I can certainly say that with Heinrich Glumpler I am always impressed with the total originality of his games - both in theme and in mechanics. I was therefore ready to be surprised when he sent me his latest game - Techno Witches (Rio Grande Games, 2005 - Heinrich Glumpler). The name was certainly uninspiring (sounded like the game was trying to rake hold of the Harry Potter craze), but I knew that the chances of the game being interesting were high.
After several games, I must say that I like Techno Witches quite a bit. I don't think I'm enthralled with the theme, although it does work; I can't keep spaceships or planes out of my head. Techno Witches is actually a sort of game system, with the rules for four games included with the rules, another bonus game online, and more can be created by players. The mechanics of the game take a bit to get used to, which is why the games in the rules teach one thing at a time until the final two (most fun in my opinion) games compile everything together. If the idea of flying around on mechanical broomsticks, trying to outmaneuver other players, sounds like fun, then you'll probably be very pleased with Techno Witches.
Each of two to four players takes their novice magician piece, which is mounted on one of them new-fangled jet brooms, and the matching magic book of that color. Each magic book is a semicircle token with spots for five curves on it. Using castle tokens, hut tokens, and following the diagram in the rules, one of the scenarios is set up on the table. Each player places their jet broom on the table in their starting location with a flight tail behind it. Piles of twenty curved pieces are placed near the board, and one player is chosen to go first.
On a player's turn, they have two simple options - either take one of the curves from the piles and place it adjacent to the next numerical spot on their magic book or fly.
When a player decides to fly, which they MUST do if they have filled all five spots on their magic book, they follow these steps -
- They remove their jet broom from the board.
- They place the first curve so that it connects to their flight tail the same way it was connected to the book.
- They place their next curve, if any, connecting to the first curve, etc.
- After placing all curves, they place their jet broom at the end of the final curve.
- They then remove all curves and return them to the supply piles.
- The flight tail is moved up to be behind the broom.
If at any time, during a flight, a player's flight path or jet broom comes in contact with another player's jet broom or an obstacle - a flight abort occurs. The player places their jet broom at the end of the last legally placed curve, discards all the rest of their curves, and their turn is over.
In some scenarios, players can fly backwards and can place a curve behind their book to show this. There are also a few other special rules for each of the four games in the rules.
Game 1: Players race to be the first to catch a cat token.
Game 2: Players race around a course, coming back to their home base, backing in.
Game 3: Players attempt to catch a cat token and hold onto it as long as possible.
Game 4: Players are attempting to catch a technophobe (a crazy flier).
Game 5: (found at tinyurl.com/b558x).
Players try to stay up in the air as long as possible.
Some comments on the game…
1.) Components: The jet brooms are three dimensional cardboard cutouts that look good and work well, although without a drop of glue, tend to fall apart occasionally. The rest of the tokens, such as the palaces and huts, are round cardboard tokens that are of good quality - just like the curves. The curves are split into ten pairs of identical curves, and show sparkling trails of pixie(?) dust on them. They fit together rather well, and it's easy to slide them onto the table and connect them with one another. We did often forget which end was next to the magic book, but gentle reminders from other players often helped alleviate forgetfulness. Everything fits into a nicely designed plastic insert in this medium-sized square box. The artwork on the jet broom and box is rather cartooney, showing witches flying around on vacuum cleaners (heresy!), etc.
2.) Rules: The rulebook is rather well done, as a player simply plays each game to learn how the rules work. I probably won't ever play the first two games again, as they are simply an exercise on how to fly, but isn't' this the way that several people like to learn ("let's just PLAY the game!")? Techno Witches is much better explained by doing and showing rather than saying, and the website and rulebook both do an excellent job of explaining with a lot of color illustrations and examples. Still, the mechanics aren't always intuitive, so expect some people to have trouble with the backwards flying, etc.
3.) Theme: The title "Techno Witches" just does nothing for me. I recognize the popularity of magic users, thanks to those books about Hogwarts, but it just seemed odd for me to suggest to a group of guys to play a game about dueling sorcerers on souped up broomsticks. In the fifth scenario, they are actually shooting at one another, so why not use spaceships or airplanes. Then again, this hang-up on the theme may simply be me.
4.) Curves: I'm really impressed with the choices of the angles and lengths of the curves. It's often difficult to tell them apart at a glance, which I think is a good thing, as it makes flying much more tricky. I suppose after dozens of games, players will know the exact curves to use in every situation, but I like the uncertainty of wondering if a curve you will use will work. Even after dozens of games, I'm not sure anyone is good enough to be able to work out in their head all five curves in advance. At first I was a little concerned that a player would get himself into a position that they couldn't get out of, but the designer assured me (and I confirmed) that the curves were designed in such a way that at least one of them could always be used.
5.) Flying: If a player places one curve, then flies, and then places another curve, then flies, etc., they will probably fly better and safer. On the other hand, a player who places five curves, then flies, will be much faster, although they are taking a chance of having an aborted flight. One slight nick can throw a player off course, and so players are constantly presented with the question of whether they will fly fast, or safe. In a game in which collisions with other players are important, these decisions are even more important. And fun.
6.) Games: As I said, the first couple of games are okay but are mostly for learning purposes. The third and fourth games are much more interesting and can be played multiple times with the third (ramming festival) as my favorite. It is pretty easy to design your own scenario - go to some destination, play tag, capture the flag, etc. As I said, one scenario is already on the web, and I'm sure more can/will be designed.
7.) Fun Factor: The game is fun because players enjoy moving their jet brooms around and using the curves in different combinations. I don't think people will enjoy the game because of the theme, but rather because of the way they can "fly" their folks around. It reminds me a bit of Wings of War, although not quite so simple. The game is actually rather easy; it just takes some people a bit of time to get used to how the curves interact.
I like games with an interesting twist, and I love games that have a lot of different ways to be played. By only changing a detail here and there, or adding a simple rule, the entire face of Techno Witches is different for each game. This allows for great variety, a good thing in my book and keeps the game fresh and invigorating. The theme is slightly odd, one that I wouldn't have used, but it is interesting and fun enough that I'm sure to play it many times in the future. I'd love to see the game expanded with more curves and ideas - Techno Witches is a complete game, yet one begging for more ideas. That alone makes it worth getting. Goodbye, Quidditch; hello, Techno Witches!