Herbalism – the study of botany and use of plants for medicinal purposes. In Herbalism, you are an amateur herbalist, hoping to find the combination of herbs that will cure the terrible plague that has befallen your country. The first in a series of games Deep Water Games is distributing for EmporerS4, Herbalism incorporates Chinese medicine and lore into a beautiful little deduction game.
Herbalism is a deduction game for 3-4 that takes about 15-20 mins to player. It plays best with four players.
In this deduction game, players attempt to determine the ingredients that are needed to produce the cure, represented by the two ingredients that have been removed from play.
Ingredient cards are shuffled, two are set to the side facedown and the rest are distributed to the players. These hands are the information everyone needs in order to determine which cards are missing. On the table are cards representing the possible combinations of medicine, and the actions one may perform.
During a turn, the player will choose a combination of ingredients to get information about by placing their marker on it. Then they will choose an action to perform: inquiring, tasting, trading, or sampling. These actions consist of information sharing in the form of showing cards, exchanging cards, or trading cards based on the ingredients. Players can then take a prediction tile if they think they know an ingredient in the cure.
Once a player thinks they have determined the correct ingredients, they can chose the cure action. Other players can then support that player’s action by choosing to follow it, choose a cure of their own, or pass. The ‘curing’ player consults the facedown cards to see if they’re chosen correctly. If so, the round ends and points are awarded. If not play continues until the correct cure is found. Play continues until one person scores 7 points.
The first board game I ever owned was Clue, a gift for my 8th birthday. And I played the hell out of it. So much that NO ONE would play with me anymore. Herbalism makes my inner child ecstatic.
Herbalism features two gameplay modes, basic and standard. Basic features only one action, standard includes all four. The twist is that with more actions it creates a risk/reward type situation where you could either learn something that leads directly to the cure, or potentially receive no new information, or even wind up with no cards in your hand! I love that balance – basic is a terrific way to introduce new players to the game, while standard creates a situation where you may need to jump at a solution early just to be fastest.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the symbology on the action cards is perfect, so keeping the rulebook nearby to read through the first few times is a must. That being said, since points are awarded for following another player’s answer and guessing one ingredient right, even the player that isn’t usually a deduction game fan will likely wind up with a few points at the end of the game – that speaks well to its balance.
Lending to its charm, Herbalism is quite short for a deduction game. While I’m a huge fan of long deduction games like Watson and Holmes, this will scratch that itch without taking over most of the evening. It’s also easier to teach this as a gateway to longer deduction games. And it also encourages player interaction, so it makes a nice social game night game. Four players is definitely the sweet spot to make the deductions more challenging as well as instigate a lot of card movement.
The art of Herbalism is serene – beautifully drawn, brightly colored plants on parchment colored backgrounds. The herbs are color coded, but they’re also denoted by particular symbols as well, a boon for the colorblind or vision impaired. On the other hand, the tiny writing indicating whether you’re testing or answering on the player tokens is woefully small – most players will have to memorize the symbol to remember which is which.
With only a handful of cards and tokens setup is a snap, and the game small enough for a pocket (minus the rulebook – I urge all small game makers to make rulebooks that are on the same scale with their game). Additionally, its current box has room for expansions – maybe some sort of campaign, additional action cards, or more herbs (hint, hint Deep Water Games.)
Herbalism is a quick deduction game that hits the mark both as a filler game and something to get your brain buzzing. It has gameplay modes for both new players and amateur sleuths. Herbalism’s beautiful artwork will make it a gorgeous addition to your games shelves and with more strategy than you’d expect from its size, you’ll likely bring this one on the table again and again.
Final Score: 4.5 Stars – A great little deduction game with fantastic art and short play time
• Tiny print on player chits is tough to read
• Definitely need the rulebook to explain the action cards the first few play-throughs