This is a review of the deluxe retail version of the core game - The Witcher: Old World. Designed by Łukasz Woźniak, graphic design by Dawid Bartłomiejczyk and Michał Długaj, miniature design by Tomasz Kalisz and Robert Kurek and published by Go on Board. It is based on the popular "The Witcher" book series by Andrzej Sapkowski and the subsequent video game adaptations. The game is designed for 1 to 5 players and is recommended for ages 14 and above. In The Witcher: Old World, players take on the roles of Witchers, embarking on dangerous quests, battling monsters, and navigating the morally ambiguous world of the Continent. It takes place hundreds of years before the events from the saga (and a certain Geralt of Rivia rose to fame).
The Witcher: Old World contains a significant number of components, the majority of which are high quality, like the dual-layer player boards! The game board is large and beautifully illustrated, depicting the dark and gritty world of The Witcher, as a map to explore, with additional sections for the various cards needed to play the game. This wonderful art extends to the action and monster cards that are at the core of the game play.
The many cardboard tokens, whilst nothing special, are perfectly fine for regular use. The unique poker dice are well-crafted, adding to the immersive experience. The artwork on the cards and components is faithful to the theme, making it a treat for fans of The Witcher universe.
The thickness of the cards, which may show signs of wear after prolonged use, didn’t concern me too much as I prefer to sleeve any cards that are shuffled or handled a lot. The standard retail version of this game comes with Witcher miniatures only.
The deluxe includes monster miniatures for all the types featured and whilst not exactly needed they do add to the immersive experience and will certainly enhance table presence even unpainted. It is worth pointing out that the miniatures in this game are excellent. Both in terms of the sculpts and their detail. I especially liked the sculpted bases and dynamic poses of the various Witchers.
The goal of the game is to be the first Witcher to acquire 4 Trophies. These are earned in one of three ways: The primary way is to fight and kill a monster. The second is to fight and defeat another Witcher and the last is to Meditate (and attain true mastery) after reaching level five in one of your four skills.
Each time you gain a trophy, you move your unique Witcher token up one space on the Trophy track (lower left of game board) and must then suffer fatigue - which forces you to immediately trash a card/s from your Action Deck. Game setup can be a bit confusing the first time around. It usually takes about 10-15 minutes for a solo or 2/3 player game, assuming you keep all the components organised! Once you’ve done it a couple of times though it’s pretty straight forward: players choose their Witcher characters, each possessing a unique special ability and take the corresponding starting deck of ten cards and player board. Each Witcher starts in their own “Witcher School” on the map. Three monsters and their starting locations are drawn. The event cards are placed next to these monster cards and the Action deck is shuffled and 6 cards are placed in the “pool”; a designated column on the right side of the board.
During each turn, players can perform various actions, in three specific phases. The board itself is split into three segments that correspond to these phases. In Phase One, you have the option to travel to different locations (playing a card from your hand or paying gold), triggering a unique action at the location you have moved to (this can involve levelling up a skill, gaining a potion, playing poker and more). In Phase Two, you must choose to either fight a monster or another Witcher at your location (more on that in a bit), meditate (if you have attained a high enough level) or chose a unique event card that presents you with an A/B choice.
The results of which can be advantageous…or not. The short thematic text is usually read out loud by another player and whilst a little time consuming, does really add to the “adventure” feel of the game. In Phase Three you must buy a card from the Action Card Pool. Deck building is a big part of this game and fits nicely with the stat enhancement you focus on in Phase One. You pay for the new card by discarding one of the three cards in your hand that you always begin this last phase with.
Some cards have a zero cost others can cost three. Whatever cards you end Phase Three with are what you start your next turn with. Providing an interesting choice between taking a more powerful card and then not being able to move very far in your next turn or grabbing a free card to power you across the map. It’s also worth noting that the Action cards have a dual function - movement, there’s a icon in the lower left corner that matches various terrain types and locations on the board. The other function is used in combat; there are five types for this: Fast Attack (blue), Strong Attack (red), Dodge (green), Defensive Sign (yellow) and Offensive Sign (purple). During combat the active player and monster (usually controlled by another player for that fight) take turns.
Going first in The Witcher Old World is usually a good idea but requires you to have obtained a Trail Token in advance. In a Witcher’s turn Action cards are played to form combos, matching colours to chain cards together. This sounds easier than it is in reality. Especially if you have not been paying attention to which card types you have been drawing in Phase Three and which you have been trashing when forced to do so. Going in to a fight against a level 2 or 3 monster with a deck of cards that don’t have combo potential is a good way to experience defeat! You will always live to fight another day though.
The gameplay mechanics strike a good balance between strategy and pushing your luck. The decisions players make can significantly impact the game's outcome, leading to interesting and engaging gameplay. There is a notable strategic depth as players must manage resources (gold and cards), choose to gamble (play poker) to gain gold and decide when to take risks or play it safe (attack that monster before any one else to gain the trophy).
The replayability of The Witcher: Old World is commendable. The game features multiple monster types, quest cards, event cards, and variable player powers, ensuring that each play-through feels different. Additionally, the game's expansion content further enhances replayability, introducing new characters, quests, and challenges. More on the expansions in the conclusion.
Theme & Artwork
The game integrates the theme of The Witcher universe into its mechanics very well. Players must make moral choices, reflecting the morally gray nature of the world they inhabit. The inclusion of political intrigue, monster hunting, and the constant threat of danger reinforces the sense of immersion in the game's theme.
The artwork and graphic design deserve praise for capturing the dark and gritty atmosphere of The Witcher. The illustrations on the cards and the game board are evocative, making players feel like they are part of the Continent's treacherous world. I really liked the [often] gory illustrations on the action cards, they add extra depth to a great combo!
I was a quite excited about The Witcher: Old World when it was launched on Kickstarter as I really enjoy thematic board games, especially those in the fantasy genre. My excitement dwindled a bit when I first got the game as it felt like it was going to be a huge learning curve. However, after watching a few “how to play” videos and reading the rule book (following the “first game” guidance) I soon warmed to it and found it was not complicated at all. Rather like Dune: Imperium, the complexity comes in learning all the iconography and the nuance of the rules around card combos and timing of certain decisions. What really surprised me is how good this came is solo. Not only is it quicker to play, the challenge of obtaining four trophies in as fewer turns as possible is really engrossing. A multiplayer game works best with fans of the genre who are prepared to channel a little RPG and get into character when reading event cards.
Whilst the core game is very good and available in base or deluxe for those that like miniatures, I feel that The Witcher: Old World really needs some of the expansion content to make it into a truly great game. Of the three that will be available initially - Skellige, Legendary Hunt and Mages - I would definitely recommend Legendary Hunt as the one to go for if you can only get one. It adds new tougher monsters and a different win goal that makes for a more challenging (if a little longer) game. Having said that, the other two are brilliant and worth having if you have the budget.