The Witcher: Old World Review
I’m always leery of board games based on video game intellectual property. Now, I understand – The Witcher is more than just a video game: it’s books, it’s TV, it’s toys. Still, when I unboxed The Witcher: Old World on my table and set it up for a few review games, I continued to be sceptical of what the experience was going to be like. Would it actually be good?
What is the objective of The Witcher: Old World?
In The Witcher: Old World, players are competing to earn 4 trophies. Trophies are earned by meditating when a skill reaches level 5 (if that skill trophy is still in the game and not claimed by another player), after defeating a monster, and after defeating another Witcher (for the first time). While the game sounds like it focuses a lot on combat, I’d argue combat is only 25-30% of the overall experience. The rest of the time, you will be building your deck, gaining gold, completing quests, and preparing for what lies ahead.
Quality Witcher Components
One place The Witcher: Old World does not disappoint is in the components. I am using the standard retail release of the game, which means it has none of the fancy extras you could have got when the game launched on kickstarter. There are no monster miniatures in this box, no additional expansions, and no metal coins. And yet, when friends sat down to play, within the first 15 minutes there had been multiple comments on how good the components were.
The board itself is large, very usable, but gorgeous to look at. The cards – whether event cards, monster cards, or standard cards – are also beautiful to look at, while being very functional. The quality of the card is also very good – in my opinion, if I feel a game doesn’t require sleeves, they have done a great job with card quality. The cardboard chits are thick and handle well, and the plastic miniatures are top notch with tons of details.
The dual layered player boards are a really nice touch – so often, games will opt to have flat boards and when you are required to place tokens on the board, you just put them over top of their designated space. With the dual layered board, these little markers that track your combat, defence, alchemy, etc. are nicely recessed into the board so they won’t move when bumped. It might sound like a minor game improvement, but it truly is a big deal for me.
The Witcher: Old World – A satisfying gameplay experience
But what about the actual gameplay? Afterall, the motto here on GamesReviews when it comes to board games is that bad components can lower the enjoyment of a game, but good components don’t make a good game. I made a video on why I think The Witcher: Old World rulebook is so fantastic (you can see that below) and it really needs to be that way.
There is quite a bit going on in this game, although after you understand the sequence of play, everything seems to move at a great pace. It sounds confusing, and the large rulebook might be a bit daunting, but the designers have done an outstanding job of clearly laying out how the game works, and even provided information on often misunderstood rules.
The board itself nicely breaks down the three phases of the game: 1) Movement and Location Actions; 2) Fighting, Meditating, or Exploring; and 3) Drawing new cards. All the various things you need to remember for each phase are also printed on the board, and on the included reference cards each player has in front of them. These are insanely valuable, especially to new players, and keeps the game moving at a great pace.
The gameplay loop for The Witcher: Old World is quite satisfying. Learning when to fight, and when to plan is key to success. Most turns will simply have you moving around the game board with your Witcher, playing cards to move to specific locations.
At these locations you will perform a variety of different Location Actions such as drawing a potion card, upgrading one of your skills, playing Dice Poker, and more. Building your deck is a key ingredient to this game, so getting the right combination of cards in your hand is key. That all takes planning, however, and that planning happens during this first phase.
Doing what Witcher’s do – fighting and exploring
On odd occasions – and again, this is not primarily a monster fighting game – you’ll face off against a monster or another Witcher in combat, and here your deck building skills will be put to the test.
There is a lot of strategy in making sure you have good cards in your hand (and a variety of cards), as well as a combination of symbols that will help you raise your defense during a fight, draw more cards, and yes, deal loads of damage. These fights are all very strategic, with just a pinch of luck thrown in to keep you on your toes and make you adapt to ever changing situations.
When you are not fighting, you probably will be exploring the world, and this is one of my favourite aspects of the game. If a Witcher doesn’t fight or meditate, they can explore a city or the wilds.
Another player will read them the card and give them one of two options. Sometimes these options lead to an immediate bonus (or an unlucky fate), and other times it will lead them on a quest that involves the numbered event deck. These quests can also give instant bonuses, or items that can be used for the rest of the game. Exploring the world via these decks is easily the best part of the experience, as the world of The Witcher unfolds before your eyes.
You’ll meet characters you might remember from the video games, and so much more. It’s exhilarating, and it can quickly change the tide of the game, both negatively and positively.
An easily recommended experience
I could write a few thousand words about how much I have enjoyed The Witcher: Old World, but I won’t do that. If you enjoy a mixture of player movement, deck building, and narrative events, this game is an easy win for you.
It plays well at all player counts, and although it might feel daunting when you first get going, the gameplay loop is very satisfying and efficient. You’ll have the turn order down within an hour, and even the more complex battle system will be a cinch after a few fights. If you want to engage more in the Witcher world, check this out. If you’ve never played or seen The Witcher before, there is still a lot to love here!