t quick in dealing with them), but designer Martin Wallace has done a lovely job in making the game feel like its source material. The detail is all neatly abstracted away, so to deal with a problem you just roll a couple of dice, then choose to either run away or play cards to help yourself, then roll a couple more dice to finish off. It’s really simple once you’ve done it once or twice (though I found it took a little while to explain everything before we started), and when you get going the game flows really well.
Miss B got the hang of the game right away and was soon off solving problems. This is one of those games where we naturally start building a narrative around our characters as the game develops. Miss B’s version of Tiffany Aching turned out to be a natural at comforting folk grieving for their deceased relatives, while my Petulia Gristle, in addition to being a dab hand at curing sick pigs, also had a real knack for fixing broken arms. And when you manage to get help from the older witches, particularly when you manage to get three of them at once (the unstoppable Power of Three) the results are really satisfying. B was frustrated for a while by the perception that I was getting more luck than her, but in the end, while I dealt with more problems overall, she managed to solve trickier ones and we ended up in a tie for points, broken by the fact that I had fewer cackle tokens and won by the slimmest of margins.
The general opinion in the gaming world seems to be that this is a bit disappointing as a game, being not very challenging. I’d say that it is no less challenging (in terms of strategy and skill) than most other adventure games I have tried, and out-charms just about anything. I like The Witches a great deal and hope to play it a lot more. It seems to me like a nice way to go about remembering the late Sir Terry.
The verdict from Miss B (aged nearly 8¼): “It was really good but I found it frustrating at times. It’s good fun. I think it was coincidence, but I was Tiffany Aching, who started with an invisibility tile and I was the only one who drew invisibility cards! I give it a 9 out of 10.”
The game: The Witches (Mayfair Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.