Easy to learn/teach
Quick and engaging turns
Denial of matches by opponents can be frustrating in the best way possible/robbing your opponent of a match can be equally rewarding
On some parts of the board, the color of the board and the color of the face down cards almost match. In two of the games I played (with different people) a few players overlooked some of the cards and tried to take a Restock action. Note that this might be an issue of the POD game board I received or possibly be fixed before production.
I reviewed Knapsack Game’s previous game, Knee Jerk, and was very excited when Andrew reached out to me about his upcoming release, Apotheca. Apotheca is quite the departure from Knee Jerk, in a good way (and that is not to say that Knee Jerk is bad, but that the two games are very different from one another). The level of production value that Apotheca brings to the table is immediately apparent: it has a beautiful board, two different types of wonderfully illustrated cards, and lots of different colored crystals (which are a stretch goal).
The first thing that really makes Apotheca stand out is the amazing artwork. Each apothecary card has a unique, eye-catching illustration; these cards look great. The board looks great too and really solidifies the fantasy, dark market, potion making theme. Gameplay is engaging and rewarding. The rulebook gets top marks as well for being straightforward and well laid out.
In Apotheca, players take on the role of master potion makers, each competing to become part of the secret potion society. The game board is a 4 x 4 grid where potion cards are placed face down. The player that placed the potion cards may look at them at any time. The potion cards have a nifty little arrow that is used to indicate which player actually played which potion card. This is a great way to never forget which cards you played and which cards your opponents played. Simple, but clever and effective.
The goal of Apotheca is to match three potion cards of the same color to complete a set. The first player to gain three sets wins the game. Now, this sounds easy, but it isn’t. Players start with an apothecary, and through the course of the game have the option to acquire more. Each apothecary has a unique, game changing power. Apothecary cards affect the position of potion cards. So, just as you think you’ve set yourself up for a completed match on your next turn, your opponent can use the power of an apothecary card to move the potion cards, thus stealing your chance for a match and completing one for themselves. A couple of example powers from apothecary cards: move a potion diagonally to an empty space, or swap out a potion on the edge of the board for a potion in the center of the board. These powers really increase the difficulty of obtaining a match. Strategy and guile are needed to throw off your opponent and claim victory.
Players may take two of four available actions on their turns. The first action is flipping over potion cards. On your turn, you may flip over any single potion card. You can’t peek at this card beforehand. Players gain gems that match the color of the flipped potion. The second available action is to use one of your apothecary powers. These are what make the game exciting and interesting. Restocking the board is the third action. Restocking allows a player to draw and place potion cards, facedown, onto the board. And the fourth action is to hire new apothecaries. It costs two gems of the same color, or one gem of each color (for a total of 3 gems) to hire a new apothecary.
Apotheca is a game for almost anyone. The easy to learn rules make it great for families and casual gamers, but the depth of strategy and variable player powers will keep the advanced hobbyist gamer involved as well. Overall, gameplay is fast, with little downtime between turns. However, as the board becomes filled with potions and players start acquiring more apothecary powers, some players will want to take a moment to look at the board and make the best play. One way the game mitigates this, which is also a cool mechanic and reminiscent of the locations in the board game Abyss, is that each time you gain a match an apothecary card is covered and its power lost. This helps cut down on analysis paralysis by limiting the number of available powers you have to choose from.
Please head over to the Kickstarter page and check out this amazing game. And spread the word, let’s hit the stretch goal to get gems in the retail copies!
((note that a pre-production copy of the game was received for purposes of this review evaluation.))