Most shopkeeping games in my Steam library revolve around earning money to pay off debts. There’s nothing wrong with those; they’ve provided me with several hours of enjoyable gaming. But sometimes you want something a little different. In walks Strange Horticulture with its intriguing take on the genre, weaving mystery and adventure into the mix.
Strange Horticulture sells plants, fungi, and herbs to aid (and abet?) customers who darken your door. Some have serious ailments, such as insomnia or memory loss. Others have more nefarious reasons for coming to you. Things start out small. You have a limited supply of plants and your botany guide only contains information on about a dozen varieties. Correctly identifying plants rewards you with new pages for your guide. Need a quick break from the stream of visitors? Your cat Hellebore is always around for pets (oh that purring!) whenever you’d like.
There are ways to grow your available stock. Sometimes it’s as simple as heading to a location mentioned in a friendly letter. Customers may provide clues or directions to new discoveries in exchange for services rendered. The dawn of each day also comes with hints as to where new plants can be found. As someone drawn to puzzle-solving games, this might be the highlight of Strange Horticulture. I love figuring out which plants my customers want, but decoding cryptic riddles gets both sides of my brain working double time.
I absolutely love determining what sort of riddle is in front of me. Some messages are coded (like the image below), pointing to locations on the map as starting points or hidden to the naked eye. When I can’t immediately figure out the pattern I like to serve a customer or two and let my thoughts stew in the back of my brain. I keep a tiny notebook next to me when I’m working through games like these. There are notes scrawled and scratched out, underlined and circled. Handy tools open up along the way. Experimenting with them can lead to new breakthroughs. I may have exclaimed “Got it!” a few times to no one in particular, and I hope to do it a few times more.
Strange Horticulture might just be my favorite shopkeeping game to date. The gameplay is perfectly balanced. I can serve customers as I wish and search for exotic flora for my greenhouse at my leisure. Everything is scored to the patter of varying types of rain. And if I am ever so stumped that I don’t know where to go next, that handy hint button is just a click away. Plus, there’s a murderer running around, a coven in danger, and some weird group threatening me if I don’t join them. It’s a lot more interesting than rustling up enough cash to pay the rent before the loan shark comes to crowbar my knees.
Strange Horticulture is available for PCs via Steam. A demo covering the first two days is available.