My housemate and I finally had a go at Apotheca, which is a game I backed in a Kickstarter earlier this year. We had one session of three games, and found it slightly unsatisfying; the games were very short!
For a basic review of the game; you have to match combinations of potions by moving them around the board, and then you place those combinations on an Apothecary. The first one to three satisfied Apothecaries wins. You also get gems from turning over potions, and can use those gems to buy more Apothecaries. The Apothecaries also have their own movement combinations, which are all individual. This is a game for 2-4 players as well, and 2 seems to be the ideal.
The major problem we found was that combinations came up too fast for us to a) collect enough gems to buy more Apothecaries, and b) use the Apothecaries that we already had. Essentially, we could get matches just by turning over and moving cards one or two spaces, and then we’d matched it so we lost the card – all three games were over in about 15 minutes each! The speed of the matches meant that we didn’t get to use the Apothecary’s special moves, and it’s a shame; we both felt that there could be some really good sneaky attacks, thwarting your opponent, trying to get cards into the right place…and because of the speed, there’s just no point.
So! We’ve instituted some house rules.
The first is the number of potions on the board. The rules state that you can only add potions from the marketplace (ie. add new potions to the board) if there are less than three unseen potions. As you can only turn over one potion per turn, this usually means that each player can only add one to the board, and potions get taken more quickly than they restock.
We’ve changed that to “each player may restock up to three potions on their turn” – so now, it doesn’t matter how many potions are unturned on the board, and you just keep going until the board’s full. This means that there’s more selection to turn over, more possibilities for thwarting or changing or moving, and more options for swapping.
The second house rule is to do with making combinations. In the rules, once you make a combination, you have to use it for your Apothecary – which removes your Apothecary from the game. As we felt we were lacking gems (you only get one per turn) the Apothecary is usually satisfied before you can buy another, meaning you’ve just lost the movement power!
We’ve amended the rule so that if you make a combination you can either use it for an Apothecary or get a gem for it, and then the cards go into a discard pile (or onto your Apothecary). This means you can make a combination to get a specific coloured gem or remove the combination from your opponent, and it also means you can keep your current Apothecary if they’re useful.
We’ve played one game without house rules to check what we thought, and then another two with these additions, and it definitely helped. We got more gems so were able to pick and choose our Apothecaries – so if we wanted a certain movement, or didn’t want one, we could be more selective. The increase of cards on the board also meant more opportunities for thwarting and shifting, and meant more possibilities for combinations.
We’ve also got two further house rules that we’re debating. The first is having more players – the rules change if you have three or four players, but we’re debating trying the two-player rules with up to four players just to see what happens! And the second is the colour combinations. At the moment, any colour combo satisfies any Apothecary…but we might add specifics to the cards, so that you have to get one particular combination! That would definitely add some length and complexity to the game, which would be nice.
We’re going to try playing with some friends now that the housemate & I have a grasp on the rules, and see how it goes!
As a crafty aside, I want to find or make some pots for the gems. I found it a real shame that the box comes with an insert that’s simply a square and plastic bags for the items; I want some small pots to separate the gems into that can then be used in the game (as otherwise they go everywhere!) and ideally some small boxes to keep the potions cards restrained when travelling. It’s on my to-do list, anyway!