The object of the game is to make matches of the same colored potion tiles. It could either be 4-in-a-row, an L match, T match or a + match. You lay out tiles facedown, or reveal them; therefore gaining gems, and trying to make these special matches in order to fulfill apothecaries. You can also use the powers of the apothecary cards to help maneuver these tiles in order to make the match.
In the beginning, there are potion tiles randomly setup on each corner of the game board. There will also be two other potion tiles laid randomly facedown diagonally adjacent in the middle of the game board. Each player will have a reference card and a random apothecary card. Each turn, a player must take two actions out of the four actions that are available and the actions they take that turn may not be repeated. The actions are: Revealing a facedown potion tile; Using the power of an apothecary card; Restocking the game board with potion tiles under the circumstances that you can only restock till there are three facedown tiles; and lastly, obtaining an apothecary card from the Apothecary Alley by spending gems. Once you’ve made a match, the match is placed on an apothecary card. The player has now satisfied that apothecary and the power of that apothecary card can no longer be used. Players continue taking actions until one person has satisfied three apothecaries.
I first played Apotheca at Gencon 2015 and it wasn’t released yet for retail as it had just finished its Kickstarter campaign and was yet to be printed. The game was so much fun and once you play your first game, you will want to play it again right away as I did that day. It plays smoothly and keeps you guessing throughout the game. It’s easy to teach and easy to learn. It’s a good game to introduce to first time gamers while also a good game for gamers to play even though it’s a very simple game.
Not only is it a fun game, but the artwork is also very beautiful, inside and out. The quality of the components are great with thick cardboard/cardstock used, and great print quality. The characters on the apothecary cards are whimsical and colorful and beautifully rendered (reminds me a little of some of the characters on Seasons). The game board even has a certain gloss over some of the picture objects on the artwork which adds a unique print design compared to most game boards. The insert is simple but its cardboard lining has the beautiful artwork on it too.
Apotheca is so simple and fun, but the disappointing part of it is that it ends so quickly. I enjoy playing this game, but it leaves me wanting to play more. It’s not completely a bad thing, but I almost have this unsatisfied feeling, thinking “oh.. it’s done already?”… Yes I can play the game again, but it’s just that initial feeling, that you want to play more, but you have to start all over again. I haven’t tried it, but I wonder if I could increase the end game requirements to four or five apothecaries instead of three.
I’ve only played this as a two player game and I have no interest in playing it with more or even as a solo game. Judging from the rules, I think it will take away from how this game really shines more as a two player. Three players seems unbalanced, and four players just seems you’re cutting the satisfaction of playing the game in half. I don’t know, but that’s just how I perceive it. Maybe it could be good, but the two player rules seem the most solid of them all.
There is some replay value with the random setup of tiles and random starting apothecary cards. However, I do wish there were more apothecary cards to choose from. I think maybe an expansion for more apothecary cards and maybe even add a another color potion will make the game longer and give it just enough satisfaction in one gameplay.
Overall, it’s a simple fun guessing and matching game with beautiful artwork. Playing it once in a play session won’t ever be enough.