Use Spells to Fight Tyranny in ‘Witches of the Revolution’

Reading Time: 10 minutes
Witches of the Revolution box
The game box

Think back to your history classes. What were the turning points in the American Revolution? Taxation run amok? The Boston Massacre? Washington’s surprise attack after a night crossing of the Delaware? Witch covens fighting against tyranny and playing a key role in the fight for independence?

Wait, what?

In this alternate history of the United States, you and your fellow players act as witches, fighting for freedom, working together towards victory. Witches of the Revolution is a cooperative deck-building game for 1-4 players aged 13 and up and takes about 30-60 minutes to play.

Witches of the Revolution Components

In this box, you’ll find:

  • A game board
  • 32 tokens (4 each in 8 different icons)
  • A Liberty token
  • A Moon track token
  • 4 Starting coven decks (15 cards each in 4 different characters)
  • 17 Objective cards
  • 6 Blessing cards
  • 30 Recruit cards
  • 80 Event cards (40 normal, 40 hard difficulty)

The starting coven, blessing, and recruit cards are all standard poker size. The art is interesting, it appears to be leather hung on a wood wall and all of the card illustrations are line drawings.

Witches of the Revolution Objectives

Each of the beginning sets of coven cards features a single character, the class identifier (in this case, Seeker), a single star, an effect, and a series of icons. Each beginning card in a coven deck has a series of two magic icons, none repeating on a single card. Throughout the game, there are six types of magic, each identified by a color and a unique symbol. The magic types are: brewing (a crucible), channeling (a hand), enchanting (a smoky curl), familiars (an animal face), hexes (a star), and rituals (a goblet). On the back of the starting coven cards is a silhouette portrait.

With the same backs are the recruit cards, these are the cards the coven will be building their decks with. Many are people, but some are relics. The recruits have three to six magic icons on them. They also have effect text and multiple pentagrams on them, which represent their value and cost. There are a variety of relics, but only three types of witches — Steward Tuathla, wearing a deer skull and carrying a human skull, Celebrant Prudence, bearded and wearing a badger hat, looks like a mountain man, and Dedicant Beatriz, who has a black cat on her shoulders.

Witches of the Revolution Recruits

The Blessing cards have simple iconography and text. The Objective cards represent the challenges you must overcome to win the game. Here, the cards have titles and a colored image, which illustrates the coven’s effect on a historic event. Beneath it is a series of magical icons — a total of six or seven of two different types. At the bottom of the card is an effect, a benefit players receive when overcoming the objective.

The Event cards are mini-sized. On each is a title and a line drawing. Beneath that are two series of magic icons. Additionally, some cards have a Liberty Bell icon, a flintlock pistol, or one of eight different glyphs. The glyphs help with determining a working ratio for the difficulty of the game. You are meant to sort them into eight decks and pick five of the decks before playing to get a balanced game. The cards have effect text which also instructs players when to trigger the event. The hard difficulty cards are noted by a blood stain on the bottom of the cards. On their backs is an interesting combination of a flag and a skull.

The magic objective tokens are mostly square, a bit smaller than postage stamps, and show a magic icon and its color. Two, a moon and a skull are round. The moon token is for unaligned events and the skull is for catastrophes. The markers for the Liberty and Moon tracks are larger, about the size of a fifty cent piece. The board is very nicely sized — not too large, not too small and it’s very clear where everything goes. A turn is spelled out at the top of the board, a nice touch which helps avoid the need for reference cards.

Witches of the Revolution Starting setup

How do you play Witches of the Revolution?

Setup

Players begin by placing the Liberty and Moon tokens at the start spot on their respective tracks. Each player chooses a set of starting coven decks, shuffles them and draws an opening hand of five.

The recruit deck requires a little work. First, the recruit deck is shuffled three recruit cards are dealt to their recruits spots on the board. Next, the deck is split into three approximately equal piles and a random blessing card is shuffled into each pile. The three piles are stacked on one another and placed on the recruit deck spot on the board. Objective cards are randomly dealt to each of the four objective card spots (one card of each of the four types, in my setup for photos, I accidentally included two from the same type) and objective tokens corresponding to the cards are placed just below each of the objectives.

Finally, the event deck is prepared. For an easier game, leave out the hard difficulty cards. If you want a big challenge, only play with the cards with blood drops on them. For a challenge in between, combine the cards to create a 40 card deck that meets your desired level of difficulty.

You’re ready to play.

Witches of the Revolution cards

Gameplay

On a player’s turn they walk through the following actions. Some are optional.

  • Add a recruit. This step is skipped on the first turn but after that, a player should check the recruit row. If there are any open spaces, any available cards are pushed to the right to fill in the spaces and a new card comes from the deck and is placed in the leftmost spot. If the row is full, the recruit in the far right spot gets moved to the discard pile. If the newly revealed card
    is a blessing card, follow its direction before moving recruit cards.
  • Add an event. The spots on the event row work the same way as the recruits. If there are empty spots, move cards to the right to cover them. If the spots are all full, then move all cards to the right and then reveal the topmost card from the event deck. Some cards have an instant “When revealed” effect on them, read that and follow its instruction. If a card with a liberty bell on it moves on to one of the spaces marked with a like bell, move the Liberty track one space closer to tyranny. Bad things may accompany the move on the Liberty track. If an event card with a flintlock pistol moves to a space with the same icon on the board, players must select a card from the recruit row and banish that card to the discard pile. If a card reaches a point at the end of the event row, read the text below the space. Depending on the number of players, you may have just lost the game.
  • Act and/or Recruit. These actions can be taken in any order. Players may do just one (or none) and some cards allow extra actions. When Acting, a player attempts to overcome an event on the event row. By playing cards from their hands, they attempt to present enough magic symbols to meet or exceed the corresponding magic symbols on the event card. Each event card presents two sets of symbols. Players must meet the requirements of one set, but not both. Catastrophe and Unaligned event cards can be overcome by a combination of any symbols. What truly makes this game cooperative is that any player may contribute a card to overcome an event. So each turn becomes a group event, guided by the active player. When an event is overcome, the event card is moved to the discard pile. The player gets to take an objective token from beneath the objective cards that matches one of the two sets on the event that was just overcome. If the overcome event had a Liberty bell on it, move the Liberty tracker two spaces toward Liberty. To Recruit, players pay the star cost of a recruit by discarding cards from their hand. Recruit row offers a couple of discounts, as recruits move toward the discard pile, in a sliding market style. Relics have no cost and can be taken without spending anything.
  • Discard. A player may choose to discard any number of cards from their hand.
  • Draw. This is also an optional step, but if a player chooses to draw, they must draw to the hand size of five cards. If there are no more cards in a player’s deck, they must reshuffle their deck. Each time a deck is reshuffled, the Moon track gets advanced one space.

Witches of the Revolution Starting Decks

There are a few other rules that govern the game. As the moon wanes, with the Moon track advancing, the coven’s power dwindles and the number of symbols required to overcome events increases. As the Liberty track moves closer to tyranny, effects hinder the coven, pertaining to recruiting costs and discount prevention. Objective markers can be used in place of magic symbols on turns and they may also be used to decrease the cost of recruits.

Play continues until the game is won or lost. The game is won when all four objectives have been vanquished and the team’s score is their current value on the Liberty track. The game can be lost in a couple of ways. If the Liberty track ever hits the bottom, absolute tyranny, they lose. If the event card row ever expands to reach the spot that indicates a lose situation for the current number of players, the game ends in a loss. If the last card in the event deck is added to the event row and the players don’t win by the end of that turn, players lose.

Witches of the Revolution Event Cards

Why You Should Play Witches of the Revolution

Witches of the Revolution bills itself as a cooperative deckbuilder. I like co-ops, I like deckbuilders. But I’ve been down this road before where the two meet. For me, the Legendary games are just sort of OK and don’t truly feel cooperative, nor did Paperback. There ends up being too much competition to truly be considered cooperative. Aeon’s End probably comes closest, but it wasn’t a favorite because of the way the initiative and turn order worked, that and its art just turned me off. There are others, but the simple fact is that I haven’t played a cooperative deckbuilder that I was a huge fan of — until now. Witches of the Revolution hits the mark on cooperative deckbuilding better than any of the other similarly billed games I’ve played before.

Witches of the Revolution not only promotes cooperation, but at higher difficulties, it’s nearly impossible to win without it. As events roll out and the Liberty and Moon tracks begin influencing the game, you must have everyone paying attention (and pitching in) on everyone else’s turns — or you will lose. Full cooperation is necessary to stop events before they advance on the event track ad causing game altering effects. Collaboration is also necessary to take advantage of discounts and to grab great recruits on the sliding market of the recruit track.

There are downsides here, of course. By helping out your neighbor, you may not have any good cards left to play on your turn and that can be a bit personally unsatisfying. However, I’d argue that real teamwork is not always uplifting to the individual. The bigger problem though is that a dominant or experienced player can end up quarterbacking the whole game. While this is true of any cooperative endeavor, because Witches of the Revolution demands this level of cooperation, it feels more intense. I’m not sure that it really is though, I think, like any game, it depends on the makeup of your group. Strong players will lead to good debate and strategy development. In that environment, it’s enjoyable to hear how others approach the game.

Witches of the Revolution Blessings

We really liked the variety in difficulty in the game. However, the system of using glyphs to sort and then pick before playing to ensure a balanced game seems more trouble than we really wanted to go through during setup. Maybe we’re just lazy. Experimenting with the ratio of hard to normal events is pretty great. Since the game provides no recipe for ratio of cards, the flip of cards from the event deck often leads to collective gasps and groans as yet another difficult card comes out and someone bemoans that maybe you shouldn’t have stacked the deck so much against the players. The suspense makes for a good gaming experience.

The theme, like on a vast majority of deckbuilders, is a bit irrelevant. The icons and their values are really all that matter. However, if you take the time to read the cards and use them to build your storyline (something that a lot of people skim over when playing deckbuilders), it does enrich the game. I mean, some of the objectives are resurrecting Ben Franklin and curing Paul Revere of lycanthropy. How can you not talk about those things during gameplay?

I don’t play games solo very often, but I did for my first game of this one. I couldn’t find anyone to play with, so I figured I would give it a try alone. The solo mode is very much like a regular game and as soon as I finished my solo game, I rushed off to drag someone to the table. It was so much fun, I wanted to try it at 2 (and then 3 and then 4)!

We liked the artwork of the game very much and our only regret on Witches of the Revolution is that it took so long for us to get to the table. The game was released just after Gen Con, last year. It’s been in regular rotation for the last couple of weeks at game night, which is always a good sign. It’s also one that we’ve talked about when not playing anything, which I take to be an even better sign. It’s a game that uses tried and true mechanics in new ways, actively encourages teamwork, and delivers an enjoyable journey to freedom.

Witches of the Revolution is from Atlas Games and is available now. It retails for $39.95.

Witches of the Revolution Liberty Track

Click here to see all our tabletop game reviews.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with all of our tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

Get the Official GeekDad Books!