I’m actually really excited for this one. So, Deep Water Games is a new game publishing company bringing some games stateside from EmperorS4, publisher of fine titles such as Hanamijoki, Shadows in Kyoto, and Herbalism. They also do Mystery of the Temples, but I love that game and will talk about that later. That said, I actually bought this myself at BGG.CON, so… here we are.
In Herbalism, you are pharmacists trying to fight off a mysterious pandemic in order to become the uh … God Farmer? Sure, why not. Can you discover the cure in time?
There’s not much setup, here. you’ve got your ingredient cards:
As you may notice, there are 2 Red cards, 3 Yellow cards, 4 Green cards, and 5 Blue cards.
Shuffle them, and put two under the “Cure” Action Card:
Set out the rest of the Medicine Cards:
Give each player a Pharmacist Marker in the color of their choice:
And then give them a Cure Marker in the matching color. These are double-sided with “Answer” on one side and “Follow” on the other:
If you’re playing with the Advanced Variant, set out the Prediction Markers, as well:
The Action and Start Markers you can just give to whoever’s starting:
And set aside the Victory Point Markers:
Also, set out the other Action Cards:
As mentioned, you’ll always want to have Cure in play, but you can basically shuffle the cards and choose 2, if you want. For more basic games, use these:
- Your Very First Game: Appealing, Cure
- Basic: Inquiring, Cure
- Normal: Feeding, Appealing, Cure
- Advanced: Shuffle the Action Cards, use two + Cure.
If you have no idea what those card names mean, well, I’ll explain it below.
Once you’ve done all that, you should be about ready to start! Shuffle up the 12 remaining Ingredient cards and deal each player either 3 (for four players) or 4 (for three players):
So, Herbalism is played as a series of turns ending in guessing the cure for the pandemic. Essentially it’s played as some sort of hybrid game that’s somewhere between Clue and Go Fish, which is a … startlingly apt description of how the game works. On your turn, you must first move your pharmacist token to any medicine card (you cannot leave it in the same place between turns). You’ll notice that each medicine card (save one) has two colors on it. Those colors are important. The medicine card with four pairs of the same color on it is “any pair”, for later card purposes. These influence the action you take next.
You can now take any one of five actions (depending on which cards are in play), placing the Action token on that action’s card. What do the actions do? I’ll explain in turn.
So, look at the Medicine card you placed on. For this one, assume you placed your Pharmacist token on the Green / Yellow Medicine card. This means that you must give an opponent of your choice either a Green or a Yellow card from your hand (naturally, you cannot perform this action if you have neither type of card). Let’s say you give them a Green card. You do so privately. They must now honestly announce how many yellow cards they have in their hand. Isn’t that fun? Note, they should not say what color they’re referring to. Only you and the chosen opponent know which color you passed them and which color they were announcing. Other players know that you passed a Green or Yellow and they announced the other one, but not which is which.
If your Pharmacist token is on the “Any Pair” Medicine card, you give them a card of a color and they announce how many cards of that color they now have in their hand (counting your card).
Again, look at the Medicine card you placed on. Let’s assume Green / Yellow again.
Give your opponent a Green or Yellow card from your hand. Again, you cannot perform this action if you have neither type of card. They must now give you every card in their hand of the other color. You give them one Green; they give you two Yellow. Other players might see how many cards they pass you, but not which type.
If your Pharmacist token is on the “Any Pair” Medicine card, you give them a card of a color and they give you every card in their hand of that color (including the card you gave them).
Again, look at the Medicine card you placed on. Let’s assume Green / Yellow again, as we have been doing.
Choose a player. They must give you one of each color, if they have it. If they don’t have both, they must give you one of the ones they do have. If they have neither, they give you nothing.
If your Pharmacist token is on the “Any Pair” Medicine card, your opponent must give you two cards of the same color from their hand. If they don’t have two cards of the same color, you get nothing.
Still assuming Green / Yellow, as far as the Medicine card goes.
Choose a player. That player must give you all of their Green cards or all of their Yellow cards. If they don’t have either, well, they can’t give you what they don’t have.
If your Pharmacist token is on the “Any Pair” Medicine card, your opponent must give you every card in their hand of the color of their choice. I … don’t understand why you’d pick this option, strategically.
Curing doesn’t use your Pharmacist token, so if you pick this remove it from the board. Choosing this action will end the round, for you, so be careful.
Place your Cure marker on any Medicine card — this is what you’re guessing the two cards under the Cure card are. If you place on the “Any Pair” Medicine card, you’re suggesting that they are any pair, but you don’t need to pick which one.
Every other player now chooses:
- Place your Cure marker, Answer side up. You may only place this on a card that doesn’t already have a Cure marker. You’re essentially saying that those guesses are wrong.
- Place your Cure marker, Follow side up. You may only place this on a card that already has a Cure marker. You’re saying that this guess is correct but they beat you to it.
- Pass and do not place your Cure marker. You’re saying you need more time to make a decision.
Every player who placed their Cure marker now looks at the solution. If any of them are correct, the round ends. If they’re all incorrect, then the round continues and other players can continue their turns. If there’s only one player left, they must immediately take a Cure action on their turn.
So, if you had to Follow, you score if you’re right or if you’re wrong:
- Followed correctly: +1 point
- Followed incorrectly: -1 point. Rough. You can’t go negative, though, if that helps.
If you guessed and used the Answer side, you get 3 points if you’re right. If you’re wrong, you get 0 points.
If any player has 6 points, the game ends and the player with the most points wins! If not, keep playing! You may also just end up playing one round and whoever is right wins! However you’d like to play.
I mentioned the Prediction Markers earlier, and this is where they come into play.
After you take a non-Cure action, you may attempt to predict one of the Ingredients of the cure.
If you do, take a Prediction Marker of that color. Once you have a Prediction Marker of that color, you cannot take another of the same color (better hope it’s not a pair). You can, however, take as many Prediction Markers of different colors as you want (though you … don’t want to do that).
When the game ends, if you’re right, keep the marker color-side up. If you’re wrong, flip it over. Then score!
- Color-side up: +1 point
- Back-side up: -1 point
Note that you can’t go into negative points; you just stay at 0.
Player Count Differences
Not really a huge difference between 3 and 4, here. You run a slightly higher risk of someone figuring it out before you get a chance to take your turn since there are more players, but you also get to see more information leaked on other players’ turns since there are more interactions. I have no preference.
- Don’t Appeal with the Any Pair card. Your opponent will just give you whatever cards tell you the least useful information. That’s a waste of a turn unless you genuinely don’t care, which is terrifying.
- Usually Inquiring isn’t the best move. You lose a card, gain nothing, and your opponent tells everyone part of the information. That’s really crappy. That’s not always true, but it’s usually true, in my experience, so players tend not to pick that card when they’re choosing their actions on … any given turn.
- Try to hold on to one card. You should have at least one card that you never give up under any circumstances. If you keep a hold of something, that means that your opponents never have perfect information, which makes their guesses dangerous. Try to capitalize on that.
- Try to have a bunch of different colors. Having only one color makes it easy for a player to take it all (depending on which Action cards are in play). That’s not good, obviously, so try to have a diverse set of cards available.
- Remember your card counts. 5 Blues, 4 Greens, 3 Yellows, 2 Reds. That’ll be important, as it makes the likelihood of the cure being a pair of Reds essentially trivial. That said, it’s not 0.
- Avoid leaking information. If you pass someone 4 cards on the Green / Yellow Medicine, you have to be passing 4 Green cards (as there aren’t 4 Yellow cards in the game). That’s not good for anyone, even the player who’s getting them, as they’re getting information that nobody else needs to get from them, now. That’s kind of a waste, so avoid that, if you can.
- If you really want to be bold, try to bamboozle the player in first place. If you Cure a bit too early and convince other players that you know the Cure is something wrong, they might Follow you and take the penalty for an incorrect follow. That’s a very malicious playstyle (and #6 on Top Ten Anime Betrayals), but I’m not here to tell you how to live your best life.
Pros, Mehs, and Cons
- The art is incredible. It’s subtle and very colorful and honestly an art piece all its own. While I love it, I’d also be fascinated to see Beth Sobel’s take on it, given her work with Herbaceous. Maybe they could trade, retheme each other’s games? Could be nice. That said, on its own, I’m a huge fan of it. Very striking.
- I like the scalable / variable difficulty levels. I like games that grow with their players (that’s part of why I liked Fog of Love‘s tutorial so much), and having the ability to add in newer and more complex actions as you get better at the game seems like a great way to help players transition out of Go Fish and into more deduction-heavy games (like this, Fugitive, or Purrrlock Holmes). Plus, it helps the games avoid getting stale. I could imagine an expansion adding in extra Action cards or a campaign mode where you play games with different effects and you can only use certain Action cards in each game. Those would both be pretty cool things. Then again, I love expansions.
- Pretty easy to teach. It’s just Go Fish meets Clue, with some very nice cards. That’s … a succinct explanation.
- Plays fast. Most deduction games have a lot of potential for AP, but there’s so few cards (and yet too many to keep track of in your head easily) so the game plays pretty quickly. Definitely a pro, in my book.
- Highly transportable. This will easily fit in a Quiver or some other case, and even without one the box is pretty small and can easily fit in a backpack or something. The whole numbered line can, honestly.
- The Basic game is very basic. I recommend experienced deduction gamers start at Normal or Advanced. You’ll be fine.
- Very narrow player count. What is this, Catan?
- The Action cards are essentially nonsense until you read the rulebook. They make no sense whatsoever and it kind of freaks players out until you explain them to them. I’ve had a few people get a bit skittish about this game as a result. The fact that they’re named but the names appear nowhere on the cards doesn’t particularly help, either, since the Setup tells you Appealing but the Appealing card doesn’t really … say what it is? I shouldn’t have to consult the rulebook until I memorize the card design.
- Might be too light for a lot of people. It’s even pretty light by my standards. I generally will just bust out a round of this while we wait, rather than play a full game of it, to compensate. It makes following kind of useless, but, I mean, if that’s the case, you should guess faster. I’ll have to see how much the Prediction Markers change up the gameplay, if at all.
Overall: 8 / 10
Overall, I quite like Herbalism! It’s very pretty, plays really fast, and is easy to set up and put away, so that’s nice. I generally have a soft spot for deduction games (having worn myself out on social deduction games an age ago), so it’s nice to have some lighter fare to break out while waiting or another game to start. It’s definitely more subdued, artistically, than the other deduction games in my collection, but I think that fits in well with its overall aesthetic. It’s tasteful, interesting, and very fun, so if you’re looking for a game that will make a statement on the table without taking all night to play, Herbalism might not be a bad choice! It’s, at the very least, a great opener / filler.