Monday, March 28, 2011

Witch of Salem

WITCH OF SALEM  by Mayfair Games
Published in 2008

Witch of Salem is a cooperative horror game, which takes players into a terrifying world of Wolfgang Hohlbein's mythos - a mythos strongly inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Regrettably, I know nothing of Mr. Hohlbein's work (I gotta do something about this)... but as for Lovecraft's short stories, I am a fan! So this game (as well as a certain other game that sets in Arkham! :>) is very much to my liking.

The game story: The Master Witch of Salem - Robert Craven - is gathering brave investigators to save Arkham from the onslaught of Elder Evil. Players control these investigators in a battle against an unknown Great Old One, that is trapped in the sunken city of R'lyeh. This creature is now looking for a way out, and so his trusted minion - Necron - has opened dimensional portals all over Arkham. Necron is the nemesis of Robert Craven, aiming to gain enough power so that the Great Old One may step through the portals. Together, the investigators and the Witch of Salem must find and close the portals, find out the identity of the Great Old One, and banish it...


The investigators in this game are identical. They have different names and faces, but unlike in most other games, these heroes have no special abilities. My investigators are David Foster and Maggie Sterns. The only value on the investigators, that changes throughout the game, is sanity. If either one - David or Maggie - loses all of their sanity, the game is over. This is because I'm playing with only two investigators, and two are needed to make the final banishment.

One of the portals, the main portal is you will, is visible behind the Miscatonic University. This portal can only be closed if one of the investigators is in R'lyeh, banishing the Great Old One. Other portals are scattered around Arkham. There are 2-4 of them, and their locations are unknown at the beginning of the game.




R'lyeh is also pictured on the board.
The identity of the actual Great Old One in there is a secret. The cards are revealed one by one, slowly discovering the entity that is threatening Arkham.

The first revealed Great Old One in this game is Cthulhu himself, so he will not be the real enemy this time.





THE GAME BEGINS:

A Red Witch appears. This woman must be stopped, or she might cause the portals to switch places, confusing the investigators. Of course, at this moment, all the portals are unknown anyway.
David loses some sanity, as he picks up a pair of Magical Glasses from the Witch House. Maggie also picks up glasses, but from the Church. These glasses are used to search for the dimensional portals.

A Shadow of the Great Cthulhu arrives to haunt Arkham. This will make all the other monsters more dangerous.
It will not be an easy task to get rid of it.






A mighty Lava Worm is seen at the Cemetery.

David meets Maggie at the Church, where they arm Maggie to banish Cthulhu's shadow. Maggie gets back to Miscatonic University, but the mighty Cthulhu foils her attempt, and drains some of her sanity as well...
David attempts to destroy the Lava Worm, but fails. Nothing seems to work out for the investigators. David finds a Dagger of N'gaa from the Cemetery.

"Strange, pervading uneasiness continues to strengthen." Both of the investigators are losing their sanity. This feels like Necron's magic...

David drinks some Elixir of Nus to restore his sanity.







Maggie destroys the Red Witch, and picks up a bottle of the elixir as well. Her sanity is shaking, so she will need to drink is fast.

Maggie also reads a copy of Necronomicon, to find out some forbidden information about the Great Old Ones! Yog-Sothoth, the "All-in-one and One-in-all" is revealed.








Finally some good news! The sun shines in Arkham, restoring a lot of Maggie's lost sanity.
The Witch of Salem moves to the Miscatonic University... David joins him, and together they banish the Shadow of Cthulhu from Arkham, using David's Dagger of N'gaa.

Maggie uses a Secret Passage to move into the Church, where a Deep one is rampaging. Maggie kills the creature and uses her Magical Glasses to look for portals - there doesn't seem to be one around the Church.

Maggie and Mr. Craven move to the Cemetery to confront the Lava Worm. The Worm is banished with two bottles of the Elixir of Nus. After the encounter, Maggie drinks one of the bottles, regaining sanity.

Things are looking up.







David reads Necronomicon and reveals Dagon. Dagon - ruler of the Deep Ones - is weaker than the other Great Old Ones, so he would not have been that difficult to banish... Now we know that something worse is coming.

Maggie kills a Cultist from the Arkham News building. She also looks for a portal, but still won't find anything.

More good luck; a hidden library is discovered, with the following items: Magical Glasses, another copy of Necronomicon and a Purple Seal. The investigators are doing fine at moment, and only a single monster - an Undead - is present in the city.
But nothing is certain yet... not a single portal has been found.




Hastur, the Unspeakable One is revealed. Now the possibilities for the Great Old One threatening Arkham are down to two: It is either Shub-Niggurath or Nyarlathotep.

Maggie finds a gate from the Witch House, along with a wicked Ice Witch. Another Lava Worm also appears.

The Witch of Salem uses his hypnotizing powers to defeat the Ice Witch.

A Horrifying energy creature known as "Soul Devourer" appears in the Witch House.







David finds another portal - this one is at the Cemetery.

Maggie has to go back to Miscatonic University for some rest. She also reads Necronomicon in there, revealing the Crawling Chaos - Nyarlathotep. This means that the entity, that is been trapped in the city of R'lyeh, and which is now looking for a way out, is Shub-Niggurath, the "Black Goat of the Woods".







David uses the horrifying Secret Passage to travel into the Witch House, where he exorcises the Soul Devourer. He drinks some Elixir to treat his sanity that was shaken during the usage of the Passage.
Maggie also arrives at the House and seals the portal in there.

More monsters come forth... Arkham is getting overrun by them.








A very dangerous monster called Thul Saduun is seen at the Hotel!

David kills a Red Witch, and Maggie (with the help of Craven) destroys a Shoggoth. David also seals the portal from the Cemetery.
Nyarlathotep's Shadow begins to haunt Arkham, making all the other monsters more dangerous!

Maggie is looking for the items needed to banish Shub-Niggurath. The uneasiness grows again, chasing sanity away from both of the investigators.

The oppressing shadow of Nyarlathotep is banished by David and Mr. Craven. David used the powerful Dagger of N'gaa for this.

The last portal is found! It's in the Sanatorium. Maggie already has the right kind of seal for closing it...

Now all the investigators need to do, is to seal the portal, gather the required items to banish Shub-Niggurath, an finish it all.






The Witch of Salem uses his hypnotizing abilities again. Thul Saduun is defeated.
David fights against a Ghoul in the Cemetery, but doesn't manage to destroy it. Maggie arrives at the scene and destroys it.

Shub-Niggurath is revealed! From now on, it will increase the Necron's power fast, so the investigators only have a little time to end this threat.

David already has the necessary items to banish the Great Old One, but his sanity is failing... He will have to get his mind back on track if he is to survive long enough in R'lyeh.



Maggie closes the third portal! Now is the time to banish Shub-Niggurath!

Necron shows himself. His power increases, and Shub-Niggurath's time is drawing near!









The last banishment is about to begin:

David makes his way back to Miscatonic University. He needs to rest before he travels to the dreaded R'lyeh. He knows he is not coming back from that journey...

Maggie goes to Witch House, where she kills a Blood Hunter with the help of Robert Craven. She then picks up a seal, which she will use to close the last portal, the one behind Miscatonic University. Maggie's sanity is almost gone... but she must stay together long enough to close the portal after David has gone through.

A Shadow of Hastur appears in the Miscatonic University. For this, the Witch of Salem loses all of his powers!
The investigators are now on their own...

David uses the Secret Passage to enter R'lyeh. His sanity is shattered, and he won't last long in the sunken city... Now Maggie must close the last portal without delay.






So close!
Maggie can't stand the presence of the Hastur's Shadow and succumbs into madness... The last portal is left open, and Shub-Niggurath is allowed to come through it!

The Humankind is doomed...




CONCLUSION:

So very close... Witch of Salem is the most difficult cooperative game to complete that I know of! I've only had this game for a short time, and this was my fifth game. So far I haven't been able to beat the game, but this was the closest run so far. Well, actually it couldn't get any closer; if the outcome of the final rice roll would've been any other, than what it was, I would have succeeded :)
I have noticed, that my performance has gotten better after every game, so maybe the next one will finally be successful!

Witch of Salem is somewhat abstract in mechanics, but its strategic value is surprisingly high. By just reading through the rules it might seem, that Witch of Salem is a simple game of item handling, but the imposing difficulty forces the players to think their every move very carefully.
No traditional combat is involved in this game, the monsters are destroyed automatically if an investigator has the right items. I find this an interesting mechanic, which supports the flow of game nicely.

What about the artwork? Simply amazing! The monsters are strange and scary, as they should be in Cthulhu Mythos, and the game board is one of the best ones I know of. At least for a Cthulhu Mythos fan, I think this game looks exactly the way it should.

RATING: 8 /10

SOLO RATING: 8 /10

Witch of Salem isn't actually meant to be played solo, but only one rule stands in the way of this game being a great solo experience... And that's why I have taken the liberty to change one part of the rules in this game!
The rules say that when an investigator looks at the portal in some of the locations, *they are not allowed to tell - or even hint the other players - whether there is a portal or not*.
Well first of all, this would obviously make the solo game impossible, so this rule had to be gone.
But I would go so far as to take this rule away even if there were other players with me! Because I think it's simply a stupid rule... This is supposed to be a cooperative game, after all.

Let's take an example about this rule:
If someone puts a seal in a location, that has no portal, the game is lost right there! This rule serves its purpose, as it forces the investigators to actually investigate. But what if I have examined a location, and found out that there is no portal in there - then some other player decides to put a seal in there for some reason! Now, I would not be allowed to tell this player, that if they do this, we all lose the game! And after the seal is put in the wrong place, I'm expected to finish the game, fully aware that we have already lost :P

So, I simply take this rule away. Logically, removing this rule makes the game easier, but seeing how my win/loss ratio is 0/5, I think the game is still challenging enough!

4 comments:

  1. Really great review! Even though I´ve already played 6 o 7 times with my family we´ve never beat the game yet. We feel we are getting closer but never close enough. I think that the high difficulty mixed with the great simplicity of the rules makes this game dangerously addictive ;)
    One question: How could the shadow of Hastur appear in the Miskatonic University after Shub-Niggurath was revealed? I ask because I may have misunderstood the rule of that precise event card. Thanks!

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    1. I have managed to beat the game once now... and that run was far from being easy - I nearly didn't make it! :)

      And about the Shadows:
      The Shadow of Nyarlathotep was banished, after which Hastur became the "most recently revealed card around R'lyeh". So when another one of those particular event cards were drawn, it was Hastur's turn to appear...

      This is how I have been playing it. It may be that I'm wrong, but this is how I understand the rules and the event card :)

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    2. Thanks for the reply! I have the game in spanish so the main reason I ask is because I mistrust the translation of that event card. In spanish it reads something like this: "The next unrevealed great old one becomes the shadow" So the way I play is, after the first great old one is revealed in the beginning of the game, I try to reveal as quickly as I can the remaining GOOs except number 6. This is in order to make that precise event card meaningless.
      In regard of your other hobby (Krav Maga). Even though I´ve never had the chance to practice it I very much respect it and find it really useful. I also practice martial arts, in make case Bujinkan.
      Thanks and greetings from Argentina!

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    3. No problem :)
      I do think that the spanish translation is inaccurate in your copy... In the english version, that event card points out to the "most recently revealed card around R'lyeh", definitely not to the "next unrevealed" one.

      Warm greetings back to Argentina from Finland - from about half the planet away!

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