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History-Based Social Deduction Play
Imagine living in Salem, Mass., during the witch trials and not knowing if an of your neighbors may or may not be a “witch.” Imagine being accused of witchcraft regardless of whether you had committed any crime. Consider being the local constable at that time and trying to protect the citizenry, even some of them might be so-called witches.
Combine this with Gothic hysteria and a need to find out who is a friend or foe before you are exposed or killed. When you start thinking along these lines, you begin to appreciate the immersive nature of Salem 1692 from Columbus, Ohio-based Façade Games.
Salem 1692 is a team-based board game where the players represent actual townspeople of Salem during the height of the witch trials. Just like them, you have no idea who the witches are unless you are one. This creates an environment where you are a member of a team without knowing who you are on a team with. This really shifts the thinking and makes it devastating when you eliminate someone on your team by mistake, thereby allowing another team to get one step closer to victory.
Salem 1692 gives players a chance to rise above the mob and think for themselves.
As Facade explains about the game play, “Hunt down the witches before you become one of them! Will you be the hero who purges your town of witches, or will you be wrongly accused and hanged for witchcraft? Or perhaps you will become a witch yourself, escape conviction, and bring Salem to the ground in hysteria.”
Solid Story and Artwork
The story in this game is quite compelling with elements of historical accuracy and fantasy that make the game pop. Salem constitutes a disturbing historical event that should not be forgotten. When the mob rules, we all fail. Salem 1692 gives players a chance to rise above the mob and think for themselves, which can expand their ability to succeed in the game and in life.
While some aspects are randomized (like who is the witch, thus limiting historical accuracy), they are needed to keep the game fresh. The characters abilities also add to the story, which means the Salem gets a very strong 8 our 10 for its story.
The artwork is interesting. The portraits of the townspeople range from realist to caricature, which gives the game a fun feel (especially since killing is involved).
The other cards are simple, but contain enough art to provide a acceptable aesthetic. You have to love the small wooden hammer for example.
Compared to Deadwood, its brother game in the “Dark Cities” series, the art in this game is not as compelling, but still above average. This results in a score of 6 out of 10 for art.
The mechanics of the game are also interesting. The basic elements would make for a simple card game to play with your friends. Each player has five cards to protect; when they are gone, you are dead. You kill a witch by piling seven accusations on a player to reveal one of their “tryal” cards. It’s simple enough for anyone to pick up.
The “night” and “conspiracy” cards are a unique feature. Night allows the witches to “kill” one of the players (which can be negated by giving up one of their cards). This moves the game forward and tasks players with quiet decision-making as a team . During this time, the constable can also protect one person on the board (which prevents the loss of a card).
The conspiracy card also shakes things up; it takes a card from the player who has the black cat (another interesting card), and it allows players to take one of their neighbor’s cards. This allows the ranks of the witches to grow during the game.
Witches win if all non-witches are dead. Townsfolk win if all the witches die. Salem 1692 has simple mechanics with a significant randomizer. The mechanics of this game are superior, resulting a score of 8.5 out of 10.
Strategy and Novelty Abound
Strategy is a big part of a game. With a good set of mechanics like Salem 1692, you hope for a good strategy. Façade Games did not disappoint. There are several paths to victory for each group; deception and cunning are high up on the skills list. Random accusations lead to a mob effect which can result into playing into the witches’ hands.
One knock is if someone figures out who the witches are through “sound” (or the witches find the constable), there is an ability to pile on . Other than that, players can decide if they want to go it alone or push through to have a better chance of winning. For strategy, this game receives a 7 out of 10.
This brings us to novelty. With a fascination with the occult in the last few years, it seems like players are the witches in every game, and it is a taboo to hunt the things that go “bump in the night.” Salem 1692 provides the opportunity to hunt spell-casters, but again, it also highlights the dangers of a mob mentality. This is truly unique. The attacks and randomization are interesting, but the meta-game psychology really shines in Salem 1692. For this reason, the game is awarded a score of 9 out of 10 for novelty.
Complex Rules, Simple Play
Overall, this is a first-rate game that is suitable for 4-12 players. While the rules are very complex, game play is quite simple. This makes it initially a little intimidating for a group to pick up right way. Once things get rolling, it is a fun game to play.
Hard rules tend to be a slight negative for any game, even one as good as this one. As a result, Salem 1692 receives a two-point deduction for complex rules (albeit well written). This should not hold you back though.
Learn to play in a sample round (it is very easy to pick up). Once you know how to play, you can teach anyone else. We even played a game with my six-year-old niece and her friend; other than a few issues with big words, they did well.
With a total review score of 36.5 out of 50, Salem 1692 is one of those card games you should add to your collection. With a sharp book-shaped box, Salem 1692 looks good on your shelf and even better on your table.