The Aberrant Apothecary
It’s a little dated now, but I finally overcame technical difficulties and gave up waiting on two people so I can now bring you my article on The Aberrant Apothecary. On my trip to Fan Expo 2012, I encountered an interesting booth located in artist alley. At first glance it looked old timey with wooden crate boxes, copper coins, and containers of colourful liquids labelled with aged paper. In the center of the stand was a card game, with nice plastic coated cards depicting flasks and bottles. I wandered on with the flow of the crowd, but the stand stuck with me. Returning to artist alley later in the day, this time with Duke, I stopped to more closely examine the features of the stand. There were wooden chess boards for sale, as well as stamped copper coin and coin necklaces. Looking more closely at the game, I became intrigued and ventured to ask the purveyor of goods for a more detained description of the game. It was then that we learned that this man behind the stand was not the man I sought, but a mere placeholder. I inquired about the selection of cards closest to the edge of the table and was thusly informed that they were promotional cards, to be taken at no cost. A third time I did return to the stand, this time with Josh in addition to Duke. At last, the creator of the game was present and I could ask of him my simple but important question. “What is this?”, I uttered pointing to the cards organized neatly before us on the tabletop. Then began what is now history.
The infamous booth itself.
The Aberrant Apothecary is the a game of set collection and bartering with friends. At the beginning of the game, a shopkeeper is selected randomly, we used flipping of the coin included in the game, odd man out for our three person games. This person deals three potion cards face up, to be used as a template for possible potions to be brewed. The potion cards display two colours and symbols denoting seasons (winter, spring, summer, autumn) and a small symbol denoting alchemical process (precipitation or distillation). Next a number of ingredient cards are drawn face up onto the table. Ingredient cards are of a single colour and season, and on one edge, left or right, possess two connection tubes in a shape specific to the season of the card. Above or bellow the shaped tubes is a separate connection tube for the alchemical process. Opposite edge of the card of the three tubes is a single connection tube in the center. The shopkeeper selects one card to be discarded, based on what they think might help or hinder the players. This is followed by selection of the remaining cards in turn by the players, with one option being the top card from the ingredient deck, unseen during the selection process. The same is done for a second card. Players uncontested in their selection claim their cards and those who picked the same cards must barter.
Bartering involves a word on the card, small or large, near or far. Players can decide what these mean, with suggestions being smaller or larger than your hand, and within or out of reach. These all fall within the confines of the play area, decided by the players, suggested to the room in which you are playing. In addition to these descriptions, the shopkeeper adds other requirements such as material, colour, etc. During our games, I found that in small rooms, the requirements should be broad to enable more objects, and in larger rooms more specific to limit the number of objects. Players then take timed turns to come up with things that meet the description given by the shopkeeper. The player who fails to identify an object loses the card. Once all bartering is complete, losing players make new selections from the remaining cards until all cards are taken. The shopkeeper coin passes to the left and more ingredient cards are drawn.
Once all ingredient cards are either owned by players or have been discarded, potion brewing begins. Players take the potion card of their choice and construct a potion with their ingredients. All cards that can be included must be included and all cards that do not fit are excluded. Points are awarded for ingredients matching the two seasons of the chosen potion card, ingredients matching the same alchemical process as the potion card, and for matching sets of shaped connecting tubes between ingredients. The score is tallied, the potion card is returned and the next player creates their potion. The player with the highest score wins, ties are decided by a last round of bartering, with an object description decided by the shopkeeper. The game itself comes in a cotton bag containing the 47 cards and shopkeeper coin. This is packaged together with the folded paper instructions – on thematically consistent paper – in a beautifully designed and crafted box. The box came in a small burlap satchel, with a knotted twine tie-string.
During the two following days, we returned to the stand a couple more times, to let the creator know how the games went, and our thoughts and impressions, as well as some house rules in the making. I had asked for each of the four in our party to write in short their thoughts and impressions of the game, it’s creator Stephen Sauer of Monster Make, as well as his awesome stand.
Below is Duke’s take on the whole thing. There were originally suposed to be the opinions of three people, but I gave up on that lost cause and instead included almost all of what Duke sent me.
“Hi! I’m DukeKataron, I’m here to talk to you about the Aberrant Apothecary, the booth, and the guy who was selling it! I have since learned that his name is not actually “Apothecary Guy”, which is what we were referring to him as all weekend. But I mean, that sounded awesome, so it’s not like it was a negative. At any rate, the first thing that drew me in was the booth. It was very well set up. A lot of people had their art and whatnot up all around the booth, but not many people put the time and effort into making the booth look…proper for the things they were selling. Lots of wood, little vials of things with interesting labels, the whole thing had a very classic feel. Honestly, had I just been wandering through and saw that, I would have had to stop. I mean, I was looking at every booth anyway, but that one really caught me. And when the booth had brought you to a stop to look around, Stephen Sauer engaged you and made you interested in his product. The game itself looked cool, and the business cards he’d printed on actual playing cards were an excellent touch as well.
We’d stopped and chatted with Apothecary Guy (Stephen) on all three days we attended the convention, and every time he was a pleasure to chat with. He was nice, engaging, and his passion for games and design was pretty obvious. And it’s nice to see when people actually care about the things they’re doing. It makes you much more likely to care yourself. It was also really interesting when he was describing some of the things he did to make the game. Apparently it’s quite tough to find a good company that will print playing cards. And the way he did the coins was very cool. He actually had some of the heavy metal dealies marked engraved on the one end that he would smash into the copper with a hammer to imprint the coins he was using. Those things had some weight to them!
And the game itself? That thing is just FUN. I’ve had the chance to play it a few times since the convention, and I managed to win my most recent match, although we had to have a tie-breaker. The social aspect of the barter system is really what draws me in. It can be very tricky, and requires a lot of awareness of the things around you. When you play the game, you have to start viewing the area around you differently. Instead of just seeing something, you have to take note of the colour, size, texture, and file all that away for future references, because who knows what the shopkeep is going to toss out next! And if you pay TOO MUCH attention to this, then you may not be paying enough attention to the cards in front of you, and how they fit into each other. So far, I haven’t had a game where all of the cards were usable in the same potion. But I’m also a gamblin’ man who likes to draw a random card from the deck. I look forward to playing the game more, in some interesting locations to draw on new things for bartering.” – Nate ‘ DukeKataron’ Morse