Social benefits aside, my favourite aspect of tabletop gaming might very well be the variety of sensory experiences. It’s likely why I’m less keen to play board games online (although I’m absolutely enjoying it throughout our recent lockdown situations).
The feel of a quality linen card.
The sight of an expertly painted miniature.
The sound of a mittful of dice clicking and clacking onto a table.
The taste of …
The taste of Chocolate Monopoly? Hmm, that train of thought fell right off the rails. Where was I going? Ah yes, smell. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any games that incorporate scent as an in-game mechanism. However, all that changes with the arrival of Aroma: A Game of Essence!
Aroma does not come from a traditional publisher, but rather, a producer of essential oils and diffusers, Organic Aromas. The games are designed and illustrated by Odd Hackwelder, and inside the box, players will find components in yellow, red, purple and green – game boards, wooden tokens, oil identifier cards, and most importantly – twenty small bottles of actual essential oils, with five belonging to each player colour.
For those interested, check out our unboxing video here:
Each colour is associated with a different branch of oils – purple is all floral scents, yellow is citrus, green is for plants, and red is the domain of tree oils. The rulebook contains four unique ways to make use of these components, all of which help players to learn more about the variety of essential oils, as they aim to successfully identify which oil is which. The game board comes in four square pieces, which are configured in different ways to make each experience look and feel unique. Each bottle of essential oil has a number on the bottom, and with the use of a reference card, will help players easily identify each scent.
Let’s take a moment to briefly summarize what these four games involve…
Discover is a game of bluffing. The essential oils are “shuffled”, and each player takes five random bottles into the tray of their colour. Taking turns selecting one of their own bottles, a player will smell and identify which oil they have, before challenging another player. A challenge involves making a statement to them – for instance, “this oil is Bergamot”, which can be the truth or perhaps a fib. The challenged player then either agrees or disagrees with the statement (“yes, I believe you” or “no way, you’re lying!”), and if they are correct in that judgement, will move from the outer ring of the board one layer towards the middle. If a player makes it to the center of the board’s circle, they win the game. However, if a player manages to have all of their associated oils successfully revealed before anyone reaches the middle of the board, that player will win the game.
Let’s just take a moment to recognize how amazing it is that a game about essential oils managed to successfully use the Cockroach Poker mechanic of boisterous bluffing. It’s a tremendous way to introduce the various oils to someone curious and unfamiliar with them, and will encourage plenty of laughter as friends get caught lying about Lavender!
Survive is the second game of the set. In this version, the boards are flipped over, revealing a grid pattern listing all of the oils, organized by player colour. Each player starts with their own oils in the trays of their colour. Taking turns targeting each other, players will select a bottle and ask to smell it. If they can identify which of the five oils they just sniffed, it is removed from play. At any point, if a player has zero oils remaining in their tray, they are eliminated from the game. Once all but one player has been eliminated, the game ends, and the last player standing wins!
Although many believe player elimination in games to be a negative, all of my players enjoyed this mode. Once a player has two of their five oils removed, everyone can smell blood in the water, and it becomes a social game of redirection, as the player on the ropes tries to stay active in the game as long as possible.
Revolve is game number three, and is a literal merry-go-round of scent sniffing! Each round of this game involves players simultaneously selecting an essential oil bottle from their tray. Oils are passed clockwise around the table, and players have one smell of each oil before using the miniature oil identifier cards to guess which oils they just encountered. After four rounds, whoever has successfully identified the most oils will win the game.
We’re definitely adventuring into more complex sniff tests with this game, and it’s absolutely not one to start with if you’re new to essential oils. Some of my players felt a bit overwhelmed trying to identify several oils each round, but I imagine this challenge will be a welcome one once everyone playing has a few games under their belt.
Collect is the final game of the set. In this one, players start with their own essential oils, but then draft a new tray of oils from the other players. The goal here is to find and identify your own five oils from the other players, selecting a bottle from another player, giving it a smell, and then guessing the scent. If a player identifies correctly, but it is not their oil, they earn another turn at the cost of letting another player know where their own oils are located. When someone correctly identifies their own oil, they collect it in their player area, and victory is achieved by finding all five of your own bottles.
To me, this feels like the most complete and satisfying game of the four. Playing the other games will definitely train your brain in the ways of essential oil knowledge, but once everyone is on a level playing field, this is the game that will likely be played most often.
FOUR FAB FACTORS
As far as unique experiences go, there are few concepts more distinct than a tabletop game about smelling essential oils. Our senses are engaged at so many levels in the tabletop sphere, but nothing else on the market engages our sniffer in this way!
Each of the four games offers a unique mini-game to determine a start player, which is a really nice touch. My favourite two are component stacking, and dropping cubes onto the board from shoulder height. Adding an extra little fun factor is always a great production choice!
Depending on who is playing, having the different challenge levels will be helpful for keeping players engaged. Most of my play sessions started with game #2 (Survive), and then branched to another mode after everyone was acclimated to the ways of oil sniffing.
The game includes a deck of information cards, which don’t seem to serve a purpose in the game, but help players to learn more about the various oils. In my games, every player wound up handling these cards at some point, and found them to be an interesting addition to the overall package.
CAUSES FOR CONCERN
Anyone who is prone to reactions from strong scents will want to approach this game with caution. The game sometimes left me feeling congested, which may have had more to do with my inexperience with essential oils.
Although the box advertises the experience being for 2 to 4 players, most of the games are at their best with four people playing. Only one of the games is intended for two players, so a larger group is definitely recommended for maximum enjoyment.
As my partner is a Massage Therapist who uses essential oil aromatherapy with select clients, the notion of an essential oils board game was instantly appealing to us both. Still, I was not prepared for the lovely scents wafting out the first time I opened the Aroma box. The fact that these appealing bouquets have translated into an enjoyable game activity is truly impressive!
It’s fairly clear to us that Aroma is targeting a very specific audience. As the game is produced by an essential oil company, and the crossover between essential oil enthusiasts and board gamers is likely very small, Aroma seems to be a tailor-made gift for anyone interested in natural health products. I also imagine it would be useful for essential oil salespeople to bring out at parties as a way to introduce their various offerings.
As a first step into the uncharted world of scent-based tabletop gaming, I’m pleased with what Aroma offers. I’d love to see a traditional board game publisher tackle a game using fragrant components – maybe something tapping into scratch n’ sniff nostalgia?
Happy sniffing, and happy gaming!
A review copy of Aroma: A Game of Essence was provided by Organic Aromas, making this article possible. Thank you for supporting our work!
This article was first posted to the Daily Worker Placement on January 20th, 2021.