It’s All In The Stars

HIGH Amazing musical interludes.

LOW Can be repetitive at times.

WTF “Chundering.”

Astrologaster is a narrative, choose-your-own-adventure comedy where the player divines advice for patients by reading astrological signs in the stars, and it presents like an animated book — an incredibly history-laden and literary one.

The player turns the pages by moving the mouse, and it’s possible to turn a ‘page’ halfway, revealing the next scene as one would in real life. It’s antiquated in a transportive manner. Everything is painted in soft hues of blue and muted yellow, evoking the sky and the stars. It’s stunning.

The main character, Simon Foreman, is an astrologer and a doctor during a time of plague in 1590s England. He cures himself of the plague by way of a “strong water,” because… the stars told him how. Obviously, this leads to more strange diagnoses and dubious cures.

While the stories told in Astrologaster are fictional, the character is inspired by a real man (an unlicensed doctor with the same name) who left hundreds of pages detailing his patients and astrological cures. These books are part of the Casebook Project, Cambridge University’s digitization of casebooks by Simon Foreman and Richard Napier, and they can be found on the Cambridge University website.  

After starting gameplay, Simon meets with a patient who describes what ails them. The player then consults the stars by clicking on astrological signs. The signs then give up to four choices—a woman is “with child” or has too much black bile, for example — and the player chooses between them.

Historically-accurate diagnoses like imbalanced humors are charming, but the player’s choice doesn’t have to be correct — it’s more important that Simon pleases the client. Success causes plus signs to emanate from the head of the patient and then a summary shows what they thought of the examination.

The summary also has a bar that fills towards a letter of recommendation, which Simon needs to get ordained by the church as an actual doctor. Each time Simon ‘cures’ a patient, the bar fills and he gets closer to his goal. If the patient is displeased, the player will get further from this goal.

Pleasing the client can be frustrating because it’s often difficult to tell from clues in the dialogue what diagnosis is the correct one, but each answer has a different and amusing end, so being right isn’t necessarily the best answer. Most of them are fairly simple to determine, however. Is a woman’s neighbor a witch or simply adulterous?

The astrological readings let storytelling take center stage, and the stories are interesting and funny. In fact, humor features heavily in Astrologaster because patients are wonderfully crass and often despicable.

There’s the already-married love interest, Avis Allen, the Italian Ferraro who has a uncontrollable dancing condition, and the money-grubbing Dean Blague who needs advice on how to get rich by investing in colonialism. Many of the complaints they have are either non-issues and endearing in their own way. They also often have gonorrhea.

I was drawn in by the laughable problems of these characters (and others) and their well-written dialogue, and transitions between patients are particularly amusing, as they’re sung in the rhyming style of Elizabethan religious music. Delightful actors who are either actually British or very good at accents read the dialogue — it strikes notes similar to a BBC comedy or a Masterpiece Theater miniseries.

Astrologaster’s uniqueness makes it a joy to play, and I would recommend it to those who appreciate period pieces, narrative-heavy games and those interested in strange pieces of historically-inspired work.

Rating: 7 out of 10

— Gabriella Santiago-Vancak

Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Nyamyam. It is currently available on PC and iOS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately eight hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is not currently rated, and contains heavy-handed, creative euphemisms for sex that your kids will certainly not understand.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game can be played without sound. All dialogue and song lyrics are subtitled, but cannot be resized. It is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: The game does not have remappable controls.  there is no control diagram. It is a point-and-click game controlled by the mouse.

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