The Village Crone
Time: ~75 minutes
Times Played: 3
With Spooktober in full spring, I wanted to keep the tradition alive of looking at games that fit the theme of Halloween. One game that doesn’t get a lot of attention is The Village Crone, a 2015 release from Fireside Games. Before we get too far into this review, I do want to mention that the reason that The Village Crone doesn’t get a lot of press is because it’s not a very good game.
What it does have going for it is a fairly well thought out theme and artwork that helps convey that theme. The modular board also can create new maps and pathways for the players each time they play which opens up some variability.
The Village Crone has players acting as Witches in the fictional medieval town of Wickersby. Using worker placement mechanics (with some resource management sprinkled in), players will gather ingredients and cast spells to achieve their goals and score their points.
These Witches main purpose in life is to make the lives of the inhabitants of Wickersby miserable. They send out their Familiars throughout the village to collect the needed items for their spells. Theses spells (which have a rhyming verse that is mandatory) harass the villagers by moving them, transforming them, and stripping them of their free will.
The spells are definitely interesting and easily the best part of the game. I personally love the rhyming incantation that players have to pledge and there are enough spells that it feels like there are options for players to make their Witch their own. This is a good time to mention that while the game offers different art work and player aids for each witch family, they all play identical. Lavrina is the same as Rowena.
The only real issue I take with spells is that the easiest one to cast (Protection) is also the absolute lamest one as locks the game down and is an all to powerful counter for anyone trying to accomplish anything. In theory, players can play Protection on another player’s Protection spell, then trade spells back and forth until they either give up or run out of materials. Protection either needed to be harder to cast or needs a limit on how many times it can be used. If it can only be summoned once or twice, the threat would be better and the game wouldn’t stall out as often.
The worst aspect about Protection is that because it’s so cheap, there’s no reason not to use it. If another Witch is casting a larger spell (such as Conjuring), why wouldn’t you stop them for half the price?
Anyways, the purpose of casting these spells, besides being a dick, is to complete schemes which grant the acting player victory points. Once thirteen points is reached, the game is over and that player is labeled The Village Crone (which is “an old woman who is thin and ugly”).
The Scheme cards come in stacks of one, two, and three victory points with the more point worthy Schemes being harder to accomplish. For instance, one point Schemes are usually one spell whereas three point Schemes might take two turns to complete.
The Schemes themselves are all over the place. Some are rather bland and just have Witches moving the Villagers around, such as ‘Daunt the Villagers’, which requires the Farmer, Peasant, and Miller to be in the Village Green and then for the Village Green to be Binded. ‘Disorient the Villagers’ has players transforming the Lord and Blacksmith into frogs while forcing the Miller and the Farmer to fall in love with one another.
Then there’s ‘Impoverish the Lord’ where you’re forced to make the Lord fall in love with the lowly Peasant. There never appears to be any rhyme or reason as to why a Witch is doing what they’re doing (besides general chaos). Once you play the game, you’ll also realize that the Schemes are generally all the same. Send someone here, bind this place, turn this person into a frog. I feel like there could have been more here but it becomes monotonous quickly.
This is a light game that has a fairly straightforward rulebook. I do want to warn though that there will be scenarios that appear during gameplay that the rulebook won’t help with. This typically happens when a player is tasked to do something in an area and there are more variables available than listed in the rulebook. This would happen about twice a game.
The rulebook also tends to repeat itself several times on rather elementary concepts that I found perplexing. It’s also printed with standard Times New Roman font, which I personally found weird. There have also been a few errata’s and patches that have come out since the game was released. My copy came with a paper slip explaining the changes and where to download the updated rulebook. I do appreciate them attending to a game and fixing the errors (as opposed to abandoning it) but these errors should have been caught before it went to production.
The key terminology to know to make the game run smoothly includes the following:
Ingredients, which are used to cast spells and include fire, flour, silver, and soil (Eye of Newt is also included and is a wildcard); and
Familiars, which are frogs, bats, etc. that do the Witches bidding and collect the ingredients needed to make the spells.
Each player turn is similar. In order, players will:
Tithe: Discard one ingredient to the Tithe Barn;
Move and Cast Spells: Move Familiars and/or Villagers up to six spaces, casts spells, and complete Scheme cards;
Harvest: After all Witches have moved, draw two ingredients card per Familiar in a location; and
Move Broom: Once all players have completed the previous three actions, the first player token is moved clockwise.
This continues until a Witch scores thirteen or more points.
As I mentioned earlier regarding the Scheme cards all basically being similar offshoots of one another, The Village Crone can stall into a weird Cold War version of Witchcraft as players can actively reverse another players turn. If I spend my round move the Farmer to the Blacksmith and the Priest to the Farm (to further my Schemes), it might very well happen that Rachel needs to move the Farmer back to the Farm and the Priest back to the Church to complete hers. This circular game motion sucks and only gets worse with more players as you move the Miller to the Lord’s Manor only to see them be moved by the next four players that go after you. In two-players it’s tug-of-war whereas with more it’s just pandemonium.
With everyone’s ingredients and Schemes being secret, you have no idea what people are doing or grabbing each turn. You don’t know where they are moving villagers or familiars (which will be moved) and you don’t know what spells are going to be cast (including spells that impact your turn). Someone could cast Summoning to send a Villager you spent two turns traversing the village all the way away or turn them into a bat. You just won’t know and you have no way of knowing or planning.
The resources of the game, the ingredients, are also finite. If you need some more soil and there isn’t any…oh well. You also are hindered in planning ahead as you only have schemes in front of you and you don’t know what the next cards will be. It’s just so incredibly random and chaotic that it’s an exercise in frustration, not fun.
The Village Crone supports one- to six-players but I could not bring myself to play this solo. We played games at two-, three-, and five-players and I think four-players, which I have not played at, is probably the sweet spot. Five felt like too much and I can only imagine six being worse. It wasn’t worth attempting more complex Schemes at that high of a count as players were constantly moving and binding everything on the board. In doing such, it made the game way too long as players penny’d their way to victory. Three-players was also sub-par as if two players go into a stand-off, the third player could act without constraint. Two-players was just a wide open board and a tug-of-war of who’s going to hinder the other player the most. I think four would be the ideal number as it allows enough players to keep everyone in check and you could probably still complete one and two level Schemes (and maybe a three level one) with all the chaos happening. I unfortunately will not be ever to test that hypothesis as this game sits in the corner to be traded.
The Village Crone, due to issues I’ve mentioned already, lasted way too long for it’s own good. Now that I write this review, I wonder if removing the Protection spell completely from the game would help speed things up. If this game could be a sub-40 minute experience, I would tinker around with variant rules and probably play it once a year as an October game but like everything else about this game, it disappoints even with its time to play as games will roughly last seventy or more minutes. Rachel and I can knock out much more complex and rewarding games in that time frame!
The components are your basic board game cardboard chits and the artwork is generic. There’s nothing wrong with any of it. It doesn’t distract from the game or what you’re trying to do but it certainly doesn’t add anything. This is most notable on the modular board as if the location is not a building, the square is just grass. This village has no well for the inhabitants and walking paths haven’t been created yet. Trees, which grow everywhere, are only present right next to buildings.
The characters and Familiars of the Village are cardboard standees, which I’m fine with, but for those that want a more three-dimensional feel of their game, Fireside Games has released 3D schematics of the pieces for players to print out. I think this is a home-run for Fireside Games as it keeps prices down for the base game but allows players that want a more thematic feel to invest in them. While not everyone has a 3D printer, there are plenty of workshops and libraries popping up around cities that will take this order with no problem.
I will give additional credit to The Village Crone for another aspect of its components too: everything was pre-punched and placed in baggies upon delivery. I will admit that I like punching out tokens as much as anyone but living in a city rowhome, there’s only so much trash I can accumulate. Not having to worry about that aspect was great and I hope better for the environment as maybe they used less material when printing but that’s pure speculation on my part.
I was (well, still am) really disappointed by The Village Crone. The idea is there and I feel like if it were fleshed out a little bit more, there could be something good here. They could have explored good Witches versus bad Witches or communal Schemes or even a Free Will deck that has the villagers moving about or something. They obviously wanted this game to be slightly more complex than you’re regular entry-way game to the hobby but in my opinion did not push the boundaries enough as what we were left with is an incomplete game.
I don’t think it was designed to be this strategic thinker of a game but the luck and randomness are too much to contend with. There are no back-up plans. In Ticket to Ride, if someone steals your route it sucks but you can always build around it. In The Village Crone, if someone moves your Villager it’s demoralizing as the only thing you can do is move them back to where they were and pray to Abonde that they stay put.
The only way I would recommend The Village Crone would be if you really like Witches or are on a mission to collect every Halloween-esque game out there; besides that, there really isn’t enough here to draw players into wanting to play and let alone own this game. I personally feel like you can find other games to play during the season that are better.