Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 19 February 2022

Solitaire: Apothecaria

The two previous titles from Blackwell Games have been full of bombast and action and flame and more, all set underground. Both DELVE: A Solo Map Drawing Game and RISE: A Game of Spreading Evil are map drawing games played solo, the counter parts of each other, in which the player draws and builds, populates and defends, and explores and exploits a network of caves, tunnels, and chambers. In DELVE, this is as a Dwarven Overseer digging down to expand their hold, whilst in RISE, it is as Dungeon Keeper, digging and expanding upwards to reach the surface. Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG is different. First, Apothecaria is a Journaling roleplaying game in which the player will write-up and develop the events as they occur during their play through of the game. Second, there is no map involved in Apothecaria. Third, Apothecaria is definitely set above ground (mostly). Fourth, the theme to Apothecaria is pleasingly rustic.

In the Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG, the player takes the role of a Witch who has recently inherited the position in the village of High Rannoc, after the previous incumbent disappeared. The primary role of the witch in High Rannoc is to find cures for ailments and lift curses suffered by its often sickly, accident prone, or simply unlucky villagers. One might have a Magnetic Thumb due to an abundance of iron in their blood, be Frogified and have wartylips from kissing too many frogs in case one of them turned into a prince or princess, suffering from Druidic Madness after spending too much time in stone circles and become obsessed with them and want to build them everywhere to everyone’s annoyance, or be infected with Phodothropy and turn into a monstrous hamster at the full moon, constantly walls and fences. No matter the affliction, there is a cure and the Witch can find it and concoct it with some effort. Fortunately, the Old Witch left some rather rambling notes, which the new Witch is really going to need as they are new to the profession.

Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG is thus a game about helping people. It is also a game about becoming a better Witch—mostly by have better equipment, facilities, and helpers; a game about exploration for many of the Reagents needed to mix up a potion, a poultice, or a salve, have to be found; and ultimately, a game about a mystery—what happened to the Old Witch and where are they now? All a player will need to become the new Witch of High Rannoc is a journal, a good pen, some scrap paper, and an ordinary deck of playing cards. Over the course of four seasons, each thirteen weeks in length, the Witch will be visited again and again by the inhabitants of High Rannoc (hopefully not the same inhabitant, because that would be, well, weird…) afflicted by a random ailment or injury, and the Witch will use Reagents to create a cure. Depending upon the season, the Reagents will come from particular regions and the Witch will need to forage for them. Travelling between regions and foraging takes time, which can be a problem as some ailments have a time limit. If the Witch cannot successfully forage for Reagents and mix up a potion in time, there will be consequences—and even if an ailment has no time limit and thus no consequences, if a Witch takes too long, their reputation suffers. The Witch should also check to see if the Reagents add Sweetness or Poison to the potion. They counter each other, but Sweetness increases the price a Witch can charge, whilst Poison reduces it.

To determine an Ailment, the Witch draws a card. Each Ailment has a name, Tags which refer to the type of Reagent required to make up the potion cure and a number of Stars which must be matched by the Reagents found in order to counter the symptoms. If the Ailment has a Timer value, representing the number of turns the Witch has to find the Reagents and mix up the potion, it will also have a consequence. The Witch then identifies Reagents which match the Tags for the Ailment and where they will be found. Once known, the Witch travels to the region and begins to forage. Each forging attempt reduces the Timer for Ailment by one and the Consequence will be triggered if it is reduced to zero. To forage, the Witch draws another card. This has a dual use. First, it refers to an event which happens before the forage attempt is made, and second, the value of the card is compared to the value of the Reagent being foraged for. If it is, the Witch is successful and can either look for the second Reagent (or another Reagent if the Ailment has no timer), travel to another region to forage, or return home to High Rannoc to mix up the potion.
For example, Herschel the Hound Master comes to the Witch with bad breath—very bad breath. In fact, Herbert’s mouth reeks like a tavern’s privy. The Witch diagnoses Cludgie Mouth, a curse laid upon him by a Bog Goblin! It is listed as a Curse and an Infection, and has a Timer of Six. The Witch consults the few books left behind by their predecessor and determines that the potion requires a Star Shard for the Curse from Moonbreaker Mountain and Slime Shell for Infection from Meltwater Loch.

The Witch travels to Moonbreaker Mountain. There she draws her first card—a five. Checking the event list for Moonbreaker Mountain, they discover that a hot air balloon lands beside them and the balloonist offers the Witch a lift to anywhere they want. This increases the Timer value by one to seven. The Witch then searches for the Star Shard. The value of the Star Shard that the card needs to equal or beat is five, and the card does that. The Witch is successful in her first foraging attempt and reduces the Timer back down to six. Next, the Witch takes the balloonist up on their offer and together they travel to Meltwater Loch. This reduces the Time to five.

On the shores of Meltwater Loch, the Witch draws another card. This time it is an Ace and the Witch has discovered a set of strange footprints along the beach. This distracts them and so the Witch does not find any Slime Shell. One is added to their Forage value in this turn. If the Forage Value rises to the value of the Reagent needed, the Witch will automatically find it. However, the Witch does not have the time for that to happen as the Timer is reduced to four. They draw another card for their next Foraging attempt. This time it is a Queen. That is definitely high enough for the Witch to find the Slime Shell, but they also find a bottle containing a strange message, complete with instructions on how to reply. With the Timer reduced to three, the Witch returns to High Rannoc, where they use the mortar and pestle to crush the Star Shard and add the Shell Slime raw to the potion. The Witch hands the concoction, newly named the Potion of Orifical Serenity. Herschel the Hound Master burps once and with that the stench of the privy is gone. He readily pays the Witch the twenty silver pieces and vows never to get into an argument with a Bog Goblin again.
In addition to attempting to cure an Ailment, a Witch also has a period of Downtime each week. This also has a Timer of six, so if the Witch spends too much time doing other things rather than curing the villagers, the Witch’s reputation also suffers! These downtime activities might include going to dinner with a friend, going on an adventure in a dungeon, or just going out foraging in readiness for the next week’s patient and their Ailment, whomever and whatever that is. The Witch can also visit High Rannoc, perhaps to hire an adventurer at the Copper Fox Tavern who will negate an event, visit the Lunar Tower to attune their equipment and make the next foraging attempt easier, or even purchase Reagents at the local store, Bits & Bobs. In the future, when they have earned enough silver, the Witch can upgrade their cottage and its facilities, such as installing a Hive for the honey to add sweetness to potions, building a Treatment Room which increase the price of any potion and the Timer for any Ailment, or install a Travel Stone so that the Witch can travel back and forth between two locations with reducing the Timer. The Witch can buy better equipment, such as a Wand necessary to forage for certain Reagents, or a coracle needed to travel to the Blastfire Bog. This opens up new areas to Forage and thus experience events in. Similarly, the Witch could also summon a Familiar who will help them.

A festival, such as the Flower Festival at the end of spring or the Frostfall Festival at the end of the year. These are worth participating in, as they can gain the Witch benefits which will last long after the event. For example, if crowned the King/Queen of Flowers, the Witch receives the Flower Crown and will find it easier to find Plant Reagents. In addition, if a Joker is drawn at any time, or not drawn at all during a season, the Witch learns a clue about the whereabouts of their predecessor. There are four tables of clue’s relating to the predecessor’s disappearance and the Witch will draw from all of these over the course of the game and its year.

Throughout this, the player not only takes notes, but develops a narrative based on the cards they have drawn, the efforts of their Witch, and events and all of their outcomes. It is not just a matter of how and where the Witch found a particular Reagent, but also what happened as the result of each region’s events. So for example, the player whose Witch encountered and travelled with the balloonist would describe the balloon journey and what happened on it, whilst when the Witch found the message in the bottle, they could have simply thrown it back into the lot, but also replied to the message. In which case, the player can write down the nature of the message and also what the Witch wrote in reply. The player is also free to ignore this or any aspect of the rules if it impedes the telling of the Witch’s story.

Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG is a solo, procedural roleplaying with a lovely theme, that you can just sit down and play at your leisure. However, it is not that easy. Not necessarily because of the mechanics, but more due to the layout of Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG. It is partly written in the character of the Witch’s predecessor and partly not, and it gives the game a slightly disjointed feel. Plus, it does not always explain fully how the game is played or indeed in the right place in the book. Perhaps clearer or fuller examples of play might have alleviated this. What it means is that the player will need to work back and forth through the pages of Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG to really grasp quite what they should be doing.

Physically, Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG is nicely presented. It is lightly, but decently illustrated, and barring the issues raised above, an enjoyable read.

Inspired by films such as Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited AwayApothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG possesses a warmth and cosiness which the designer’s other roleplaying games lack. With its feminine charm and relaxing play style, Apothecaria: Solo Potion Making RPG is a genuinely lovely little roleplaying game. Perfect with a fountain pen, a nice hot cup of tea, and a long afternoon in front of any prospective Witch.


  1. I picked up a copy based on this great review. Thanks!

  2. I picked up a copy based on this great review. Thanks!