Thursday, September 28, 2017

Cauldron Master and Magical Mayhem Expansion Review


Quick Look:

Info:
Designer: Caezar Al-Jassar & Kuly Heer
Artists: IrenHorrors (Illustrator), Sebastian Koziner (Graphic Designer)
Publisher: Alley Cat Games
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 2-4
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: 15-20 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

WARNING: This is a review of Cauldron Master. I was sent a copy of the game, as well as a copy of the Magical Mayhem expansion, for my review.

The town of Salem has a history of witches, but haven't you ever wondered where it all started? Well, allow us to take you back in time to a time of potions, covens, shamans, and a secret war, a time where the future of Salem hangs in the balance...

In Cauldron Master, your small coven of witches attempts to bewitch and control the town of Salem via powerful potions. Collect ingredients, fill your cauldrons, craft specific recipes for truly powerful brews, and beat out the opposing covens to secure your position as ruler of Salem!


The box is quite compact, roughly the size of two decks of playing cards side by side.

Review:

Rules and Setup:

The phases of play are relatively straightforward. Each round, players play one of their five Witch cards. Whichever Witch card is played affects when you go in turn order, but the turn order of each Witch card is inversely related to what cards they can draw. Should anyone play the same Witch card, the location of the Favour of Hecate card (it changes hands each round) will break the tie. After the turn order has been decided for the round, players take Ingredient cards from the supply (therefore making it crucial to balance when you go and what you can take). Once taken, Ingredient cards get placed on top of a player's Cauldron card. If a Cauldron is filled to its limit, a potion is created, and skill points are awarded based on what they have inside the Cauldron.

At the end of a round, the Ingredient supply is replenished from the Ingredient deck, the Witch cards played are set aside, and the Favour of Hecate card goes from its owner to the person on their left. After five rounds, players reshuffle their hand of Witch cards. The game ends once there are no more Ingredient cards left to replenish the supply. Any incomplete potions are discarded, and the player with the most points is the victor.

The core box comes with 101 cards and a rulebook, while the expansion containing twelve new cards,
a rule card, and a witch meeple.

Setup mostly consists of separating the six types of cards from one another: Witch, Ingredient, Cauldron, Score, Recipe, and Favour of Hecate. Each player gets one of each type of Witch, Cauldron, and Score card, and is randomly dealt one Recipe card. The Ingredient cards are shuffled and set face-down in the middle of the table to form a draw deck, and a number of them are placed face-up as the initial supply to take from; the exact number drawn depends on the amount of players. The Favour of Hecate card is given to whoever last watched a horror movie (alternatively, the "Amateur" Witch card can be randomly given to a player instead of one of their "Apprentice" Witch cards, and whoever gets the "Amateur" also gets the Favour of Hecate card).

The table is primed for a two-player game. Last coven standing, wins!

Theme and Mechanics:

The major theme of the game - witches collecting ingredients to make potions in their cauldrons - permeates throughout the artwork and descriptions. The ingredients are all reminiscent of the stereotypical items witches have used in past tales (toadstools and eye of newt, for example). One aspect that seems a little lackluster is that the game's premise (attempting to gain control of Salem) doesn't really carry throughout the game, and if you aren't one to read the tagline at the beginning of the rulebook, you likely wouldn't even know that Salem was a part of the game. Nonetheless, the theme is good and works fine as a generic witch game.

There are six types of cards: Ingredients (green), Recipes (red), Cauldrons (blue), Witches (purple),
the Favour of Hecate card (orange), and the numbered Score cards.

At its core, Cauldron Master is a straightforward set collection game, but what's surprising is how well its theme is implemented into the mechanics. The "Apprentice" Witch card can act quickly on their own but doesn't have the knowledge or experience to get lots of good ingredients, whereas the "Herbalist" might take longer to act but knows what to look out for. Having multiples of the same ingredient in the same cauldron grants you more points (as that potion becomes more potent), and matching the recipes grants more points, since each coven is more experienced at making certain potions. Players must balance their different cauldron sizes, the limited number of ingredients available each round, and the unique recipes each coven knows; failure to do so means falling behind early and making it all the more difficult to win.

The Magical Mayhem expansion adds twelve new Ingredient cards with slightly different mechanics. Each new ingredient has its own recipe that can grant bonus points if they're put into the same cauldron together. However, players have to act quickly; if it stays in the Ingredient card supply after the round it's played, the Ingredient card is removed from play, making these one-time-only offers. The expansion also comes with a witch meeple, which replaces the Favour of Hecate card.

The game's artwork carries over to the expansion, making them mesh together wonderfully. And look how
cute that meeple is!

Artwork and Components:

First off, the artwork for Cauldron Master is exquisite. The designs are beautifully done, using bright colors and keeping to the theme without making them look chaotic or distracting. They would honestly look right at home within a graphic novel. The borders, lettering, and icons also do a good job of adding to the overall cohesion without sacrificing design.

A sampling of the artwork, showing the Favour of Hecate card, as well as a Witch and Ingredient card.

The cards are good quality, the box is sturdy, and the insert helps a bit with keeping the cards organized. Unfortunately, it's not a perfect fit; the size and dimensions of the rulebook make the lid bulge a bit, even more so if the expansion is placed within the same box. Giving the rulebook different dimensions and making the box a bit deeper would help, but it still works fine as is, and the compact size means it doesn't take up unnecessary space on your shelf.

One bigger frustration I had, however, was the lack of an explanation for certain gameplay elements. In the rulebook, it doesn't tell you what the "Amateur" Witch card does; it instead tells you to check the publisher's website. Unfortunately, said information is not on their website, and I could only find a reference for it on a forum post and on one of the game's old Kickstarter updates. Why this information was not added to the rulebook is beyond me. Similarly, there is no explanation for the use of the witch meeple included with the expansion; the only information I could find regarding its use came from mentions on their Kickstarter. Both of these gameplay elements are optional, so it doesn't break the game to not have this information, but it's confusing as to why they were left out.

The "Amateur" and "Apprentice" can be interchanged, but you wouldn't know it from the rulebook.

The Good:

Cauldron Master is quick to set up and easy to learn. The artwork is stunning, the gameplay mechanics are solid, and its small size means it can be played nearly anywhere. The Magical Mayhem expansion is one of those rare few that adds to the experience without adding unnecessary rules or different artwork that throws off the game's feel.

The Bad:

The lack of explanation for optional game materials are a bit confusing, and I personally would have liked its concept to carry throughout the game instead of it being barely mentioned once in the rulebook. While there is some strategy involved in play, its depth is lackluster compared to many other games on the market.

Final Thoughts:

If you're looking for a quick, easy, and fun game to pass the time or to get new players interested in card games, Cauldron Master fits the bill.

Players Who Like:

Fans of set collection games like Lost Cities and Jaipur will find this a great addition to their collection.

I am giving Cauldron Master 7 out of 10 super meeples.

7 10

Check out Cauldron Master on:

     


About the Author:
David Jensen has tried his hand at everything from warehouse work and washing dishes to delivering pizza. Now, he writes reviews and works as an editor for a literary magazine. When not busy procrastinating, he's playing tabletop games with friends and writing fiction.










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