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TGN Preview: Apotheca: The Secret Potion Society

In a world where potion making is a cutthroat business, a secret society of Apothecaries exists, lording their skills above all others. The group is known as Apotheca, and you’ve been invited to join. But first, you must compete against other potentials in a black market competition to prove yourself the best potionslinger out there. Welcome to Knapsack Games’ Apotheca: The Secret Potion Society, designed by Andrew Federspiel, backed up by a talented team of designers, artists, and writers.


Business of Potion Making

Apotheca is a match-three game for 2-4 players where Apotheca hopefuls must line up three of the same ingredients to brew up a black market potion. Whoever completes three potions, joins the society. However, Knapsack has taken the insanely popular game model made popular by video games like Puzzle Quest, Candy Crush, and Bejeweled Blitz (which Andrew actually worked on) and added a bit more strategy to the genre.

When you set up at the start of the game, there are three face down and three face up potion ingredients on the game board. Four of the ingredients make a diagonal line across the board, with the other two in opposite corners. On their turn, players take two actions (but not the same one), choosing between restocking potion ingredients on the board (laying down tiles until there are three face down ingredients), revealing a tile and scoring a gem matching the color of the ingredient revealed, using an apothecary power, or buying a new apothecary.

To be the one who completes three potions first, you’ll need more than just three sets of matched tiles. You’ll need to generate gems (the game’s currency) by revealing ingredients in order to buy apothecaries, use apothecaries to maneuver pieces around the board to create the matches (ingredient matches must be adjacent to each other to match them, and diagonals don’t count), and you’ll need to lock a created potion to one of your apothecary cards. If it isn’t clear, apothecary characters are incredibly important to the game.

Moving, Brewing, and Accruing

Recruiting apothecaries to help you in this black market potion competition is incredibly important, and they are truly what sets Apotheca apart from your average match-three experience. Each apothecary brings a different movement skill to the table. Think the different tiles in The Duke. One apothecary may allowed you to move one ingredient tile one space in any direction. While another may allow you to push an entire row, wrapping ingredients that go off the board to the other side.

Others get a little trickier, such as moving a tile in an L-shaped to an empty spot three spaces away. Or you have one that lets you take an ingredient from the outside edge of the board and swap it with a tile in the middle of the board. However, no matter how complicated an apothecary’s move is, a handy diagram on the card gives you a visual cue on how the move works. When you do manage to make a potion, you must lock it to one of your apothecary cards, rendering their move action unusable for the rest of the game.

The Strategy of Potion Making

Strategy is a huge part of the game. Obviously, the apothecaries add to that a good deal. But another thing to keep in mind is that at any time there can be up to three face down ingredient cards on the board. Maybe you placed them, which means you know what the face down tiles are, but maybe one of your opponents did, giving you no real clue as to wait they are, beyond guessing. However, that guessing actually turns into part of the strategy.

Your opponent decides to restock the board, bringing in back up to three face down ingredient tiles. There are two blue ingredients already adjacent to each other. One of the new face down tiles is placed third in row with those blues. That was their second action, so the turn now passes to you. You must ask yourself, “did they just make it really easy to flip that ingredient and get a blue potion match, or did they lay tiles down in a way that would allow them to use their apothecaries’ powers to make the match on their turn?”

Your options are to call their bluff and flip the tile, or start shifting the board with your powers in hopes of ruining what they might be planning. I love this hidden knowledge aspect of the game because it really encourages you to get inside the head of your opponents, making the game almost chess like. I also found this to lend a high replay value to Apotheca.

Brewing Now

Apotheca: The Secret Potion Society is currently on Kickstarter and will wrap up July 9. The team already almost doubled their funding goal, and for good reason. The gameplay is solid, and the art on the apothecary cards (and the game as a whole) is absolutely gorgeous. For our preview, we used a prototype version of the cards, board, tiles, and gems. The final version will have slightly different colors to help the potion ingredients stand out from the board, and (currently) the gems are cardboard tokens in the retail version (fingers crossed for plastic gem stretch goal). The game board itself will also be larger, coming in at 22”x22”. And some of the apothecary powers may change in interest of balance before release. I highly recommend Apotheca, whether you back it or wait for it to hit retail.