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Approaching Dawn: The Witching Hour Review

Quick Look:

Designer: Kenneth C Shannon
Artists: Jhoniel Centeno, Hal Greenberg
Publisher: WizKids
Year Published: 2017
No. of Players: 3-6 with a 2 player variant
Ages: 12+
Playing Time: 120 minutes

Find more info on BoardGameGeek.com

Approaching Dawn: The Witching Hour is a co-op, hand evolution (similar to deck builder), management game.  Each player is a member of the Coven and at least one of you has used some black magic sometime over the last year.  Now, your personal demons are manifesting and attempting to steal your magic and souls.  Combating these demons will help you but also sometimes hurt other Coven members because of the bond you have.  If one of you give in to the demons, the Coven is lost, and you lose the game.

Rules and Setup:
The game is played in scenes that consist of 4-6 rounds.  During play you will draw 5 spells from your own deck, and without communicating, decide what type of magic you will use on each card (many cards have 2 options, black or white magic, by flipping them over).  Black magic will defeat enemies in front of the one who played it, but also hurting the player to the left by opening sigils, and giving them more corruption.  White magic heals the player who played it and can be used to damage enemies in front of other players.

At the beginning of each turn everyone will have a chance to buy new spells and place them on top of their deck to use during that same round.  When acquiring these spells, you will add corruption to your player depending on how powerful the spell is.  After everyone has had a chance to buy spells, demons will be summoned.

The top 3 cards are flipped over and they start attacking the coven leader first.  Depending on the amount of corruption that player has, and which sigils are open, the demon will or will not attack them.  If they attack them they will be added in front of that player.  You will also take the number of corruption off your player according to the number on the demon that is attacking you.  If the demon doesn't attack because you either don't have the number of corruption, or because certain sigils aren't open, it will attack the next player.  Each player will have a potential of being attacked by 3 demons.

After all players have been attacked, everyone will close their sigils and if any player has more than 20 corruption the game is over; if not you will continue to the insight phase.  Each player will draw 5 cards from the deck.  You will decide to play black or white magic and use any effects on different cards or not.  As a guide during this phase, you will see what demons are in front of you, and you will use black magic to either banish (gone forever) or bind (they can't do their effect, until next round) in front of you.  White magic you will use to help others defeat demons in front of them.  Black magic hurts the player to your left and white magic heals yourself.

Corruption phase begins and everyone shows their cards.  During this time you will tell the person to your left how much black magic you used and they will add that number of corruption to their player, and if you use any cards with sigils on them, they will open those certain sigils on their board (this will cause more demons to be able to attack them).  Everyone will count their white magic and remove that much corruption on their own board.

The battle phase is next and as you already counted your black magic, you will use that to either banish or bind (tap the card to the side) the demons in front of you. Each demon has different number it takes to do either of these actions.   You can then use any of the white magic in the pool to bind or banish demons from other players.  At this time any unbound demons will deal damage and do their effects.

Each player starts with a secret that gives that player a goal and a direction during play.  After the battle phase, everyone can check to see if they progressed on their secret and will add a black cube to the card to show that you advanced on your secret. During a certain time, you will be able to reveal this card.  You will then advance on the hour, and start the phases over again.  You will win if everyone survives till the end.

The rulebook is hefty.  When you first start reading the book, it can be difficult to grasp right away.  I felt like this is a game you have to play first to see how it works before you really know how to play.  For this purpose the designer also includes a practice scene where you will learn how to play the game first.  After understanding  the difference between black and white magic, the management of corruption, and the significance of opening or not opening sigils, you will then be ready to really enjoy this game.

Theme and Mechanics:
The theme is of witches and Wicca.  The designer made sure to make the theme of Wicca with an RPG feel as they develop a story in the rulebook and make it feel like you're the character your playing as each character have different cards and play different.  The theme might scare some people away due to religious reasons.  When opening the game, that was my feelings as I found a pentagram on the board, and could see through the components and art that the theme was very heavy Wiccan.  After playing the game, it seemed like the game wasn't as heavy as it looked as there were some funny flavor text or art that brought the game away from being something I might be uncomfortable with.  The theme might be something each player needs to figure out if they are comfortable with or not, but I will say I wouldn't feel super comfortable bring this game out with someone I don't know too well to know if they would be comfortable or not.

The game to me is a management game.  You will need to manage your deck of what spells you can do, what sigils you can open, if you have more powerful black magic cards, or white magic cards, and such much more.  This adds a nice depth to this game.  The game includes a hand management mechanic where you need to figure out what cards to use and for what occasion.  The game is co-op, but not as many other games are. When playing, you all are on the same team, but some of your actions will help you while hurting your neighbor.  This aspect really helps so that there is no alpha gamer telling everyone what to do.  Lastly, this game has a campaign built into it where you can develop the story like many RPG games.

Artwork and Components:
They did not skimp out on anything in this game.  Very nice cardboard, even the player aids are cardboard.  The player boards are nice a big.  I feel like they decided to not just make the components good, but went above and beyond and made them better than really I would expect in a good game.

The artwork is wonderful as it highlights the theme, adds a light hearted feel at times, and develops the story in the RPG factor of the game.

The Good:
The game was developed and tested and works great with no problems I could find in the mechanics. The game makes a co-op fun for everyone without any possibility of an alpha gamer.  The game has so many cards to it, that you can play differently so many times and still not be able to know what cards will show up.  I love the management aspect of the game, as it also makes the game different every time due to having to adapt to not only how you play, but how everyone else plays as well.

The Bad:
Due to the game being a campaign type game, I will want to do the campaign in order.  It would then be hard for me to get the game to the table again knowing I already finished the campaign.  For many the theme might make this game hard to be accepted by everyone.  For me, I would not know if the game would be OK to play with many people I play games with.

Final Thoughts:
The game is very polished.  The art and components are top notch.  The game adds great mechanics to a co-op game where you hurt the player to your left with certain actions.  The game requires a lot of planning and thinking as you only play 4-6 rounds, yet it takes more than an hour to do so.  Being a management game, you will need to change your strategy the entire time you play as you don't know what other players have in store for you or the team.

Players Who Like:
If you like campaign style games, deck builders, co-op games, or management type games, this game I would recommend to you.  Also if you are looking for a game with lots of cats, or a game with a Wiccan theme, this game should be on your list.

I am giving Approaching Dawn: The Witching Hour 8.5 out of 10 super meeples.

8.5 10

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About the Author:
Brody Sheard played board games with his large family growing up.  He continues his love of games by teaching his family, local gaming guild, and friends about new and exciting games.  Brody believes that board gaming keeps your mind healthy while also having fun interacting with others.
Approaching Dawn: The Witching Hour Review Approaching Dawn: The Witching Hour Review Reviewed by Brody on October 17, 2017 Rating: 5

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