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Subject: Unnecessary Review - Salem rss

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Marco Castellanos
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This review collects my thoughts and experiences with Salem, incidentally searching for Salem on BGG will reveal there are quite a few games using the setting. I have not played the game that supposedly inspired this one, Mafia, and this is only my opinion.

Component note
Some people have touched on having sleeves for the cards to prevent marking and the box already. I would say that it would be fairly hard to have each card memorized based on wear but I do agree that while the box looks nice it is a case of form over function. I would have preferred they make a normal rectangular shaped box, they could even keep the magnets like Biblios.

In Salem players start of on one of two teams, the witches or the townspeople. Witches know their teammates but townspeople do not. Their is a third role of Constable who can play a save token on any other player during the Night phase. The Constable can be on either team.

The goal of the townspeople is to find the witch card or cards and the goal of the witches is to kill the townspeople or convert them all to witches. Conversion is simple, everyone has a certain number of "Tryal" cards in front of them depending on the player count and with the Conspiracy card you end up exchanging Tryal cards with other players. If you get a witch card you are now on the witch team. If you ever had a witch card you are still at witch. Players are killed when either all their Tryal cards are revealed or their witch card is revealed. When a player dies they must honestly say if they were ever a witch or not.

The game begins by players placing the Black Cat card on any player which forces that player to reveal a Tryal card when Conspiracy is drawn. That player is the starting player. On their turn players only have two options, draw two cards or play any number of cards from their hand. There are various cards, accusations accumulate to reveal Tryal cards, green cards provide attacks and defensive moves and blue cards provide bonuses or other special abilities. There are also character cards to give players unique player powers.

At some point the Night card is drawn, usually at the end of the deck. During the night the witches choose someone to play a kill token face-down on and the Constable plays the save token on someone face-up to counteract the kill token. Players then decide to confess by revealing a Tryal card which will save them from the kill token. If they do not confess and have the kill token they die no matter how many Tryal cards they had left. Play then resumes until one team wins.

Gameplay Review
Since there are only two actions to take turns are usually fairly fast. With teammates being unknown to the townspeople a patient witch can usually sit back and allow them to attack one another, I have very rarely seen a witch lose on their first Tryal reveal. Card effects are clear but some additional text on a few would be helpful.

The game can play in two ways, either everyone piles on the person they suspect and kills them quickly or all players lose life at about an equal rate. There is some social deduction to the game but not a lot as teams shift you can gain or lose allies. After Night occurs is when players are being scrutinized for confessing or not and witches can look a lot more innocent by confessing while weaker players will be in a worse situation no matter what.

Player Count Versus Experience
I have played from four to seven players but the game goes all the way up to twelve. However, since the Tyral cards count goes to three for each player and there are the same number of cards to draw I feel the game would work as there would not be a chance of someone becoming too powerful. With my group the game has lasted a bit longer than the box time, usually about forty-five minutes to an hour.

Game Issues
There is no set hand limit though which can lead to a group behavior of card hoarding, making a couple players very powerful in smaller games. Included are some blank cards that you can write on to come up with your own effects, this thread has some good suggestions. I personally made cards to counteract hoarding and to make revealing Tryal cards more frequent.

The deduction portion of the game is also very flimsy, the witch count can potentially double once per round but the odds are not great. Players once weakened become much more appealing targets and attacks can snowball against them. The game is all about arguing and player behavior so some people might enjoy it for that. It does feature player elimination and those players can potentially have a lot of downtime. I see no way to correct this, One night ultimate werewolf fixes this by making each game one round, not possible here.

After expanding the types of games I played I have come to realize that hidden role style games are not my top category. Nevertheless Salem does allow you to play with a large group and should be easy for people who regularly do not play modern board games to play. However, for a large group of regular players I would either split into smaller groups or play something like Deception: Murder in Hong Kong one round with no player elimination but plenty of arguing. I feel the card tweaks I made to counteract card hoarding and speed up the game were essential, without them my rating would be affected.

I rate it a 5 out of 10, according to BGG scoring system: "Mediocre. Take it or leave it."

Thanks for reading.
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