"The strangest, most daring, and perhaps most damning thing about The Witcher Adventure Game is its complete lack of competitive and interactive elements."
I don't understand the appeal of a virtual board game. So much of the pleasure of playing a board game is not in the game itself--no matter what fantastic tales may be told therein--but in the company. For, when the action on the board stutters, falters, becomes overlong and trying, the people surrounding that board can redeem the whole affair with jokes, antics, and tokens tossed at eyes, mouths, or crotches. But in a virtual, online multiplayer setting, a board game is a lonely entertainment. Even with friends and the intervention of Skype, it's still merely a shared chat room, no more appealing to me than playing a board game over the telephone.
There are a couple of advantages. The rules are automated, for one. The dice are rolled for you, the cards are drawn with a randomness as perfect as one can get, and the rulings are made for you, no thinking required. It's like having a beneficent Dungeon Master on hand to worry about the particulars of the rules so you don't have to. Convenience is a desirable trait these days, I understand, and being able to play your favorite board game without the hassle of scheduling a visit from friends is nice. But I struggle to think of another way in which The Witcher Adventure Game online justifies its existence, especially when the game itself is so mundane.
The Witcher Adventure Game, starring Geralt of Rivia and his friends, enemies, and world, is a spin-off of the excellent RPG franchise. I'm trying not to be cynical about CD Projekt RED's rather unfortunate choice of genres for these spin-offs (this and the upcoming MOBA), but the sort of capitalizing that creates spin-offs, graphic novels, and other merchandise is a warning sign to me, a sign of increased output and decreased input. In short, a weakening. A drop in quality. So, I may not be the perfect audience for The Witcher Adventure Game, but I lay my biases at your feet. So far this feels more like a cash grab than a proper diversion. I look forward to being proven wrong.
But who knows how much involvement CD Projekt RED had with the development of this game. Perhaps it's mostly Fantasy Flight Games, known for their Lord of the Rings card game, Eldritch Horror board game, and other popular entertainments. With The Witcher, they've crafted a competent, if rather ordinary board game. It features the level of complexity you've come to expect from large scale board games and involves a number of tokens, dice, cards, and counters. Players choose one of four heroes to travel around the world, complete quests, combat monsters, and earn Victory Points. The player with the most Victory Points, earned from both main and side quests, wins. The game ends when every player has completed a previously decided upon number of major quests.
It feels like a prototypical modern board game dressed up in a witcher's clothes.
The strangest, most daring, and perhaps most damning thing about The Witcher Adventure Game is its complete lack of competitive and interactive elements. It's neither competitive nor cooperative. Each player takes his or her turn in isolation. Sure, occasionally the player can place a danger in another region, but it may be uninhabited at the time and there are dangers everywhere anyway. Nothing particularly compelling occurs during another player's turn. There's no reason to follow along because nothing another player can do can possibly be any cause for alarm or wonder. Bring a book to read or a tablet on which to dabble. In a four-player game, you'll have time enough to finish a chapter or two.
This is the beta, however, and more features could be added later. Board games like this are really only fun when alliances can be made. There's no drama in The Witcher Adventure Game. It's a static, if competent, experience with a static presentation. The board never changes from game to game because it's an established setting — how could it change? But there aren't any interesting stories being told in the game either. Quests and dangers are described by a sentence or two, and they're nothing wildly different from what we experienced in the first two games. Combat is perhaps the most stand-out element, but that, like every other aspect of the game, is overly reliant on luck rather than strategy. Your success is largely determined by the flip of a card and the roll of a die.
Matchmaking is also a mess. Players are grouped together at random and later asked to choose the length of the game. The number of players in any game is left up to chance. Why not group likeminded players together? The tutorial, accessible from the main menu, is also utterly inept, and the "Help" function seems to be disabled once you get in a game. Although the rules aren't immensely complex, they're complicated enough that I was lost during the first several games I played. The full version of the game will allegedly include some single player modes (i.e. player vs. computer), which might give you a chance to test your skills against an anonymous machine and save yourself the trouble of looking like a complete idiot.
I had trouble completing even a single game for this preview. Players quit on a whim, matchmaking is a battle in itself, and games disconnect seemingly at random. There's still time for The Witcher Adventure Game to match the quality I expect from CD Projekt RED before its release later this year. It's also being released by Fantasy Flight Games as a physical board game, and I recommend that over the virtual version, although neither will be sufficient to keep us occupied until the release of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt next February.
I see board games as a means to an end, a focus for a night of friendship. Playing one for its own sake seems a doomed endeavor.