The late 17th century was a particularly disturbing time in colonial Massachusetts. Over 200 women were accused of being witches, leading to 30 convictions and, unbelievably, 19 executions. Affliction Salem 1692 is set during the hysteria of the Salem Witch Trials and sees you trying to use your influence to spare those closest to you and divert suspicion onto others.
Before We Begin
It’s worth noting that Affliction Salem 1692 is historically accurate to the point that you can buy a copy in the Salem Witch museum in the town of Salem itself. DPH Games have done some great work researching this, and all 41 colonist cards in the game reflect a real person who was connected to the trials. I really think that makes this stand out, while at the same time adding a slightly macabre air to the game play.
You play as one of two factions – Salem Town (what is modern day Salem) or Salem Village (now part of the town of Danvers in Massachusetts). Depending on your allegiances, there’ll be a notorious family you’ll be allied to and one you’re suspicious of. The aim of the game is to try and arrest your foes whilst bringing your allies and other colonists into your inner circle.
Each player gets a starting colonist for their inner circle, a couple of pilgrim messenger pieces, four influence tokens and a ‘grievance’ card (personal end-game scoring) to go with their own faction board.
The communal setup begins with The Esteemed board (named for those in power) being placed in the centre of the table. This is where the action happens – literally. Create a supply of accusation, influence and fear tokens for use throughout the game. Shuffle the Prominent Colonist deck and lay four cards out underneath the board. From the ‘basic’ Colonist deck, you remove the blue Increase Mather and Mary Spencer Hill cards and shuffle them with six other cards from the same deck. Place these on the bottom and draw four colonists.
Mather was a Puritan clergyman who was a key part of the administration of the colony in Salem at the time of the Witch Trials. Spencer Hill was married to the Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and was ultimately accused of witchcraft herself by the Afflicted girls. This brought an end to the trials and executions in Salem, and so it’s a nice touch that when either Mather or the Spencer Hill cards are revealed, the game ends immediately.
Get In On The Action
Affliction Salem 1692 is a worker placement/tableau building game, veiled in this really great theme. On your turn, you’ll place your messenger pieces on one of the 14 spaces on the path that winds across The Esteemed board. Once everyone has placed their messengers, you resolve actions in order. This is where the game starts to shine for me. You’re only getting two actions per turn (three in a two-player game) and there’s a delicate balance of trying to achieve what you want, whilst simultaneously stopping your opponent.
On one of our first games, someone was all set up to accuse and arrest a colonist I badly wanted to recruit into my inner circle, only for me to be saved by taking the action that granted me the first player token and the protection token (saving that person from being arrested). How much you choose to cover your bases or pushing on knowing that you only have limited actions is a real headscratcher at times.
The main thrust of the game is ‘arrest your opponents allies, recruit your own’ so in that respect it sounds quite straightforward. But like being in a room where you can’t quite fully extend your arms, trying to do that with just those two moves can leave you feeling consistently constrained.
Personal anxieties aside, it adds a genuine feel of tension to the game as you race to get those colonists into your circle or throw the light onto a rival.
The main mechanism throughout this is spending influence tokens. To arrest someone you spend influence equal to their reputation value, but get a discount for each accusation token they have placed on them. To recruit, you don’t get a discount, but spend influence all the same. So it can often be easier for your rival to arrest someone than it is for you to recruit them. And all this leads back to carefully planning those scarce actions each time.
Friends With Benefits
Recruiting colonists into your circle is important for a few reasons – most obviously points to win you the game. Each ‘basic’ colonist you recruit or arrest gets you a point. Each Prominent Colonist aligned to your faction that you recruit will score you two points, whilst each rival Prominent Colonist you arrest is worth two points as well.
But the folk of the two Salems also have different abilities that come into play at different times throughout the game. Some give you a benefit when you arrest them, some have ongoing abilities and some you can only trigger by placing your messenger on one of two action spaces on The Esteemed board, again forcing you to choose between furthering your righteous cause to arrest people or doing more with those you have already.
Some of these benefits are pretty good – you can place fear tokens on rival colonists to block their abilities (and also push your opponents into spending precious actions to remove the fear). You can gain the ability to place additional accusations, get an ongoing discount on arresting, or take influence from other players.
Some cards also combo together so having particular named colonists in your circle gets you an extra one-off bonus too.
Actions & Re-actions
Two actions per turn means the game goes quickly once you understand how the individual pieces fit together. You refresh the colonists from their respective decks and go again to select your actions. If no ‘basic’ colonists were arrested or recruited, you take the card at the end of the row, remove it from the game and replace it. This again introduces urgency into a confined space already brimming with choices.
You play until one of the two end-game cards appears and then you immediately end the game. Everyone always gets the same number of turns (cards are refreshed at the end of a round), but you’re never quite sure exactly when that will be. Score up and see who’s won.
I’ve covered most of the scoring above – points for people you’ve jailed or recruited, but there are a couple of other ways to bring in points. Firstly, most of the Prominent Colonists (and a few ‘basic’ ones) have house symbols on their cards. This denotes property or wealth that they owned, so you’ll score an additional point for each house symbol present on the cards of those you’ve arrested – effectively acquiring their wealth for yourself.
Finally, you were dealt a Grievance Card at the start of the game. This gives you the names of three specific targets you should try and arrest, each of which will score an additional two points. There’s also the name of an ally which will lose you two points if they’re arrested. These obviously overlap a bit with you desperately trying to arrest someone else’s ally so it makes for a nice bit of subtext to the wider game.
This had been on my radar for a while. I’m not a huge history buff, but there are things that I have more than a passing interest in, and so this moment in time being set out as a game really had me wanting to play.
I really appreciate the effort and detail that’s gone into this. DPH Games even has an additional historical booklet you can download, giving some further background to the cards you’ll find in the game.
The rules occasionally left me hanging. Things I expected to be covered weren’t there clearly, but when you see how it all fits together, it’s pretty intuitive. I’ve mostly played this at two players (a battle between the Putnam and Proctor families), though at three the Porter family become allies for one group so it moves between different play counts pretty well.
There are some neat additional things you can do, such as arresting people from your opponents circle, though their reputation increases by five at that point, making it really quite hard to do. You can also uncover ‘spectral evidence’ against people, limiting their ability to generate influence, and making it easier to arrest them from another player’s circle.
Overall, Affliction Salem 1692 a pretty straightforward game with a really excellent theme and artwork that invokes the history well. It feels chaotic at times, but I think it’s part of the charm of the whole thing. I’ve not played a game based on actual historical events with such an attention to detail and if you get a chance to play this, you really should.