With the runners and riders all lined up, it’s time for me to finally let both of you in on the results of the first game-off for this year’s TaG Award. Actually, the runners and riders have probably all gone home by now, so I’d better just get on with it.
Our first match was semi-randomly selected to be Apotheca and In A Bind, so a largish box full of really shiny things versus a very small box full of more silliness than you would imagine possible.
We played In A Bind first. I usually have the great advantage of wearing glasses (which is massively unfair — if you play the game you will soon find out why — but we now treat it as a balancing mechanic to help me out) but this time I was without, and that is my excuse for the embarrassing degree of my loss here. On the plus side, losing at this is usually funny. Sometimes even for the loser!
Apotheca is a much less crazy game, to say the least. Now we have played it a few times, Miss B is really getting the hang of visualising the effects of the more complicated apothecaries and making some really cool moves. Just by way of a reminder, you get access to some very basic moves all the time, but can “hire” apothecary cards which allow you to do a load of unique special moves, and then you lose the use of these special moves as you gain points towards victory. It’s a very clever dynamic. I got to win this one, just.
So we have a featherweight taking on a middleweight, in terms of box size anyway, with both games being very clever and enjoyable in completely different ways.
Over to Miss B for the judging…
It was a really close competition. Apotheca is a really good game though personally I prefer In a Bind because you do more stuff, and that’s more my kind of game.
And we have our first finalist for this year. In A Bind will be competing against either Dragonheart or Murder of Crows for the title. Next time we’ll find out which…
I’m running massively late with this, but at last I would like to announce the shortlist for this year’s Training a Gamer Award (formerly the Golden Thingummy).
In case you haven’t been reading this blog in previous years, each summer Miss B and I choose a set of four games (Miss B chooses two and I choose two more) that we enjoy and want to play a bit more. These games are paired off so we can have two “game-offs”, playing a pair of games in one session so we can decide which we enjoyed most on that occasion. The winners of each heat become the finalists for one more game-off to decide which will win the prestigious and sought-after TaG Award.
Last year was won by flicktastic dungeon crawler Catacombs. What will get the laurels this year?
Miss B’s first choice was instant, the game of contortions, In a Bind, which she introduces to friends and visitors whenever she can. Her second choice surprised me a little as it is something we haven’t played for quite a long time, but she really fancied breaking out Dragonheart, which we used to play a fair bit a few years ago.
I added recent favourite Apotheca to the list as I think it deserves a few more plays and is probably at its best with two players. My second game is one that we haven’t covered here before, but Miss B did express interest in while we were discussing the award: a cute card game called Murder of Crows.
So we have four contenders, two new and two not so much. Coming soon: the game-offs.
Apotheca is one of those games I acquired from a small, indie game publisher via Kickstarter, which sat on the shelf for a couple of months before we got around to playing it. It is essentially a lightweight abstract game but, boy, is it beautifully produced or what?
So basically this is a game where you win points by getting three potions of the same colour into a row on a four-by-four grid. On your turn, you either add face-down potions to the board, turn potions face up and earn yourself gems, use gems to hire apothecaries (gain cards that grant special abilities), or use the apothecaries you have hired to move potions about — and they all have different movement options available. When you have managed to make three rows of three, you win, but the twist is that when you score a row of potions, it means you lose access to the ability of one of your apothecaries.
That’s about it.
Over the last couple of years, Miss B has been getting pretty keen on abstract games, and regularly beats me in games like Balanx or Mijnlieff, and also really likes games with great artwork, so this was one I was keen to try with her. Eventually the right moment came along, I suggested Apotheca, she took a look, and readily agreed. So far we have played a few games and she has won all but one of them, and she is keen to play it pretty much any time now, so I think this is a game that we might actually get past that sought-after ten play mark, and reasonably quickly too.
I’ve not yet played Apotheca with adults, but it does have a reasonable solo play mode, which is nice. It also has a variant for two teams of two, and an asymmetric version where one player is the “Master”, who is pitted against a team of up to three apprentices. We’ve not tried either of these modes, but they look fun and I’m hoping to give them a go some time. In general, I’m very pleased with this purchase, despite the fact that it could have been made so much smaller and cheaper; I’m kind of glad it wasn’t, as the game as it is is such a lovely object. But my opinion doesn’t matter in this blog. It’s all over to the boss…
The verdict from Miss B (aged 9½): “Apotheca is a brilliant game. I like that you are collecting potions for your apothecary. I would give it a 95% rating.”
The game: Apotheca (Knapsack Games), 1 to 4 players aged 13+.