Alchemist’s Apprentice by John Evans
Warning! Review may contain spoilers!
I am hideous. As a child I played and prodded at many a swirling potions. One day my eager hands found mermaid blood, dolphin tears and Jesus juice. Mixing these together caused an almighty explosion! Taking out the wall of the family mud hut and the skin of my once-beautiful face, I lay in a pile of blood and bone panting into the sky. As a horrified crowd gathered around me to hear my final words, I spat out the remaining teeth to say:
“The experiment worked!”
Against all odds, I made a recovery. There was even a channel 5 documentary. I did not care for all that though, there was only one job for me: An Alchemist! No wait…An Alchemist’s Apprentice!
“You were right to come to Saimea the Alchemist! I was just thinking I could use a new apprentice, and you look like a likely lad–lass?” She squints at you and pulls on some thick, cracked goggles. “Whatever, I’m not picky.”
Thus, more or less, the gamebook begins. You play an apprentice quested to find some vague potion ingredients spread around the village you live in. The village square serves as a central game hub, where the various spokes are locations around the village. The usual suspects for ingredients are here – forests, rivers, as well as exotic ones: .
There are no dice or random elements in this gamebook, but I do think your choices can put it in an unwinnable state. It is described more of a puzzle, and it’s quite nice for that. It does not have the intensity of some other gamebooks, but sometimes you need a nice casual stroll through a story without fretting about your Goblin Poking skill, or having to roll three million sixes in a row.
You’re expected to return to locations multiple times. Through the clever use of keywords, the author has managed to capture state, so when you return to locations things are different and things have changed. This keeps the gameworld fresh and alive, and it is interesting to see how locations change upon further visits. Behind its simple appearance, there is a high complexity level. There are a lot of keywords to keep track of, and a lot of ingredients to combine in whichever ways you please (this is an alchemy gamebook afterall). It is quite easy to put yourself in a state where there is no return. Ingredients are a limited resource and some quests have more than one solution. When you have run out of potions to brew, you go back home and get one of the many endings.
It is a really good gamebook with lots of secrets you won’t find during one playthrough. Despite seeming generic and simple on the surface there is some magic brewing beneath. The village has good dynamics and there’s a nice variety of quests. There is a lot here in a short 100 sections and there is complicated, clever glue holding it all together. Very enjoyable!