The Witcher is a fantastic series. I’m currently playing through the games sequentially, and even the first entry in the series is a masterpiece in worldbuilding, in developing interesting and multidimensional characters, and in defining a creative world that distances itself in interesting ways from Tolkien’s Middle Earth, the prototype for most fantasy worlds. The Last Wish, the first of the Witcher short story collections (chronologically) is a fantastic read, and I’m dying to read the rest of the books Sapkowski penned.
The Witcher Adventure Game is a weird entry into this series, then. A board game eventually converted on a 1-to-1 basis into a video game, The Witcher Adventure Game attempts to let players to do the work of Witchers, wandering the Continent and doing jobs for assorted patrons, slaying monsters and defeating dastardly criminals.
The first weird thing about The Witcher Adventure Game is that it is multiplayer, a first for the series. One player plays Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher of legend. The other players get to take on the roles of other epic Witchers like Triss Merigold, Dandelion, and Yarpen Zigrin. Wait, no. Those people aren’t Witchers at all. Why are they wandering around, killing monsters? Don’t they have other things to do? How the hell is Dandelion killing monsters? He’s a bard.
OK, whatever. So we have up to four players rolling around the Continent. Four heroes, who aren’t working together at all. Despite the fact that you seem to have the composition for a balanced adventuring party here, and these characters are actually all allies in the books and other games, there’s almost no way to interact with other players at all. Players take Quests alone, and take on almost every objective alone. The only exception is a single objective on every Quest, which almost always just requires another player to go to the same space as you and spend some currency, for which you both get a paltry sum of Victory Points. It’s hardly collaborative monster hunting.
A big part of the Witcher franchise is the idea that monster hunting is something that should be left to experts. To properly hunt and defeat a monster, you need to know what you’re going up against, and prepare the proper oils, potions, and bombs before heading into battle. Having the proper techniques and materials prepared can turn a suicide mission into an easy hunt.
How does The Witcher Adventure Game capture this need for preparation? Barely. Characters collect character-specific cards representing new abilities, items, and allies, but they aren’t specific to any one monster or situation. It’s all general, boring buffs like “get 2 more Swords” (the icon on the dice that you need to roll to kill most anything) or “get 1 Shield for every Shield you already have” (Shields being what you need to roll to avoid the negative effects of monsters). Maybe if monsters meaningfully messed with your dice results this could be interesting, but they don’t. Instead you just spend your early turns getting as many of these Development Cards as possible, then using the same pattern of abilities in every encounter. Witcher Medallion to get a Witcher sigil, Igni or Quen to turn that sigil into Swords or Shields as you need, and Heliotrope or Aard to generate more if you need them. The other characters are the same: find a strategy and abuse it for everything.
The final piece to the “why this game is bad” puzzle is how the game handles damage. Characters can’t die, and instead every time you incur a wound, that wound renders one of your actions (ranging from movement to getting development cards to investigation) unusable. You have to rest to remove these wounds, which is in itself an action, and resting can only remove two wounds at a time, or one really bad wound. You can perform two actions a turn, and you can’t repeat actions, so resting can’t waste your entire turn, but it’s annoying nevertheless.
All of these things come together to a single unfortunate conclusion: most of this game is boring. Since you don’t care about anyone else’s turns, since they can’t meaningfully impact your strategy in any way, you’re just bored when other players are acting, which is up to 75% of game time. When it is your turn, you’ll spend a lot of your turns performing some combination of resting, moving, or grabbing Development Cards, which is to say, not really doing anything. Fights are brain dead when you have enough Development Cards, and even when you lose a fight, you don’t feel tension or pressure, you feel annoyance at the fact that you now need to waste half a turn healing the wounds.
It’s a shame, really. The Witcher series is a fantastic source of inspiration and new ideas, and a board game could really capture the feeling of adventuring through the Continent as a group in a way that the single player games never could. Instead, The Witcher Adventure Game feels like a single player experience, just one that you have to pause frequently to wait for three other players to play a bit of their game before resuming.