The world of pharmaceuticals is highly competitive. The big pharmaceutical companies are always competing to research, develop and market the next wonder drug. Pocket Pharma puts you in the driving seat of a Pharmaceutical company where players are competing against their fellow players to be the first to formulate, develop and market drugs. The player who does this the fastest and with the minimal amount of side effects is the most profitable and the winner. All of this is contained in a small pocket sized packaged.
Pocket Pharma is a 2-5 player card drafting, hand management game where players are drafting drug molecules from a public display and placing them on their "lab bench" to formulate drugs required by the market place. The formulated drug needs to match the market place drug as best as it can. However, the market required drug must have minimal side effects and be efficacious to score the big points or you will be penalised.
There is a nice balance between getting the right molecules to develop the best super effective drug with minimal side effects and developing the drug with a few more undesirable side effects, that might not be as effective, but getting it to the market quickly so your competition doesn’t beat you to it.
There is a bit of set-up in shuffling the fragment cards and setting out drug cards, profit cards, loss cards and threshold cards but nothing too complicated or convoluted. The gameplay is fairly straightforward. Each player gets to take three actions, they can take a fragment, reformulate or launch a drug.
To take a fragment the player takes the fragment furthers away from the fragment stack. If a player chooses he can take a fragment that is closer but will incur one negative point for each fragment that they pass up. The new fragment can be added to an already existing formula stacks or used to create a new formula stack. Each formula stack can only contain five fragments. The reformulate action allows a player to move any number of fragments from 1one formula stack to another formula stack.
The final action available to players in Pocket Pharma is to launch a drug. To do this pick a formula stack that contains five fragments that match one of the required market drugs. The number of side effects on the drug is calculated and compare to the maximum permitted side effects on the market drug. If the side effects exceed the value on the drug the players must discard one fragment from another formula stack for each side effect over the permitted level.
The efficacy of the drug is calculated next and compared to the required efficacy of the required market drug. If the efficacy is below the player loses one point for each efficacy level below the target. Once the drug is launched the player takes the profit card from the available stack. Play continues this way until the required number of profit cards have been exhausted.
Initial Thoughts on Pocket Pharma
Pocket Pharma appears on the surface to be a simple set collection and icon matching game. However, there is another layer of depth with the side effects and the efficacy aspect. There is a fair amount going on in the game considering it comes in a relatively small box. That is something that I like. I like games that don't take up huge amounts of table space or storage space yet still offer interesting gameplay mechanics and choices.
As someone who actively works in the Pharmaceutical industry the game had a huge pull on me when I first saw it. The notion of creating my own drug molecules out of all these individual fragments, to then launch a drug, trying to reduce side effects and increase efficacy really appealed to my inner scientist. The added strategy of launching quickly with a substandard drug to get some points, therefore beating your competition is brilliant.
The Kickstarter campaign also included an added expansion with advanced drug cards, specialist cards and "wild" fragment cards to add further content and gameplay. One nice touch is that all the chemical names, groups and atomic weights are real molecules. This is not some abstract game of symbol matching with a pasted on pharmaceutical theme, people are actually playing with real molecules. Another plus in my book.
Pocket Pharma is due to be delivered to Kickstarter backers in Oct/Nov 2018 and I am looking forward to geeking out on this one and creating the next wonder drug.