I like simple board games with pieces you can hold and pick up. I think of playing Forbidden Bridge as a kid and holding the little human figures, putting them in the rowboats, placing the little gems in their backpacks, and pushing the huge statue down and hearing it roar and the bridge shake. I was messing with a miniature world, a tiny thing of plastic and cartoon pictures, all meant to represent the exhilarating and otherworldly adventure depicted on the box. My Fisher Price castle and pirate sets allowed me this wonder, too. LEGOs were king.
I imagine if Witches’ Brew came in a box like a standard board game, there’d be three or four cartoon witches on it, in whatever coven or potion shop they have, leaning over boiling pots, running to and from shelves to grab ingredients, chasing after newts and Hippogriffs, quaffing elixirs, zapping each other. It’d be this little world that you dive into as you grab your paper cauldrons, paper dice, and cards for this game of chance. You’re messing with printable cutouts, but let your imagination run wild and suddenly you’re like me: back on the floor with the knights and castle LEGO set, lost in a different world.
This is the only Hidden Burrow title yet that’s more board game than card game. You have items to see and hold, and dice to roll. There are still cards for the game, which depict potions – fun, silly potions, like “Elixir of Endless Laughter” or “Tincture of Tidewalking.” These remedies are made with just as delightfully labeled ingredients: stuff like “Eye of Newt,” “Hippogriff Feather,” or “Crocodile Tears.” I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say “I just need that one Hippogriff Feather!” as much as when I was playing this game (and she suspected the dice were weighted with each feather-less turn). You’ll have fun just looking at the cards for each potion and saying the ingredient names. As in Mystic Match, the art designs and accompanying texts are enjoyable on their own.
The game itself has the simple suspense of any dice rolling game, though you’re not shooting craps, you’re shooting brews (come on double Spider Silk!). At any given time two potions cards are turned up and in play. Each of these cards has four ingredients on them. This combo could be, for example, two Eyes of Newt, a Hippogriff Feather and a Spider Silk. You have four dice that you can roll and whenever you hit an ingredient you want to use, you place that die in your cauldron. Once you’ve got four ingredients that make a potion, you place them all in your cauldron and take that potion card. The first player to brew three potions wins.
Tense moments come when two or more players are looking for the same ingredient on the same potion. For quite a while I experienced a play of turns like this (this was when the weighted dice accusation came). You can keep playing for second place and on down, so when two players are rolling for the same winning potion card, the air in the room seems it could explode like a botched brew.
Before you can play, you must assemble four dice and one cauldron for each player. Designing your cauldrons is as much a part of the experience as playing the game. If you find papercraft tedious, you really won’t like this. You don’t need to be an origami master, but you will need some dexterity at folding along dotted lines and then maneuvering the folds of paper.
Each cauldron requires you to hook tab pieces together. You have to hook these while also keeping the main part of the cauldron folded into a curve. It can be tricky. Several times I tore the tabs, and then had to use tape. Inserting the cauldron feet through the bottom, while keeping everything folded correctly, was a Herculean task for me. It’s difficult to keep the cauldron feet steady while folding the bottom tabs over them and at the same time holding the cauldron in place. Using tape to hold down at least one of the tabs as you fold the others would not be a bad idea. I struggled with this part, so devised a new method by which I pushed the feet down through the top of the cauldron. Doing this, I tore the tabs several times, or they came apart. One of my family and myself ended up taping the feet to the bottom on a couple, as we simply could not get them properly connected to the cauldron.
The folding instructions could be a little clearer. The inner cube insert to the cauldron, for example, has A and B labeled squares, but the instructions do not make certain what you’re supposed to do with the A squares. They ask that you cut slits in the B ones, and these are marked with cut lines. Straightforward enough, but there is also a cut line marked in between the two A squares. This is not noted in the instructions, which gave me pause when cutting it. The instructions also say to “Align both “A” sides so the “A”’s are face up on top of each other facing in the same direction.” However, it does not say which A side should go on top. In short, I had to do some guessing work when making my cauldrons.
I found that due to my uneven construction, my cauldrons all looked bent out of shape. If you keep messing up printed cauldrons, it means either using tape or printing out more. As the latter means using more sheets of paper, you’ll likely err on the side of taping up mistakes. In either case, you could end up using a lot of paper and tape to build all your cauldrons.
The good note about this process is the customization Witches’ Brew inspires. You’re more drawn to coloring in cutout cauldrons than you are to color in cards. I printed a black-and-white cauldron sheet and colored it, as did a family member. I want to print out a few more to try out some other designs (I really, really want to put a face on one of them). You can also affect the texture of the cauldrons with the paper type you use; true for any Hidden Burrow game piece but, again, with the 3D craft of the cauldron you will be more inspired to do so.
If you can put up with the papercraft and inadequate folding instructions, the game is a delight. My cauldrons looked like hand-me-downs of some of the sloppiest witch sisters this side of Spiral Mountain, but they still worked and were fun to hold, and with dice and cards at hand, I really enjoyed Witches’ Brew.
I think it's fun to make a story out of the potions you brew each game, too. Me, I brewed Liquid Love, Potion of Prophecy, and Draught of Disappearance on my first play. I thought I'd mix together the first two and meet my future lover. The Draught of Disappearance? That's in case I botch the mixture and end up meeting a past enemy (who may have a water balloon filled with Tonic of Terrible Times and my name on it). What will you brew?
Get this game if:
You like simple games with dice and game pieces.
You like the names of magical potions and magical ingredients.
Avoid this game if:
You really don’t want to mess with papercraft.
This copy of Witches' Brew was purchased by the author.
Disclosure: the author is a friend of the developer.