WITCH TRIAL


Designed by James Ernest, published by Cheapass Games.

In this game, the players play lawyers prosecuting and defending women who may or may not be witches. Truth of guilt is not an issue, winning the cases is the issue, because this makes the lawyers more money.

The game comes with eighty-four cards with beautiful illustrations by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) of characters in late Victorian/Edwardian clothes and poses. The players play charge cards on suspect cards to create cases, and then use witness cards to bolster their cases, and motion and objection cards to simulate legal manoeuvring. When the jury comes to make its decision, a die roll is made, and the score of the trial added, and the result is either victory or defeat for the prosecution.

Players need to provide the dice, and something to use to keep track of money.

A line of five cards is laid out, face up. On one end is a card that can be picked up for nothing, but the one on the other end, being the last one added from the shuffled pack, costs twenty dollars. Those in between cost between five and fifteen. Players therefore have to think carefully how much a card is worth. When a card is taken, all the others move down a place and a new twenty-dollar card is added. A player could wait for a card to get cheaper, but another player might snap it up before he gets another chance to buy it.

When a case comes to trial, a player may be able to influence which other player will represent the opposition. The two lawyers involved then battle it out with cards and a final die roll. Different charges are worth differing amounts to the victor, and different suspects are more or less likely to be found guilty, so choosing the right case is a major factor of the game.

In play, I find that too often a case hardly needs rolling for at the end, because the die roll is 2d6, which will quite predictably roll at least 4, and so cases within 4 of the required number for a conviction will almost always be won by the prosecution. Perhaps this is not a bad thing, because it just means that the use of cards is a greater part of the game, and so luck plays a lesser roll, although I have considered using 1d12 or 2d6-1 or some other variant to make cases a little less predictable.

This is not a quick game. A game that is cheap, as Cheapass games are, with a tiny board (actually, the board isn't really needed at all), and some smallish cards, might look as though it would be a quick thing to play, but actually this game is a full-length game, likely to fill the greater part of an evening.

The greatest thing about this game is the design of the cards. The pictures are beautiful and atmospheric, and the captions often very funny. Charges are for such crimes as "showing of ankles", "aloofness", and "heliotropism". The names and characters of the suspects (who can also act as witnesses) are great: "The Mugworts - too friendly for old people", "Blythe Stutterkin - known to own cats and to go shopping by herself" (she's a witch!), "Esmerelda the Mild - obedient and kind but unmarried at twenty-one" (she's a witch!), "Little Nellie - is known to associate with men after nine o'clock" (she's a witch!).

The evidence cards act differently for the prosecution and the defence, for example, the Casts no shadow card is worth 4 for the prosecutor but only 1 for the defender, as this might seem to be good evidence of witchood, whereas Reads without moving lips is worth 3 to either side of the case. The cards, these ones especially, give the players a lot of scope for role-playing the trial. For example, the card Works with children is worth 4 for the defence, but a prosecutor might still play it, even though to him it is only worth 2, saying as he does so:

"We see that the accused chooses of all things that she might usefully do with her life, to work with children. Why should this be, if not to take advantage of these innocent little ones, and fill their minds with corruption and deviltry? Do not children deserve to be protected from such evil? Furthermore, the counsel for the defence has the affrontery to claim that this work is evidence of the accused's good nature. Of course a witch would seek to obscure her mischief by such means! Gentlemen of the jury, there sits a woman of calculating coldness."

The game is fun, a bit long, has good opportunities for role-playing, and some funny cards. I have played it with three different gaming groups and it went down well each time.



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