Funny and well put-together, Astrologaster casts players as a charlatan misdiagnosing Elizabethan London’s hypochondriacs.
This review of Astrologaster is based on the PC version. It is also available on iOS and Mac, and is currently available as part of the Xbox Game Pass PC service.
Astrologaster is the rare case of a real-life figure being given a fictionalized makeover that’s less dramatic than the reality. But this conversational comedy game is dramatic enough to get by, as players assume the role of self-styled physician Simon Forman, who spent the latter half of the 16th Century practicing a curious blend of astrological readings, homebrewed potions, and questionable soothsaying for his many high-profile querents among Elizabethan high-society.
The objective of Astrologaster is to secure Simon a license to officially practice medicine, but that isn’t really the point. Simon’s a quack, which is known to him and the audience from the very beginning when he develops something of a reputation by helping to stave off a plague. Each medical quandary he’s subsequently presented with becomes an exercise in self-serving charlatanism, reading the stars for portents that, if you play your cards right, always seem to land Simon’s male patients in his good graces and his female ones in his bed. Simon knows that he can diagnose upward and downward involuntary purging just as easily as he can dispense marital or business advice – anything for him to accrue enough letters of recommendation for that elusive license.
Astrologaster introduces Simon’s querents with a funny little choir, a ditty giving away some of their quirks that are later solidified in well-written and well-acted dialogue. They range from ladies of means to bishops to explorers to playwrights and play-actors, and their various woes poke enthusiastic fun at high-society, hypochondria, and the gender pay gap. That these things might have happened in a very similar way lends an extra layer of snarky fun to proceedings, but they’re funny on their own terms too. This is biographical fiction that delights in its biographies; they’re twisty good fun throughout the game’s couple-hour runtime.
It’s the responsibility of the player to diagnose Simon’s patients by selecting various astrological signs that pertain to their predicament, but the fact it’s all obvious nonsense means that there’s no right or wrong answer. Some of the querents feel their needs have been better served than others, but that’s all part of the fun. You’re free to sabotage – or allow them to sabotage themselves – everyone who idles by, and Simon’s personal story, which is informed by his own philandering and stints in jail, will continue to enjoy amusing developments as a result.
A charming period comedy with its share of knowing contemporary wit, Astrologaster knows its strengths are in the inexactness of its so-called science. That gives players the freedom to prod and poke at the game’s rotating cast of colorful personalities, and it remains a pleasure to mock them throughout – especially when they keep coming back to thank you for doing so.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.