In two short reviews, Fairway takes a look at a few potion making games: the Kickstarter-funded game, ApothecA, by Knapsack Games and Renegade Games Edition and Kennerspiel des Jahres winner, Broom Service.
ApothecA is a two to four player potion-making game by Andrew Federspiel of Knapsack Games. Using a 4×4 grid for a market, players hide, arrange, and combine potions for gems, powers and points.
If players can form lines of three or more face-up potions of the same colors, they collect the combined potion from the board.
Creating these combinations is the result of very limited player actions:
- refill the shops with face down potions
- reveal a face down potion
- use the power of one of their apothecaries
- spend gems to get new apothecaries.
The apothecaries’ powers provide a unique action that allows players to strategically play with the arrangement of the potions on the board. The apothecary powers and limited other actions is the source of the game’s chess-like strategy and tension.
Sizing up the shot ^
Teaching this game is dead simple, and it plays quickly. You can setup and complete a game in a short sitting (definitely less than 30 minutes). Once set up, you can play subsequent games even more quickly. The only drag is when a player ponders the various powers of the then-available apothecaries or has an apothecary power that lets you use another’s power.
Player Numbers. The two-player game is a great experience. And with four-player games, you play the two player game in teams. We noticed with 3 players that the game play choices felt constrained and the ability for any player to plan the placement of potions was a lot harder.
Art and Components. The art and components are gorgeous. The board and tiles are nice thick cardboard. The interlocking frames for the apothecaries is a very interesting component. The gems were all custom designed for the game.
There are parts of the game (like the box and board) that are printed really dark, probably too dark, but it doesn’t detract too much from the overall appeal of the game.
The Mechanisms. ApothecA is a hidden information and memory game. I don’t usually do well at those sorts of games. However, the game thoughtfully added a great little arrow to the back of the potions cards that lets you point them at you to remind yourself about potions you “know.”
The game presents players (especially with two) nerve-wracking decisions. Placing tiles or moving tiles often signals to your opponent potential matches. If you make your next move to easy, you could also make your opponents move easier too.
In the hole ^
ApothecA is a fantastic game. It feels light, looks heavy, and has a low learning curve. I’d recommend this to any gamers who play a lot of two-player games as that’s where it shines, but it’s definitely a fun addition to anyone’s game shelf.
Broom Service is a two- to five-player, pick up and deliver, bluffing game by Ravensburger. Players are witches tasked with either brewing or delivering magic potions to towers throughout the land.
Over the course of a series of rounds, players take on roles of the various inhabitants of the world: witches, druids or gatherers. Each of the inhabitants has a special ability such as making potions (gatherers), flying to other territories (witches), or delivering potions (druids). At the start of each round, the players each pick any combination of four of these roles and keep their selections hidden.
Then, over the course of the round, players take turns playing one of the roles. The starting player picks one of his or her roles from their hand and plays it and the other players must also play the same role if they have it. In addition, each role has two possible options “bravest” or “cowardly.” Each option has an associated option. Declaring you’re cowardly allows you to take the guaranteed action. Stating that you are the “bravest” provides a perk (additional action or points or potions) and the opportunity to start the next turn, but carries the risk of not taking the action at all. In this case, a player declaring they’re the bravest only takes their action if no other player subsequently declares he or she is the bravest.
The ultimate goal of Broom Service is to collect the most points which is usually achieved by delivering potions.
Sizing up the shot ^
Broom Service is a fantastic game. While the art and theme might suggest it’s intended for younger players, it really isn’t. The game is definitely playable with kids, but only if they can read and understand the nuances of the bluffing and action selection mechanics. This probably pushes it out into the slightly-older-child realm.
The game is definitely a deep strategy game wrapped in the cloak of a family game. It requires a good amount of planning to do well. It also does a decent job of punishing those that don’t take action selection (either which actions or the order in which to take them) seriously.
The art and components are very cute. We enjoy the witch hat player paws and the potion shaped wood components. I think the box is clearly a play to Harry Potter fans, but the rest of the game is dressed up in cute-fantasy land art.
The game’s bluffing mechanism is great. One concern I have with bluffing games, especially with my family, is that they usually encourage lying and deceit. Here, the bluffing game is mostly against yourself: do I think that a later player is actually holding a role card and, if so, will they declare themselves the “bravest.”
The other really clever thing about this bluffing mechanism: it’s not pure guessing. Looking at the player locations, you can make very educated guesses about what a player might have taken.
The game supports five players which is great for families. Since almost all the game is played with either simultaneous actions (like selecting your initial roles) or in quick round-robin fashion it doesn’t drag under the weight of a lot players. The game supports as few as two players, but that is hardly an ideal play situation: it becomes just a guessing game for “bravest” roles. It is probably best with at least four players.
The game can get long. It is intended to last seven rounds and play in ninety minutes. While turns themselves don’t involve a lot of down time, the game can carry on for awhile as players spend time contemplating role selections and, for the first player, which role to play.
In the hole ^
Broom Service is a must have game if you’re a family of gamers or you and your friends enjoy pick up and deliver or bluffing games. The slick bluffing and the cute bravest/cowardly choice together with great components and art have made Broom Service a favorite choice at my house.
Chipshot reviews are short, unscored reviews of great games.