I am always on the lookout for a board game that does something different. When I first heard about Aroma, A Game of Essence, a game that uses the players’ sense of smell, I jumped at the chance to check it out.
Aroma is published by Organic Aromas who are producers of Essential Oils and Diffusers for them and this is a game that uses those oils. Aroma features four different scent based mini games that each use the included scents in different ways.
Disclosure: Organic Aromas was cool enough to send us a review copy of Aroma. No other compensation was provided. Links in this post may be affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and helps support this blog and our podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What do you get with the game Aroma?
Aroma, A Game of Essence was designed by Odd Hackwelder who also did the artwork for the game. It was published by Organic Aromas in 2020 on their website and now on Amazon. Aroma features four different mini games in the box, each of which takes under an hour with some taking significantly less than that.
The games require either two, three or four players. All players should be at least fourteen years old due to this game coming with concentrated essential oils which could cause a reaction if ingested or put directly onto the skin.
Aroma has an MSRP of $58.
Each of the four games in Aroma is based around using your sense of smell to try to identify various essential oils. Games include Discover, which is kind of like a smell based game of Liar’s Dice, Survive, a last man standing game where a player’s scents represent their health which is lost when they are identified, Revolve, which has all players trying to identify the same scents one after another, and Collect, where players try to collect all of the scents of one of the four types. Each game also features a unique mini game for determining start player.
For a look at what you get inside the box I invite you to check out our Aroma Unboxing Video on YouTube.
The rules for Aroma are on a fold out, two-sided, five panel pamphlet that contains four different games you can play. The rules feature lots of artwork and examples, though they feel like they may have been translated to English and contain some odd word usage.
The game comes with four thick cardboard boards, one for each of the four scent types in the game. These are two-sided and the side you use is dependent on which game you choose to play. There are also four reference cards listing all of the scents in the game and a business card for each scent discussing where each scent comes from. Each scent type also has a set of wooden pieces including a large token and some cubes. Also in the four scent colours are a set of small chits that list every scent in the game colour coded by type.
Next, we get to the essential oils themselves which come in four coloured trays with five scent bottles in each of the trays. There are four different categories of scents, Citrus, Trees, Floral and Plants and there are five scents for each category.
The small scent bottles use a roller system that prevents any leakage. To use these there are a number of paper strips included and when you are meant to smell a scent you should shake the Oil bottle up, then roll some of the scent onto the paper.
Note these oils are strong. The scents from them will fill the room you are playing. If you or anyone in the area is sensitive to scents you may want to avoid this game. This should also be considered if playing in a public place. Also, as noted earlier you should not be placing the oils onto your skin.
How to play Aroma a scent based board game.
When sitting down to play Aroma you first have to pick which of the four games you want to play. Each of these games uses different components and each game plays surprisingly different from the last. Each game also features a unique method to determine start player while at the same time setting up that game for play.
What I think I will do here is to quickly summarize each of the four games in Aroma at a fairly high level.
Each player chooses a board and places it in front of them forming a circle with all of the boards. The matching scent tray is placed below the scent names on the boards. The start player is determined by dropping cubes onto the boards from a height equal to the Aroma box. Points are awarded based on how close to the centre these cubes land.
Beginning with the Start Player, everyone collects five oils and puts them into their tray.
Each turn a player picks one of the oils in their tray smells it and tries to identify it. They then pass it to the player on their left who then either accepts what the active player said by saying, “I agree” or they can challenge and say, “I disagree”. If they agree and are correct they get a point, if they agree and are wrong the active player gets a point. If they disagree and are correct they either get a point or get to smell the oil and try to identify it. If they are correct they get two points, but they get zero points if they’re wrong.
Shuffle all the oils and place them in the centre of the table with five in front of each player. Shout go and everyone grabs an oil, looks at the bottom and identifies it, places it in their tray and finds the matching Aroma Token and places it above that spot in their tray. The first player to do so becomes the start player.
Players use the back sides of the boards for this game as a reference. The goal is to be the last player standing, with players being eliminated when all of the oils in front of them are identified. Each turn you chose a player to attack and which scent you will try to identify. If you get it right you take that Aroma Token. You cannot attack the same player two turns in a row. When you eliminate a player you get a second attack that turn.
Stack the player pieces on top of each other and put the Aroma Disc on top of that. Staring with yellow, each player places one of their cubes on top of the growing tower. The last person to place a cube without the tower falling becomes the start player.
Shuffle all of the oils and have players each take five randomly and place them in their trays. Each player takes the leftmost oil from their tray, identifies it by looking at the bottom and places the Aroma Tile for that oil face down on their board. They then pass that oil to the player on their left, who then smells it and places the Aroma Tile for their guess on the board for the player the scent came from. Continue this until the oil makes it back to the player it started with. Then Reveal all of the tiles and players get one point for each scent they correctly identified.
Repeat this for three more oils. Note that every player’s fifth oil is not used, meaning that you never know what oils are in or out of the game.
Each player picks a scent type and grabs that board and all of the oils for that category and places them in front of their board.
To determine start player the box is placed over all of the scents and players toss their player pieces at the box cover. The player whose piece ends up closest to the centre goes first. They select one oil from any one player and place it in their tray. This continues, going clockwise around the table until everyone has selected five oils. Players then mix up the oils in their trays.
Each turn a player picks an oil from another player and tries to identify it. If they are correct and it’s from their chosen category they collect it. If they are correct and it’s from another category they get an extra turn. The winner is the first to collect all five scents for their category.
The Board Game Aroma is definitely unique, but is it fun?
I am always on the lookout for games that do something new, either by using an old mechanic in a new way, combining mechanics in a way that hasn’t been done before, or coming up with something totally new and unique. Aroma falls into this last category.
When I first heard that there was a board game out there that uses your sense of smell I just had to try it out. While I think I remember an old board game with a scratch and sniff element from my childhood, I don’t recall any other game where the entire thing is centred around smelling things.
Once Aroma showed up I started to feel a bit more sceptical, especially once I recorded our unboxing video. The component quality here is quite a mixed bag. The main component, of course, is the oils and I was very pleased to see these come in spillproof containers that contain plenty of scent in each. The player boards and wooden bits are also well produced. The rest of the components though seem almost like afterthoughts, especially the trays for holding the scents and the small trays for holding the aroma tokens. I was also disappointed by how few paper scent strips they give you. While there are enough for one or two plays of each game, you are going to run out quickly.
Along with this is the fact that this game appears to have been created mainly as an advertisement for Organic Aromas and their line of essential oils. My big problem with this is the fact that while some scents and oils may have some curative properties the claimed health benefits of essential oils are dubious at best.
Now I will say that the only place you see these claims are on the included business cards. There’s nothing during play that has you having to hear how Marigold is useful for treating acne and skin conditions (which felt particularly odd alongside the warnings that you shouldn’t put the oil on your skin), but this information is on the cards included with the game.
Dropping that concern I was very impressed by the fact that you get four different games in this box and each of those is a real game. This is not just “smell the scent and guess” or some kind of essential oil trivia game, which is what I was expecting. Instead, there are four pretty solid games in this box. Then there’s the added bonus of the quick and easy start player mini games, which were each quite fun.
I honestly think more designers need to look at this aspect of Aroma and find ways to tie setup in with determining start player. For example, can you imagine a game of Tapestry where the first player to have their Civilization and Capital board picked and city board set up is the start player?
Of all the games included in Aroma, Discover was my least favourite, which makes sense as it features bluffing and I’m not a big fan of bluffing games. Of the other games, Survive was my favourite. Something about attacking other players and having their essential oils in front of them being their remaining health was just fun.
That said none of these games are great. They all boil down to smelling oils and trying to identify them (which was way harder than I expected), but they were surprisingly diverse and rather fun to try.
This isn’t the kind of game I’m going to be bringing out regularly. It’s more of a relaxed party game that I will bring out to show off and for new players to experience. “Hey check this out! Here’s a board game that’s all about using your sense of smell.” You won’t see this at a Board Game Blitz tournament but I bet you will see it come out at 2am during an Extra Life event.
The final thing I do feel I need to mention is the price point. This game is not cheap. It has an MSRP of $58 USD.
While I understand that the box contains twenty essential oils and that these oils aren’t cheap, that’s a big price point for what amounts to four mini games. This price also makes some of the component issues stand out a bit more. For that price, I expect plastic or wooden trays instead of thin card.
Overall Aroma was much more fun and interesting than I thought it would be. It’s not just one game that uses your sense of smell but four distinct games that use your sense of smell, each of which is quite fun and engaging as a short diversion. Is that worth the cost though? That’s going to be up to you to decide.
If you are looking for a totally new and unique board game experience you should check Aroma out. If you, or someone you know, are already a fan of essential oils and love discovering new scents this could be the perfect game and would make a unique gift. If you are sensitive to scents or have any scent-based allergies not only is this game not for you, you aren’t going to want anyone playing it around you. Finally, though I hope it doesn’t need to be said, this is not a game for kids.
I am a sucker for games that do something different from the norm.
For example, I loved Go Cuckoo for taking the idea of Kerplunk and turning it on its head (read how in my Go Cuckoo review) or how you can use the Celtic Knot patterned Knot Dice to play a number of different games (read more about those in my Knot Dice and Knot Dice Squared reviews).
Now I have to add Aroma to that list of “Games That Does Something Unique”.
What’s a game that you’ve played that did something different or unique? Let us know about it in the comments!
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