02 August 2022
Usually, I have no interest in being a vole. Or a stoat. Or any woodland creature. And yet, here, my begrudgingly helpful hedgehog has left the forest a better place. Based on Blackwell’s previous solitaire potion-making game Apothecaria, Apawthecaria takes the leap into Brian Tyrell’s world of critters writing prescriptions.
Players take the role of an animal whose goal is to heal the ailing of the woodland, usually by collecting roots, flowers and leaves, and then creating a concoction as a treatment. It’s a journaling game that directs players to reflect on their experiences through the woodland (and beyond, there are many biomes), interacting with various creatures and situations as prompted by the book. All of the randomness is dealt with by drawing from a deck of cards, whether that’s foraging (draw a number higher than the rarity) or creating an encounter (just using the number and suit from the card).
The book is the key here. The almanac – a section of the book dedicated to the plants, treatments, and processes required in your job as a GP of the undergrowth – sets it apart from other journaling games. Often journaling games feel like you should be creating either a workable piece of fiction or the lore for some future adventure. Here you’re making notes. Real notes that you’ll find helpful for playing the game. Soon you’re flicking through the almanac like it’s a useful gardening book, noting down that you need garden mint and lavender, along with where they can be found and how rare they are. I scribbled these into my own journal (an unused diary, useful for tracking time in the game) alongside the prompt responses and notes about the notoriety of the guild, what I was carrying and so on. It flowed because the book is a part of the game. It’s a key prop, and one of the pleasures is simply understanding what you’re looking for. There’s none of the sense of ‘returning to the rulebook’ here during play, because the book that happens to have the rules is also the thing you need to flick through to find out wild violet leaves are good for curing the ‘sense’ keyword. Soon you’re working out from the almanac contents what you think might be around you in this season, and it’s a kind of productive guessing game.
Of course, you’re against the clock – you can’t leave a squirrel with a headache for too long after all. And you might not forage what you need, and the inhabitants nearby might not want to barter in a friendly way. Plus, there is, and forgive me for saying this, ‘fun inventory management’. You need to think about what you’re going to keep in your bag for longer trips and later into the year, or overloading yourself.
And beyond the fact that this is all so immersive, is that it naturally draws out short, tender interactions without being wishy-washy. There’s something in the fact that the ailments can be dire and deadly that makes the ‘work’ in the game a little more gallows humour than soft focus feeling-fests. A perfectly pitched solo adventure that might give you paws for thought.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN EGGETT
PLAY IT? MUST-PLAY
A deep game of exploration that will have you stopping to smell the flowers (before picking them for parts in an attempt to stave off the death of an ailing kestrel).
TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED The Wretched…
If you enjoyed the certain doom of this card-driven solo dying-in-space game, then helpfully averting threats in the forest will be surprisingly similar, if a little more relaxed.
Designer: Anna Blackwell & Brian Tyrell
Publisher: Blackwell Games
Pages: 220 pages
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