Is She A Witch?
‘Witch’ provides an improvised entertainment for a small group of people without any need for a gamemaster or referee. In practice, it might be useful for someone to be familiar with the content of this ‘Ashcan’-edition booklet, but by no means imperative as the content could be scanned through and imparted quite rapidly at the start of, and during, the session.
Players assume the roles of a ragtag band of medieval travellers tasked with transporting a supposed witch from London to Lindasfarne. Each player sheet presents some very basic detail, including three questions that warrant an answer during the session and a few flavour lines at the bottom that might serve as the basis for the scenes that will follow.
Over the course of the journey, players take it in turn to frame scenes that involve their characters, the other defined major characters, and any peripheral persona. The person framing the scene can identify a character and a player who will take that role. Here in the middle of the 14th century burning a witch may very well provide a timely and much needed resolution to a plague that ravages the land. Each character has something to invest into this predicament and possible links to the other players – from an inspiring squire and his world-weary knight, to a disgraced Crusader and a wary Brother charged to accompany the witch by the Church.
The game consists of a simple booklet and some strips of paper with the very limited character detail. Only one character sheet has an illustration at the moment – as this edition of the game is still a work in progress. As a player, I didn’t see much of the content of the booklet – but it seems to mainly consist of some short guidance on the game, and narrative sections to frame each phase of the game.
The witch has two ‘envelopes’ to choose from at the start of the game, to determine her guilt or innocence. Her crime may be true or fabricated, and in the course of the game the players need to come to some sort of conclusion. Making the wrong decision will send an innocent woman to the flames, and while the characters may ‘succeed’ in their lives thereafter, the witch character adds a bitter end to their existence. If the players make the right decision, they may rid the land of the plague.
Given the game exists in this half-finished state, I can only judge what I’ve experienced first hand and seen for myself. I wonder what additional material a complete edition of the game might include. As it stands, I’m not overly impressed myself. While I participated and found some role in the game, as the deserter Crusader ‘Sir’ Thorne, I found the whole story massively dependent on considerable effort from the players in creating and developing the narrative. I have played Fiasco and the many random elements generated at the start of a playset provide some character, relationship, and focus to work with. Somehow, I felt ‘Witch’ had cut me adrift. I’m quite a history buff myself and I appreciate you don’t need to adhere to historical accuracy necessarily, but I found the background very limited and the guiding questions and flavour insufficient. I felt uncomfortable playing, even amongst people I have played games with for a while now. The ‘game’ doesn’t feel like it offers much support.
I have read reviews that the game likely offers incredible replay value, but I don’t see it myself. I have played it a single time and now I doubt I would want to play it again, even as a different character or with a different group of players. I can’t quite see how it might engage me or where I might muster the enthusiasm – but, that could simply be me. On the other hand, having played a Fiasco playest (‘The Ice’), I think I could replay that more than once, purely because the elements that make up the game will subtly change with a fresh set of dice rolls.
I can’t judge the outcome of further development or the release of a final version of this game, so I write this review based on what we have now. For the moment, the ‘Ashcan’-edition of ‘Witch’ offers an interesting premise for a genuinely one-off game. I will take an interest in additions and developments, including illustrations for the characters (currently limited to the Brother), but I could, in good conscience, recommend this game to anyone over, for example, Fiasco.