Broom Service and Witch’s Brew

Andreas Pelikan and Alexander Pfister

Publisher: Alea / Ravensburger

Broom Service is remake of sorts for an older game known as Witch’s Brew. Witch’s Brew was very well-received but oddly enough, quite hard to find even though there is an English edition. The game appeared under the Alea/Ravensburger medium box series and was really a grail for many collectors. The game was slightly more available in other non-English languages and could be purchased via Amazon.de. Fortunately, many enterprising souls took the time to translate the cards and rules in to English such that it was possible to produce a heavily cut & pasted copy of the game that was playable. I loved Witch’s Brew the first time I played it and the Brave/Coward mechanism was fresh and just fun. I later found a copy of Witch’s Brew in German and the game appeared on our gaming table every so often as a break from other heavier games.

Enter Broom Service which appeared in the Alea/Ravensburger Big Box series. Naturally, I was curious about the remake which supposedly retain the core mechanisms of Witch’s Brew but with tweaks. True to the description, the reimagined game retains the flavor of the original with several improvement, but the changes also resulted in what I thought were a few negatives. Overall, I am glad that the game is reprinted in the form of Broom Service so that a new generation of players have a chance to try out the fun mechanism.

In Broom Service, players have 10 role cards to select from. Each round, players select 4 of the 10 cards and unlike other simultaneous action selection games which I don’t exactly enjoy (Lowenherz being the exception), in Broom Service, players take turns revealing their selection. The first player to choose a role must declare either the role is “Brave” or “Cowardly”. A brave role gives you more powerful actions and a cowardly role only gains a fraction of the benefits. The catch here is that a cowardly selection always grants you the reduced benefits immediately whilst being brave is risky. If another player apart from the start player chooses a similar role, they must reveal the card in turn order and decide if they want to be brave or cowardly. If that person chooses brave, then the initial role selector gets nothing. Bupkus. Zilch. It is indeed a risky proposition to be brave. You either reap all the rewards or end up with nothing. If however the next person chooses to be cowardly, then the brave person will stay the same and the inquiry goes around the table. In this way, players try to guess or out-guess their opponents as to role cards they are holding and to decide if they should take a brave or cowardly actions. The last player to reveal the card will usually have the option to be brave. It can be chaotic, but a somewhat fun chaos.

The board itself is divided into many regions: hills, mountains, forest, desert and plains. Each player has two witches starting in two different locations. They will be zooming around the map to deliver potions that come in three flavors to corresponding towers scattered throughout the map. Some towers are located exclusively in one region while others will straddle the borders of more than one. The role cards you select will allow you to produce potions and advance and deliver specific- colored potions to color-matched towers.

The first three roles are potion gatherers. There are three potion type in three colors. A brave gatherer will simply harvest more potions than a cowardly one. The next four roles are witches that allow players to fly to different regions and deliver potions to towers. A brave witch will fly and deliver a potion will a timid witch can only fly to a region sans delivery. The third type of character are druids. The peak and valley druids can just help deliver potions but not move. A brave druid will get more points or bonuses for a successful delivery. Finally, there is a weather fairy that chases away clouds to earn points.

Chasing clouds feel like a mini game in Broom Service. When standing near a stormy cloud, one can play a weather fairy to use wands to push clouds away. Each cloud has lightning bolts worth set collection points in the end. Some clouds require more wands to remove but are worth more lightning bolts. In some regions, chasing away the storm clouds is a prerequisite to enter the region. I think the set collection of bolts complements points earned from potion delivery. If you have enough lightning bolts, they can score a chunk of end game points pivotal for winning the game. There are also a variety of modules included in the base game that tweak aspects of this set collection.

The game lasts for 7 rounds and at the start of each round, an event cards will be flipped. Event card just add more randomized events to the game to make things a little more varied. These events usually awards bonus points or penalizes players for meeting or missing specific requirements respectively. For the most part, the events feel a little banal and I think they are meant to be harmless additions that doesn’t impact the overall game play. I guess these cards also act as a round indicator as you have 7 event cards set up for each game.

So what do I think about Broom Service and Witch’s Brew? First, I am glad the reprint exists. The core mechanism is always fun to play. The Brave/Cowardly selection mechanism is relatively underutilized and is more or less similar in both games even though the cards are slightly different. In Witch’s Brew, players are also trying to gather different ingredients to brew potions. There is a common pool of potions with different ingredient requirements and players must fight for it. First come first serve. If you have the right ingredients and play the right character, you can claim the potion first. Unlike Broom Service where you fly to different regions to deliver potions, collecting ingredients to make the potions is more intense and brutal since each potion is one of a kind. If you lose out, then you have to go for an weaker alternative.

There are also 12 role cards in Witch’s Brew with a thief that steals money and several characters that allow you buy ingredients or potions using money. Money is also a resource in Witch’s Brew but with more flexibility. You can buy potions directly with money or exchange for the ingredients you need. It acts as an intermediate commodity allowing more flexibility than just making potions from ingredients. Adding currency makes the game slightly livelier and somewhat mitigates the pain of losing out on a potion as you can also use money as a resource converter to get what you need. Since event cards are not automatically triggered, there is also a character that allows you to trigger the card.

I think it’s pretty clear that Witch’s Brew is way more cutthroat and unforgiving. Broom Service was revamped into something more “Euro-friendly” with a board. Instead of direct conflict, the game has more indirect interactions in lieu of direct competition. This is clearly seen in delivery of potions to towers as there are two types of towers in each region. Square towers allow unlimited delivery while the round towers allow only one time delivery. The round towers produce more points but the square towers ensure that you will always have an option to deliver in each region without being locked out. In Witch’s Brew, the potions up for grabs are unique and if you fail to pick it up, you have to settle for a lower ranked potion. The set collection of lightning bolts in Broom Service also help provide another avenue for scoring points, such that players don’t have to rely just on potion delivery to score points. Finally, to further reduce conflict, the thief character is eliminated in Broom Service.

Overall, the original card game has fewer bells and whistles and more compact, but with an edge to it. The game is more tense, unpredictable and as a result, the gap between winners and losers is usuallya lot larger than Broom Service. No doubt, Broom Service is more family and kid friendly since there is no stealing. I guess these changes are not entirely surprising since Euro games tend to be finely balanced with closer spread of points between players and indirect mechanisms of competition.

All told, I like Witch’s Brew more than I like Broom Service. It is able to do more with a lot less. Both games have the same feel and so, less is more. I also wasn’t a huge fan of the board on Broom Service. It feels tacked on and the tower placement between region aren’t always clear. I don’t really love direct conflict in games (hence my preference for Euros) but in this instance, the brave/coward role selection really fits a more aggressive conflict oriented play. The game is already quite chaotic and most brave actions are risky. Pairing it with strategic Euro mechanisms seem slightly pointless as you can only plan so much. Your actions are pretty much dictated by what other people are playing and when. What you really want is a shorter and fast paced game which is what Witch’s Brew is.

That said, I want to stress that Broom Service is a good game and one that stands on its own very well. Witch’s Brew is so hard to find that Broom Service is an excellent reimplementation of the mechanism for the Euro crowd. If you can’t find Witch’s Brew, try Broom Service. If you have Witch’s Brew but want a more family friendly game, then get Broom Service. I enjoyed Broom Service but prefer Witch’s Brew if given a choice.

Initial impressions: Good

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