First, let me note that Witch of Salem from Mayfair Games is set in H.P. Lovecraft's fictional town of Arkham, not Salem; also the "witch" is Robert Craven, who is more accurately described in the rules as a Warlock. With that out of the way, this is a fun, quick, and simple cooperative game for 2-4 players about battling horrible entities trying to enter our universe.

Players are investigators who wander around the town, trying to close all open portals and then banish the Great Old One in R'yleh. Each investigator starts with six sanity, space to hold three regular items and one gate token, and cards to go to each building in Arkham (plus a Secret Passage that lets an investigator spend a sanity to go anywhere). There are six Great Old Ones around the board, with the first one revealed (face-up) and the final one in R'lyeh.

At the start of each turn, a monster card is drawn. If the monster's copy isn't on the board, it goes to the first available open space. If the monster is on the board, the investigators suffer its effects, from losing items or sanity to shuffling the possible portals to advancing Necron. And if the board is filled with monsters, the drawn card is discarded.

Next, players move (they can never stay in the same place for two turns) by playing an avaliable location card; going to Miskatonic University gets them all their cards back. If a player goes to a location where a monster is, the player rolls a die and suffers the effect if possible; if the Witch is there, no roll is needed. If a player has the 2 items needed to dispel the monster, they can discard it; they can also discard a dagger (if they have it) to discard a monster if the Witch is there. Players can trade items with other players there, use items (the Necronomicon reveals the next Great Old One; the Glasses let a player look at a face-down Portal tile at their location; the Elixir gives 1 sanity, or 2 if used when the Witch is there; the dagger can be used to defeat monsters; and the Artifact can seal a portal). Players can also buy an item at their location: Some are free, while others cost sanity, advance Necron, or require a monster or Event card to be drawn.

After players have their turns, the top Event card is drawn. These usually move the Witch around the board, and they sometimes benefit players but often hurt them -- especially if Necron is moved or a Great Old One comes to Miskatonic University as a Shadow (spreading its negative effects across the town).

Players win if they seal all the hidden portals, one player uses the Secret Passage to confront the Great Old One in R'lyeh, and another player seals the final gate at Miskatonic University. Unfortunately, losing is easier. Everyone loses if Necron makes it halfway around his track before the final Great Old One is revealed, or if he makes it to the end of the track. Players lose if all but one player are eliminated (since it takes at least two to confront the last Great Old One and seal the last gate). And players lose if, after banishing the Great Old One, they didn't seal off all the hidden gates -- or if they placed an artifact where there wasn't a gate!

Unlike Arhkam Horror, which was far more detailed but also way too comples, Witch of Salem is easy to start and quick to finish, without being too simple and with the Lovecraftian flavor. Players can work together (trading what's needed, deciding who will investigate which portals, and clearing monsters off the board), but teamwork certainly doesn't guarantee success. The battle with the final monster is far easier than in Arkham Horror, but the multiple ways to lose in Witch of Salem make it quite challenging. The strategy isn't too dense, and it's good to take some time between games, but Witch of Salem is a nice little trip to the horrific entity-infested Arkham of the 1920s.

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch

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