Ahead of the highly anticipated The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red has released The Witcher Adventure Game, a digital version of its fantasy board game. Available on tablet, PC and tabletops it’s a novel experience that will entertain fans of The Witcher's violent and duplicitous world, as well as anyone who enjoys a quality board game.
Designed to be played with two to four players, The Witcher Adventure Game really only reaches its full potential with at least three human players. AI players are available but they don’t play well with others, and can detract from the experience.
Many board games that allow you to play as individual characters, but most provide little more than archetypal characters with a one or two game altering mechanics. The Witcher Adventure Game goes one step further by allowing you to play as one of four cornerstone characters from franchise. Each has his or her own unique skill set and requires a different play style when using them.
Triss Merigold uses her magic to complete quests and overcome enemies. Geralt, the titular Witcher, is combat-focused and geared towards a more aggressive play style. The bard Dandelion uses guile and diplomacy to charm his way to victory, while the dwarf Yarpen Zigrin is equally adept at either diplomacy or combat depending on the situation. Each character plays differently but none feels overpowered or neutered. It’s an impressive balancing act.
The Witcher Adventure Game relies on dice to determine outcomes, so there's an element of luck to resolving events and combat. It's tempered by a few RPG elements that allow for a deeper gaming experience as well as providing some strategy as you progress through the game.
Each of the characters has their own unique upgrade paths provided by character specific development cards. These will open up more options on how best to complete quests, kill monsters, and gather information. Each development deck has a great deal of variety and plenty of cards, so there should be a lot to discover with subsequent play-throughs.
Each game can run up to about three hours depending on how many people are playing, and how many quests are required to complete the game. Quests come in a surprisingly wide variety and each has a number of objectives that need to be completed. These main quests, as well as any side quests and combat victories will earn a player Victory Points. The winner of the game is the player who has earned the most Victory Points once any player has completed the set number of Quests stipulated at the start of the game.
The Witcher Adventure Game tries to provide a balance between co-operative and competitive gameplay, but sadly the co-op side of things is woefully undercooked. While Triss can opt to earn some points by zapping a monster bearing down on an outmatched Dandelion, there's little incentive to do so with a minimal reward for the risk taken. Worse, your actions may help another player complete more quests and potentially give them the points they need to snatch victory. The risk/reward dynamic just isn’t there to make co-op a consistently viable play option. It feels like its inclusion is more about ticking a box than providing a deeper game system. At the end of the day there can only be one winner.
CD Projekt has done an amazing job in bringing the board game to screens. Subtle animation, highly detailed cards and game items are all stunning. Coupled with a subdued yet evocative soundtrack the digital version makes an attractive package.
Despite a massive and daunting initial learning spike, The Witcher Adventure Game ultimately turns out to be a fairly straightforward game, with clear objectives and well-designed mechanics. The lack of any solid in-game assistance early on does lead to a great deal of head scratching. New players will initially struggle to come to grips with the various ways to complete quest objectives, earn points, kill monsters, or partake in a little diplomatic negotiating. Each system is very well designed, but each can seem impenetrable at first.
The digital version of The Witcher Adventure Game is a weirdly solitary experience, even when playing with others. Public online games tend to be frustrating and tedious with little interaction between turns. Private games fair better, but unless you’re all mic’d up, much of the fun of playing a real board game is lost.
The best experience I had was a group of us playing hotseat mode in front of a big screen HDTV, but that was because it came closest to emulating that tabletop experience of friends gathered around a table having a few drinks and enjoying each other’s company.
Therein lies the only real issue with The Witcher Adventure Game. As exceptional as the digital version is, The Witcher Adventure Game already exists as a physical board game it's still the best way to play it.