There are some games in my collection that I get excited about when they arrive at my house but it takes me months to get them to the table. Typically in these cases the artwork is lovely, the theme is interesting, and the mechanics look promising but there is something standing in the way of playing the game right away. For Triora: City of Witches (designed by Michael C. Alves), what stood in the way is the game’s rulebook. It absolutely flummoxed me. Even with the errata notes released a few months ago, it’s hard to make sense of the rules. It made a mess of things. And look what’s it’s done to my review – I usually like to start with a nice overview of a game’s theme, cover the components and artwork, and then dive into the gameplay. But the rulebook is so awful in this case, I’m forced to lead with that. The publisher needs a skilled editor to rewrite the rulebook entirely. It’s laden with spelling errors and unclear language.
So that’s the bad news; the rulebook is subpar. The good news is the game itself is quite interesting. In Triora: City of Witches, players take on the role of witches and their familiars who have traveled to the city to face off against the nobility and the inquisitor, both of whom have been persecuting local women they suspect are witches. To win the game, a player must have the highest total victory points (referred to as doom points and sometimes ruin points in the rulebook) at the conclusion of the game. The end of the game happens at the end of the round in which one of two conditions are met:
 three of the four main locations in the city are destroyed,
 a witch is captured by the inquisitor after they have already accumulated the maximum inquisition points. Note that a witch captured this way is out of the game and ineligible for victory, as all of their doom/ruin points are forfeited.
Gameplay centers on making and using potions toward strategic ends. Players can create potions both by simply moving their witch meeple to a new location (grants 1 cauldron automatically, which can be used to make one type of potion from the requisite herbs held by the player) and by visiting a location with their witch or familiar that grants a cauldron as part of the action of that location. Note that there is an entire subroutine for generating the requisite herbs on a player’s board; once used to make a potion, herbs shift to a seed state and then must pass through planting and harvesting phases before they transform into usable herbs once more. Potions are consumed when visiting locations on the board that require a potion to complete an action at a location (either as an upfront cost to initiate the action or as an input to the action such as when changing potions into silver or taking control of villagers). Certain locations on the board are defined targets for destruction; when players move their witch or familiar to these locations (there are 4 of them), as part of the location’s action, they place one of their wooden player tokens on the location. When the required number of tokens have been placed, the location is destroyed.
I’ve mentioned players moving their witch or their familiar on their turns. A player gets two turns per round; one turn to move their witch and the other to move their familiar. It is up to the player to determine which to move first. There is more freedom in moving witches (familiars cannot be moved to a location where a witch or another familiar is currently located) and moving a witch grants extra benefits (the automatic cauldron as mentioned above but also there is a witch’s bonus at each location that is granted only when a witch is moved to the location). However, there is also more risk in moving a witch and so it must be done with great attention to detail. This is because in addition to the witches and their familiars, there is also an Inquisitor meeple moving around the board (up to 2 spaces per round; it moves after all players have finishes their witch and familiar movements for the round). If the Inquisitor lands on a location where a witch is standing, the controlling player of the witch receives a penalty, which can include the immediate loss of the game if they have sufficiently high inquisition points already (inquisition points are assigned when completing certain actions as well as each time the Inquisitor catches your witch). In fact, in all of the games I played, the ending was triggered because a player didn’t carefully consider the Inquisitor’s upcoming movement when moving their witch on their turn and thus they found themselves caught by the Inquisitor and disqualified from winning. And these were smart opponents with several years of experience playing strategy games. So remember to be mindful of the Inquisitor’s current location and movement possibilities before you pick up your witch to move her.
In addition to the Inquisitor, there is a meeple representing the spirit of Morgana, the great witch who drew the witches and familiars to Triora. If Morgana catches up to a player’s witch on the board, the player is granted doom points or shovels (used in the seed to herb subroutine) if they are willing to accept some inquisition points as the cost for these benefits.
There is a moderate amount of analysis paralysis inherent in the game, but it’s not extreme. What will cause slowdowns during gameplay is trying to determine consensus on the rules as questions arise that the rulebook fails to address. For example:
1 . For the two player setup, the rulebook notes that two extra familiars should be placed on the board; these will move around the board each round and serve to occupy spaces and simulate the limitations on familiar movement that players would normally encounter during a three or four player game. Once they are initially placed (instructions say each player should place one familiar), are players limited to controlling the extra familiar they placed or can they select either of the extra familiars to move? The rulebook just states that before or after a player moves their own familiar they should move one of the extra familiars. We had much debate on this; I thought you should be able to move either familiar but my husband thought it made more sense that you should only be able to move the one you initially placed otherwise you could just move the one your opponent placed each turn to get it out of your way.
2. Do players alternate with other players their turns in which they place their witch and their familiar or does play pass from one player to another only after a player does both their turns?
3. When and how often do villager bonuses trigger? The rulebook states that they grant a bonus to the player in the final round, which implies the end of the game. But the bonus list includes “produce 1 shovel”, which would do no good in the final round so that doesn’t make sense. We think it should have read in each round, but we can’t be sure. Also, it’s a high price to play for a villager if you get its bonus only once per game as most villagers cost 3 potions.
4. More villager confusion: the rulebook notes that villagers may be used for actions in the Swamp House. But the only action available in the swamp house is to corrupt and acquire more villagers. It’s not clear how a player would use a villager to corrupt and acquire another villager. And the rulebook also states that villagers may be used for the action in the City location. But the City is the other location where you corrupt and acquire villagers. Based on this, we think the rulebook was trying to convey that these 2 locations are where you get villagers, not where you use them as is actually written.
5. If a player is not at max inquisition points but the result of the Inquisitor catching their witch would take them over 32 points, does that also trigger the end of the game?
Once players get the rules sorted out (they will likely will need to decide on house rules for the questions above or request feedback from the publisher), they can dive in and enjoy the mechanics of the game. The artwork is lovely and the components are pretty well made (components include plastic coated cards, wooden meeples, wooden and cardboard tokens, cardboard player boards, and the large central board hosting all the locations).
I’m really indecisive on the final rating I should award Triora: City of Witches. A perfect rating (oui! oui! oui!) is out of the question because there are some minor problems with the game independent of the rulebook. For example, a round begins with nightfall and the movement of the Inquisitor and Morgana come after that during the day phase but on the top of the main board the Inquisitor’s movement is the very first item shown on the left, followed by Morgana’s movement; nightfall is shown at the end of the line. Why does the sequence of phases on the board not match the actual sequence of play? Is it possible that in earlier drafts of the game nightfall marked the end of the round instead of the beginning and the board was designed based on those drafts? If the rulebook wasn’t a disaster the game could absolutely be worthy a oui! oui! rating. So how heavily should the rulebook factor in here? It’s entirely possible that the problems with the rulebook aren’t the result of shoddy work but simply language translation issues (the game originated in Brazil; I am assuming the English rulebook is a translation). That makes me feel bad about dropping my rating down a notch. But with an oversaturated board game market (I heard last week that approximately 3000 new games are published yearly), I can’t in good faith recommend folks invest in a game that is such a headache to sort out how to play. So Triora: City of Witches gets a oui! from me for now. I’m going to hold onto the game and may play it occasionally and I’m happy to take another look at the game as a courtesy to the publisher should they fix their rulebook and ask me to re-evaluate.
Bonus side story: when posting pictures of the game to Instagram, I found out the village baker in Triora and other folks interested in the city track the #triora hashtag. This came to my attention because these individuals began to send me private messages on IG. They had heard a game was being made about their village but they didn’t know the details. They wanted to know the locations in the village depicted on the board (to see if they corresponded to actual locations). They wanted to know how one wins the game (imagine how awkward it was to explain that one of the goals of the game is to destroy the city). They wanted to see pictures of the game. It was a very entertaining series of conversations and now I’ve actually made a new friend from overseas after having chatted with him at length about the game and the village and its historical events regarding witchcraft.
Publisher: Meeple BR Jogos
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): varies widely depending on whether the game ends via Inquisitor or destruction; 10-60 minutes.
Game type: worker placement, area control
Jenni’s rating scale:
OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.
OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.
OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.
NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.