Issue 32: Whirling Witchcraft first look — plus cooperative board games like Pandemic
Cooperative board games rule the day, plus we take a look at a new AEG release, Whirling Witchcraft.
Well, hello! I hope you’re just coming off a great weekend and enjoying your Monday, everyone. It’s time for the thirty-second issue of Don’t Eat the Meeples, and I’ve got a bit of a longer one in store for you today.
First, we’ll take a look at Whirling Witchcraft, a neat little engine-building game we played last night that has a delightful wicked twist. (I hope I didn’t just oversell it. I really wanted to use ‘wicked’ for, well, witchy reasons.)
Following that, I’ve got five things in board games this week. That’s steadily becoming a regular feature in this newsletter, so I hope you enjoy it. It’s helping keep me engaged in what’s happening industry-wide, and really, it’s a matter of remembering to put things here after I’ve already read about them. (If you’ve got thoughts, I’d just love to hear them. Thank you!)
Finally, I’ve taken a stab at some cooperative board games like Pandemic, and I’ve branched out further than that to talk about some cooperative games that are a bit less like Pandemic, too.
Without further ado, let’s get to the fun stuff.
Whirling Witchcraft: An engine-building game of bubbling cauldrons
I have two things to say about this game. First, the number of times I have typed “Withcraft” and “Witchraft” is astounding. I don’t know which cracks me up more. Is a Witchraft what witches ride when they’re crossing the river? I’m going to go with yes.
Second, I’ve never played an engine-building game quite like this. In most engine-builders, your goal is to produce resources for yourself, such that what you do benefits you directly. In Whirling Witchcraft, you’re building an engine that attempts to use as many of your resources as possible so you can send to your opponent as many as possible. You win when your opponent can’t fit five or more cubes on the board (or, at the very least, you trigger the game-end, because it may happen simultaneously.)
The colors are bright and delightful, and the mechanics are pretty simple to grasp. With two players, it played in about 30 minutes or so, giving it a very comfortable timeframe and length of play. This looks to be one of the hot games of AEG’s Fall 2021 catalog, and it appears to be designer Erik Andersson Sundén’s first published game. It’s a really nice one, and it’s really pushed along by art from Luis Francisco and Weberson Santiago, both of whom you may recognize from their work with Indie Boards & Cards. The art is immaculate, and it takes an elegant design and elevates it into something spectacular.
$40, Alderac Entertainment Group. It’s out of stock at AEG’s store, but this one should be available from retailers.
Five things in board games this week
I recently played a game of Five Crowns, a rummy-style game with five suits. It was a nice time, and it’s also a reminder that I know only a cursory amount about so many styles of traditional card games. I’d love to learn more about them, and I know a lot of great card games can be played on some of the usual online services. So, if you’d like to play some rummy-style games with me there, let me know!
I really enjoyed Tom Brewster’s review of Burgle Bros 2 over at Shut Up and Sit Down. I talked with Tim Fowers, designer of the game, back in Issue 13. He remains an excellent interview, and it pleases me to no end that we have great game designers here in the greater Salt Lake area.
I was privileged to participate in this nice survey of board game critics and designers, the Card and Dice Poll. I was asked to submit my top 10 games of all-time, and I’m guessing I’d give a completely different answer on any given day. Anyway, if you’re curious about my list, or the lists of a number of other writers, give it a look.
I’ve really enjoyed Dan Thurot’s writing over at his site, Space-Biff!, and this article is no exception. The title tells you something — “Colonizers vs. Pirates vs. Egyptians!” — but it’s actually a very thoughtful piece from Thurot, a historian (an historian?), on history, games and colonialism. Great stuff here, and it’s well worth a read.
SPIEL 2021 Essen (or, if you will, just Essen) starts this week, and it sure looks like there will be loads of great games on display. While I’m not there (although I’d love to be in Germany right now,) I’ll be following along at the usual places, especially BoardGameGeek. The preview over at BGG is providing a lot of excitement.
Five great cooperative games like Pandemic
One of the excellent bits of design in Pandemic is also its defining characteristic: The game ramps up in difficulty as it goes on, because the threat you’re facing has become worse in some way.
Pandemic makes that a feature of its play with epidemic cards, which escalate the threat you’re facing considerably. The board state gets worse in a way that demands immediate attention. The puzzle that emerges is what makes Pandemic so enthralling, and for me, when I first started getting into modern board games, is what made it an excellent entry into the hobby.
It’s with that in mind that I’ve put together this list of games. So many “games like X” lists are excellent entry points into hobby, but I’ve often found they’re less focused on the specifics and more on the broad strokes. That’s great, but it’s not the list I wanted to write here. There’s also a second list that is exactly about the broad strokes, so, uh, I guess I wrote two lists. Enjoy!
If you’re looking for something that still came from Matt Leacock but isn’t Pandemic, Forbidden Desert could be just the game for you. It’s a cooperative game about gathering pieces from your fallen airship and escaping an ever-shifting desert. Tiles will get covered with sand (not literally, lest you worry), you’ll dig them out, and they’ll get covered again. It’s a great puzzle, and it echoes the mechanics of Pandemic with the ever-escalating threat of sand.
Looking for something easier, but still from Matt Leacock? Try out Forbidden Island, which is even more like Pandemic than this one.
Flash Point: Fire Rescue
This is one of the earliest cooperative games I played after playing Pandemic, and it was — and remains — an excellent next step. It’s a game of firefighters trying to put out fires in various structures (perfect fodder for a cooperative game, really,) with the fire escalating as the game progresses. It’s very Pandemic in its machinations, and it’s a game I’ve enjoyed quite a bit over the last eight or nine years of playing it.
Pandemic Legacy: Season One
This is a tremendous game, and if you’re looking to play more cooperative games after you’ve played through Pandemic, consider this one. While it sometimes get skewered for a story that you don’t have much control over, that’s not a concern for me. It reveals the story to you slowly as you play, and there are so many great video games that do that exact thing without the same complaints. If you loved Pandemic and you’re trying to figure out what’s next for you, give this one a try.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “I love the frenzied atmosphere at airports, and I’d love to play a game that recreates that anxiety,” then Now Boarding is the game for you. It’s a real-time game in which you’re shuttling passengers from airport to airport, earning money when they get to their final destination (and, to be clear, I don’t mean the movie Final Destination. I mean the destination to which they’d like to go.) You’ll upgrade your airline, make plans, and deal with an ever-increasing number of passengers. If too many of them end up unhappy, you’ll lose. (It’s what makes this game fantasy, I think. In real life, if enough people are unhappy at airlines, nothing changes.)
Spirit Island is actually very similar in structure to Pandemic, with the threat escalating over time and spreading across the board. The basic premise is that you’re playing as the spirits of an island beating back colonizers, and if you’ve heard about this one, you’ve probably heard about the anti-colonial theme.
Each player has a different set of powers, and that lends this one a lot more complexity than you might expect. Your gameplay will differ from your teammates in some significant ways, and it’s not a game I’d recommend if you’re not patient when people need time to figure out their turn. This’ll take time for new players to figure out, but it’s also really rewarding when everyone’s playing, too.
Cooperative, but a bit different than Pandemic
Cooperative play is such a wide idea, and there’s a lot more out there than dealing with escalating threats, like each of the games above. Here’s a quick rundown of some nice cooperative games you might consider.
There are hundreds and hundreds of options beyond these, too, which really tells us a lot about the state of cooperative games. Some of these games are interesting logic puzzles, some are fast--paced challenges, and others still are mysteries just waiting to be solved.
Burgle Bros — This is one of my favorite cooperative games. You probably saw the bit about the sequel higher up the page, actually. It’s only not in the primary section here because it doesn’t feature that escalating threat in the same way. I also thought that maybe including two Tim Fowers games was a bit much. You could also try Burgle Bros 2, which is also a good deal of fun.
Chronicles of Crime — A nice scan-and-play crime-solving game, in which you use an app to tell you the story. If you’re going to play this one, do it before the machines take over.
The Crew: The Quest for Planet Nine — I’m not going to remark too much on this one, because I talk about it all the time here, but rest assured, I love this game.
Exit: The Game — Escape rooms, but in a small box? I love these, and I’ve played 11 of them. One of those was the ‘with a puzzle’ variants, which I don’t think was quite as good as the others. The whole series is delightful, with puzzles that will test you constantly, but there are hints that ease you into some of the more difficult puzzles, should you find yourself stuck.
The Fox in the Forest: Duet made my 2020 board game gift guide. It’s a co-op sequel to The Fox in the Forest
Gloomhaven — I think I’m legally obligated to mention this one, as somebody who plays a lot of board games. I haven’t played Gloomhaven, but it’s one of the top-ranked games of all time on BoardGameGeek, so I don’t want to miss it here. I’ll get around to playing it some day.
Letter Jam — I wrote about Letter Jam all the way back in issue 15. It’s all about one player guiding the others to figure out hidden letters in front of them.
Magic Maze — Fast-paced cooperative play where each player only gets to perform specific actions? Yeah! I also wrote about Magic Maze back in issue 15.
Master Word — This one feels a bit like Codenames met 20 Questions, with one clue-giver guiding players toward a ‘master word.’ It’s a clever game, and when you succeed while playing, everyone feels clever, too.
Mental Blocks — This is a really nice three-dimensional puzzle game — you need the right group, but if everyone’s bought in on the simple premise, it could be a real blast.
MicroMacro: Crime City — What a strange game. It’s basically Where’s Waldo, but you’re solving crimes and mysteries. I really enjoy it.
The Mind — This is one of the hot games of 2018, and while the shine has slightly faded from it since, it has one of the coolest gimmicks I’ve seen in games: silence. Play cards in order, but don’t talk. Easy premise, right? The silence is such a game-changer.
Mysterium — Dixit, but with seances. I like this one a lot. It’s beautiful and it’s engaged everyone I’ve played with. Or maybe they faked their enjoyment. Hmm.
Regicide — This is a cooperative card game you can play with a standard deck of cards. I wrote about it back in Issue 29.
Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective — This is one of the classics of cooperative gaming, and it predates Pandemic by a couple decades. It’s dense, thought-provoking, and interminably difficult. But, most importantly, it’s quite fun, so long as you enjoy reading reams of story text.
Sleeping Gods — This is one of the newer games on this list, being released just this year. It’s a neat adventure storybook game from another local designer, Ryan Laukat, whose games are generally quite good.
Spaceteam — I love wild, fast-paced card games that make you shout extremely weird things. Spaceteam is the pinnacle of that. It might also be the only game I’ve played like that. Hmm.
So there you go. There’s a list for you to explore. Have fun!
Thanks for reading Don't Eat the Meeples. You can find me on Instagram and on Twitter. I also started a podcast this year, Vintage Sci-Fi Shorts, in which I read old science fiction short stories from the pages of pulp and digest magazines.
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