Can you and your friends–with the help of Binx–outwit the Sanderson sisters?
What Is Disney Hocus Pocus: The Game?
Disney Hocus Pocus: The Game is a game for 2-6 players, ages 8 and up, and takes about 30 minutes to play. It retails for $24.99 and is available now from Ravensburger and other retailers.
Disney Hocus Pocus: The Game was designed by Prospero Hall and published by Ravensburger with art by Ann Marcellino.
Disney Hocus Pocus: The Game Components
Inside the book-shaped box, you’ll find:
- 1 Cauldron game board
- 1 Sun token
- 1 Stun token
- 1 Witch board
- 50 Ingredient cards
- 13 Spell cards
- 4 Trick tokens
- 1 Wooden Binx mover
The components are all the high-quality type we’d expect from a Prospero Hall/Ravensburger product. All of the cardboard pieces–the sun and stun tokens, the trick tokens, and the board–are nice and thick and printed on both sides. The witch board is, for some reason, thinner, but still heavy enough to stand up to repeat plays.
The board, when unfolded, is round, but is designed to fold up in such a way as to fit into the smaller-than-normal box, which I appreciate. It’s also quite simple, showing the five ingredient icons and their colors, and little else. This simplistic design makes the game very easy to grasp, which is great … and something I wish the designers had continued to apply to other components (see below).
The Binx mover is a cat-shaped wooden piece, with Binx’s eyes painted on one side.
The two sets of cards are plastic-backed poker-sized cards. The main deck consists of 50 cards, each showing one of the five ingredients in each of the five colors (there are two cards of each color within each ingredient.) The artwork on the cards is very cartoonish, so even the ones that are a bit more questionable content-wise, like “Dead Man’s Toe”, aren’t likely to upset younger players.
The other deck consists of the witch’s spells. These are unevenly distributed, with three spells for Mary Sanderson, four for Sarah, and five fo Winifred, with one additional spell not associated with any witch. And here I do have a bit of an issue with a design choice. The spell cards are basically divided into five parts: the witch’s name, the name of the spell, a piece of artwork, flavor text, and then what actually happens when the card is played. That last part–arguably the most important piece–is in a nice red box at the bottom of the card and very easy to find and read. However, just as important for game play purposes is the witch’s name, which is in tiny letters at the very top of the card. Fully 2/3 of the rest of the card is the other three pieces, none of which matter at all for the game. I definitely wish the designers had made the witch’s name much, much more prominent, either by making her name bigger and more obvious, or consistently featuring the witch as the centerpiece for the art, or something along those lines, and taking the focus of the card off of the spell name, which has no real impact on play.
How to Play Disney Hocus Pocus: The Game
You can download a copy of the rulebook here.
The goal of the game is to work together to stun the Sanderson sisters until sunup, when they cannot cast their evil spell.
Unfold the cauldron board and place it in the center of the table. Place the four trick tokens and Binx nearby.
Place the witch board near the cauldron board, and place the Sun token on the lowest space on the Sunrise track. Set the Stun token nearby.
Shuffle the spell cards and place them in a face-down deck. Separately shuffle the Ingredient cards, and deal 4 to each player if playing with 2-3 players, or 3 to each player if playing with 4-6 players. Players can look at their hands but must keep them secret.
Place the rest of the ingredient cards in a facedown deck near the board.
Choose a starting player.
The first player begins by asking the other players a single question, either about a specific ingredient type or a specific ingredient color. All of the other players answer, but basically only “yes” or “no”–they cannot, for instance, say how many of an ingredient or color they have.
The player then plays one ingredient from their hand onto the cauldron board. The ingredient played must match either the color or the ingredient (or both) printed in the space they are playing. So for example, in the image above, in the “dash of pox” space, you can play a “dash of pox” card of any color, or any yellow ingredient.
The player then draws a new ingredient card, and play passes to the left, with that player repeating the process of asking a question and then playing a card. However, every player after the first must play a card that matches by color or ingredient to an empty space on the board, or to the top card of an existing pile. So in the image above, a yellow “newt saliva” card was played on the yellow “dash of pox” space, so now that space can only accept another yellow card, or a “newt” card of any color. This way, the cards that can be played from turn to turn will constantly change.
Just under half of the cards have a special icon on them. Ten of the cards (one set of each ingredient) has a Binx icon, while another ten (a different set of each ingredient) have a spell icon.
When a card with Binx is played, that player takes the Binx mover and places it in front of them. As long as they have Binx, they play their hand face up, allowing the other players to see (and plan around) what they have.
When a player plays a card with a spell icon, they draw the top spell card. As long as the witch casting the spell is not stunned, they read the text of the spell out loud and apply its effects (which are always bad for the players.) This is where the uneven distribution of the spells comes into play–Sarah is the easiest witch to stun, and also has the fewest (and weakest) spells, while Winifred is both difficult to stun and also has the most dangerous spells.
I already mentioned above the issue I have with the design of the spell cards by making the witch’s name, which is key to determining whether or not the spell takes effect, so small. I have a similar issue with the Binx and spell icons on the ingredient cards. It’s rather small and tucked up in the top corner of the card. Unlike normal playing cards, these have a distinct “top” and “bottom,” and that led the designers to only place this icon in one spot on the card. When we played, we found it very easy to miss, and frequently had to say, “oh, wait … I was supposed to draw a spell on my turn.” A simple redesign to make the icon much harder to miss would be a vast improvement.
If a player cannot play an ingredient (something we didn’t encounter, but which is theoretically possible), they must immediately draw a spell card and, as long as the sister isn’t stunned, resolve it. Then, they must discard at least one card from their hand (but they can choose to discard more if they want), an draw an equal number of ingredients.
The short-term goal players are trying to achieve by playing cards is to be able to “stun” one of the witches. Each has a different way she can be stunned: Sarah is stunned if the top cards from the five stacks are all the same color, Mary is stunned if all five ingredients are the same, and Winifred–the most difficult to stun–if all of the ingredients match but are all different colors.
This is the purpose of the question. You’re trying to suss out what your fellow players have in their hands. Sometimes it’s easy: if three of the five stacks already have matching colors, and you have a fourth of the same color, you’re obviously going to ask about that color. And while you always ask everyone, in that case, clearly, you only really care if the next player has a card of that color. If they do, then cool–you’ll play your card, they will play theirs (and on their turn, the question part is moot), and you’ll stun Sarah.
Where it gets tricky, of course, is if the next player says they don’t have the right card. And this is where the game has so much more depth than is apparent at first glance. Maybe asking about yellow was the wrong question. If you have the fourth yellow card, you are probably going to play it regardless, so is finding out if the person next to you has yellow as well actually helpful? Probably not. Instead, it’s perhaps better to think longer term–assume the next player won’t have the card you all need, and instead, find out if they have a card that at least won’t hurt the team effort.
The trick tokens are a kind of escape valve for the players. Each of them provides the players with an extra ability that may be able to stave off disaster. The “Billy Butcherson” token, for instance, allows a player to skip playing an ingredient for one turn, so in the scenario outlined above, that next player in line could use the token to avoid messing up the team, allowing the player after them to play that final yellow card. The catch, though, is that each token can only be played once per game.
(Also, one note: the “Circle of Salt” is described differently on the token then in the rulebook. The token says “Discard a Spell. Draw another Spell.” But the rulebook description says “When a Spell is drawn, ignore it. Discard it and do not draw another Spell” (emphasis added). I strongly suspect that the designers’ intent is what is in the rulebook, as all three of the other tokens are universally good for the players, and the text on the token makes it more of a gamble, as the second spell drawn could be worse than the one being discarded, and honestly it makes sense for the game to have this escape hatch to avoid a bad spell. However, I think just about everyone is more likely to go with the text on the token, simply because that is what is out on the table. Hopefully the discrepancy will eventually be addressed by the designers.)
Once the players achieve one of the three “stun” conditions, they place the Stun token on the affected witch and the round ends. If the card that is played to end the round has a Binx or spell icon on it, it is ignored. The sun token is moved up one space, and any ongoing spell effects end. All of the ingredients in the cauldron are collected and sorted: any without a Binx or spell icon are set aside and removed from the game, while those with the icons are shuffled, along with any discards, back into the ingredients deck. Binx is removed from play until another Binx card is played. Players start the round with the cards they currently have their hand, and the player to the left of whomever played the card that ended the round goes first. The witch that was stunned to end the round remains stunned until either a spell removes it or another round ends. It is possible to stun the same witch multiple times in a row.
The game ends with a player victory when the sun icon reaches the top space; in essence, after three rounds. Alternately, if a player needs to draw an ingredient card but the deck is empty (and remember, it gets smaller with each round), the game ends immediately with a player loss.
The rules do note that if the deck is empty, players can choose to not draw cards and can continue trying to play cards and stun the witch to end the round with the cards in their hand. However, if they have to play a spell that forces them to draw, or cannot play an ingredient (because, say, their hand is empty), then they would be forced to draw a card and thus, end the game with the loss.
Why You Should Play Disney Hocus Pocus: The Game
Perhaps now is as good a time as any to confess something: I’ve never seen Hocus Pocus. When it was in theaters nearly thirty years ago, it just didn’t seem interesting to me, largely because I’m just not that big of a Bette Midler fan. And over the years, that feeling hasn’t changed. Neither my wife or my son–my only playing partners in these times when we can’t have live game nights and now that my daughter has moved away to college–have seen it either. So, none of us were coming to the game from the perspective of being fans of the movie. Instead, we are looking at it merely from the perspective of the game by itself.
And from that lens, we enjoyed the game, maybe even more than we expected based on our unfamiliarity with the movie. While references like “Billy Butcherson” were surely lost on us, as a game, Hocus Pocus works.
Without question, the biggest challenge faced by the designer of any cooperative game is how to deal with the “quarterbacking” issue, where one player essentially takes over and dictates to everyone else what they need to do. Obviously, providing a mechanic of some kind of hidden information is a good solution, and this game does well with that by making it an almost complete hidden information game. There may be times when a bit of quarterbacking is possible if a player currently has Binx and thus their hand is exposed, but it’s unlikely any one player will have Binx for too long, so that is mitigated as well.
There are a few problems with the game, though. As noted before, the design of the cards, minimizing vitally important information like the witch name on the spells and the Binx/spell icons on the ingredients, is frustrating and leads to unforced errors in the game. The opposing text on the “Cirlce of Salt” token definitely need to be solved. But the thing with these issues is that they are all easily solvable. Players need to simply agree to which version of “Circle of Salt” they’ll play, and pay close attention to the cards. And perhaps Prospero Hall will decide to have a second edition of the game that fixes these issues.
Despite that, the game is one worth having on your shelves. I suspect it might be even more enjoyable to fans of the movie, but I can state that it works for non-fans, too.
The game is available now from Amazon and other fine retailers.
Note: As an Amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
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Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.