How Botany Designers Paint a Story of Bonkers Victorian Antics – An Interview

19 March 2024
The smash hit of early last year on Kickstarter was Botany, and it's making its way to tabletops everywhere as fulfilment begins. Created by first time designers, themed on Victorian flower hunters (it turns out that’s a thing), and using contemporary art to truly make it stand out, unsurprisingly it raised over a million dollars. Add the fact that we haven't stopped hearing about it wherever we turn, we couldn’t resist finding out what made it stand out from the crowd.

Botany Designers

Amy and Dusty Droz, designers and publishers of Botany, have the kind of idyllic story you might see in a film. High school sweethearts who went on to live on a farm, running a wedding photography business (of which Amy admits the flowers were one of her favourite things to photograph), all in Northern California. But no story would be complete without a complication, and just like for many of us, the pandemic was just that.

“When the pandemic started in 2020,” they said of it, “We started a small vegetable garden that we turned into a large lavender field, which turned into a flower press making business.” It feels like simplifying it to this extent doesn’t give enough credit for how difficult changing a business so significantly could be, but equally, gives them both unrivalled floral credentials, perfect for their future gaming theme.

“In 2022, we came up with the idea to start making our own board game, and while we were working on that, we decided it would be really fun to create another game that combined some of Amy’s favourite things: Victoriana, world travel, and, of course, flowers!”

Botany was born, finding life on Kickstarter. “[It’s] a game about flower hunting in the Victorian era. Players will move around the map, build their character, and experience the story of their rise to fame, all with an eye for efficiency. Points are gained by improving the quality of your garden, retrieving live specimens from around the globe, and adding preserved flowers to your botanical press.” Dusty explains.

Related Article: Tussie Mussie, a game of creating flower arrangements by Elizabeth Hargraves

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The Story in the Game Botany

One of the early descriptions of Botany was that it was to “paint a story”, a fascinating way to describe the story telling when the art of Botany is so distinctive. Using Victorian style flower art, and beautiful map backgrounds that are everything we like to think of the era where leisure travel became more and more common, we asked them to tell us more.

“We love games that imply a story for your character as you play through them. In Botany, players draw event cards that are often hilarious (we think) and ridiculous stories, and those build out the story of their adventures and intrigue around the world. A lot of the event cards are loosely based on actual historical events.” It doesn’t stop there –  the rulebook draft nods to David Douglas, not only a renown plant hunter, but also the owner of a pet eagle... As you do. The below falcon is curiously unrelated. 

a victorian illustration of a falcon

“For most of the cards, the more ridiculous the story is, the more likely it really happened. We did a lot of research and reading about the lives and adventures of real Victorian botanists to inspire the stories for the game.”

But for bonkers stories? “There were even more than we managed to fit in the game!” Dusty says.

“There were stories about sneaking into Chinese palaces to steal a yellow rose, smuggling tea out across borders, one person got bit by a lion (because that’s just a thing that happens, apparently), another person almost died when he put a toxic plant next to his toothbrush in his pocket, hunting flowers on the side of volcanos, using shotguns packed with seeds to spread them across hillsides... There was a lot of really crazy and outrageous stuff!”

Art and Style in Botany

“The art style was inspired by our love for botanical drawings.” Dusty explains. “Amy has a big collection of antique botanical books from the 18th and 19th century as well. The images are all historical art, and it was a lot of fun searching through a hundred years’ worth of art to find images for the game. Amy also studied art history in college, so that helped a lot when figuring out where to start looking for images for the game.” It also helped significantly in sourcing the art for their next game – La Fleur, but more on that later.

Related: Our Art themed issue of Tabletop Gaming magazine

“We use a combination of public domain sources online and scanning from the antique books in our collection. It’s hard to say what came first! The theme was inspired by the images in our books, but then we began sourcing images in full swing after we had come up with the theme for the game.”

“The map that serves as the background for the game was one of the hardest parts! We had to find a) a map that was both legible and in a style that we liked for the graphic design of the rest of the game and b) large enough to print on a 30-inch game board. We spent weeks searching and eventually one morning randomly stumbled on the map we wanted on the website of a map collector outside Chicago. We called him up and a few days later we had both the original physical map and a high resolution scan that was perfect for the game board. There were also specific locations that we wanted to use on the map where it was hard to find historical drawings of flowers or plants from that location. Science is always discovering new species and re-classifying things, so it was sometimes difficult to line up the identification of drawings from 150 years ago with the current classification of plants today.“

Related article: Draw your own maps with Delve

After Botany, comes La Fleur

“Our next game, La Fleur, will be launching on Kickstarter this spring as well! It takes place in 18th Century Rococo France and is all about sending your artisans around Paris to collect flowers and commission garden features for your Chateau in order to attract visitors to your garden parties and become the host of the Grande Soirée.  We have a lot of game ideas in various stages of development beyond La Fleur as well, so there will be lots of exciting things (including from Botany) to come!” 


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