Aroma: A Game of Essence (review by Allison V)

Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present a brand new review from a brand new reviewer!  Allison V is a long time gamer, who comes from a family that has played traditional board and card games for years until discovering games like Ticket to Ride and Azul.  She is a graphic artist by trade and loves Disney even more than BJ does. Here’s Allison with her review:

Aromatherapy has been used for a variety of remedial purposes since the time of Ancient Egyptians. From repelling insects to relieving nausea, essential oils have a number of uses in the everyday household. However, have you ever thought of using essential oils as the primary components of a board game? Or even using your sense of smell at all during a game?

Sure, there are some games out there made to test your sense of smell. WowWee What’s That Smell? The Party Game That Stinks! is one that comes to mind. However, if you’re like me and aren’t enticed by smells named “Diaper Blowout” and “Extra Old Toe Cheese”, there aren’t many smell-related board games that I’m interested in.

If by some miracle you do find a scent sensory game that doesn’t make you queasy, it’s usually played using scratch-and-sniff pieces. While these games are great for a time, scratch-and-sniff paper or stickers have an unfortunate tendency to wear out, losing any and all scent after just a few months. You then either have to spend more money to purchase new pieces to play the game, or you have a box full of scentless paper stashed in the back of your closet collecting dust.

Aroma: A Game of Essence is a new way to use all-natural essential oils that doesn’t intentionally include nauseating smells (that being said, I never could have imagined how bad marigold smelled before playing this game). Also, because this game includes bottles of strong smelling oil rather than lightly scented paper, you’ll have this game around for years rather than months.

As an unintended bonus feature during these crazy times, this game doubles as a quick-and-easy COVID-19 screening. If any player is unable to smell these highly concentrated oils, I would send them to a walk-in clinic as soon as you finish playing.

However, if everyone’s sense of smell remains intact, and you’re ready to put your nose to the test, this game may be for you.  

(editor’s note: a complimentary copy was provided by the publisher for this review.) 

Gameplay

Aroma is unlike any game we have played before. The box comes with colored bits and pieces that can be rearranged into four separate games, each using a different strategy to test your nose and knowledge of essential oils. In addition, each of the four games includes their own mini game to determine who goes first.

The first game is “Discover”, a four person game in which you must identify aromas faster than the other players. Everyone picks a color, and the four board pieces are set up to form a circle with your colored pieces set in front of you. Each player randomly picks five of the twenty oil bottles to play with. The goal is to smell and identify each of the scents in front of them one at a time, while moving pieces on the board when you identify an oil correctly. 

To identify who goes first, each player drops their aroma cubes onto the board, in an attempt to get them closest to the center. Points are awarded for each of the cubes that lands on the innermost circle, and the player with the most points is deemed the starting player.

In this variation, the starting player selects an oil, tries to identify it out loud, then selects a person to challenge. For example, the starting player picks an oil in front of them and may say “This is lime.” The starting player, or challenger, then chooses one of the other three players, the challenged, to either agree or disagree with that statement before even getting to smell the oil themselves. 

This game provides the most opportunity for strategy and mind games. As the one being challenged, you have to ask yourself “Could the challenger be intentionally lying? Are they telling the truth? Does the challenger know what lime smells like, and potentially be wrong?”

After the challenged decides to agree or disagree with the challenger’s statement, four different things could happen depending on if the challenged was correct or incorrect: a) If the challenged player agrees with the statement and is correct, they get to move a spot on the board and that oil is out of play; b) If they agree and were incorrect, the challenger moves a spot on the board and the aroma stays in play and is not revealed; c) If the challenged player disagrees and is correct they can choose to move a space, or smell and guess the oil correctly to move two spaces; d) If they disagree and are incorrect, the challenger moves one space and the oil is out of play. At the end of the starting player’s turn, the play continues clockwise, and the process continues until the first player makes it to the center of the board.

When playing this variation, we had difficulties remembering all of the choices and had to continue referring back to the instructions. I think gameplay would have benefitted from some type of flowchart that could be placed in front of each individual player.

The next game you can play is called “Survive” in which you must eliminate the other players by correctly naming their aromas. The mini game for this variation not only determines the starting player, but is also a part of the setup. Each player has to identify five oils to place in their oil trays and find the matching aroma token to place face down in front of the tray. The first player to fill their trays and have matching aroma tokens goes first.

The starting player selects someone else’s oil to smell, and has to guess what they think it is. If he or she is correct, they get to collect the aroma token and that oil bottle is out of play. If they are incorrect, the oil remains in play and is not revealed. The player whose oil was selected then gets to go, and the process continues until players are eliminated one by one. The player with oils left in their tray is victorious. 

Strategy comes in when first picking the oils to go in your tray. If you choose difficult oils to identify, it will be harder for other players to eliminate you from the game. Unfortunately, you have to find those difficult smells while everyone else is quickly trying to identify smells in order to go first. If you’re playing with fewer than four people, getting the scents you want becomes easier.

The third game is called “Revolve”, and it arguably has the best mini game attached to it. This mini game has little to do with essential oils, and everything to do with your stacking skills. Once everyone determines their colored pieces, everyone places their player pieces on top of each other, then puts the starting token on top to form a platform. The yellow player starts by putting one of their aroma cubes on the starting token, and each player in turn stacks their cubes on top of it. This continues one player at a time until the stack falls, and the player who’s cube that remains on top becomes the starting player.

Unlike the other games that are played meticulously one at a time, “Revolve” is a three to four player game that is played quickly under pressure. Each player has set up their oil tray with randomly selected bottles that remain unidentified. During each of the five rounds, each player picks out one of their oils, gets a single sniff, and then tries to secretly identify the scent using the aroma tokens. Each oil is passed around until you get the oil you started with. At the same time, everyone flips over their aroma tokes containing their guesses and the oils are revealed. For each oil guessed correctly, you move a space on your board, and the one that has moved the farthest by the end of the game wins. 

The final game in this series is called “Collect.” To determine the starting player, the box cover is placed on the table, and players have to toss their player pieces onto the circle. Or, at least, they try to. It almost took us longer to play the mini game than the actual game due to the pieces continuously bouncing off the box and out of the circle. This definitely was the source of a few good laughs, until someone by chance made it onto the box. 

Unlike the other three games where the color you choose had little significance other than identifying your board and pieces, the color you choose now means something. Each of the four color coordinates with one of four different categories of scent: floral, trees, plants, or citrus. The colored board you choose will determine your own scents for this game. You should try to choose a category that you would be able to correctly identify the most scents from. 

For example, I can determine when an oil is from the citrus family, but I usually have a hard time distinguishing the subtleties between grapefruit and bergamot (and it really doesn’t help that I don’t know what a bergamot is). So for this game, I would not choose yellow.

To set up the game, each player must identify the five aromas that match their category. Then, each player fills up their oil tray with bottles that are not from the category you chose. One at a time, you try to find your oils in the other players’ trays. When you are able to correctly identify all of your oils, you are the champion.

The more you play, the more knowledge you retain, and the better you can identify the different smells. Or, like me, you realize you will never be able to differentiate between certain types of trees. 

I would also like to add to the game’s disclaimer by saying Aroma should not be played for extended periods of time. Though this is not included on the back of the instruction packet, essential oils are not meant to be inhaled for more than 15-30 minutes at a time. That being said, the essential oils seem to affect people differently. After a long game, I started to get a headache from the oils, though they had no effect on the other players. 

Production

Straight from the packaging design, you see the game will be categorized by four colors. As already mentioned, you’ll find each color corresponds to one of the four aroma categories – floral, plants, trees, and citrus. Each player receives a color coordinated game board piece, an oil tray, 20 aroma tokens, a wooden player piece, 5 wooden cubes, and an identifier token. The game also comes with a single starting token and rule sheet that explains the four different games, as well as 20 2 ml bottles of different essential oils. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find the oils came in roller bottles, rather than just a cap. These small bottles were accidentally dropped with their caps off, but the rollers kindly prevented any major spillage (they did not however stop me from turning the bottle upside down to test the rollers, and spill oil on myself anyway). 

Though the bottles save you from messes, you intuitively want to rub the bottle on your skin to release the smells. There are many issues with this, the more important being it is not safe to do so. Aroma does mention in their disclaimer that essential oils are not meant to be put on skin. Plus, if you do it anyway, your skin will smell like citrus for days. Another issue with this is if you start rubbing oils on your wrist, you end up with 20 different smells by the end of the game, and you can’t differentiate the one you just put on.

The game does come with little pieces of paper to roll the oil on instead, but it does not seem to come with enough if you plan on playing this game often. What I have ended up doing is using a piece of paper to get the smell out, but smelling the bottle rather than the paper. But if you and your friends don’t like putting your noses on the same bottles, I would recommend investing in some more paper you can use.

The game pieces themselves are very simply designed, which I find to be extremely helpful when you’re trying to set up multiple games. The game boards are multi sided, one side for “Survive”, and the alternative side for the other three games. 

The instructions include a diagram for each game setup, a photo for how to play the mini game, and a photo of gameplay. It clearly identifies the pieces you’ll need up front, and divides the instructions into three sections: Setup, The Mini Game, and How to Play. For a visual learner, this rule sheet hits the nail on the head. 

However, there were times I felt the instructions could have been written more clearly. Once or twice, I felt there was some disconnect between the sections of instruction. It was usually little things, such as at what point you’re supposed to fill your oil tray after you select your oils (the setup diagram shows the oils outside of the tray, but the gameplay photo shows them sitting inside of the tray, and the instructions don’t specifically say). Or if you’re meant to select random oils, or oils from your specific section (sometimes they specify, sometimes they don’t!).

Once you start playing through the game, all of these little decisions become intuitive. But for a rule follower such as myself, little things like this are difficult when you first start playing a new game and you want to do it right. 

But Is It Any Fun?

Every time I end up playing this game, there is continuous laughter from the whole room, usually from the people who have no idea what they’re doing or smelling. This is a relatively low stress, low strategy game that can be played casually with a few of your friends.

One of the best parts of this game is the variation. You can find your favorite way to play from the rules provided, or you could probably make up your own way to use the pieces. The rule sheet provides some ways to play a quicker game if you’re tight on time, and (although it doesn’t say this in the instructions) you can make teams if you have more than four players! 

Even the mini games are an incredibly creative way to make sure each of the pieces the game comes with is utilized – even the box! 

One thing I will say is it’s difficult to have any other strong smelling item around the playing area. If you’re trying to include this game in a board game night, I would recommend playing before you serve any food or drinks. If there is a burger on the table while I’m playing this game, all I will smell is the burger. 

My least favorite part, of course, was getting a headache after each time I played. If you have any sensitivity or allergies to fragrance, I would not recommend this game.

Conclusion

Aroma certainly is a one-of-a-kind journey into the world of essential oils. It cleverly uses simple objects and transforms them into multiple games. If you don’t have a fragrance allergy or sensitivity, you will get a kick out of this game.

— Allison V

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