It’s certainly surprising to learn that Astrologaster, the latest game from indie dev Nyamyam, is based on the real life of an Elizabethan wannabe doctor. Armed with the science of astrology, protagonist Simon Forman hoped to make his mark on London by curing the ails of the city’s inhabitants, and one day earn his licence as a fully-fledged doctor.
After curing Forman of the plague in Astrologaster, you’re presented with a series of cases to assess, using the stars to support your diagnoses. However, despite his eloquence and confidence in his abilities, Forman isn’t formally qualified to practice medicine. A wide range of patients will seek out the astrologer, sometimes searching for a cure to sickness, but often also searching for guidance in business and relationships.
With each character, you hear their case, and are prompted with a variety of different solutions based on the suggestions of astrological alignments. The game offers up to four different options, but none of them are the definitively “correct” choice; instead, your success is measured on how well-received the diagnosis is. Your only route towards earning a medical licence is though recommendation, and with each case, you can gain (or lose) reputation with that patient.
If you create a good outcome for these characters, they will not only return for future appointments, but potentially also recommend you to other potential patients. The level of interactivity between characters is a major boon; gossip from one patient may give you a clue for a future case, while your choices may also affect a character further down the line.
Likewise, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the subtle implications of your earlier decisions. In one case, you can advise a patient on the safest route to travel, but you can later leak this information (through astrological analysis, of course) to someone that could rob them of their riches. While there’s no “correct” option, you have the potential to wreak havoc in the lives of your patients, choosing the options with the most dramatic effects.
This is where Simon Forman rides the line between the conman and the clinician. Your task is to apply vague signs in astrology to these characters’ lives, and this can have a recognisable impact. More often than not, the safest route is to tell each character what they want to hear, but this doesn’t guarantee that they will return for future appointments.
While the devs haven’t shied away from solemn themes, the game still manages to retain an unexpectedly witty demeanour. Each scene opens with a light-hearted string of archaic verses, as if you’re tuning in to a history lesson from Horrible Histories. Whether you’re helping a pious priest that’s more concerned about his financial investments, or predicting the death of an elderly man for his young fiancee, the tacit humour really brings these overly-composed characters to life.
On top of this, every scene in Forman’s story is depicted on the pages of a wonderfully animated pop-up book. The tales of Simon Forman’s real-life exploits only survive today thanks to his thorough notes, and in this way Astrologaster acts almost as a digitised version of his case book. You can really hear the book’s bindings stretch with every turn of the page, and I’m eager to see the rest of the story unfold.
Astrologaster is available to download now on iOS, and was released on Steam on May 9 2019. For more features on indie games, make sure to follow indiehub over on Twitter.