Potions & Deception: A Preview of Apotheca

Apotheca

Potions. Deception. Magical apothecary powers. Apotheca, by Knapsack Games (publisher of Knee Jerk), is an upcoming casual strategy game that takes a simple pattern matching mechanic and adds to it a mystical theme and detailed artwork. We recently had the opportunity to try a prototype – read on to see what we thought about it.

Gameplay

The central focus of Apotheca is a large game board containing a 4x4 grid of squares. During the course of the game, Potion cards are placed face down on the board, flipped face up, and rearranged using various powers found on Apothecary cards. The object of the game is to be the first player to create 3 matches consisting of at least 3 potion cards.

The game begins with 6 Potion cards on the board, 3 of them being face down. Each player is dealt 1 Apothecary card, with additional cards available for hire. On a turn, the current player must choose to take 2 of the following actions:

  • Reveal a face-down Potion card and collect a gem of the potion’s color (red, yellow, or blue).
  • Choose one of your Apothecaries and use its power to rearrange Potion cards on the board.
  • Restock the board with face down Potion cards (up to 3 maximum) – after looking at the card, place it with the arrow pointing to you (you and only you can peek at it later)
  • Hire a face-up Apothecary by spending 2 gems of its color, or draw a new card by spending 1 gem of all 3 colors

To make a match, players must arrange 3 cards of the same color into a straight, orthogonal line. When a match is made, the cards are removed from the board and placed on one of the player’s Apothecary cards (whose power can no longer be used). There are also special patterns consisting of 4-5 cards that form a match and reward the player with a bonus gem.

The first player to make 3 matches wins. In a 4-player game, players form teams of 2 – the first team to reach 3 matches wins.

Apotheca components (prototype)

Review

While Apotheca is an abstract game by an independent publisher, Knapsack Games has gone all out to produce a game that easily rivals those of its largest competitors. We were floored by the incredible artwork, solid graphic design, and overall production quality of a game that is not even in its final state. Rarely does a pre-published prototype hit our table that has the polish of Apotheca, which really is evidence of the publisher’s hard work and commitment to quality.

Regarding the gameplay, we were equally floored. The game benefits from an extremely simple ruleset, yet it requires thought and smart tactical maneuvers to win. The ability to hire Apothecaries for their powers is a big part of the game, as they all can rearrange cards in unique ways, but players must also make the tough choice of which one to sacrifice when a match is made. The solid graphic design not only looks good, but several design choices also improve the gameplay experience – for instance, the diagrams on the Apothecary cards are very helpful and the arrows on the potion cards are an easy way to keep track of the player who placed it. The hidden information provided by these potion cards can also be used to strategically manipulate the decisions of other players.

Apotheca is now seeking your support on Kickstarter – with enough of a boost from the gaming community, I can see this game being a contender for several gaming awards. If this game interests you, please support the project – the publisher hopes to reach several stretch goals to enhance the final edition with new artwork, powers, and upgraded gems (which are initially planned as cardboard tokens).

Pros: Highly polished artwork and design, fun and accessible gameplay, well-written rules

Cons: May end up with some inferior components if our community doesn’t step up to support it!

Disclosure: this preview is based on our evaluation of an unpublished prototype of the game, which is subject to change prior to publication. While a modest payment was received to expedite the review process, our thoughts and opinions expressed here are honest and accurate.