Theme and What is it?
Ancient China was famous for using herbs to cure diseases. A legendary pharmacist, Shennong, wrote a book on 365 herbs that laid the foundation of modern Chinese medicine. He is often known as the “God Farmer” for his expertise in botany.
In herbalism, players take on the role of apprentice pharmacists who will attempt to cure a pandemic. Whichever player can deduce the correct ingredients to make an effective herbal remedy will be given the honorary title of “God Farmer”.
Players select another player, medicine card, and an action. They then perform the chosen action with the other player using the colors on the medicine card. After the action, players can make a prediction about what color card is in the cure. This is a 1 point bonus if right and a 1 point loss if incorrect at the end of the round.
To inquiring, the active player hands an opponent either of the two colors. The other player looks to see what the color is and then announce out how many of the other color are currently in their hand.
To taste, the active player hands their opponent either of the two colors. Then the other player looks to see what the color is and hands back EVERY card they have of the other color.
To trade, the chosen player hands over all of the cards of either of the color types on the medicine card. Not much of a trade so much as a mugging really.
To sample, the chosen player must give one of each color on the medicine card if able. If only able to give one, they still give that one.
Once enough information is determined, players will use the final action: cure.
Herbalism seemed like it might be just a little bit too much information tracking for a game where you are not permitted to take notes. It ends up being close to that line but does mean some basic memory attention is needed and the occasional mistake in deduction will happen. The great thing about games like this is that you OWN the game and can play it with YOUR rules. If you want to remove the memory component, just give all players pencils and paper and let them all take notes as they try to figure it out. It might even end up with more clever use of the actions gaining information the other players are unlikely to be able to utilize at the same time.
Game Build Quality
The best part of the build quality is its simplicity. The 5 action cards, 7 possible medicine combinations, and the deck of cards are a very small easy to manage pile of components. The tokens look a little messier at first but have none of the terror experienced when you punch a giant game and have piles of tokens all over a dining room table. Some prediction tokens, a pharmacist token for what medicine card is being used for the action, a cure guess token paired with its back side to agree with someone else that beat you to the punch (for 1 point if right), and the points. That is it. Very simple and not a weakness in components in sight.
Simplicity focused on a style of art is the main point of Herbalism. The style makes the ancient China theme come forward by seeming similar to ancient paintings. The herb imagery is realistic but looks like the kind of painting that might be found in the tome written by the real “God Farmer” above each entry. I don’t think it has the most “pop” a game has ever given on the table; but, I find the art to be fantastic for the theme and weight of game.
Each time you go to take an information action, there is a little voice in the back of your head telling you NOT to get too much information. If you were to get too much, someone else will be able to solve before your turn comes back around even if you already know the answer. You have to keep progressing forward while not making too much information publicly available. It is a wonderfully designed experience for a light deduction game. It fits onto my shelf along side other deduction games such as Sleuth, Cryptid, Hanabi, and Beyond Baker Street.
Age Range & Weight
8+ is a little low for the difficulty of the puzzle solving if trying for a fast solution. But I can totally see the game being a great learning experience for kids while the parents stall a little past when they had figured it out. It also opens up the door to show off how bluffing games work with the ability to take a prediction marker that the parent is SURE is wrong trying to trick them into making that faulty assumption. This is lighter than my other deduction style games so for an introduction to this style of gaming it is a real winner.
Herbalism is light, enjoyable, and fast. Gameplay only takes 10-20 minutes most of the time even with 3 rounds of play being the most common game length. The simplicity and understated charm are what made our experiences better than we ever expected from a small box game like this. Some players are unwilling to think hard about a game like Hanabi or Cryptid but are more likely to accept the occasional run of Herbalism.