With Halloween almost around the corner, it’s time to think about games with spooky themes. As you plan your fall parties, you could break out the old titles that everyone’s played like Betrayal at House on the Hill, Mansions of Madness, or Last Night on Earth … or you could try something new that both teenagers and adults will enjoy. The Village Crone, a new game from Fireside Games (Castle Panic, Dead Panic, Munchkin Panic) is a gateway resource management/worker placement game for 1-6 players that features witches, fun spells, and familiars.
You play as witches who have come across the medieval village of Wickersby, a town with a blacksmith, a farmer, and a miller, but without a Crone. You will have to compete with your fellow players to harvest ingredients that will enable you to cast spells to summon villagers to locations, make them fall in (and out of) love, turn them into frogs, and more. The player who accomplishes the most challenging spell combinations and scores the most points will win the title of The Village Crone!
Like all Fireside Games, the components for The Village Crone are of very high quality. You can tell a lot of thought went into every decision and no corners were cut in manufacturing. In the box, you’ll find 6 modular boards for gameplay. That means every game can be different, simply by virtue of where the boards are placed. The rules book even recommends some tougher configurations for more advanced players. The boards represent six areas of Wickersby: the Lord’s Manor, the Village Green, Farm, Mill, Forge, and Tithe Barn.
There are 144 ingredients printed on high quality mini-cards, representing the fire, soil, flour, and silver you’ll need to cast your spells. Additionally, there are a number of eye of newt cards, which act as wild cards in the game. On full-size cards are 50 Witch’s Schemes, which represent the game conditions a player must fulfill to score points. These cards come in values of 1, 2, and 3.
Each player gets a “Book of Spells” screen to protect her cards and Scheme cards from the evil, prying eyes of other players. On the side facing the board is the witch’s name, a visual representation of the character, and the familiar associated with that witch. On the player side, players can read the order of play, a list of spells, their required ingredients, and the incantations that go along with them. Finally, there are some reminders of the more important rules in the game.
Small tokens represent the witches’ familiars and there are 5 for each player. Familiars are bats, ravens, rats, snakes, spiders, and cats and each are color keyed to a particular witch. There are also tokens of little, green frogs for transforming villagers; large, magical rings to represent binding spells; big hearts to join and represent love between villagers; and a broom that serves as the first player marker.
And, of course, there’s a rule book. One of the incredibly nice things about The Village Crone is that the game arrives already punched and its components separated in zipper bags. You are immediately ready to play. But, believe it or not, that’s not the most impressive thing about the components.
In the box, there are plastic stands and cardboard standees to represent the six villagers who will be controlled by your spells: the Priest, Lord, Blacksmith, Miller, Farmer, and the Peasant. I don’t know about you, but I’ve grown so accustomed to plastic minis in my games these days that cardboard standees make me raise my eyebrows just a bit. However, I also don’t like the higher cost of games that are packed with plastic figures.
Don’t fret. Fireside Games has both sides covered — and in a way that is amazingly innovative. Rather than suffer the cost of creating a bunch of molds and having figures made (and you and I having to pay more for a game that has a lot of plastic), Fireside Games has ingeniously packed their game with cardboard standees, so it can be played right away. But if you’re someone who has to have minis, there’s an option for you, too. On The Village Crone page, there is a link to files that you can download (at absolutely no charge) for sculpts of all the figures and tokens in the game. Download the file and then you’re free to print your own minis at home (or library or local maker space) using a 3D printer. It’s a brilliant solution and one I expect we’ll see from other publishers soon. I’ve never seen this in a mass market game and I absolutely love the idea.
Setup and Play
Before beginning a game, the boards are randomly placed in a 2 x 3 grid. A villager standee, associated with each board is placed in each home location — miller in the mill, blacksmith in the forge, etc. Three eye of newt cards are randomly shuffled into each individual deck of ingredients, which are then placed in their home locations — flour in the mill, fire in the forge, etc.
Each player takes a “Book of Spells” screen and its associated familiar tokens. Additionally, each player gets a Witch’s Scheme card in each point value, 1, 2, and 3. A first player is chosen (the rules suggest the person with a birthday closest to Halloween) and is given the first player broom token. After reviewing their Witch’s Scheme cards and evaluating the spells required to achieve each card, players take turns placing three of their familiars on various home locations, one at a time. For each location that has ingredients, the player is allowed to harvest two ingredients. Setup is now complete and gameplay begins.
The first step of every round is for the witches to tithe a single ingredient to the Tithe Barn. This is done with face-down cards and a witch with a familiar in the Tithe Barn is exempt from this requirement.
The rest of a player’s turn is very fluid. It consists of movement and spell casting, but the order in which it happens can vary greatly from round to round and player to player. Movement consists of six total units of movement. This can be applied to familiars or villagers and is orthogonal movement, never diagonal. A player can move one square, cast a spell, and then continue movement. There is no limit to the number of spells that can be cast in a turn, as long as the player has the ingredients to cast them.
The number of familiars in any of these particular locations: the Forge, Mill, Farm, Lord’s Manor, and Tithe Barn, is limited to the number of players in the game. Should the number of familiars ever exceed the number of players, a Scattering immediately occurs. The last familiar in gets to stay at that location and all the others are sent to the Village Green. Additionally, the villager who calls that location home is immediately called back.
There are eight spells that a player can cast: Conjuring (allows player to generate another familiar, up to five total), Love (joins or breaks a villager with another), Summoning (moves a villager or familiar to a location containing your familiar), Switching (swap places between two familiars and/or villagers), Transformation (turns a villager into a frog (or the opposite)), Fortune (draw 3 ingredients from the Tithe Barn), Binding (locks a location so nothing can move to or from it and spells don’t work in that location), and Protection (blocks a spell cast by another witch).
When casting one of these spells, a witch must consult her Book of Spells, discard the ingredients, and read the incantation on the screen. Should a witch neglect to say the incantation, other witches can point this out and her spell fails and she loses her ingredients. The rules playfully suggest that players can come up with their own incantations, leading to some funky spell cast freestylin’ around our table. Challenge yourself to come up with your own spells, it’s a lot of goofy fun.
The final thing a witch can do on her turn is complete a Witch’s Scheme card. These cards are full of goals that range from simple one point challenges like “Summon the Priest to the Forge” to cards which require three conditions to be met. All of these conditions must be currently active for the Witch’s Scheme card to be completed. For instance, on the three-point “Deflate the Villagers” card, the peasant must be at the farm, the blacksmith must be at the Tithe Barn, and the Priest must be at the Forge. You can’t say “Well, the priest was at the Forge last turn,” to complete the Scheme.
There are additional conditions that must be met when completing a Witch’s Scheme card. Goals are marked either by fully shaded diamonds or outlines of circles. If the goal has a diamond, you must be the witch to have made that goal happen for it to count toward your scheme. If the goal is attached to the outline of a circle, you can benefit from the spell or action of another witch. To illustrate that, the Witch’s Scheme “Admonish the Lord” has two goals: Summon the Lord to the Tithe Barn and Make the Lord fall in Love with the Miller. The first goal is attached to a diamond, the second to a circle. If another witch has already made the Lord fall in Love with the Miller, all you have to do is summon the Lord (the Miller will automatically travel with him) to the Tithe Barn. Card scored.
There are various other small rules about replacing Witch’s Scheme cards, trading ingredients, and discarding Schemes, but there are really only two other major rules that should be mentioned here. First, and this is a really enjoyable rule, Witch’s Schemes may be completed out of turn. You can’t interrupt another witch’s movement or spell casting, but if you see conditions exist on the board that will allow you to complete a Scheme, you may pay a single silver ingredient card and go on to cast spells to complete the conditions required to satisfy your Witch’s Scheme.
Finally, there’s the final step in a round, the Harvest, where each player takes two ingredient cards for each location where she has a familiar. If she has no familiars in locations that generate resources, she’s allowed to take 2 cards from the Tithe Barn. The broom is then passed on to the next player and another round begins with tithing. The first player to accumulate thirteen points of Witch’s Scheme cards wins.
Compared to previous games from Fireside Games, The Village Crone is really a bit of a departure, exploring more complex mechanics and higher strategy. When I first read the rules, I thought it was going to be a simple game of resource management and worker placement, but it ended up being a bit tougher and deeper than anticipated.
Because you can interrupt other players’ turns to take advantage of board situations, there’s a lot to keep track of and juggle in your mind. First, you need to know what spells and conditions are required on your Witch’s Scheme cards. You have to be considering what ingredients you have – and which ones you need – to cast your spells, but you also need to be paying attention to what’s happening on the board to see if favorable conditions are developing for you. And if things are turning against your plans, do you have the ingredients to cast Protection to stop another witch? Complete a Scheme card and all of a sudden you may need to complete reassess your strategy and ingredients to complete a new card.
The ability to interrupt is really interesting and lends more than a little anarchy to the game. It causes players to really pay attention to the moves each other player makes, especially when playing with more witches, and this creates a feeling of stress, since you need to be paying attention to your own strategy and schemes. It’s a neat concept, and I think Fireside is great at coming up with little twists that affect gameplay positively, like they did with rotating monster tokens that indicated remaining hit points in Castle Panic.
I really appreciate Fireside’s devotion to quality, both in gameplay and components. Everything looks and feels top-notch, making for a great gaming experience. What’s more, the idea of providing 3D sculpt files is innovative and really contributes to the value-add of The Village Crone.
The rulebook includes rules for solitaire play and, while I haven’t tried this variant yet, it looks fun. Additionally, there are alternate rules to spice up the game a bit after you’ve played it a few times. The expected running time for this game is 90 minutes, but we’ve consistently played games that last just over an hour with four and five players.
The Village Crone will be hitting stores on September 16 and will retail for $49.95.
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.