This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
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The Original “Witch Hunt” in Colonial Massachusetts
When politics, superstition and teenage angst mix, it is never a good situation, but it can make for a fun game. This is the case with Affliction: Salem 1692 from DPH Games. Players select one of the prominent families during the Salem witch trials and use the accusations of the “afflicted girls” to settle old scores and bring down enemy houses.
This is a history-based board game of guile and planning that allows players to simulate the hysteria of the Salem, Mass., witch trials. The player who shuts down enough prominent members of other families, or proves the best at protecting their own, wins. The game concludes when the minister or the governor’s wife arrives on the scene to put an end to the madness that was the Salem Witch Trials.
As DPH Games explains, “Affliction is a game set in the hysteria of a witch-hunt. Use your influence to whisper in the ear of the magistrate, judge, governor or minister to protect some and have others arrested. Salem was a chance to gain property, exact revenge and prove one’s righteousness. This is the one witch-hunting game without witches!”
This board game provides a valuable lesson about the dangers of mob rule.
Interesting Story and Visually-Pleasing Artwork
As alluded to above, the game story is interesting. As opposed to Salem 1692 from Façade Games, Afflicted takes a completely different angle. Salem 1692 incorporated witches into the game in a big way. This means seeking out and finding the witches constitutes an imperative part of the story line.
In Afflicted, the designers took a softer approach by focusing on the politics surrounding the witch trials. In this game, players manage the fear and accusations swirling around the town. This gives the game the feel of a political rather than a supernatural thriller. This game also demonstrates how the hysteria, not actual witches, caused the problems in colonial Salem. This is a valuable lesson about the dangers of mob rule.
The game also delves into the history of Salem’s families and prominent citizens. With the combined historical and narrative elements in the game, Afflicted: Salem 1692 earns an 7 out of 10 for story.
AS DPH Games further explains, “Affliction is a more authentic experience of the events surrounding Salem Massachusetts 1692. The 41 colonists in the game are the people that were connected to the witch trials. The tension between village and town, the resentment between families, accusing and arresting would be witches, and seizing property from those arrested are all rewarded.
You will play a faction within the town or village of Salem, using influence to bring colonists into your circle. You may also use that influence to ask the governor to protect individuals, for the magistrate to arrest others, the judge to help you to become more influential, or Cotton Mather to spread suspicion.”
The artwork of the game is reminiscent of woodcuttings, which is period-correct. From the stark black and white images of the colonists to the ruddy earth tones of the turn board, the game has the feel of a bleak colonial town that has lost all hope amide the hysteria of accusations.
The meeples are little Puritans, which is a very cool period design integration. I like the design of the game’s double-sided tokens. This touch makes them easier to sort and to find when looking for a specific one. Overall the game is visually pleasing, and earns a 7 out of 10 for artwork.
Mechanics and Strategy
The mechanics of the game are also interesting. As noted above, the game is based around a turn board. Players place their meeples on the board to indicate the action they are going to take. Player actions range from accusing, gaining influence, protecting people, causing fear and even arresting and recruiting people into their “circle.”
This creates a situation the increases the importance on which player goes first. This is because the placement is not snake placement; the first player gets both advantages in each turn. The goal of the game is to arrest colonists or recruit them into your circle; however, there is another level of game play involved because each player is from the “town” or “village” and can only recruit from like cards. This sets up situations where certain townspeople cannot be played together, which prevents broken combos from occurring.
There are also hidden goals for each player, along with family allegiances. In turn, this helps keep game play from going stale. The player abilities are also engaging, and they have different factors that bring them forward. The game is mechanically diverse, which earns it a 7.5 out of 10 for mechanics.
With such a complex system of mechanics, a very strong strategy game is even more important. As each player is playing toward individual goals, there is an inherent prevention from “teaming up.” This is good because a team-up meta-game would be outside the historical scope of the game. Players are in it for themselves, which means everyone is out for blood.
Given the cutthroat nature of the game, there is a depth of strategy that really adds to the competition. However, once a colonist is arrested, that character is detained for the whole game. The variant is if players decide to play the one broken card that gets them out of jail. In a large game like this, having only one broken card is an amazing feat for the designers. This can be also devastating when someone whom a player was to protect is arrested. This spin heavily contributes to the overall strategy.
The card values do a good job of balancing out the abilities, which adds another level to the strategy. For this, Afflicted gains a 6.5 out of 10 for strategy.
Novelty Captures the Imagination
Novelty is interesting. Affliction: Salem 1692 and Salem 1692 both came out about the same time. I stand by my novelty score for Salem 1692. The unique aspect is while the name of both games is the almost the same, everything else about them is different.
Salem 1692 is about the witches being “real” and trying to kill townspeople. Affliction takes on the witch trials with the premise that the corrupt politics of the town that was costing citizens their lives. Both games are very unique in this element. The play, ideas, and mechanics are both very novel, albeit games with similar names and similar historical roots. For this reason, we award Affliction a score of 8 out of 10 for novelty.
Overall, this is an educational game for 2-4 players and is easy to grasp. It takes about an hour to play and is enjoyable even while learning the card abilities. In our tests, we found the game and the characters balanced, even going to the score tiebreaker in one round of play.
This is one of those games that is more reality-based rather than the myth that arose from the historical hysteria. Affliction: Salem 1692 is a very inventive game and thus earns an overall score of 36 out of 50. With a reasonable price, this is definitely a game that you may want to add to your collection. The publisher did a professional job particularly in creating the story and the mechanics, and as a result, this is a fun game for an entire group.