Andrew Federspiel is the founder of Knapsack games, and designer of Apotheca and Knee Jerk, as well as upcoming games Masters of Mutanite and Chaos Cove.
The following interview is about his board game Apotheca.
Jason (GameGobble): Apotheca is an abstract game, with most of the information available to all players. The exceptions are facedown potions, which are only known to the player that drew them from the restock action. Talk about how deduction factors into game strategy.
Andrew: In Apotheca, players use the restock action to place facedown potions in key positions on the board. These potions are later used to make 3-in-a-row matches once turned face-up, leading you to win the game. As such, deducing this information is crucial! Players must pay attention to their opponents’ apothecary powers to figure out what may be set up for the future, or what they may be bluffing about. This allows the player to counter effectively, enabling double-think mind games in the style of “do they know that I know they know?” If a player doesn’t actively try to deduce what her opponent has placed, she is doomed!
Jason: Randomization in Apotheca occurs from the Apothecary cards and Potion tiles drawn. How much did you want luck to be a factor in gameplay?
Andrew: I wanted a moderate amount of randomness/luck to factor into gameplay to create power level variance for players throughout each game. As a player, I love it when a designer puts me in a situation and basically says, “deal with it.” It’s a lot of fun to find your way out as long as you have the right tools at your disposal. Apotheca’s 4 actions provide a variety of tools to handle many situations: Restock (information/score setup), Reveal (information/resource gain), Power (scoring/reaction) and Hire (gaining additional tools).
Jason: Apotheca can be played in many ways: solo, versus individual opponents, team play, and even a variation called Master of the Market. I’m sure a lot more playtesting was required to ensure game balance for each setup. Why did you include so many variants?
Andrew: Replayability is important to me, as well as accounting for different play groups. In addition, I wanted to include special features for Kickstarter backers, and additional game modes provide value without increasing component cost. Solo is a very different feeling gameplay mode that’s a meaty variant for single players. Team play was necessary for 4 players because of a lack of player control in 4-player free-for-all, and this constraint actually ended up in a cool, different feeling play. Master of the Market was an opportunity to explore the design space even further, enabling a one-versus-many experience that allows less skilled players to team up against the best player in your group. It was tough and time consuming to playtest every mode, but we ended up creating a product with a ton of gameplay.
Jason: In the instructions, you have a section called “The Legendary Apothecaries” which contains character profiles of the 15 Apothecary cards. What is the story there?
Andrew: Our artist Eduardo Garcia created incredible characters for the world of Apotheca, and it was clear when looking at them that they already had stories — we just had to unlock them! My good friend, former fantasy and column writer Brian Nichols, was up to the task and fleshed out their stories in his signature style. Many lore entries are hilarious, weird, or even reflective, and this range of tones felt right for the game. We knew this had to live in the rules for all players to enjoy!
Jason: What is one thing you want gamers to know about Apotheca?
Andrew: Despite the game having some luck, it’s heavily skill-based. If at first you think it’s easy, play again and you will see its depth and opportunities to exercise skill. Pay close attention to what your opponent is doing, and look for opportunities to edge them out in terms of efficiency. If you beat everyone you play against, find new players!